Helping the Laborers she helped herself find her life purpose!
Born in Jamshedpur, I’ve grown up seeing charity at home. My father is for us, like God reincarnated on earth. He would reach out beyond his ability to help others, be it night or day, be it family, friends or strangers! He found active support for his activities through my mother. My father’s principle was that once we have enough for ourselves, everything over and above should be used to support the less fortunate. While educating our minds, he did not fail to educate our hearts. I owe it to him, for what I am today!
To add to this, once I got married I was fortunate to be in the company of my mother in law. She was also very charitable, helping any one who was needy or poor.
We moved to Bahrain in 1987. I joined the Indian Ladies Association [ILA], which was founded in 1956 by a group of enterprising ladies, to support ‘Sneha’, a center for special needs children.
Apart from social activities, ILA also has charitable activities, which include visits to orphanages, geriatric homes, distribution of food to laborers, free medical checkups for the laborers, blood donation drives, etc. This is how I got more and more involved in social work.
I love children and realizing that while the adults were constantly socializing, their children were often left home by themselves, the thought of forming the youth wing for ILA cropped up. For three years I was actively involved as youth wing coordinator, organizing various programs and events for about 100 children, aged between 4-18 years. The programs were educational, cultural as well as social. Some of the events organized by me included visit to the local dairy, fire brigade, etc, talent shows, educational talks, youth leadership programs, debates, quiz, group talks, fashion shows, plays, dance and music shows, movie nights, disco evenings, indoor and outdoor games, etc.
As I was followed by a battalion of children everywhere I went, I was known as pied piper of Bahrain.
Being member of Indian Club, the Karnatak club, Zoroastrian Association and the Indian Ladies Association, I participated in a lot of activities like dancing, singing, treasure hunts, painting, plays, fashion shows, cookery shows, henna designs, beauty pageants, etc, took part in a lot of competitions, so basically I had a socially and a culturally enriched life for the 18 years I spent in Bahrain.
When we moved to Dubai in 2004, I was depressed for about 2 years because I did not know anyone and had nothing to do. The Dubai I knew then, was all about the pseudo rich, the kitty parties, which was not my cup of tea. I was looking for something fruitful and creative to do. Then in 2007, when I was in India my father showed me an article by Gulshan Kavarana, who was associated with Dubai Centre for Special Needs and he felt that I should call her as she would be the key to what I was looking for. My children were growing up, so I could dedicate more time to social work.
When I came back, I called the Centre and went for the orientation program and joined them as a volunteer. During the orientation they ask you how many times you want to come in a week, which class would you want to volunteer for, like, art, music, academics, etc and we get to choose what we are passionate about. I wanted to do something with art and children as it is something close to my heart. Even though I’m an artist myself, one does not have to be an artist to assist in the art department.
Initially I volunteered at the nursery as well as the art section. But I guess I was a little too emotional with the children, and maybe did not do justice to the responsibility. I remember that there was a little girl in the nursery, who grew very close to me. I gave her lots of love and would not listen to the teacher’s instructions and could never be strict with her. I would also feel bad if others would reprimand her. We were told to treat all kids just like any other, so as not to make them feel any different. I learnt that at times to get the best out of the children one had to control one’s attachment towards them.
After a year with both the nursery and the art class, I continued volunteering just at the art class. Its basically like a therapy for the children. Students learn to paint, learn pottery, work with wood, etc. it gives them the much-needed self confidence as they are free to showcase their skills and their creativity.
Of all the volunteers that joined with me, I think I’m the only one that has not left them yet. When I joined them, I was warned that it would be depressing, but far from being depressed, I found the association with these children highly inspiring and rewarding. Their little world is an amazing place to be in. Interaction with these children has taught me values such as selfless love, compassion and patience and above all to stop complaining and be full of gratitude for what I have. These children are so full of love and affection and always smiling in spite of the hardships they have to face. They are special, no doubt!
Thereafter one day, my husband phoned me and asked me to tune into the radio announcement by a lady who was looking for volunteers. The lady speaking was Lola Lopez who was the founder of ‘Volunteer In Dubai’ which is now called ‘Volunteer In UAE’. She wanted volunteers who would distribute food to the laborers. I got in touch with her immediately.
