Dr. Aabha Chaudhary, Founder & Chairperson of Anugraha India received an award for TOP 20 GLOBAL WOMEN OF EXCELLENCE 2019 at the 7TH ANNUAL CONGRESSIONAL INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY CELEBRATION MARCH 9, 2019 , Chicago, USA.
Chicago – India America Today reached out to Aabha Chaudhary, the woman behind Anugraha India, to take her views on different aspects of aged people’s struggles and her views on solutions.
Welcome to IAT and Congratulations on the award – another feather in your already decorated hat at Anugraha. How does it feel to get awarded at this prestigious event in the US? Did you interact with Congressman Danny K Davis and others?
Thank you. Yes, I feel privileged, deeply humbled and proud. It is indeed an honor to be recognized at such a prestigious platform. I was the only awardee that came from India to receive this award. This award is dedicated to all the marginalized communities that we have been working for in the last two decades.
Congressman Danny K Davis and many other dignitaries were very gracious in extending a warm welcome to their guest from India. They showed keen interest in the work being undertaken by my organization Anugraha and also encouraged me to forge technical & professional linkages with like-minded individuals and agencies, working for social causes in USA.
The theme was “Think Equal, Build Smart, Innovate for Change,” what significance does it have for you and your organization?
I absolutely relate to this timely theme as it is very relevant in the Indian context too, especially in the arena of welfare of older persons that Anugraha has been working for. Though older persons constitute only about 10 percent of India’s population, numerically they constitute about 100 million.
Large section of this population resides in rural areas and health care access, social support and income security. Increase in cases of elder abuse, destitution and discrimination against elderly especially older widows compel us to initiate effective interventions to combat ageism. Anugraha has launched series of age friendly programs across India to bring equality among various age groups and foster inter-generational bonding.
Now, let’s take a look at Anugraha, your brain child and how long you have been nurturing it. How and when did you conceive this idea?
I started Anugraha in the year 2000, as a result of my extensive work in remote rural regions of Himalayas (Indian state of Uttarakhand). Prior to this, for a year, I undertook an exhaustive research study on older women and concept of productive aging in rural Indian context. I was deeply moved by the hardships faced by this highly neglected, vulnerable and marginalized section of our population. After completion of my research study and my PhD on the above topic, I got an invitation to speak at the 1st rural aging conference in West Virginia, USA in June 2000. It was a highly useful experience and I got to study various models of aged care in USA and other western countries. Senior representatives from international agencies, UN Program on aging, UNFPA and WHO also encouraged me to take up further action research in this field on Pan India level.
Besides working on skill building, health, hygiene and slum area improvement projects, I turned my focus on building a comprehensive data bank through research on rural older persons in India. Active involvement of stakeholders, local businesses, corporate and medical personnel was crucial in the initial years of Anugraha.
What are the challenges you have faced along the way?
I am glad to share that last 19 years of Anugraha’s journey have been very eventful. A great learning experience for me and Anugraha’s team. While we have tried to reach out to large number of disadvantaged communities and impact their lives in a positive way, the journey has seen more lows than highs. Initiatives for community empowerment in India, especially welfare of older persons, remains largely neglected and poorly funded. There is lack of awareness and drive to support work in this much needed area by the private agencies and corporate houses. As a not for profit organization, sustaining these so called non fruitful projects are quite a challenge where most donors only want to put in their money in education, youth or reproductive health care!
Fighting stereotypes, changing mindsets, lacking adequate know how and advancements (technical inputs in geriatric care), and implementing programs without possessing physical infrastructure and assets have been some of the other challenges faced by our team.
Who, when and where made it easier to proceed and what are some of the opportunities that were bestowed upon you?
First of all my unshakeable faith in Higher Power and the belief that “it has to work, there will be a way,” made me get up and move every time I was knocked down … and there have been plenty of such instances.
Secondly, tremendous inspiration and support from my mother, herself a crusader for girl child education. And then of course the continuous source of energy, power, motivation in our struggle are the communities that we work for. Toothless grins on elderly’s faces, a sparkle in the eyes of an aging widow after her cataract operation, needy girl students beaming after getting job placement … are the reasons that we carry on.
It’s a tremendous sense of satisfaction, joy and bliss experienced after a task is accomplished and we see the visible impact on peoples’ lives.
Opportunities, were never bestowed on us. Gradually in last 19 years, we learnt to turn every adversity into an opportunity.
What are the lessons learnt and what is your vision going forward?
As I mentioned, struggles only motivated us to work harder. Giving up was never an option. As I know, even if I wanted (which I did many times) I could not quit. Working in philanthropic field was partly my decision and majorly the Will of Almighty. So I and Anugraha team has learnt well over the years to plan well, work to best of our capacities and dedicate the outcome( or challenges) to the Universe.
My vision for Anugraha is to make India an age friendly country in all respects…though our ancient scriptures place parents equal to God, but glaring gaps remain on the ground. I want to set up a series of day care centres, training centres for caregivers, and surely an integrated model based on state of the art geriatric care technology in India.
“Sarve bhavantu sukhinaha, sarve santu niramaya” ( May all be happy. May all be healthy) is our vision that guides our journey.
Thank you for your time and effort to share your experience, strength and hope with our readers.