Quitting For A Cause: The Stuff Heroes Are Made Of

A lot many of us wish to work for society but either we claim not to have enough time or are busy with our professional lives or have some other reason that keeps us away from doing what our heart yearns for. But we met some people who had no such excuse to chase their dreams. And these dreams were not for themselves but for the world at large. And their urge to do this was so strong that nothing deterred them not even the fear that they would be left penniless and homeless.  What is common between all these dedicated and selfless workers is that they quit their lucrative careers to do their bit for society.

When Dr Ami Yagnik became a general surgeon all she wanted to do was be one of the best in her city and work towards the betterment of her patients. She never looked back ever since she began practice in the city of Surat. Moving from strength to strength Dr Yagnik was one of the most sought-after doctors in Surat. She soon opened her own hospital called Abhinav Hospital. But for this young doctor money never was the driving force. “Right from the beginning money was never a priority for me,” says Amiben. “In fact, I was first exposed to rural life when I was doing my internship in Jhagadia village (near Ankleshwar) way back in 1984. I can say this was the turning point in my life. I finished my studies and did a lot of work in that village. It was very satisfying even then. I even go back to Jhagadia as a visiting doctor even now.”

Dr. Ami Yagnik

Soon Amiben’s practice grew leaps and bounds but her heart lay elsewhere. “I did earn a lot of money but I wanted to give more and more time to charity. So when I turned 53 in 2014 I closed down my hospital and began to only focus on social work. Fortunately, my husband Kamlesh who is an engineer and my children were very supportive of my decision and encouraged me to do whatever I wanted to. There was no resistance what so ever and this made things very smooth for me.”

Amiben now uses her professional expertise for charity. And since then began to focus on reproductive health education in rural areas. She goes to high schools and colleges in tribal areas of South Gujarat where she is part of the Ramkrishna Samvedna Trust, Sitapur and gives them an understanding on adolescence, anatomy, how to remain healthy and other such related areas. “For me, the most crucial area that needs to be tackled is environmental issues. I am a volunteer for Green the red campaign, a pan-India project where we focus on using sustainable measures for menstruation. Most of us are unaware of the harm we cause to the environment by using disposable sanitary napkins. The use of either reusable cloth pads is not just a cheaper option but also eco-friendly. We have also introduced menstruation cups which are silicon cups worn inside the vagina and are so safe that one can run, swim and even dance with them. Not only are these economical they too do no harm to the environment. It costs about Rs 600 per cup which can last for about 10 years! “

Dr Yagnik works at removing social taboos by educating women in the rural areas.  “Some time back a research was carried which threw up some shocking statistics. How many of us are aware that a city like Bangalore alone produces 9 tonnes of waste per day from the use of baby diapers and sanitary pads? If every woman in India was to use sanitary pads imagine what it would do to our ecosystem?” asks a worried Dr Yagnik.

Her other focus is gender equality and she works for this through an organization called “Olakh” in Baroda.  She is also part of a group called Parenting for peace where she discusses eliminating subtle violence during parenting by adopting non-discriminatory/ non-judgmental behaviour. She is also working with the Hardik Jariwala foundation in the villages of Dang where she helps with school health medical camps.

Dr Yagnik continues to live in Surat but travels 4-5 days a week to conduct surgical camps in the rural areas. She is involved with NGOs like Anjali, Ranasan Gram Sewa trust, Kharel, Sewa rural. She also often goes to Chikhli to educate the Adivasi youth there. “Now I operate only once a week (every Monday) in the city of Surat. The rest of the days are dedicated to social work.“

Dr Yagnik indeed is an example as she leads from the front. With no time for herself, she had dedicated her entire life to so many causes. After decades of selfless service, she hasn’t even for a moment regretted her decision of giving up personal life for a life totally dedicated to others.

And she isn’t alone in her endeavour to improve the lives of the less fortunate. Rajendra Jariwala wound up a flourishing textile business to work in the deep interiors of the forests of Daang. Life took a complete 360-degree turn for the businessman turned social worker. But he not only found satisfaction doing this he also experienced a sense of calm and happiness.

