Working with Basundhara

 

My first exposure to service in Orissa was in 1995 when Dr. D.P. Mishra, my husband, Prof. Subhendra D. Mahanti and I visited a local NGO, Basundhara. Basundhara is a shelter home for   destitute women and children at Bidanashi, Cuttack, Orissa. At Basundhara, we saw children- new born, toddlers and older-- some healthy but many with multiple health problems. The building itself was half finished. The staff was trying their best to take care of the children with very limited resources. At our first meeting, I initiated   "Sponsor a Child" project ($120 per year per child).  Devi Mishra made commitment to raise funds for giving nursery equipments for the new born babies for the year 1996-1997.  Dr. Mishra and I successfully continued the "Sponsor a Child" project until 1999.  It was rewarding to see many children benefit from this project.

 

After my retirement in Dec. 1997, I started spending two to three months every year in Orissa and stayed in Basundhara.  Due to a case, the government had stopped all financial support leaving Basundhara in dire financial situation. I sought help from friends and relatives in USA and Canada and their contributions helped ease the crisis. The stay in Basundhara opened my eyes to many social illnesses and to the social and living conditions of women in that part of the country. It also taught me   the culture of social work, a lesson which I wouldn't have learned otherwise. This also gave me an opportunity to meet many women social activists which I enjoyed immensely. I am very thankful to Saila Behera, Secretary of Basundhara, and others for this opportunity. 

 

As a first step towards self sustenance the girls of Basundhara and I started cooking and selling food under a tree in the Sailabala Womens College in Cuttack district. This was not accepted well by many relatives, friends or the Board members of Basundhara. Even the girls from Basundhara did not feel comfortable with this idea. Many had grown up in a culture which associated a sense of shame with activities such as selling food.  Collecting some revenue for Basundhara was one purpose of this activity but more important to me was the desire to dispel this misplaced sense of shame and train them to earn livelihood through different trades   with a sense of pride. 

 

 Still, I was not satisfied what I was doing and was looking for some path through which I could do something which would be significant and useful to others. Also, my problem was my short time in Orissa. I used to pray to God to show me a path; otherwise this would be a dream and would always stay as a dream in my life.  The super cyclone hit the coastal parts of Orissa in October 1999. Encouraged by my experience with Basundhara I visited more than 100   villages which were affected by a super cyclone which hit coastal parts of Orissa in October 1990.  From 1999 to 2002, together with Basundhara, we initiated many new grass root projects in the cyclone affected villages.

 

This experience in the cyclone devastated villages was a turning point in my life.   I realized that my strength is grass root work.  It has given me confidence, trust in myself. It has shown a path through which I can strive to help the most deprived population of the society.  
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