In India, some days ago, I met the most wonderful lady.
I wish I could express better, in that sentence, the impact she made on my heart and mind.
I was visiting an organization called Stree Mukti Sanghatana with a group of women bank executives from South Africa.
We were there to learn about some of the innovative ways in which this NGO works in the cause of improving the lives of disadvantaged women.
Among their other programs, the one that had caught my eye and due to which I had arranged this visit for the group was this NGO’s waste management program called the Parisar Vikas Project. The organization trains women waste pickers in waste handling and waste collection; it helps them form waste co-operatives; helps them get the right price for the waste they collect for recycling; helps these women to establish micro credit groups; trains them in skills such as composting and vermiculture that use waste; runs bio-gas plants based on waste; promotes health awareness and education for the families of waste pickers.
Seeing some of these projects run by the NGO’s workers- such as the composting pits at a housing colony near the NGO’s office in Chembur which provide the manure for a local plant nursery and the plants and trees growing around the buildings, and a bio-gas plant (also in the area)was a very instructive experience in what can be achieved with “waste”, and one that made me question why we let such powerful, effective ideas go unnoticed and unsung.
We were also fortunate to be able to spend some time with the founder, Ms. Jyoti Mhapsekar.
All the times I talked to her on the phone from here, when I was trying to finalize the details of this meeting before going to India, I gathered only that she seemed very open to sharing her experience with us.
But the hour or so we spent talking with her helped me see the uncommon wisdom and courage of conviction that have made her dedicate the last 30 years of her life to dealing with problems most of us only talk and fret about, without doing anything to address the causes.
She was a slight figure dressed in a modest sari, with the simplicity and sweetness so typical of our mothers; yet she spoke with such passion about things -the need for a scientific mind and one that is open to ideas, the need for attitudinal changes in society – be it towards recycling or towards women’s issues (she spoke of their efforts to enlist men to teach other men to respect women -a “man to man” approach which I thought a very interesting idea), the need to provide good child care for poor women’s babies so that the mothers can go to work; the need to educate children about environmental issues.
I came away wanting to be a lot more like her, someone that makes a real,improving difference to the world around herself.
More power to you and your ilk, Mrs. Mhapsekar. You and your team have my heartfelt admiration.
To read about Stree Mukti Sangathana see http://www.streemuktisanghatana.org/
On the subject of recycling, another organization that I have read about, which has had great success with it’s efforts in waste management, is Conserve, a delhi-based NGO. CNN’s Global Challenges program ran a story on it , which can be viewed here –
For more about Conserve, read here –