She asked me if I wanted to be a volunteer or project manager. As the co-ordination was from home, I chose to be the project manager. Thus started this project, called Karama Kanteen.
There was a lady who was delivering cooked food to the laborers. Lola and I thought we would get a few women who were homemakers to cook and deliver to this lady to help her initiatives.
But the logistics didn’t work out and after a couple of months we stopped this mode of operation and started helping her with raw groceries.
A year later I decide to go into the camps and deliver the groceries directly to the men. I was wondering, though how I would manage. It was then that I met Nagesh. He knew the logistics of carrying on the project and offered to help me and that started a new phase in my life. Nagesh, whose family was in India, lived alone here, and was passionate about doing something for the laborers himself. With him I visited various areas where the labor camps are, I learnt a lot about how the men lived, what they had to do in case of loss of passports, about out pass, etc. I even took some men to the jail so that they could be deported back home directly from there. It is amazing how Nagesh stood by me and supported me. And just as I was getting confident of handling all this on my own, Nagesh had to leave the country. It was as if he was an angel sent by God to teach me all that I need to learn .
We distributed groceries, toiletries clothes etc to the blue collared workers. Interacting with these men, listening to their woes, gives them a feeling that someone cares and that’s enough to bring perhaps a smile on their faces.
I left Karama Kanteen last year and decided to start the initiative on my own.
My intention was strong to continue my charity initiative, and for that I needed a legal platform. By now I had a strong, dedicated and like-minded team, without whose help and support I would not have been able to achieve anything.
We decided to join an event management company Called ‘Medulla Events and Marketing’. The Managing Director, Ursulla, knew me since the time I was working with the Karama Kanteen. Everything just fell into place thereafter. I now take care of two of their projects – Care2Share and Care4Health.
There are no restrictions to qualify as a volunteer with us. Anybody can do it. Since the last 5 years, be it in the sweating heat, or the biting cold, my dedicated volunteers come out with me every Friday early morning to distribute basic necessities to the blue collared men as well as low income group families. We distribute to anything between 100 to 500 people. Apart from our weekly Friday distribution, we also do special gift hampers on festive occasions like Eid, Diwali, Christmas, New Year, etc. More than anything else, the feeling of being ‘cared for’ and ‘thought of’ is what is more important for these lonely souls. We have about 20 regular volunteers and many other volunteers periodically join us. Of recent, many schools have also started supporting our charity initiatives. In the last 5 years , we’ve distributed groceries, vegetables, fruits, toiletries, linen, shoes, purses, watches, blankets, sweaters, caps, household items, travel bags, etc. We also find sponsors for repatriating the workers, for education for special needs children and for medical expenses for low income group families.
My main aim is to get the children involved in my initiative. My satisfaction knows no bounds when children as young as 4 and 5 years old, give a bit out of their pocket money to ‘give something to the poor so that they can be happy’. I love it when children come out with us on Fridays for the distribution. I believe that starting young with such beautiful intent will eventually change the Universe. They are our future and they need to nourish compassion in their souls from this early age. Only then can we depart peacefully, knowing that there could have been no better legacy to leave behind to our children, than to lead a humble and meaningful life, in the selfless service for others. I have my husband Viraf’s support, but what pleases me the most is that my boys Arzan and Kaizad are also following the same path of compassion and service.
I have now started giving out positive talks to people to get them out of their problems and help them focus on the current moment, but with a positive vision for the future. There is no point in crying over spilt milk and blaming others for their situation. It is important to think positive, and be grateful for what we have and for what we WILL have. At that moment the situation will be not what you wish for, but some time in the future, you will realize that there was a reason why it happened. Problems come into everyone’s lives. However the magnitude & intensity of the situation may be different. It is how we look at it that will guide us on the path forward.
Many of my contacts get an occasional good morning mail from me, which is a slide I compile with an inspirational or a motivating quote on an appropriate picturesque background.
Ending with my signature line -
“Life becomes harder for us when we live for others, but it also becomes richer and happier.”