How it started
Over a decade ago, a bunch of friends set out on a trek to experience the serene surroundings, the crisp clean air and the inimitable beauty of the Sahyadri range of the Western Ghats. This is how Tunga Trekkers was born. However, what started as a couple of leisure treks to rejuvenate and educate ourselves about the rich heritage and culture of Maharashtra and of course to bask in the glory of nature, was soon transformed in purpose and intent.
While we travelled far and wide, absorbing a treasure trove of information and beauty, we couldn’t help but find ourselves drawn to the lives of local tribes of that area, feel their deprivation and empathise with the hardships they faced. Difficult to access, these villages, PADA as we call them, still struggle to make ends meet. Every day they fight new battles and basic human rights such as primary education and healthcare elude them. So, we at Tunga Trekkers decided to take things in our hands.
Journey so far
Initially, we started with helping them out with their basic necessities, like distributing bags of grains, biscuits, stationery etc. However, we quickly realized that more than our random acts of kindness, what we really needed to do to bring about that elusive ‘change’ was to empower them, connect with them and slowly but surely draw them into the mainstream. Here are a few of the projects we undertook over the years to make a difference to the lives of these village dwellers, more significantly, the village children:
EDUCATIONAL KIT DRIVE: As a part of this initiative, at the beginning of each academic year, we distribute at least 300 educational kits to the children in various villages. These kits include school bags, long books, compass boxes and drawing sets.
PROJECT SOLAR LAMPS: Since electricity in these areas can best be described as patchy and intermittent, we have pledged to distribute a hundred solar lamps to the households during each Diwali. This has increased the length of the day in these homes and the study and leisure hours of young kids by at least a few hours.
HEALTHCARE AND HYGEINE CAMP: Since our aim is to prepare and empower the next generation, we hold basic hygiene camps in local schools, teaching them personal hygiene and its significance. We also distribute toiletries like soaps, toothbrushes, toothpastes and hair oil.
OUTDOOR LEARNING CAMPS AND TREKS: This is an initiative whereby young city kids are taken on overnight treks to villages. Here the children camp outdoors, live off the land and interact with the village children. There is a healthy and open communication between both sets of kids and each gets to learn the skills of the other in an informal setting.
SPORTS GURUKUL: About a year ago, we launched our most ambitious project yet, which we call ‘Sports Gurukul’. Most of us in Tunga Trekkers have a strong background in Sports and Athletics, as also in the field of education. During the years of interaction with the children, we observed that with the kind of tough geographical conditions these children were accustomed to, and the physical and mental hardships that were commonplace for them, they are perfectly poised to make a mark for themselves in an endurance sport, more specifically the marathons. We have heard inspiring marathon success stories of the East African athletes, who have grown up in punishing geographical terrains and complete deprivation. With the right kind of support, training, nutrition and guidance, the kids can replicate that success, and we dare say, even better it.
We began to train the first batch of 25 kids at the base of Tungareshwar mountains, where it all started for us. These children are being imparted rigorous training every evening after school hours in the rugged terrain of these mountains. Post the workout, we promise them at least one wholesome meal. Whenever however we have some surplus, we ensure, we provide milk and eggs to them as well in the morning.
After months of rigor and toil, our labour bore fruit recently when in the Vasai-Virar Mayors’ Marathon held this year, a few of our kids competed with international athletes in the half marathon category, the best timing being 1 hour 18 minutes. This was followed by another jubilation at the junior level marathon where our children earned 17,000/- as a cash prize.