An errant child, T Raja, found himself living on the streets of Chennai. His parents had given up on him and he was given to stealing and substance abuse. By the time he was 15, Raja was behind bars. But the two months in jail changed him. Once out he started driving an autorickshaw to earn a living. As he drove through the city, images of poor and homeless kept reminding him of the drudgery and neglect that he had once been a part of. Raja then set up the Home of Hope to give street dwellers a shelters. Over the years more than 3000 people have been looked after by Raja at this home.
Sujatha Bhat & Kalpana Mallya from ‘Asha Jeevan’
For more than 90 senior citizens in Bangalore, Asha Jeevan is their only family, their only home. The home was started in 2000 by Sujatha Bhat and Kalpana Mallya. They also take care of partially disabled and bedridden elders. Sujatha and Kalpana have made Asha Jeevan a safe haven, a comfort zone, that brings meaning and dignity to the lives of senior citizens in their twilight years.
Hirbaiben Ibrahimbhai Lobi
Hirbaiben Ibrahimbhai Lobi is a true grass root entrepreneur. She comes from a tribal clan, the Siddi community that has lived with meager resources and no real opportunity. Hirbai decided to change all of that. She took a loan to start an organic compost farm and employed women of her community. In no time the women of Jambur village were on their feet. Hirbai was determined she had to improve the condition of her people, with a radio by her side. She got the tribals to take tips on scientific ways of farming. She then set up a kindergarten school and is now aiming for a high school and college for the children of the area.
Sister Mariola is the only connect that inmates at the Ajmer Jail have with the outside world. She is their messenger, their guide and a friend they can open up to. She came to Ajmer in 1979 as a teacher at a local college. With the Ajmer Women’s Cell just across the school, she decided to put her free time with under trial women from poor families. Initially Sister Mariola was only an attentive listener, but gradually she started studying their papers and arranging legal aid. She has managed to get many cases on the fast track and got the authorities to take notice of inmates who had already served their terms. She also engages the women inmates in activities like making paper bags from waste newspapers. She then sells these bags for the inmates so they could afford small luxuries like cosmetics and snacks She continues her work at the Ajmer prison as inmates wait for her every week
After losing his wife and two children to terrorist bombings aboard a flight from Ottawa to Mumbai in 1985, Dr. Chandra lost the will to live. He quit his job as biologist in Ottawa, and returned to his village in Andhra Pradesh. It is here that he found a reason to live. He set up the Sarada School in 1992. Named after his daughter, it has helped educate more than 1200 students. He also started the Srikiran Eye hospital, named after his late 4 yr old son. 90% of cataract surgeries performed in this hospital are free of cost.
The Bedia community in Madhya Pradesh is bound by a regressive tradition – the eldest daughter goes into prostitution to earn for the family. As the daughter becomes a sex worker, the men in the family assume the role of pimps. Ram Sanehi was appalled by this custom. He was a young child when he rescued his cousin from a brothel. But he decided then, to put an end to this tradition. He would tip off the police and help raid brothels in UP and Madhya Pradesh. He went on to give shelter to the rescued girls and started an Ashram for them in Morena. The girls are made to study and prepare for a better life. At 80, “Baba” as he is fondly called, is both friend and father to the girls in his Ashram
He’s a master weaver and a Padmashree awardee from Kerala. 30 years ago, P Gopinath laid the foundation of his handloom consortium at a village near Trivandrum. He brought together 30 women of his village as the “Mahila Samajam” and gifted them his plot of land to set up looms and taught them weaving. Today almost 1000 women work on 600 looms. Improving lives of these women has meant better, happier lives for their children.
Biro Bala Rabha
Biro’s battle began when an exorcist declared her mentally disturbed son possessed and sentenced him to death. Biro fought for her son’s life and also took on the community in Goalpara district of Assam for branding women as witches. The women would be tried in a village panchayat and sentenced to death. A housewife, Biro became a crusader. She traveled from village to village, held public meetings and was able to convince the community to take a collective decision against the barbaric practice. Biro now has another fight. She is mobilizing women in her area to fight alcoholism.
42-year old and physically challenged, Iqbal started the People’s Action Group for Inclusion and Rights in Leh. He trains the disabled to make products from recycled paper and cloth and through that earn their livelihood. In the last eight years he has helped more than 30 physically challenged people live a better life.
Dr Joyce Siromoni
A gynecologist by profession, this 80 year old saw and felt the real plight of mentally challenged women. Joyce set up a home for women confined in jails and mental asylums. Here they are rehabilitated and given vocational training so they can be financially independent. Joyce’s eventual aim is to reintegrate them with their families and with society.
Uma Preman lost her husband to tuberculosis, due to lack of diagnosis and treatment. In her loss she found the mission of her life. She set up free medical information cum care centre in the memory of her husband. The centre provides information to patients and helps them raise money for treatment. It has already facilitated 500 kidney transplants and 2,000 heart surgeries and mobilized more than 8 crores in aid for poor patients. Uma Preman even donated her own kidney to save a patient’s life.
Bhubaneshwar based Shruti Mohapatra is a tireless crusader for the disabled, always at the forefront to secure a rightful place for the physically challenged in society. All this and more – from a wheelchair. Advocacy, networking, inclusive education and information dissemination are her tools
Ramesh Babu Kushwah
R B Singh Kushwah lost his wife in a road accident. Hit by a lumbering truck, she died as she could not be taken to the hospital in time. Kushwah decided to convert the personal tragedy into positive action. And in 1999 he started “On Line Services” to help road accident victims. Two phones were installed and their numbers widely publicised through the local media. Kushwah also bought a Maruti van and converted it into an ambulance. His personal jeep was also donated to the service. A lawyer by profession, Khushwah took care of all the expenses along with his associates. The services also inform the families of the patients and get first aid started at the hospitals. He also found a way to deal with the hospital staff that refuses to take in patients without long formalities. They now carry a video camera and shoot the shifting of the patient to the hospital. One Line Services also holds camps to educate the people on how to provide first aid to accident victims and their legal rights.
