Children of a lesser god

Shubhangi Moharir
Monday, 15 October 2018

True to its name, Snehwan showers love on the children of drought-hit farmers of the state. Its founder Ashok Deshmane talks about his vision and dream

The India Meteorological Department (IMD) has just released the data about the post monsoon deficient rainfall in the country. We are well aware of the plight of the people living in the areas which annually receive scanty rainfall or worse, face drought. Often we hear and read about farmers committing suicides, leaving their wives and children in a state of shock and helplessness.

This story is about a man who has come as a messiah for such people. Ashok Deshmane, who gave up up his plush job as an IT executive, is sheltering and caring not only for the children of drought-hit farmers but also for those whose fathers committed suicide. “Since my childhood, I have lived a life of hardships. My family of two sisters and parents had to struggle to make both ends meet. I managed to complete college on ‘earn and learn’ basis working in a garage and sleeping in lorries,” recounts Deshmane. 

His wish to do something for the people of his native village of Mangrol in Parbhani, saw him teaching the poor children for free while he was still in college. In 2012, Deshmane joined Wipro and all the money he earned there was spent on these children’s education. “The years 2014-15 were very bad, in the sense that many farmers had committed suicide and as for the rest, due to lack of basic facilities and no work, they were leaving villages and migrating to the cities,” explains Deshmane. 

When he asked some of the migrating farmers what they were going to do about their children’s education, the hard-hitting reply he got from them —  “When we are struggling to give them food, how can we think of providing them education?” — strengthened his resolve to do something constructive for them. Deshmane then swung into action and met Dr Prakash Amte, the dedicated social worker and son of the late Baba Amte. “I have always been inspired by Baba Amte and with the blessings of Dr Prakash Amte, I established Snehwan in Bhosari, Pune,” says Deshmane with pride.

To make Snehwan successful, he worked night shifts at Wipro so that he could devote the mornings for his organisation. “I worked in this manner for financial stability, sleeping only for 3 hours or so. But this started affecting my health adversely,” recalls he. 

Deshmane then quit his job to look after his (adopted) children and was helped by his friend Anil Kothe who lent his house for free. Snehwan started with 18 children and now provides care to 25 boys and 15 girls from the nearby slums. “I have 40 children,” says Deshmane with a smile on his face. 

He is helped in this daunting task by his parents and wife, Archana. “Initially, my parents were against this but later on I managed to convince them. Today, my father teaches them tabla and my mother takes their overall care by instilling valuable lessons of life. My wife is my pillar of strength; she wholeheartedly supports me,” says Deshmane. 

Before getting married, he had given Archana a very clear idea about his work. “I told her that she would have to be a mother to 40 children and she willingly agreed,” Deshmane says with a smile. 

Archana, an Arts graduate, is fully involved in looking after the Snehwan family. “There are lots of problems to deal with but we overcome them because we are one big family bound by love and affection,” says Archana humbly.  

This couple is setting an example for their children by living simple — they themselves wear donated clothes. Deshmane didn’t take any dowry and doesn’t indulge in any extravagance. “Archana never complains,” he adds.

The children of Snehwan attend regular school apart from learning different activities like art and craft, computers, yoga and meditation at their new-found home. To encourage the children to read, Deshmane has come up with the novel idea of ‘One movie-One book’. Snehwan boasts of a full fledged library of 2000 books. “I have made it compulsory for every child to read one book every week and the reward for doing is that the children get to see a movie,” explains Deshmane. 

He further elaborates that leading personalities from different fields come to spend time with the Snehwan family every two months. Deshmane is a parent, philosopher and guide to these children. He ensures that the children who have come to Snehwan to study, get to meet their parents every six months. Every Sunday they can call up their parents.

Deshmane has a baby girl and she is a sister to the other children, much to their delight. The children of Snehwan are in the age group of 6-16 years and are happy to have found such loving and compassionate parents in the Deshmanes.

Snehwan is able to impart comprehensive education due to generous donations received from different people. It is Deshmane’s dream to start a human chain all over India and to do this, he wants to educate 100 children. “These 100 children will in turn educate many more and thus the chain of spreading education nationally will result in making our country fully educated,” says Deshmane.

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