I reached Bihar to meet the poor and work for them: Padma Shri Sudha Varghese

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    Sister Sudha Varghese, a well-known social worker from Kerala, today said she shifted to Bihar to work for the betterment of Musahars, a Dalit community, after becoming aware of the appalling poverty in that state and seeing pictures of ramshackle huts on the roadside.

    Hailing from Kottayam district, Sr Sudha, fondly called ‘Cycle Didi’ by Musahars in Bihar, spoke about her relentless efforts as a social worker at the fourth edition of Mathrubhumi International Festival of Letters (MBIFL 2023), which commenced at Kanakakunnu Palace here.

    Sr Sudha, a Padma Shri awardee, is the CEO of Nari Gunjan (“woman’s voice”), a non-governmental organisation founded in 1987 that provides education, literacy, vocational training, healthcare, and life skills for women and girls of the Musahar community, inspiring many women and children to stand up for their rights.

    Back in 1986, she identified this community and focused on spending time with children and encouraging them to pursue education. Initially, these children, especially girls, and their families did not show much interest as they were all prepared to get married and settle by the time, they reached the age of 14.

    But Sudha remained undeterred. Finally, her relentless struggle bore fruit with the timely intervention and encouragement of UNICEF officials. With the UNICEF-supported fund, she kicked off her educational programme for the community.

    In 2005 she opened a residential school, Prerna, in Patna which was exclusively meant for girls. By providing education and inculcating interest in extracurricular activities, she not only empowered them but also made them aware of their basic rights. What began as a girls’ school has now turned into a co-educational school with 3,00 students.

    With her support, the landless women of the Musahar community bought land for themselves with the earning profit they got from farming. Currently, around 5,000 women from the community are into agriculture.

    Also, as part of bringing a change in the lives of boys of this community, Sr Sudha found out their extracurricular interests, and helped them form cricket teams. Currently, there are 35 teams with around 500 boys playing in various tournaments.

    Sr Sudha, former Vice-Chairperson of Bihar State Minorities Commission, presently runs two hostels that house nearly 250 Musahar girls, besides an adoption agency, girls’ home, and services for the elderly.

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