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Gates help for mouse-eating village Visit despite wife caution on heat

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  • Published 12.05.10

May 11: The champion of the “mouse” from America will adopt a village of rat-eaters in India.

Microsoft chairman and philanthropist Bill Gates will tomorrow make his maiden visit to Bihar in sweltering weather and adopt impoverished Gularia village on behalf of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which focuses on health and learning.

The village, 180km northeast of Patna, is populated by the Musahars, one of the lowest Dalit sub-castes whose name means “rat-eater”. The landless community principally survived by hunting rodents for centuries but nowadays many Musahars work as farm hands although rats continue to form a part of their diet.

“Bill Gates has decided to adopt the village to improve the villagers’ socio-economic condition. His foundation will open a health centre in the village,” said Sudhanshu Kumar, district police chief of Khagaria.

Foundation sources would not reveal what other plans Gates has for Gularia in Khagaria district that lacks drinking water, schools, hospitals or electricity.

Gates’s visit is unusual because of its timing — day temperatures are now well over 40 degrees in the heartland. The American, one of the world’s richest men, toured Amethi this afternoon with Rahul Gandhi in temperatures above 42 degrees, seven weeks after his wife Melinda had visited Rae Bareli and committed Rs 250 crore worth of health programmes for Uttar Pradesh.

A Rahul aide claimed: “After going back, Melinda, we have learnt, had warned Bill Gates about the scorching Indian summer that she had faced in March, but he still decided to come in May, when it’s worse.”

Sources said Gates had chosen Gularia for adoption after receiving reports from the “field officers” of his foundation and other NGOs.

Khagaria district is home to the highest number of Musahars, whom chief minister Nitish Kumar has included in his “Maha-Dalit” category as a community that needs urgent development.

During his day-long visit, Gates is scheduled to meet Nitish in Patna to discuss pro-poor schemes and offer help to improve medical facilities.

The software icon will arrive in Gularia by helicopter, an official said. “Tight security arrangements have been made. His schedule is being kept under wraps.”

Gates today flew down to the Fursatganj airstrip in Amethi and reached Bahadurpur village by car, accompanied by Rahul, traversing a dusty, rough road. As they stepped out, a gust of hot wind raised a cloud of dust around the VIP visitors.

Over 300 women associated with self-help groups welcomed the foreigner guest, who asked them how they cared for pregnant women and lactating mothers and infants.

The women spoke of the challenges they faced but expressed confidence about meeting them. The self-help groups impart healthcare to women and children, provide basic medicines and manage minor welfare projects.

Gates praised the women’s efforts and then turned to his favourite subject: the computer as a window to the world.

“How do you teach your children?” he asked. “Do you use computers to educate your children?”

Rajkali Devi, 27, said yes, the village children learnt to use computers from a very early age. “Sir, your goal and ours is the same in some ways. Like your organisation, we too spread awareness and try to fight poverty,” she added.

The American’s face lit up as he listened to the interpreter.