Unfortunately, it was a tragic moment in his life that turned his life around. “In 1999 I lost my 12-year-old son Hardik. I was devastated and took me a long time to get over his death. Life became meaningful when I met his school friend Zubin Kabrawala in 2012. He was now a Chartered Accountant and he came up to me and asked me if I remembered him. I did. I was overjoyed at having met him. It was at that moment that I decided to start a foundation in Hardik’s name and I wanted Zubin to be a trustee. He agreed and to date, he is actively involved in the work I believe in.”

Rajendra Jariwala

Rajendrabhai began by following the three basic tenets of social work- vidyadaan ( the gift of education), annadaan ( the gift of food) and vastradaan (the gift of clothes). “I had no road map when I began,” confesses Rajbhai as he is fondly known. “I requested 3 of my friends to become trustees and all of us had one common emotion- to concentrate only on the rural areas. I already had some land in Shabridham (Daang district) where Murari Bapu had done a Ram Katha and he asked me to start from this holy land. We selected the village of Mokhamaan as Bapu had a small hut there. I often went there and I decided to help the children of this village. So, on my son’s birthday in 2002 we began in a small way by donating school bags and uniforms. In 2013 we helped 125 kids of the local school in Mokhamaan.”

He currently looks after the education, health, nutrition, hygiene, sports equipment of over 800 school kids.  Every year in the memory of his son he organizes an art competition and gives away 3 prizes to the winners thereby encouraging talent in these young kids.

By then the 50-year-old Rajbhai had completely closed down his business. “I shut down my work at the factory and gave it up on rent. The income that I now made was used for charity and my basic needs. Initially, I thought I would never ever ask people for donations as that was not how I wanted to work. But when friends got to know about the kind of work I was doing many gave me funds to help the kids. Now things have changed as I have spread my area of work to the neighbouring villages as well. I need funds for a lot of things. Hence I do appeal through social media. “I believe that one should not give more than what they require as then you can reach out to many more needy kids. When I first went to Mokhamaan in 2013 I distributed stationery and the joy on the faces of the kids was a delight to see. I was told that this small gesture had motivated them to attend school more regularly. Until then the school had a poor attendance record. So when I went the next year I gave them kits and the attendance further improved. In fact, the kids from the neighbouring villages even began to seek admission in this school though it was about 12 kms away. Though they had no home here, they came to live with their relatives in the village and went home only for the weekend. This was a huge motivation even for us.”

Rajbhai who spends most of his time in the Daang villages now has taken over the needs of four other schools along with the main school in Mokhamaan. “I am not involved in the management issues of the schools but only help with the needs of the kids. Even if the teachers need anything we help out. Now I also organize medical camps for the kids. I had a very gratifying experience at one of the camps where a girl was detected with a problem in one of the valves of her heart and needed a corrective surgery. The cost of this operation was about Rs 2 lacs. I got her admitted to a hospital in Chennai which gave us a 50% discount and our foundation gave her Rs 1 lakh. I had accompanied her to Chennai with her family and was told that Dr Columbus a specialist from Switzerland would operate on her. She had a successful surgery and its almost 4 years now and the girl went on to complete her schooling and is now pursuing a course in nursing as she was so inspired by the nurses in her hospital. Alongside she is also doing her 12th grade.”

Rajbhai often saw that kids dropped out of school as they didn’t have bags to carry their books in or no proper footwear to walk on the rough roads of these villages. He hence got them haversacks to carry on their backs and shoes as well. The dropout rate fell and more and more kids came happily to school. Year after year his foundation helps school kids with umbrellas, shoes, toiletries and even hand wash. “In fact, hand wash is now my permanent project and I even give them hand towels. Every day before lunch they have to wash their hands and I have even given them hand wash to carry home so that they maintain the same hygiene at home.”

And Rajbhai is not alone in his mission. His wife and older son and daughter-in-law support him in all his projects.  The need this year is for school bags. “I need funds for bags as all our resources have been used for other essentials. I have faith that some good person will help out with this need as well,” says the optimistic Rajbhai. “I am so happy doing this that I don’t crave for anything else now. My life begins and ends with these kids from the rural areas. For me, life has begun at 50. Till then I was a successful businessman now I am a satisfied human being.”

