Humbled and inspired…by a REAL Hero
Last week, I had the great honour of meeting Sh Rajaram Shreedhar - the indefatigable spirit and a truly INSPIRING man behind Maithri…For those of you who may not have heard about Shreedhar and his awe-inspiring (and humbling) work, here is a bit of background (emphasis added)..
When Rajaram Shreedhar was 18 months of age, he suffered a polio attack, which left his left hand and both his legs paralyzed. His parents tried every remedy to cure him and provided all the best possible treatment available in those days. They had always hoped, prayed and believed that someday Shreedhar would walk.
He went to school until the age of 8 years. His father would often carry him there, from home. Sometimes the classes were held on the top floor, but there was no one to carry him up. He missed several classes. Those days, there was less awareness about the needs of the differently-abled and almost all schools lacked facilities to help such students. Unsurprisingly, Shreedhar had to quit school.
However, he continued to learn and through a very unlikely source – the radio. The radio helped him to ‘travel’ while staying in one place. The BBC and Deutsche Welle [Voice of Germany] were his early windows to the world.
Soon, Shreedhar took to monitoring the various overseas radio stations which needed technical feedback from the listeners to assess the broadcast in the targeted areas. This was his “window” to the outside world. Through this, he learnt to understand and speak English. He also learnt a little bit of Spanish, German and Hindi. He says, “The pain and frustrations I felt because of my condition, being unable to attend school, gradually subsided. It was quite tough, but I learnt to accept my life“.
…This cause (Maithri) that he made his own literally met him on the streets. Whenever he went out on his wheelchair pushed by a volunteer in the streets, he would come across children loitering around in groups. He says “One day I asked one of them why was he wasting his time?” They replied “We are the drop-outs from the school. No money to buy books, notebooks or pay school fees,” Shreedhar thought what (school education) was denied to him should not happen to these children also. That was when he started in a small way by helping these children by paying fees, buying school books and notebooks. This was also how he came to found Maithri.
Soon, these modest efforts at educational support started to take an organizational shape. With some of his friends contributing funds, they were able to meet the needs of a few students for an entire year. And the rest, as they say, is history.
In Chennai last week, I got a small glimpse of his wonderful work and the world of Maithri, thanks to Sh Ranganaathan. The event was Maithri’s 21st anniversary celebrations…The whole program was organised and conducted by the kids! I came just in time to watch an enchanting BharataNatyam performance..As Sh Rangaanathan-ji later mentioned to me, “all these kids are from economically deprived class, broken families, who are challenged every day for their existence”. The most remarkable thing I learnt that day was the Maithri Tuition programme – as a part of which senior kids of Maithri Trust (doing their Degree) conduct tuition program for the kids upto 12th Std.. The tuition program is free for Maithri Trust sponsored kids, but others are charged; fees vary depending on the economic situation of the child. This revenue is shared with the Senior students (who take the tuition) of Maithri, which ensures their interest levels & commitment to the program.
Here is a picture of me with one of the “kids”, a young Mani..a real FIGHTER..currently studying for a degree in Textile Engineering! The gentleman on my right is Sh M R Venkatesh, noted columnist and commentator from Chennai (also a very successful CA!).
It was a truly humbling experience..Pl do share and help spread awareness…and do support in whatever way you can..Thanks to Sh Ranganaathan for making this happen…Jai Hind, Jai Bharat!