Pratima Arjariya: Raising orphans as her own children
She is the mother to 51 children, including 30 girls. But Pratima Arjariya, 50, of Sagar, is the biological mother of only two of them.
The other 49 have been raised by her in the orphanage - Sanjeevani Bal Ashram - that she has run for the past 15 years.
Her huge family - the oldest inmate of the orphanage is 22 and the youngest is three - is full of love and, according to the inmates, they never feel the absence of their real mother.
Arjariya’s association with the orphanage started when she was an assistant to her mother-in-law, Satyabhama, who established it in 1990 with six children.
After her mother-in-law’s death in 2007, Arjariya took over the management and is now more busy than ever with its activities.
Though the orphanage gets a government grant, it is nothing compared to the expenses of `80,000 to `90,000 incurred by the Arjariyas to run the facility.
The home provides basic necessities and education to the inmates with the help of a warden and number of helpers and also takes care of the marriage of girls who attain suitable age.
Her husband, Rajshekhar, who runs a small-scale industry, and other family members chip in with funds.
“Till now we have managed to settle 16 girls in marriage happily. We play the role of parents for them in every way,” Arjariya says.
All inmates are encouraged to pursue higher education and find good jobs.
Gaurav, 22, is a graduation student who works part time.
“She is a veritable mother for all of us. We never saw our actual parents and do not miss them at all,” he says.
— Anupam Pateriya
Shibani Ghosh: Taking care of children in need
Watching Shibani Ghosh, 44, interact with a group of children is interesting.
It is the way she gets along with them and encourages them in every activity that holds the key to the success of her endeavour - Parvarish, The Museum School.
An innovative education project, Parvarish educates underprivileged children from poor settlements. The journey of Parvarish started with 40 children nine years ago and has now expanded to include 150 children from ten slums of Bhopal. The organisation conducts several programmes for skill development for the children.
Born in Bhilai in Chhattisgarh, Ghosh was raised in a lower middle-class family. Social work inspired her and perhaps that is why, despite having a Masters in English literature and completing her BEd, Ghosh chose serving society above other professions.
She was zealous about helping the downtrodden with her education and started working as a project coordinator in her own organization, Oasis, which runs Parvarish. It hasn’t been a smooth ride for Ghosh but her dogged determination never faltered. Her selfless work for children has earned her several awards in the past couple of years.
“What purpose does your education serve if you cannot utilise it in serving society? Education is the most profound medium of empowering a nation. I always wanted to help children who cannot afford to go to school and thus started Parvarish. The joy of watching these kids excel is unmatched,” says the social activist.
— Shayali Choudhury
Meenakshi Dubey Pathak: Promoting prehistoric rock art
Meenakshi Dubey Pathak’s long running romance with prehistoric rock art makes her stand out in an arena that is predominantly male, at least in India.
The wife of an army officer and mother of two daughters, the 50-year-old never let her first love pass and has been working as an independent rock art researcher and artist from the past 25 years.
Her contribution to the field is immense, especially in context of Madhya Pradesh, where she began her field work under the guidance of prominent archaeologist Vishnu Shreedhar Wakankar. She not only discovered many painted rock shelters in Pachmarhi, but was instrumental in protecting 10 rock art sites within Satpura National Park.
She also got a Petroglyph Park (named Trishul) with the Indian Army at Karu near Leh in 2002.
The researcher’s work goes beyond India. She has visited 30 painted ice age caves in France and Spain, and sites in Italy, the US and China to understand prehistoric rock art and culture worldwide. She also took up international projects with French pre-historian Jean Clottes and is an advisor with Britain’s Bradshaw Foundation. She has also written several research papers and books and held exhibitions on rock art.
“Rock art has always inspired me and I feel contributing to protecting the prehistoric heritage is something worthwhile I can do,” she says.
She was recently bestowed with the Chevalier des Arts et Lettres (Knight in the National Order of Arts and Letters) by the French government for her contributions.
— Sravani Sarkar
Madhuri Mishra: Mother to 24 homeless elderly
A young man approaches a woman caretaker of an old-age home and puts a bundle of currency notes on a table, saying he would like to contribute for a noble cause on the occasion of his birthday.
“We don’t need the money, we need your time. Can you spend some time with my kids here?” the woman asks.
Meet Madhuri Mishra, 49, fondly addressed as “amma” by her wards aged between 60 and 70 years. Mishra runs the Apnaghar old-age home on Kolar Road in Bhopal, where she looks after and showers love on 24 homeless elderly people.
“I used to get upset by seeing the miserable conditions of old people thrown out of their homes, right from my childhood. I used to feel ashamed and always tried to help them. When I grew up, I decided to dedicate my life to serve these people and give them their share of happiness,” says Mishra.
Among the inmates of the home are cancer patients, and those with obsessive compulsive disorder, leprosy and scabies. But personal care is Mishra’s domain. “Didi often bathes them and takes care of their hygiene as she does not want to leave her job to someone else,” says Lalita Singh, one of the helpers at Apnaghar.
“We celebrate every festival here, be it Christmas, Holi or Diwali. We have elders belonging to all religions and I don’t want to miss their traditions,” says Mishra. An inmate said: “With her, we feel we have found our mother again.”
— Khusboo Joshi