If life began at 50 for Rajbhai life began at 30 for Priya Nadkarni.  A successful investment banker working in Bangalore, Priya just didn’t find her calling. She always felt she lacked something until 2012 when her work at the bank threw up an answer. “Raising funds for social enterprises was a part of my work as a banker. It was during one such project that I realized I wanted to work at the grass root level rather than sitting in the air-conditioned comfort of my office. I wanted to work with people rather than with numbers,” informs Priya.  “I quit my job much to the disapproval of my parents. But they felt this would be a passing phase and I would soon get back to my corporate job.” But the MBA educated Priya packed her bags and left for Madhya Pradesh to a village called Mohagaon in Mandla district. She joined an NGO called Pradan (Professional assistance for development action) which focuses on gender self-help. “I was interested in vocational training and employability for tribal youth and hence I shifted base to Mandla. During the course of my work, I realized that what was needed was to get to the bottom of this problem and that could be only achieved through education.”

Priya Nadkarni

There were several challenges to overcome and Priya was not one to be deterred. Her keen desire to doing something to improve the lives of the children of this area kept her going. And 4 years later in 2016, Priya started the Riverside Natural School in Mohgaon. “I have 113 kids in this school where they are trained right from the beginning to be independent, to be able to secure their livelihood to make them into individuals that the world cannot ignore. The school is currently from Nursery to class 5. But I have plans to take it up to class 10. We teach them subjects like robotics too. Just because it is a rural place doesn’t mean that they are not taught what the modern world needs. We also have a football program for girls. The idea is to work with women footballers. I currently have 16 girls who are being trained in this sport. The social good will happen but the idea is to make them competitive footballers. We provide coaching, give them shoes and even organize tournaments as most of these places have no such tournaments for girls. In fact, 3 of our girls made it to the state level women football matches. The NGO for which I work for called MRIDA education and welfare association is the only NGO that does this,” says a proud Priya as she continues.

“When I quit my job I was jumping into the unknown. Though I was excited I was a bit unsure so I just took up a 4-month long project. But soon I was so absorbed that I not only ended up joining Pradan full time but even decided to make Mohgaon my home. My family had their reservations as I was quitting a well-paying job and I was very well settled. But I was adamant and going against their belief that I wouldn’t last longer than 4 months but its almost 6 years now!”

Priya met her husband-to-be Digvijay whilst working on this project and they soon got married. Fired by the same goals the couple now works together and nurture the same dream. “Digvijay is an MBA from Bhubaneshwar and has been in Mohgaon since 2009. He always wanted to do social work and hence had joined Pradan when I met him. We have a well-defined vision and dream. We have a dream, not for ourselves but for this region, our footballers and our school. We are now looking for land to build a boarding school for kids as kids in this area travel long distances so a residential school is the need of the hour. All along this journey, there have been several challenges but there have been small victories as well. When we hear our kids speak even a single sentence in English it’s an achievement for us. When we see our girls run ‘freely’ as against the time when they were so self-conscious and couldn’t use their limbs freely it’s a celebration for us. They are now not just free physically but emotionally as well. And this is our strength.”

Priya helps 113 kids of her school not only with their education but also with their uniforms, books and travel. Currently, 225 kids have enrolled in the footballer’s program from the 3 neighbouring villages. A few kids do pay fees in her school but she now aims at providing totally free education only for the poorest of the poor.  Like most rural kids Mohgaon also sees a high dropout rate in schools. “And this is due to the poor transport facilities in the villages. We have therefore hired a vehicle to bring them to school and drop them back. This has helped us reduce the dropout rate. But what’s next on my wishlist is to provide good food daily to these kids.”

Currently, her biggest problem is finance. “I do not take any salary from the NGO and hence to support myself I take up online consulting. We don’t make big money but just enough to tide over our basic requirements. Yet another challenge is that unlike others who have a city office we don’t as we live here and work here as well so don’t have anybody to liaison with partners..”

Challenges, hurdles, pitfalls are all part of life and the young a feisty go-getter Priya, is not one to buckle under.  There is indeed no looking back now. She shall realize her dream.

When the successful Indian School of Business graduate Purnota Dutta Bahl quit her corporate job she was only in her thirties but there was a fire in her belly. After a visit to the TATA Memorial Hospital, she returned home to take one of the most important decisions of her life.

