Dear friends, Waheguru ji ka Khalsa, Waheguru ji ki Fateh In this writing, I am going to share with you the activities of ‘Aapna Punjab’ an NGO (Non-Governmental Organization) based at Pahuwind village, Amritsar district, Punjab in India. ‘Making a Difference’ is the driving force for ‘Aapna Punjab’. They have already started making a difference, or shall I say, a movement is in its infancy, which when spread around, would result into a prosperous, educated and confidant ‘Aapna’ Punjab. Before I get into the details of this NGO, some background information is as follows: Current Board of Advisors of ‘Aapna Punjab’ are: 1. Col. Gurbirinder Singh Sandhu (retd) Founder/Chairman, Aapna Punjab and Majha ex-Servicemen Human Rights Front 2. Justice Ajit Singh Bains (retd) Founder, Punjab Human Rights Organization, a Non-Governmental Organization 3. Col. Harsharan Singh Sandhu (retd) Founder/President, Rashtriya Raksha Dal, a national-level political party (Late) Major General Narinder Singh (retd) Member, Human Rights Organization and the Committee on Disappearance of Youth in Punjab He left for his heavenly abode on Oct 10, 2005 Aapna Punjab' has taken initiatives (with positive results) to fight social injustice, poverty and the drug menace in Punjab. Since last year, the name of Colonel G S Sandhu (retd) has been synonymous with the arrest of the notorious Nihang Ajit Singh Poohla. I wish to restate that he was a criminal (in Nihang Baana, however devoid of Sikhi values) with loads of cases against him. Getting Nihang Poohla arrested was a difficult and dangerous task, due to Poohla’s approach upto corrupt senior police officials to politicians. Inspite of all the caution from well-wishers, Col Sandhu went against the flow. Everyone felt that fighting with Poohla was a futile and suicidal undertaking. Colonel had this fire within him, which kept him on his mission. He gave up his comfortable retirement lifestyle in Chandigarh and moved to his village in Pahuwind (District Amritsar) to begin the arduous task of getting Nihang Poohla behind bars. The extremely hard fought battle, ultimately resulted into a Success. During this learning process, Colonel Sandhu became aware of the dismal social, political and economic conditions that existed in the common villages. With no one stepping up to help the common villager, Colonel decided to take on that challenge. This resulted into formation of ‘Aapna Punjab’ an NGO that is registered under the Societies Registration Act 1860 in Punjab. With an approach of transparency and being approachable, the volunteers look forward to building a trustworthy relation with needy people. Aapna Punjab is committed to the sustainable socio-economic development of rural backward areas of Punjab via the following initiatives: English-medium boarding schools Computer courses/training Charity Hospitals Fight against Drugs & AIDS (Mai Bhago Fauj) Welfare center for women Human-Rights/Social Justice English-medium boarding schools Build and run English-medium boarding schools in backward areas of Punjab. The first such school, with a capacity of 450 students, is currently under construction and scheduled to open in mid 2006 in village Pahuwind (District Amritsar). Eight out of sixteen acres of land belonging to the gurdwara has been allocated for the school. The school is being designed by an eminent architect of Amritsar. Bhai GurIqbal Singh, of Mata Koulaji Bhilai Kendar Amritsar, laid the foundation of the school on 26 th January 2005, the birthday of Shaheed Baba Deep Singh. Computer courses/training Set up computer labs on gurdwara properties and schools to provide free computer training to the youth. It is realized that, without proper education or any large-scale industry, getting jobs is next to impossible in Punjab. English, which is the standard de facto global language, is only taught from class 6 in Punjab, whereas in other states like Kerala, Tamil Naidu, Maharashtra etc, English is introduced from class 1. For the few that do learn English, there are no affordable computer courses or training available. These classes will help towards that objective. Charity Hospitals About 1,800 square yards of land on the main Bhikiwind-Pahuwind (Dist. Amritsar) road has been earmarked for the first charity hospital. The hospital will have the best medical facilities. In addition, a drug de-addiction center will also function in this hospital. Rooms will be built for rehabilitation of drug victims. Similar hospitals will be modeled after the successful completion of this hospital. Fight against Drugs & AIDS (Mai Bhago Fauj) Punjab is facing a drug addiction crisis. A predominantly all-women force, called the 'Mai Bhago Fauj' is being organized at the grass-roots level in Punjab. This campaign has been named after Mai Bhago from Chabbal Village in District Amritsar who had ridiculed the 40 men from the area who had deserted Guru Gobind Singh at a crucial time when he was surrounded by Mughal forces in Anandpur Sahib. The Mai Bhago Fauj initiative has been launched in the Patti sub-division of Amritsar . Women volunteers are being asked to come forward and participate. This Fauj is being mobilized as a pressure group, along with men, to ensure that no drug selling outlet is allowed to function in their villages. People responsible for drug pedaling are to be exposed and local police will be forced to register a case. All attempts will be made to ensure, that whenever any drug consignment is confiscated, the entire quantity is accounted for and none is kept by the police, or its touts, only to later resell or involve innocent villagers in false cases to sort out their personal grudges. Based on the success of this program, other areas will be mobilized to create the Mai Bhago Fauj. Drug rehabilitation centers will also be opened in conjunction with charity hospitals. Welfare center for women Run welfare centers for handicrafts and tailoring where village women can make goods for sale and can learn such skills. Earning money of their own will raise their self esteem. As of August 2005, twelve Welfare Centers for Women have become functional in Village Patti, Pahuwind, Narla, Bhikiwind, Makhi, Voltoha and Khem Karn to train women in tailoring (cutting/stitching) of clothes and handicrafts (household items like bedcovers, etc). The locals have shown great enthusiasm and are enrolling in large numbers. There are about 500 women participating in these 12 centers. The teachers are trained Poly Technical Institutes diploma holders. The fee charged is nominal at Rs 20 per month, so that the students don't get the feeling that this is just a free/charity undertaking. The quality of the work is excellent. The goal of Aapna Punjab is to start one hundred such centers over time. Aapna Punjab looks forward to your marketing help. Purchase handicrafts made by these women, or help in selling of these handicrafts globally… all this is to generate revenue for these women. Human-Rights/Social Justice The most dangerous nexus these days in rural Punjab is the political, police and criminal nexus. This has to be broken by bringing about awareness among the illiterate masses so that they can stand up against this nexus. It is this nexus which encourages the likes of Nihang Poohla to flourish and thrive. The public must be made aware of their rights and encouraged to stand up for them. Aapna Punjab, under the leadership of Col G.S. Sandhu, Chairman of Aapna Punjab and Chairman of the Majha ex-serviceman Human Rights Front, has started a campaign against this nexus. Though Sky is the Limit, there are lot of activities around us to make this manukhi deh and janam worthwhile, however lot of these ideas and initiatives haven’t picked up momentum due to lack of appropriate volunteers that are required to spread the message. Funds carry an important place too. ‘Aapna Punjab’ looks forward to volunteers who want to offer their dasvandh to make the much desired difference. Cells are under formation at different locations out of India. All are encouraged to contact Colonel Sandhu on his mobile phone, in case an urgent attention is required. Most of the material in this article is gathered from meeting with Colonel Sandhu and his team. Most of the contents are picked up from their website, and formatted. Learn more about their (Well… high time to say – our) activities at website www.aapnapunjab.org Let us get involved with ‘Aapna Punjab’ at AapnaPunjab - Making a Difference Best Regards, Arvind.