Unsung Heroines and Heroes

New Picture (46)Not Without My Daughters


Shalini Umachandran | TNN

The only male in this family of 13 is a gorgeous brown German Shepherd named Lupin. Pharmacologist and medical researcher Vimala Seshadri lives with 10 girls between the ages of four and 20, who come from underprivileged backgrounds, and two dogs.

“We’re an all-women household,” says Vimala, who has been bringing up the girls as her own daughters in a small home in Injambakkam for the past nine years. While the younger girls study at a nearby CBSE school, the older ones have just started working.

Twenty-two year old Sashi, who came to Vimala when she was 14, is doing her BCom through correspondence and works as an au pair for an expat couple. “The older girls also babysit for expat couples on weekends. The money they make is put aside for them,” says Vimala.
In Vimala’s home, the focus is on education and being independent. The girls live with her through the year and go back to their parents during the holidays.

“We go back for a while, but this is home too,” says Divya (18), who’s paraplegic and has just finished class 12 at a special school. She’s planning to start her own baking business.

Born to Indian parents in the US, Vimala had never really visited India, though her family was originally from Chennai. “I could just as easily have gone to Cambodia or Vietnam, I had no particular affinity for India despite being of Indian origin,” she says.

She decided to work with children while she was living in Michigan in 1993. “Soon after I had made that promise to myself, I got a call from the local hospital asking I could help out with a little Indian girl who had come in and couldn’t speak English. That’s what made me think of coming to India.”

She came to India in 1994 and until 1997, worked in an orphanage in Tirukundram. “It made me realise that though the children were well looked after, they needed one-onone attention.”

So in 1998, she set up the Nivedita Centre for Learning in the US as an organisation that not only focussed on education but on making girls financially independent. She and trustee R N Prasad started an India branch in 2000 and Vimala moved to Chennai to put her idea to practice. “We found this property and moved here in 2000.

The lease runs out in 2010 and we’re still looking for a place. It’s hard to find a place that is willing to take in a family as diverse as ours,” she says. Vimala’s been putting her own money into the home with help from a few donors — it costs about Rs 5 lakh to Rs 6 lakh a year to keep the centre running.

She juggles work as a senior project information and feasibility associate at Icon Clinical Reasearch in Perungudi and her large family.
Vimala also conducts tuition classes for girls from the nearby fishing village. She pays for a master to tutor the older girls, while Esther teaches the girls from classes one to three. “That’s how I realised I wanted to be a teacher,” says Esther. “I want to become a Montessori teacher and also study abroad” she says.

The others have big dreams too — Maheswari wants to be an astronaut, or the President of India. Vaishali wants to be an accountant. “I wanted to be a pilot, but realised I loved numbers after I started doing Vimala Akka’s accounts,” says the class nine student. “You can be both,” interrupts Vimala. “You can get a licence after you finish your CA,” and then adds, “Vaishali’s been doing my accounts for three years. My auditors have never found a mistake.”

Vimala believes that every city should have at least one home based on her model. “With a little bit of money, you can do a lot,” she says. “You just have to be ready to give each person one-on-one attention.”

Lighting the lives of less privileged

TOI honours the city’s unsung heroes who are doing their bit away from the public glare

Kalyani Sardesai | TNN


New Picture (47)

In his modest little ways, 39-year-old businessman Sanjay Deshmukh seeks to brighten the lives of the less privileged. Be it distributing a hundred solar lanterns for free to villagers who don’t have electricity in their homes, or sponsoring the education of needy children in his native village Kasegaon in Sangli district, Deshmukh believes that it is the small things make a big difference.

“There is so much poverty in rural areas that despite the government providing free education to children, they sit at home because their parents can’t afford to buy books or uniforms,” he says, adding, “They are usually the children of poor farmers or landless labourers, and it’s really sad when the parents decide to keep the child home just because they can’t pay for these essentials.”

But even as Deshmukh ensures such children are able to attend school, he is careful to stress that the funding is strictly performance based. “I insist on a copy of their report cards,” he says.

Apart from this, Deshmukh, the owner of a factory that manufactures solar products, distributes about a hundred solar lanterns to needy villagers or school-going children every year, free of cost. “The solar lantern is a far better option than the traditional kerosene lamp. Not only is the light from this lamp much stronger, it is cheaper and pollution-free. It helps the villagers save a lot of money and improves the quality of their life. In fact, so many of them have told me that it feels like Diwali after their days spent in darkness,” he smiles.
“To me, social work is not a solitary effort,” he says.

In order to ensure that help is extended to those who truly need it, Deshmukh sources the relevant database from non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and social workers. “I also have friends in Zilla Parishad schools who let me know about school-going children who don’t have electricity at home. My company gives out lanterns to them too,” he adds.

Having helped around 30 children with their educational needs over the last four years, Deshmukh is now in the process of opening a school near Kolhapur. “The trust has been registered and we are now seeking approval. Initially, it is going to be for children between standard V and VII,” he says.

56 jail inmates clear Class X examination



Fifty-six of the 98 inmates of various prisons in the state who appeared in this year’s Class X examination have passed, while 16 failed and the results of 26 were withheld for various reasons. Dinakaran (29) of Nagercoil, sentenced to life imprisonment in a murder case, was the prison topper with 330 marks out of 500 while the youngest was a 19-year-old inmate of a Pudukottai juvenile home.

“At least 6,000 inmates have attained primary education after the launch of the 100 percentage literacy programme a few months ago. Udhaya Karan of Orissa, arrested and remanded by RPF personnel on theft charges, is now able to write in Tamil.

In the 2008-09 academic year, the prison department spent Rs 7 lakh for prisoners’ education. Tamil Nadu Liberation Army leader Maran alias Senguttuvan, an accused in the Rajkumar kidnap case, has completed his PhD,” director-general of police (prisons) R Nataraj said.

“We have invited many NGOs to conduct courses periodically for prisoners.

Emphasis will be on vocational and professional courses like computer applications, animation, carpentry, electrical and masonry work,” he added.