This article was first published in ‘White Print’ – a braille magazine for the visually impaired, founded and published by Upasana Makati.
A heart full of unconditional love can have numinous effects on deep wounds. Drawing inspiration from the benevolent acts of Mother Teresa, Ratna Joshi has a story that each one of us needs to absorb within. A resident of Pune, Joshi desires to spread joy, love and happiness everywhere around her. With her Ballerina Management Institute Trust that was started in 2006, she does just that.
The Trigger That Started The Giving Journey
In 1997, I recognized that I had a desire to give back to the society. I had been raised in a home where I wanted for nothing. I was loved and cherished. That year, I visited a village in India called Vhiram, located just outside Pune. There, I found three to four dilapidated rooms that doubled as a school for the village children. The students were eager to learn, but educationally, they were making very little progress because the learning environment was so challenging.
The rooms were hot during summer time. School supplies such as pencils and paper were minimal and often had to be shared among the students. Because of cataracts, some kids couldn’t see clearly when the teacher was writing on the blackboard. Some came to school hungry because there wasn’t proper food at home. Some were products of homes rife with domestic violence. Another crucial issue was related to menstruation. Girls of the village had no one to educate them about hygiene during their periods.
This part of Indian society had so much potential, but was living like the disenfranchised. This certainly troubled me.
The Plan Of Action
I reached out to my network and asked who would raise their hands to help me. Within a few days, I assembled a passionate team of volunteers. Together we set about analyzing each of the children. Some were orphans. Some were products of tribal upbringings. Some had learning disability and needed extra attention. Our plan emphasized on addressing each child’s needs independently. One of the methods we used was engaging them in making posters about their feelings.
Since the children lived so close to the Earth, it was important to me that they learn how to protect and cherish their own environment. So we held tree plantation drives. We taught them about cleanliness and the importance of draining sewage away and created science projects to teach them about technology.
I was now able to realize my true purpose. I understood how, empowering women would be the apt step one. Needless to say, women are the caretakers of the family and their success would lead the entire family to the road of success. However, I also understood that I couldn’t impose my Western philosophy and way of thinking on them. It was imperative to address basic needs, such as where the next meal was coming from before I could talk about the importance of saving or learning soft skills.
Educate The Women To Educate The Village
We gathered and distributed food such as nutritional fruits and biscuits. I had good network with the local hospitals and we got some doctors to perform check for diabetes and perform surgeries for free over the weekends. They counseled mothers on how to keep and store medication and avoid them from getting spoiled. The doctors also taught them to identify and treat the children for calcium deficiencies, anemia, and even a common cold.
We conducted surveys and discovered that most girls dropped out of school after the 10th grade. They were forced to stay home and help with the household chores or simply married off. In order to tackle this, we used the tool of street plays to help them articulate the issues they were grappling with. We began to reach out to the women who were victims of domestic violence and held camps to talk about what was happening to them. We talked about how substances such as alcohol and drugs just worked to perpetuate more violence.
Eventually, we got to the point where we taught them soft skills, such as biscuit making, muffin making, chocolate making, candle making, spice making. Their eyes just lit up, as over time, the women learned to stand on their own two feet financially and take ownership of their lives.
The Inception Of Ballerina Management Institute Trust
In 2006, I registered this effort as an NGO called Ballerina Management Institute Trust (BMI Trust) with the Government of India. I feel incredibly proud because something that started as a one-town project in Vhiram, eventually expanded to missions of doctors and teachers who visit 38 rural and tribal areas regularly today.
I think everyday is a new learning for me. The rural woman is strong both physically and mentally. She is undoubtedly ready to learn about all the development that is happening around her. In fact she does man’s job on the field with ease; ploughing, herd grazing, among many other. She manages time with perfection. And let me tell you this is not controlled by checking time on the watch but just by observing the direction of the sun.
The Treasured Soul-Touching Stories
It was the year 2007. It was almost six months since our volunteers were doing great contribution towards the rural school at Uruwade (located on the outskirts of Pune). A very peculiar incident came to notice.
Two girls from the third and fifth grade were always marked late for school but consistently secured the first position in their class. I spoke to the teacher to address my concern.
These young girls had lost their parents a year ago while they were crossing the highway. They lived with their grandparents, one suffering from a kidney failure and the other with weak eyesight. Their house had a broken roof and they did not even own cattle. The family had a lot of debt to repay. She told me that this seven and nine year old would wash utensils and clothes in the house and then leave to beg for food in order to feed their grandparents. After managing to get some food from the neighborhood, they would attend school.
For the first time in my life I sat frozen and tears trickled down my cheeks. I was unable to react and just prayed to Almighty.
My NGO immediately took up their cause. The grandmother got operated for cataract and the grandfather was taken to the best hospital in the locality. His treatment started at the Bharti Hospital (Lavale). The roof of the house was taken care of and we provide them with monthly grocery till date. The girls are doing great and the grandparents are very happy with their lives. I must say, this was all possible thanks to the heartwarming dedication and persuasion of our volunteers!
Initial Challenges Identified And Tackled
I plunged into this venture with a completely different mindset. I had visited a few schools in and around Pune, and realized that there was a massive communication gap between the teachers and students due to which the children were not able to make progress. With the help of our volunteers, we began to teach the kids over weekends. In the process, I began noticing other grave problems that needed to be dealt with; dental issues, cataracts, domestic violence, hygiene, tobacco chewing, girl child issues, education and much more. Under BMI, we started programs like Swapnapurti, Doordrishti, Swapnashrishti, free medical aid, and health and hygiene to focus on these problems.
Message To The World
To bring smile on every face whom I come in contact with. To be able to guide and motivate the less fortunate towards their dreams. Everyone is welcome into our world. You can join us as volunteers, as supporters and motivators in your capacity. I always say –
If you have time, share with us!
If you have knowledge, share with us!
If you have money, share with our projects!
We, at KnowYourStar, resonate strongly with Ratna Joshi’s journey and find it very much in tandem with out Mentor India initiative. We look forward to the knowledge sharing and growing! 🙂
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