SACHI NAIK | NT BUZZ
Having spent sleepless nights, retired professor from Vasco, Alka Damle realised how much she feels for the port town that she owes a lot to. And since 2012, she has embarked on a mission ‘Jagrut Nagarik Manch’ that works towards the betterment of the city. Although the first meeting of the Manch filled up the hall with 150 people, Alka is now left with a very few active participants. However, her dedication helps her walk this long path alone, in hope of a cleaner and greener Vasco.
Alka’s journey began when in 2012 she published an advertisement announcing a meeting inviting anybody who could feel connected to Vasco city. “There were around 150 people who gathered. I made it clear that we are not working for fame or money but only for our loving city, and everyone agreed. But after that, there is hardly anyone I can call ‘my team’. There are only a few senior citizens who get together for activities like cleaning the city and planting trees,” she says.
It all began with a dream to see Vasco city clean and green. Being in and out of Goa since 1974, meeting the demands of her career, after her first job at MES College at Vasco, she was saddened by the state of affairs in the city. “Over the years, I saw Vasco go from bad to worse,” she laments. Although she and her husband were born in Mumbai, Vasco meant a lot to the couple for it was where they gained a foundation in their career and social circles. Thus arose a need to give back to the city and they began with a cleaning drive.
Seeking inspiration from social reformers Gadge Maharaj, Popatrao Pawar and Anna Hazare, she thought that if these people could bring a change in their villages by changing the mindset of the people without being highly qualified, why couldn’t she effect a change in the mindset of people in cities that are full of educated people. Sadly, Alka found that this was not an easy job to do. “I have tried and I am still trying to achieve my goal. Social work is something that you have to do with sugar on your tongue and ice in your head. So, I’m keeping up my patience,” she says with a laugh.
Alka’s first initiative with the help of a few social enthusiasts was cleaning up the entrance of Pai Hospital that used to be awfully filthy. After four months of seeking permissions from tehe authorities for the beautification of the spot, the group employed a labourer to clean the garbage and then planted a few trees. “The minister Mauvin Godinho came forward to provide funds for the fencing,” She adds.
Alka then began writing to local authorities seeking permission to clean five other places in Vasco, but their wait is still on. “We don’t require funds because we can manage it, though we need some more volunteers, we cannot take any step unless the permission is granted,” she says.
The Chicalim ground which used to be barren and severely uneven was levelled up by her group of volunteers after the authorities played the blame game, when she went to seek permissions to clean up the area. Furthermore, they have planted 30 trees the three sides of the ground, in the monsoons of 2013. Later that year she even put up posters nudging the people living in surrounding areas to adopt a plant. “My idea was that the people or children who use the ground could water one plant every day. Despite the efforts, no one came forward to adopt even one plant and I had to employ a person to water them every day. Now the trees are grown well. I was hopeful that at least the office staff at Chicalim Ground would come forward and support the cause,” she says.
Alka a retired math professor of Kendriya Vidyalaya Vasco now conducts various workshops on organic farming and planting seed bombs and organises talks on health related issues. Further, she assists a natural disaster rescue team ‘Goonj’ in Mumbai by collecting different items from different parts of Goa to be sent to Mumbai.
When Alka’s husband, a Navy officer, was posted as Flag Officer Goa Area (FOGA), she was the president of the Navy Wives Welfare Association for Goa. She even started a school called, ‘Bal Pathshala’ for the children of the domestic workers in the naval quarters. These children in the age groups of 3 to 5 were otherwise left at home with no access to school or crèches. The preparatory school would aim at making the children eligible for government schools. “It started with 40 children, now there are nearly 200 children studying there,” says Alka.
Ask her why she does what she does, and the response is inspiring. “Every individual owes it back to the society and if we are not going to give it back at this age, when are we going to do it?” With the slogan ‘We care, and not who cares?’ Alka Damle works towards the betterment of the society. “Don’t point fingers at others for not being active! I have never done anything for fame, publicity or money, but if you ask me what I get in return – I would say inner satisfaction and a good night’s sleep!”