From rags to enrichment: Muni Seva Ashram

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Muni Seva Ashram (Courtesy: greenashram.org)

In our history, there are stories of simple, transformative ideas that change the course of human progress that must be told.  An inspirational story is that of Anuben Thakkar and the founding of Muni Seva Ashram (MSA).

In the 1980’s, Anuben—with one pair of clothes, Rs. 50 in her hand and an abundance of determination—started a selfless journey with a simple goal: help those who were unable to help themselves. Her mission and determination inspired a young medical student, Dr. Vikram Patel, to give up his future career as a city doctor and dedicate himself to the same.

Their work began in a single hut. Four decades later, Dr. Patel has transformed MSA (www.MuniSevaAshram.org)  into a secular, self-sustaining unit on a 300-acre campus in rural India that delivers high-quality, healthcare, education, women empowerment initiatives & job creation. Today, MSA is also a pioneer in eco-friendly technologies and one of the best state-of-the-art cancer care and research hospitals in India, providing the latest advancements in surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy.

This journey was fueled by the unwavering desire to address need. When the village parents of Goraj, India, needed a safe place to send their children while they worked, Anuben set up a hut to watch those children.  When those same children needed medical care, Anuben recruited medical students like Dr. Patel to volunteer their time to provide free treatment.

As those kids got older and looked towards their own future, Anuben created quality schools and provided education. She saw a need for compassionate care for mentally disabled girls/women and the elderly, which led to creation of a residential school, Bhagini Mandir, now a safe haven for the mentally disabled, and Vanprastha Mandir, a loving community home for senior citizens. Various facilities serve as sources of employment for local women and men who otherwise would have no means, including a sustainable clothing factory.

“This is the only institution that has a holistic approach to solving rural India’s problems of poverty, unemployment, education, women empowerment & healthcare,” says Dr. Yogendra Patel, a retired surgeon from Staten Island and longtime active contributor to MSA’s multifaceted activities, “MSA does not just provide fish to a hungry person – which only takes care of one meal – but teaches all how to fish, to offer sustainable long-term solution to problems.”

Notably in 2017, of 1,660 hospitals from 94 countries that participated in a worldwide radiation treatment planning competition, MSA ranked 5th in the world and 1st in India.  Construction of a hospital ward building is in progress to add 180 more beds which will bring bed capacity of the hospital to 300 beds.

The cancer hospital serves needy people not only from Gujarat but also from neighboring states like MP, Rajasthan and Maharashtra. Production of radiopharmaceuticals (cyclotron project) to be used for the treatment and diagnosis of cancer is planned to begin in Summer 2018. There is also an atithigruh (guest house) to provide lodging facility for the family members of patients as well as visitors. Construction is currently underway for a modern Vocational Training Center where girls and boys will receive training in the fields of para-medical services, renewable energy, industrial training, agriculture and animal husbandry, enabling them to earn livelihood.

A basic tenet of Anuben’s philosophy was this: no one should be turned away, anyone who needs help, support, comfort, and care will be received with arms wide open and without discrimination. MSA has an aggressive expansion plan in place for 2018 to carry out this goal, including more seats in its exemplary schools and more beds in its innovative hospitals. According to co-founder Dr. Vikram Patel, “the expansion projects will increase our Ashram’s footprint nearly thrice.”

Those interested can make a tax-deductible donation to: http://www.munisevaashram.org/donate/making-a-donation .  Additionally, in order to inspire and to introduce future generations to this cutting-edge work, MSA hosts three volunteer programs throughout the year: a Student Volunteer Camp, a Medical Observership Program, and an Internship Program.  MSA is located in the village of Goraj, 22 miles east of Vadodara, Gujarat.

Muni Seva Charitable Foundation USA is a non-profit registered under IRS Code 501(c)(3).  The foundation operates 100% on the services of its volunteer staff making all funds donated fully utilized by the main ashram in India.

Muni Seva Charitable Foundation is hosting an informational and fundraising event in collaboration with Sardar Patel University Alumni Association, on Friday, May 4  from 6:30 PM to 9:30 PM, at Vadatal Dham Swaminarayan Cultural Center, 1667 Amwell Rd, Somerset, NJ 08875. Dinner will be served.  Everyone is invited.

The guest speaker will be Kaajal Oza Vaidya, renowned author, screenwriter, radio personality and journalist from Ahmedabad, Gujarat. Vaidya has written over 56 books including novels, short stories and essays.

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