“Let’s do something about it!” There’s no waiting around for someone else to fix things for these guys, they’re taking matters in their own hands — from skiing to raise money for the leprosy-afflicted to rewriting an unbiased history of India and Pakistan; recycling tyres and pushing solar energy to solutions for the hearing impaired and making earthquake relief count. Motherland picks out a bunch of promising superheroes from across the country, determined to light up the world we live in.
DEEYA SUZANNAH BAJAJ
Deeya Suzannah Bajaj is a bit of a free spirit, driven by the adrenaline of adventure sports. “I think I was five years old when I was kayaking across a river or something. And now I actually teach white water kayaking at Cornell University (New York), where I’m currently studying.”
She also skis, sometimes in the Western Hemisphere, which is where she decided to amp up the challenge five years ago when she was 17, by using the cross-country expedition she was on in Greenland to do something substantial for girls in India. For 19 days, she skied for eight hours a day in -45˚C to raise awareness about a cause that had grown close to her heart.
She had been introduced by her parents to a children’s home in Haridwar run by Divya Prem Seva mission, catering to children whose parents suffered from leprosy. “In India, unfortunately, most people still believe leprosy is contagious, because of which these families live in secluded colonies with pathetic conditions,” says Deeya. “It’s horrible, the way their children are treated. They aren’t allowed to go to the same schools as other kids, hang around in the same places, things like that.”
The existing children’s home in Haridwar was meant only for boys, since the management was not keen on taking responsibility for girls. “This completely threw me off,” she says. “I was wondering why this should be a problem. Why should we not get girls here too?”
With a little help from her parents, she was able to convince the home to set up another wing there for girls, but their condition was that she raise the money. Thus the expedition to Greenland took on greater significance. “I requested people to pledge money for every kilometre I covered. Through this exercise, we ended up collecting enough money to start this wing called the Ganga Vatika Girl’s Home.” They had 12 girls to begin with, but Deeya doesn’t want to stop there. “Whenever I come back, I go meet them, and figure out more ways to help them. It’s always such a pleasant experience; they’re like sisters to me now.”
Outdoor activities, she feels, are sadly still associated typically with boys in India. “For me, it was always important for girls to be given equal opportunities and treated at par with boys.” That insistence on equality is something that pushed her to set up the Ganga Vatika Girl’s Home. “When I heard about this home and especially the fact that they weren’t allowing girls because of this responsibility, it really got me frustrated.”
She’s now also kickstarted the construction of a bigger space, where they’re hoping to get close to 50 girls by the summer this year. “We have also started winter workshop camps with Khemka Foundation and Global Education and Leadership Foundation, where they are taught things such as soccer, singing, or dancing in a structured way. They are also being put through women empowerment, emotional expression and leadership development sessions.”