By Shraddha Soparkar
I have always believed that if you are privileged enough it is not just your responsibility but your duty to help the less privileged ones in any way you can. Having been born in a well-to-do business family, the importance of giving and serving society was imbibed in me from a very young age. I was taught to help others and find happiness in doing so. The religious texts that I read in those days also taught me that there is no greater happiness than helping others and that it is only by doing good to others that one does good to oneself.
After completing my studies, I set up my own business and continued giving back to society as and when I could. This was something that gave me a lot of joy. Still, I had never thought that I would one day establish an NGO. It was the birth of my daughter Shruti that changed my life and my whole outlook towards life for good. She had a shunt in the brain and underwent four brain surgeries by the time she was just four months old.
I had to take Shruti to various doctors in therapy centres. I realised that having a special kid is a huge trauma for any parent, but the situation is even more challenging when one is not financially strong. The pain and struggle the less privileged children and families would have to face shocked me.
What moved me, in particular, was the inaccessibility and unavailability of quality care such as prosthetics and orthotics devices, regular therapies, surgeries, etc. for people with disabilities. I realised that while my own child had access to the best quality medical care, there were many other children out there whose families could not provide them with the medical care or facilities because of financial constraints. It was then that from being an entrepreneur, I became a philanthropist and a social worker.
Initially, I started supporting needy people I came across during visits to therapy centres with Shruti. I had helped 10 people, but I realised that there are many more people out there who need similar help. I firmly believe that to fully achieve universal health coverage in our country, people who are fortunate enough need to come forward and do their bit. And it was this belief that led me to establish Madhuram Charitable Trust in 2019. The trust was formed with an aim to create an impact in the lives of those who have not been fortunate when it comes to living a healthy and comfortable life.
The trust was named after my grandfather Shri Madhusudan Das Malpani, a social worker who dedicated his life to uplifting the marginalised citizens by providing them with the best healthcare facilities. The trust’s vision is to reduce the disparity between the rich and the poor as far as access to health services and medical care is concerned and to foster an environment that is conducive to their growth.
I feel extremely proud that in less than three years, Madhuram Charitable Trust has been able to help close to 1,000 people. This is despite the massive disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic for several months when we were forced to stop our activities due to safety concerns. The trust has been able to improve the lives of 800 children with special needs and their families through support in availing various medical treatments.
This includes financial assistance for corrective surgeries, botox surgeries, various therapies like physiotherapy, occupational therapy, and assistive aids for mobility, speech and vision, therapies for autistic kids, and children having down syndrome, among others. Along with financial aid for therapies, the trust also counsels parents of specially-abled in an effort to keep them motivated.
Our biggest and most ambitious project yet is the Stepathon project, under which we are providing prosthetic legs/artificial limbs to amputees. So far, we have been able to provide German-made prosthetic legs/artificial limbs to 96 beneficiaries. Each of these legs costs Rs. 1 lakh to Rs. 2.5 lakh. The initiative has changed the lives of these beneficiaries forever by helping them become independent in more ways than one. We are also ensuring the beneficiaries get back on their feet by providing them with employment opportunities and helping them become financially independent.
Many of the beneficiaries have been able to go back to their occupation and earn their livelihoods, becoming atmanirbhar in the true sense. The smiles on their faces have been a huge inspiration for us and we are aiming to touch 400 beneficiaries under the Stepathon project this year. With God’s grace, I am confident we will be able to achieve this and more.
Another big achievement of ours, one that I am proud of, is that one of the beneficiaries is going to take part in the Para Olympics this year with the trust’s support.
Another project that I am working on at present is an aqua therapy centre for special children. It will be the first of its kind in Ahmedabad and Gujarat. The reason is that by engaging in specific well-directed water activities, children can gauge their own body boundaries much better. They can regulate the force that the body exerts when performing tasks or playing and this helps to improve posture, balance, and coordination.
Such private facilities are prohibitively expensive. We aim to give the therapies free of cost to the financially marginalised at our centre. I am already in advanced talks with local authorities, who are very supportive of such a centre. I am confident the centre will be a reality soon.
I feel fortunate to have been able to make a difference in the lives of special children and people with disabilities. However, I also realise that there is much more that needs to be done to create a meaningful impact. I am happy to share that while we have focused on Gujarat so far, we are working on plans to go to other states. Madhuram Charitable Trust will start its work in the Delhi-NCR region next year.
We gradually hope to expand to other states too. However, I am very clear that I want to do quality work. Even if I can help just one beneficiary, I will do so in the best possible way, rather than helping ten people but with little actual difference.
I am a firm believer in Swami Vivekananda’s teachings and will end this article with a famous quote by him.
Take up one idea. Make that one idea your life – think of it, dream of it, and live on that idea. Let the brain, muscles, nerves, every part of your body, be full of that idea, and just leave every other idea alone. This is the way to success – Swami Vivekananda
(The author is the Founder and Trustee of Madhuram Charitable Trust, an NGO working for the specially-abled and people with disabilities. She is a lawyer by qualification and an entrepreneur by profession. She is married to Kaushal Soparkar, owner of Meghmani Group of Companies. She is actively associated with the Gujarat Chamber of Commerce & Industry. She is also a member of the Governing Board of GLS University and an advisory Committee Trustee in Special Olympics, Gujarat. An inspiration to many, Shraddha is the recipient of many prestigious awards, including the IPRA Award for Innovation, Wonder Women Award by NavGujarat Samay, and the Times CSR Award)