Welling up in Beed

With help from SUNDAY mid-day, 29-year-old brings hope and water to Beed, a district hit by Marathwada’s crippling drought

In Beed district of Marathwada, where 152 people committed suicide last year due to drought, and 182 farmers have died this year, a well can go a long way.

Philanthropist Sanjay Garje’s efforts for water conservation in an orphanage he runs in Govindwadi, a small village in the district, have finally paid off. On April 26, this paper had reported the news of the 29-year-old’s visit to Mumbai to garner support and gather funds to dig a well estimated to cost over Rs 2 lakh.

Sanjay Garje. Pic/Sameer Markande

The support of mid-day’s readers who came to Garje’s aid has borne fruit. The farmer-turned-philanthropist single-handedly established Aai Foundation and an orphanage called Balgram in his village when he was 18, following the death of his sister to domestic violence. The orphanage provides shelter to destitute children, many of them from families where parents have succumbed to debt. Relying on expensive tankers that would supply the orphanage water at Rs 15,000 a month, Garje had said, “The well is now my first priority, which will take care of the daily requirements of the children and whose water can be be utilised for farming vegetables, making the entire project a self-sustaining one.”

Children at the Balgram orphanage in Govindwadi, Beed district
Children at the Balgram orphanage in Govindwadi, Beed district

Following the story in SUNDAY mid-day, financial help poured in from Mumbaikars. Reader Shabia Walia, a resident of Oshiwara, runs a Whatsapp community of do-gooders called The Bluebells Community, and she took the initiative to help Garje. Within three days, the 70-member community raised nearly Rs 3 lakh, the largest chunk coming from filmmaker Vidhu Vinod Chopra. The rest was collected by raising awareness on social media.

The newly-constructed well at the orphanage filled with water barely three days ago following heavy rains
The newly-constructed well at the orphanage filled with water barely three days ago following heavy rains

Work on the well started in the first week of May. It was tough finding a spot to dig it in the parched earth, but after two months, work was finally over.

But with no rain in sight, the well remained dry. Garje’s dream was realised barely three days ago when the rain gods finally smiled. “Fed by the rising ground water table and underground streams, we have enough water in the well to sustain 45 boys and girls in Balgram,” Garje said.

The district has mass migration, farmers subsisting on weeds and large-scale selling of cattle in this season of drought. Earlier this month, Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis had made a three-day tour of drought-stricken Marathwada, after facing flak from the opposition for the slow pace of relief work and acute scarcity of water. With plans for at least 100 developmental works under government schemes, a little well can teach a significant lesson to the apathy that surrounds the drought gripping the state.

The Bluebells Community has now taken on the responsibility of raising Rs 50,000 per month to cover the monthly grocery expenses incurred at Balgram, and foot the kids’ school fees. “I spent a whole day in Balgram with Garje and the 45 kids. In the summer heat of 48 degrees celcius, I realised what a daunting task Santosh has at hand and what a phenomenal job he is doing with the kids,” said Walia. Garje, who has also planted over 50 fruit trees and vegetables in the three-acre campus, now plans to concentrate on building a separate building for girlstudents, which is estimated to cost R28 lakh.

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