Purnota Dutta Bahl

In a country like India, healthy and nutritious meals and supplements are a luxury to underprivileged families. Malnutrition is a frequent cause of death in children with cancer. “Giving up the job was difficult but it was meant to be. I made things happen for me as I wanted to do something for those kids. “Her journey of establishing the Cuddles Foundation started when she came across families of children undergoing cancer treatment, and the challenges they faced including lack of funds and access to nutritious meals. She decided to use her knowledge and skills to make a difference to those in need.

She went on to start Cuddles foundation in 2012 which is the first organization to place nutritionists systematically in 19 hospitals across the country after training them in pediatric oncology. Currently, Cuddles looks after 35000 kids across 10 cities and next year it plans to reach out to 2 and 3 tier cities like Cuttack, Srinagar where there is absolutely no help for such kids. In 2015 Cuddles was conferred with the National Award for Child Welfare.

Sharing her unusual journey she says, “A chance visit to TATA memorial hospital was my tipping point. At that point, my husband (an ISB alumnus) and I were pledging a part of our salaries to TATA memorial hospital. I visited the hospital to meet the families we were supporting. On my way out, I saw the feet of a little baby in her mother lap, which exactly looked like my little girl’s.That was a moment of epiphany for me. I realized that my child could have been there. That was it. I had to do something.

While doing my research I found out to my horror that we were losing kids in treatment not to cancer but to malnourishment. Also, most people did not mind donating for treatment but to raise funds for nutrition of these children was hard, and Cuddles was formed.

Mumbai based Cuddles Foundation works in partnership with the government and charity hospitals such as Tata Memorial Hospital in Mumbai, AIIMS in New Delhi, Kidwai Memorial in Bengaluru, SGPGI in Lucknow and NRS Medical College in Kolkata. Interestingly, Cuddles Foundation has an all-female team – from executive directors to pediatric nutritionists. The organisation provides a great opportunity for women who have taken a career break or are looking at starting a career in social work. “They care deeply about the cause and are able to work at a fraction of a compensation that they would be earning in a corporate set up,” adds Purnota.

Purnota, a mother of three young girls is a lady with a mission. With her husband working for the Government of Singapore Purnota multi-tasks. Sure having a provider made it easier for her to give up her job at the MNC but since it was something she always wanted to do she decided to take the plunge. “We went down from a double income to a single income family and it was difficult. I was used to indulging in luxuries so initially, it was a bit hard. Moreover, I didn’t take any remuneration from Cuddles as then I could convince donors that whatever they donated went 100% to the beneficiary without any part of it going to the NGO for its basic expenses like paying salaries.  I didn’t have a choice but to quit as my heart was now set at doing something in this area. Philanthropy is very gratifying and makes for good remuneration as well. I am lucky to say being a woman entrepreneur in the not for profit space actually worked to my advantage. I could connect with other compassionate, career driven women getting back from maternity who felt deeply for the cause of nutrition for cancer-afflicted children.

Talking about Cuddles which is involved in doing some phenomenal work, Purnota explains, “We have trained nutritionists who also engage in parental counselling. The other very successful programme that is helping parents stay in treatment is the monthly ration programme where the organisation supports not just the child but also the parents. We focus on patients who are new registrations because we find that abandonment is most rampant in the early months. By supporting them when they most need it, we are ensuring that patients stay in treatment.”

She goes on to add that their focus is to teach parents to feed their kids with the limited resources they have. “People have forgotten how to use nutritious food like ragi, sattu etc that is part of our Indian food culture. We have to work doubly hard with this as most of the parents are very illiterate and come from an economically weak background.”

Sharing some beautiful milestones in her journey so far Purnota says, There is an abundance of memorable moments that makes all of us get up and show up to work day after day. For example, an 11-year old Nandu was abandoned at the hospital corridor in Mumbai. Earlier he used to do odd jobs, along with his treatment in hospital .After being adopted by Cuddles, he now goes to school, is well nourished, and is even doing very well in his treatment. Similar is the case of Aarti (Kolkata) who came in as a 12-year-old for treatment with a weight of 12 kgs and now she is a healthy 33 kgs and is able to take the right doses of chemotherapy.”

Purnota is a ray of hope for not just the lives she touches but for all whom she meets. Inspiring and encouraging all to do their little bit for society is what she urges. Way to go…may the tribe of all such beautiful souls increase.

This is the stuff heroes are made of.

Preview Photo: ilclinicalsw.com

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