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Sharon Lobo

IWB Blogger

Meet Asha Mehta, Who Has Been Working For Underprivileged Kids For 50 Years

  • IWB Post
  •  June 12, 2018

“Thank you very much for the 977 books worth lakhs of rupees. It will definitely help our students to enrich their reading skills and knowledge forever,” was one of the first things that caught my attention on Ratna Nidhi’s website. This was a testimonial given by the Principal of Maharshi Walmiki Vidyalaya, Pune. Just like this school, Ratna Nidhi has been touching lives of hundreds of people over the last 25 years.

Mrs. Asha Mehta is the backbone of this trust. She has been concerned about our society and environment since a very young age. In college, she made hundreds of field visits to families wanting to adopt a child. As she says, “the joy of seeing an unwanted child become a member of a loving family was what kept me going day after day.”

She subsequently became a trustee of a trust run by a family friend. This exposed her to the various ills plaguing society and the deprivations that poor children were subjected to. The experiences gained in the over 20 years of selfless work made her realize her true calling in life, and she became a trustee of Ratna Nidhi Charitable Trust. Excerpts from an interview:

Your organization Ratna Nidhi exists since the last 25 years, India has evolved a lot since then. Tell us about the difference in the issues that modern India faces.

Ratna Nidhi was started out of compassion and our moral values, with a thought of giving back to society and taking care of the underprivileged. Twenty-five years ago, the issues revolved around hunger, children on the street with no clothes, no bath, begging and eating thrown away food near restaurants.  After 25 years issues of hunger and poverty remain but you see fewer beggars. In modern India, along with these problems, disrespect for fellow human beings, sexual abuse, and drug addiction have come up.

Tell us about how technological advancements have changed or helped NGOs like Ratna Nidhi to become more efficient.

We at Ratna Nidhi are using cutting-edge technology to manufacture artificial leg using 3D printing technology where high tech is used to make a better product at lower cost.

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What changes came about in your life after you got associated with Ratna Nidhi? 

It has allowed me to be more compassionate, more loving and thoughtful of others. Ratna Nidhi has created a platform in more systematic, concrete way for me to work for the upliftment of the underprivileged. I feel personally pleased, satisfied and content with myself as I have been able to make a difference in the lives of many.

To talk about donors, with India becoming self-sufficient and monetarily independent, have they become more giving regarding donations?

Yes, People give donations wholeheartedly without any expectations. I have experienced school going children giving contributions from their pocket money. People are more aware and more caring for those who don’t have.

Have you worked with social organizations before Ratna Nidhi?  Do you remember your first charitable activity from the childhood?

Yes, I have worked with two NGOs for 18 years. When I was 14, I had started working with tribals during my school trips, and that continued in college. It was always my dream to dedicate myself to the well being of others, especially for poor children and orphans.

Your organization works with a lot of causes, tell us about one cause that has been very near to your heart, and you will always strive to work for it.

Food for Education, as we call it, was started in February 1998. This cause has always remained very dear and near to my heart. Food became an incentive for children to go to school. Otherwise, they would have been on the streets begging or taking care of their siblings when parents were out for work. I am always trying to make this project better and better.

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You have received a lot of awards and accolades for your noble work, tell us about one instance which felt like a lifetime achievement and warmed your heart.

In 2003, my husband Mahendra G Mehta, a trustee of Ratna Nidhi, received an award from World of Children from Columbus, the Ohio State of USA, for our work for children. Though the award was given by a world-known organization, I was touched when the children of Columbus schools wrote letters and made an album that they later presented to us. This whole event was very touching.

You work with countries like Afghanistan and Kenya where the challenges are different and far worse compared to India.

The challenges we face while working in countries like Kenya and Afghanistan at present are administration, logistics and to find the right type of people to work with locally.

With social enterprises on a rise, do you think profits and social work can co-exist?

Profit making is good as long as profit is used for the welfare of the society and not personally.

Could you talk about the current programs you are focusing on? 

At present we have projects like Mobility project for physically challenged and hearing impaired, Food for Education and Mission Million Books providing books to libraries of schools for poor children in rural Maharashtra. We also provide a scholarship to children who were affected by terrorist attacks in Mumbai.

We are working with the physically challenged as a pilot project. We provided them with sewing machines, a flour grinding machine and chairs for beauty parlors, which belonged to physically challenged woman, so that they can earn their livelihood.

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How are you involving your kids and how can we make charity a part of parenting?

My kids were seven and nine years old when I started sharing stories of poor children who needed sponsorship for education. I also used to celebrate their birthdays in an orphanage with other children. When they grew up, they saw our involvement in helping other needy people. Without saying much, they used to understand how their parents are spending time and I think this created a great impact on their minds from a very young age.  We used to take them to our Mobility camps and just by seeing the difficulties of disabled people, it created compassion.  This can be the reason that my children are now deeply involved in welfare work along with their business. To help others has become our family mission.

How can we use our own privilege for the social good?

As we have all that is needed to live comfortably, one starts thinking why we are so fortunate.  This in itself should motivate us to use our time, money and intelligence for the greater good.

Any encounter that you will always treasure?

Ratna Nidhi had organized an eye camp at Burundi /Bujumbura in Africa. The camp was done with the help of Rotary club of Burundi and local Indian people living in this area.  We had taken Eye Surgeons from India and the doctor’s wives, and I served as volunteers. This area is very poor and people from 10 months old children to 70 years old men and women came from distant villages to get treated. There was one hospital but no doctors. We were there for two weeks. Every day a different group of patients came. In the operation theatre at a time six surgeries were done. We used to call one local anaesthetic, and every day 30 to 40 surgeries were done. We used to talk to patients with the help of an interpreter.

The first lady of Burundi came to see our work and was so touched that she invited all of us and gave me a Certificate of Recognition. Local Indians used to bring lunch for all of us and provided us with all the facilities. They were so happy that a group of Indian people has come to their country.  They also started fundraising to help the project. I can never forget these 15 days. I remember all the patients, their faces, their faith in us and their blessing is my treasure.

What is the biggest and most precious life lesson you learnt and always share it with others?

When I was in school, I went for a picnic with my parents, and suddenly our car broke down. We had to wait for two hours, that’s when a farm owner came to us and invited us to spend time on his farm. His daughter was of my age, and while talking to her, I realized how happy she was. I asked my father how she is so content in spite of not having any proper schooling or a decent house or adequate clothes. My father told me to spend more time with her to understand her. This incident changed the goal of my life, and I decided to spend my life in helping others. I always narrate this story when I am asked what made you do Sewa for years.

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One advice for anyone who wants to work towards social issues?

Many friends and their daughters come to me regarding this, I always tell them that you need determination, dedication, regularity, and commitment. Sitting in an air-conditioned office, one cannot do this work. One must visit NGOS, slum communities, orphanages to understand their problems and difficulties. That is when one develops compassion and love for needy people around you.

Share the most memorable moment from your 25 years of working with Ratna Nidhi.

Once we had a Mobility camp at Rajgir/Bihar. A 16-year-old boy with one shorter leg came to me. His peers used to tease him. So one of our technicians extended his leg using a Jaipur foot and he could stand properly. He hugged me saying, ‘Didi now I am as tall as you, I can stand properly and walk properly. Now no one will tease me.’ His joy brought tears to my eyes. This was the most emotional moment. Seeing him smile and shine confidence and the way he hugged me, showed his love was very precious for me. It is difficult to say that this is the only memorable incident in my 50 years of work, many memorable moments have come, and this is one of them.

First published on Jan 17, 2018.

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