The Jeep stopped on the muddy slope. Sunil was eager to show me that the vehicle would “hold” and not roll back. Unfortunately, the loose soil underneath the wheels spoilt his plans. As the SUV started inching back, he put it into gear, revved up, and stopped in front of the office, which was just ahead. He was happy showing off his new “toy”. Then his expression changed.
“Do you think someone would question this purchase? Point fingers? You know, this is from my personal savings. It pinched. But I really needed a new car and I got a good price for the old.”
It was a question from someone who cherished hard work, integrity, and honesty right from his youth.
As a young man, he had trekked long and hard, along a river that passed through his village. It was an exercise in connecting to the water and the earth it nurtured. And the simple villagers he came across. He gathered a few of his friends. That group of young friends shaped his purpose in life and the name of the organization he would lead and guide for nearly 20 years—Yuva Mitra.
It gave him as much pleasure treating visitors to some unusual local eateries as talking about his plans for social upliftment. “We must institutionalize; they must stand on their feet. True development is not charity. It must be sustainable. Learn. Teach. Train.”
I walked among the farmers and the goatherds. Many of them women, who had just found their feet and voice. They were just a few of the thousands of women, youth, farmers, and children who had already benefited from Yuva Mitra’s work in water resource development and management, agriculture and livelihood development, institution building, and health.
His religion remained sustainable people empowerment through people participation, without any political coloring.
He was always building bridges between rich corporate houses looking for an efficient and transparent channel for sustainable social development and the marginalized who had otherwise resigned themselves to poverty and hardship.
Sunil, my friend and teacher, I am sorry, but we are all pointing fingers at you now. So many are waiting for you to lift them from misery. You have to build so many more bridges yet.
How could you, someone so full of life, so giving of hope, go away so young? Today, you would have stepped into your 50th year.
Rest never came to you easily. Hopefully, you are now at peace. Developing another world.
Sunil Pote passed away on September 13, 2020.