Listening to music, little did I realise when I nodded off on the bus to Bijapur. A call from an unknown number woke me up but I was feeling too drowsy to answer. When the person called for a third time, I figured that I should answer. “Hello, I’m Shyamala from Spurthi Mahila Mandal,” came the voice from the other end. I immediately got back to my senses and apologized for not answering before. Shyamala’s warm voice with a tinge of concern went on to ask me where I’d reached and to not be anxious about safety since as it was almost dark. Her concern washed away my fatigue and even brought a smile to my face. I couldn’t help but think how this call was just an inkling about her personality and work.
As I got off the bus, I was pleased to see Mr. Ranjeet waiting to receive me at the bus stop. Ranjeet, a final year Master’s student, is also project manager at SMM. He gave me a brief tour of the city as we drove up to SMM – an ancient city located inside the four walls of the fort, boasts of a rich culture and is a treat for history buffs. But in the depth of the city lies backwardness, poverty, and inequality to a great extent – a fact that becomes clear when I learnt that the city has four colonies accommodating its Leprosy-affected.
Many people want to dedicate our lives to making a difference but only a few actually land up doing so – Shyamala, the founder of SMM, is one of those people. Dressed in a plain blue saree, in her late 50s, and with a huge smile on her face, she said, “I dropped in to welcome you to Bijapur and check if you are comfortable. Please freshen up and join me in the office.”
SMM’s office was impressive in its austere simplicity. A computer for office use on the right side and few chairs on the left was all that it had. Shyamala, then ran me through their work of providing shelter and food for the elderly, aiding the physically disabled to lead a normal life, guiding HIV/AIDS and TB patients with their treatments etc. We then proceeded to visit their old age home – a small house, which has been rented by SMM. Old people who are being helped by the organization come here for breakfast and lunch and carry a box home for their dinner.
I learnt that most of them had been abandoned by their families. They reach the organization through word of mouth and community surveys. Few of them don’t have a shelter; those who do aren’t given food or medicines. “These folks have now become like family. They are eager to come here every day – to meet and chat with each other. SMM gives them meals as well as the feel of a family” explains Ranajeet.
“I heard about SMM through a friend. I’m studying and I wanted to earn my own pocket money. SMM wanted communications help then. So I came on board to help them with social media, provide email support and other odd task. I have developed an interest towards this work and now contribute to community surveys too. It feels good to earn my own money and not ask my father for money for petrol or movies. Shyamala ma’am is a like mother to me. After my masters, she is sending me abroad for further studies,” says Ranajeet.
On the way back to the office from the home, Susheela Mitade, who is secretary of the organization turned to me and said, “I want to share my story of how SMM helped me in gaining back confidence. My husband died within a few months of my marriage. Our son was only 10 days old then. He never saw his father. This was too much for me to handle post pregnancy and I soon found myself depressed. I was vulnerable and could not face people. When Shyamala ma’am got to know about me through a field worker, she approached and counseled me about employment and how can I restart my life. She recruited me in her own organization as a computer programmer and accountant. Later in one of the board meeting, they voted for me as secretary of the organization.”
Paucity of funds and lack of resources never deterred Shyamala from achieving her dream – to help women become confident and contribute to the livelihood of their family.
My 2 days at SMM not only taught me about the organisation’s great work but more importantly, made me realise how humility and humbleness is the ticket for reaching out to people and extending a helping hand.