Vembu Shankar is a man on a mission. This ex-serviceman is the man behind the one-man 'Project Sambandh', the project that seeks to inform army widows about the various plans that the army has for their benefit.
The 1,000-day program is modelled after the 1,000 day United Nations 'nutrition plan'. Shankar, who especially focuses on the next-of-kin of the physical casualties of the Army, meets the widows and shares information about the army schemes that they are eligible to avail.
Speaking to Inside Northeast, the Shaurya Chakra says that the calling first came to him while he was commanding an army unit. "I realized that the status of the next of kin of the physical casualties (of the army) is indeed very pitiful. Financially, emotionally,socially, they are definitely at a disadvantage compared to the other casualties because they get less pension, their children's education is not taken care of. However, there are many schemes that they are not even aware of."
[caption id="attachment_35788" align="alignnone" width="660"] Shankar with MSD after India won the World Cup in 2011[/caption]
Shankar realized that the only way to reach out to these people was by embarking on a mission and meeting these widows in person. Taking a premature retirement from the army, he set out on his mission provide welfare measures to the deprived widows of fallen soldiers who had not died in the line of duty.
Stating that he got his inspiration from one of his first commanding officers, who was involved in 'welfare delivery' and had expressed anguish due to the fact that the army widows were not claiming scholarships.
[caption id="attachment_35789" align="alignnone" width="660"] Shankar with an army widow and her children[/caption]
Speaking about his long-time association with former Indian cricket captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni and his involvement with Shankar's passion project, Shankar says that although 'MHD' is not directly involved with the project, he is aware of the philanthropic activities, and has often provided counsel while having discussions with Shankar. "He speaks to me like a friend, and not like a celebrity talking to another person."
The ex-serviceman also has a special connection with the neighbouring country, Bhutan. "Money is not everything is what Bhutan's approach is, and that is something that has a great influence on what I am doing now. Social and emotional connect is of utmost significance, which is why the project is called 'Sambandh', which means 'to connect'...", he beams.
Speaking about the Indian army's observance of 2019 as the 'year of next of kin' to connect with the kin of deceased jawans, he says that he is potentially partially responsible for it, as he has been pushing for it, although he specifically focuses on the next of kin of the physical casualties.
Vembu Shankar has also set some goals and dreams for the future. He hopes once his 1,000 day project Sambandh is done with, he will be able to set up an all-stop portal where the next of kin can find out what their benefits are and how they can claim those. "But I don't want to get too ahead of myself, as I believe that a bird in hand is worth two in the bush", he says with a smirk.
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