The history of Loni, the town that I am staying, is really quite incredible. The very first day of my internship started off with a history of how this town and the Pravara medical trust came to be. I will do my best to recapture the story of the visionary, Vithalrao Vikhe Patil, and the sugar factory that started it all.
Loni, once completely drought prone, was the home to many farmers who would rely on their neighbors for loans in which they would use for their farming and other agricultural work. When they were unable to pay back these loans because of droughts and lack of funds they were expected to give their land to the people they have borrowed money from.
After a certain point one farmer, Vithalrao Vikhe Patil, who was illiterate (like the rest of the farmers) decided to make a stand against exploitation by the private mill owners and money lenders who were taking the land away from his fellow illiterate farmers because of their inability to pay back loans. To do this he wanted to start a sugar factory, this idea started in 1940. Originally he talked to his fellow farmers and explained how this sugar mill would benefit all of them and increase jobs and industry in rural Loni. He believed this would break the cycle of poor, illiterate farmers who were also disease prone. The only was that they were resistant to change and they lacjked the inertia needed to make this change. He felt that producing goods would help to create both formal and non formal education that would lead to health and empowerment.
The sugar factory would be the nucleus of development for Loni. Although this was a good idea people were very resistant at first, they thought it cost too much and did not believe him or what he thought this sugar factory would accomplish. They also did not believe he had the education to make it happen. After this feedback from his community he went to the government and an economist where he explained his ideas and asked for help in developing them into a reality. With the economist's help he created a project proposal in which he would explain his ideas better to the local people as well as the government. After showing his idea to the government they required a 25% contribution of the cost for the sugar factory before they would help with the rest (this was a lot of money to ask of these poor farmers, but this did not stop Patil from putting forth his greatest effort to make it happen).
He went to his community again, explaining that he wanted to create a sugar factory and how this would change the lives of the peopleof Loni, and this time they believed in him and his ability to make this happen, after 5 years they were able to raise the money to create the sugar factory through the contribution of the community. This transformed Loni from the land of poverty to the land of prosperity.
Today there are more than 100 sugar factories stemming from this original sugar factory. Also after the creation of the sugar factory there became a need for a local hospital to care for its workers. Because of this, land was donated by the government to create this hospital. In 1976 it started out as one 200 bed hospital with 4 specialties and today there is an 800 bed hospital with all types of specialties including pediatric cardiac services, advanced neonatal surgery, oncology, and trauma care. This hospital transformed from a single hospital into an entire teaching medical university with increased areas of study and practice.
Everywhere you go in Loni there is a picture or a statue to honor Vithalrao Vikhe Patil. He was truly a visionary and he changed the lives of so many people. After creating the sugar factory he also started an English medium public school where the children of these farmers could learn, so that they weren't illiterate like their parents. After visiting this school as well as the many other schools in Loni it is very clear that this man changed so many lives and because of him so many lives will continued to be changed, because of the work that he did and his persistent-never-give-up attitude.