31-year-old Ishita Khanna has made it her mission to help residents of Spiti combat climate change. She moved out of Delhi to set up Ecosphere in the Spiti valley. Her aim is to build a green local economy. She got villagers to harvest a local berry, the Seabuckthorn. The fruit is used to make juices and jams. For two weeks a year, when the berry is harvested, the women in 30 Spiti villages earn upto 800 rupees a day. Ishita is also encouraging eco tourism in the area, and is also working to get the locals to give up firewood and use solar technology instead.
The daughter of a sex worker, 28 year old Naseema Khatoon, decided to fight to change the deplorable lives of those in the flesh trade. She formed an organization, Parcham, with sex workers, their children and those who have retired from the profession. They work to protect these people from police atrocities, get education for their children and provide alternative sources of income for those who want to quit the profession. Nashima’s main mission is to shake off the stigma that sex workers have to live
Vijaylaxmi was a child bride who refused to marry. Resident of Paghi village in Rajasthan, she was forced to marry young. She took on her family and relatives. Not only did she successfully resist the marriage but also fought her way through studying further. She also dissuaded the parents of other minor girls in the village from getting them married. With the help of a local NGO she has succeeded in getting the parents of married minor girls, to postpone their ‘vidai’ until they turn 18. At 22, Vijaylaxmi is now doing her MA and preparing for her B.Ed. She wants to be a teacher and continue with her work in her village
A mechanic by profession, Kantha was moved by the condition of destitute and orphaned children in Jharkhand’s East Singhbhum district. Polygamy and alcoholism are rampant in the area and children are often left to fend for themselves and sometimes abandoned. Kantha set up an orphanage in Dampara. He is today a father figure to 45 children, providing them with education, food and shelter with his meager resources.
Irfana Ismail Nujawar
A teacher by profession, Irfana was disturbed that her school provided scholarships only to Muslim Shia students. She decided to start a school with her colleague Gazala in the year 2000. The only place available for her dream project was part of the slum where the majority community was Hindu. Irfana had to convince students that her school was secular and open to all. She used the money set aside for her marriage and convinced her conservative family that this was her calling. Today her school is a learning hub for 300 students. The education is free for those who can’t afford it.
Dubhil Vechanbhai Movasiyabhai
A journey changed the course of Vechan Bhil’s life.It all started with a bus ride when he gave 10 rupees to the conductor for an eight rupee ticket and then asked for balance. Seeing him the other tribals in the bus too demanded their balance. Vechan realized that to bring about a change one needs to raise one’s. And education is critical for that.
There is only one primary school in Pisatya village catering to 25 surrounding villages. The tribals in villages in the interiors found it impossible to send their kids to Pisayta. Vechan offered to share his modest two room house with the children of the tribals, providing them free food and tuition. There are three teachers in Vechan’s primary school but there are days they don’t turn up so he turns to the graduates in the nearby village to teach the kids. Vechan started his literacy mission with just 15 kids. Today 70 students from Vechan’s home have graduated to the Secondary School.
But at 55 this farmer in Vadodara is struggling to feed his students with just a small patch of farm – his only source of income. He also needs better teachers and a proper hostel for his kids.
For Vimla Kaul sitting at home was never an option. A visit to the Madanpur Khadar Village in Delhi in 1994 and Vimla knew she wanted to do something for the villagers. She started by teaching tailoring to the women in the village so that they could be financially independent. Vimla also noticed that there were children just whiling away their time in the streets. These children needed to be taught the basics before any school would give them admission. So she started a class for four to eight-year-olds in ’96 with ten children. She also hired a teacher—a village girl who had learnt tailoring under her. By 1997 she was teaching almost 70 kids. Vimla Kaul also pushes for these kids to get admission in mainstream schools. 11 of her students have made it to the Sarvodaya School in the capital.
A government employee and a sports enthusiast, Tarnash Tarpan is a boxing coach for girls in Gwalior. He gave up the hockey stick 12 years ago to pick up boxing gloves. Winning over reluctant parents wasn’t easy but once the girls started showing interest there was no looking back. Tarnesh provides gloves, kit and free coaching on the condition that they give everything they can to the sport. After 10 years of coaching Tarnesh Tapan has produced three National level women boxers and four state champions
AATA ODANAATA is an NGO that aims at spreading sports awareness among economically backward children. The NGO was formed when four sports buddies came together. Sheetal Mahendra, Navin Bhargav and Ashwin Shinde were once cricket, handball and baseball players themselves. They identified young psorts enthusiasts in the slums of Bangalore and began training them. Today, some of these children have made it to the football academy of the Sports Authority of India while others are being trained in athletics
A businessman by profession and a true football lover, Mrityunjay Tiwari started a unique experiment with sports and education in Bihar’s Mastichak Village. His offer to the villagers was simple. If they allowed their daughters to play football, he would take care of their education till graduation. The bargain has paid off. Today 45 girls from the village have taken to football. Few have even made it to the state team.
Mrityunjay knows that not all these girls will become footballers but each one of them will get a shot at education and a better life.
Merzaban Patel is on a mission to hunt out the best hockey talent in the country. He then coaches them into world-class players. With 35 years of coaching experience Marzban trains children free of cost, take care of their transport, even sporting gear for those who can’t afford it. Marzban has produced Hockey Olympians like Adrian D’Souza and Gavin Pereira. A part time coach at two schools, he earns a paltry 6000 rupees as salary.