I have been brought up in an environment, which tells me that everyone around me is the same. Studying in Loreto House gives me numerous opportunities to interact with people, who are not as privileged as me. Interacting with them always gives me joy and deep sense of gratitude. It always fascinates me to observe, how our spending a little time with them brings smiles on their faces!
I always wanted to do something on my own to make a difference in their lives in some way. The thought often crossed my mind but I was not able to find a way to do it.
Recently when I went to The Doon School for a Summer Leadership Programme and we spent two days doing social work .. that added fuel to the underlying spark of desire.
When I returned from Doon, my father and I ideated and debated on various things I could possibly do. We realised that there were countless possibilities things but we didn’t know where we could begin. So as they say, ‘charity begins at home’, I started with teaching art and craft to children of workers at our family-owned tea estate In foothills of Himalayas.
My goal was to teach the young ones, specially girls, craft skills to make sell-worthy products and create channel for them to sell their craft, so they can stand on their feet and earn their own living.
That’s how Pehchaan was born, which means ‘identity’, with the vision to give these young, talented girls an identity of their own, being respected for their skills and for earning their own living.
To kickstart my initiative, I went to the tea estate and taught them paint tea kettles and make paper envelopes. The initial project turned out to be a success! The envelopes were loved by everyone and got sold out within two days! It was such a joy to share the sale proceeds with them. It encouraged me to take a bigger step ahead.
I decided to have an exhibition of my paintings by the year end. I felt that could also be a perfect opportunity for me to introduce Pehchaan and showcase creations of my tribal friends, alongside the exhibition. I went back to the estate and this time, with lot more ideas and craft materials. Supported by my mom, baby sister and my friends, the children at the estate co-crafted a wider selection of small, pretty things – table mats, cards, bookmarks, napkin rings, envelopes and more.
I also held a health and personal care workshop on one of my visits to the estate .. where we discussed about menstrual hygiene, sanitary napkins and dental care.
Inspired by Bhutan, we also initiated a project where the children collected garbage they found around their living spaces and deposited it at designated centres within the estate and the child with highest collection was awarded at the month end. This project cleaned the tea estate and the surrounding areas and also spread awareness among children as well as their guardians.
As part of Pehchaan, the children also collaborated with one of the sustainable development goals taken by Loreto House (to plant 1 lakh trees by 2020) and planted 3,500 saplings in the estate.
In 2019, I took upon three more social initiatives, each one symbolic of the three things I am passionate about – art, societal development and upliftment (especially my own people, the workers at our family estate) and animals!
My artistic project included a three-day marathon with my ten-girl brigade of painting the walls of the classrooms in the school located inside our estate. It filled my heart with immense joy as I witnessed how with each stroke of paint, the untidy, bare walls transformed into a bright, inspiring space, full of life and colour. We kept each wall art different – where one was an abstract graphic, filled in with the shades of the rainbow, while the second was an ode to nature , full of elements such as butterflies and flowers, on a wall belonging to the junior most class. The third painting was done on a wall outside the school – a simple, multi-coloured imagery of fourteen birds.
I organised two clothes collection drives, centered out of Kolkata to gather good-conditioned wearables and distribute it among our estate workers. What began as a few simple whatsapp messages shared with my family and friends to be a part of this mission, became a full-fledged project by the overwhelming response and virality my campaign received, with kind donations pouring in from benevolent strangers.
This time, I also wanted to do something for the stray animals in and around the estate. Therefore, during one of my visits to Merryview, I organized a small vaccination drive for around forty strays with a two-fold intent – to foster better health of the dogs who are like pets to the tea estate, as well as to ensure the safety of our people, living and working within the premises.
I am determined to continue these initiatives in ourfamily-owned tea estates and beyond.