God's Service In Man Service
In conversation with BW Education, Maharashtra-based social worker and educationist Bernadette Pimenta, opens up on her journey of working for the upliftment of girl children in the state and her various other social upliftment projects
Bernadette Pimenta, a superwoman in her 70s is known as ‘Mother Teresa of Thane’ for her exemplary social work. Her contribution to the educational field is outstanding - right from starting a non-formal child enrichment school in Mumbai to responsibly providing children and youth supplementary curriculum enrichment programmes for over two decades. Pimenta is an inspiration for many lives. Edited excerpts:
You have prominently worked for the upliftment of women and girl children of Maharashtra. What inspired you to commit to such selfless service?
'Gods Service in Man Service', this wonderful phrase inspired me to do all the good work, that I have done, do and will take in the future. Back when I was in St Xavier College, I came across this sign I discovered my life’s path and decided to work for the poor and the marginalised section of the society, especially women and children. My college played an important role in developing leadership qualities in me. As a junior BA student, I was elected as a secretary of Xavier Centre, a role I won with the majority of votes which exposed me to social service. Every fortnight I was assigned to work for the tribals - a social task that my college had adopted. This helped me train in basic medical aids that further embraced my selfless service.
How do you come up with the idea of a non-formal child enrichment school?
I began my career as a teaching professional, I have worked in the sociology department of Kelkar College and also taught French at Thane College. My teaching career was very interesting and also got an opportunity to teach secondary students, but teaching pre-school talent was something I always wanted to do. And so, when my loved ones, especially my elder sister when insisted on me opening a school, I decided to take up the challenge and build a non-formal school instead of the traditional one. My aim was on nurturing human values and creating humans for a better future. This gave birth to the Garden School, Mumbai, an informal child enrichment school for providing children and youth with supplementary education.
Please explain your responsibilities as the principal of ‘The Garden School’.
My sole intention was to develop good human beings. Today, when my students visit me, seeing them at heights both professionally and personally, makes me feel proud and content. I started with 30 students, which eventually grew to 100 and slowly the number kept growing, a token of appreciation that thus inspired me to work more. But now I am scaling down, I am slowing down my speed. I want my volunteers to take up the responsibility and by God’s grace, I have always come across wonderful people who carry the same vision as myself. Many think it’s my age that keeps me low, but trust me I am just 72 (laughs) and can take up more challenges but jokes apart at this inning, I really need to be more cautious with my health to work more in near future.
Tell us about your journey as an educationist and social activist.
I always had a vision for each decade of my life and trusting my inner voice I have always done what I believed in and served for the well-being of all. My journey has been very interesting because I was just following the path, which divine power carved for me, it was just going with the supremo’s flow. And taking walk on memory lane I keep reiterating of coming across the finest humans, who played a significant role in developing me as an educationist and social activist. My elder sister also has a lion’s share in my journey, she inspired me to have my own school that eventually inspired my students to do big in life. Subsequently while handling blood-cuddling and spine-chilling cases, seeing women rising from ashes made me stronger and more determined as a social activist. In a nutshell, my journey was all about learning, growing and evolving.
How did you come up with the idea of Sevadham? What were the challenges faced while doing so?
Sevadham was a part of my life’s decade vision and so in 1991, I promoted this NGO since then the organisation is working tirelessly for the poor and marginalised in Maharashtra. Sevadham plays a core role in uplifting the lives of women criminals and their infants growing up in prisons. It also includes working for the observation home for juveniles and mental hospitals of the state. On a whole, the NGO does a significant role in providing aid, advice and counselling thus building self-respect and confidence among emotionally disturbed and mentally challenged people.
Explain your role as the chairperson of Snehalaya and as an advisor of the Rugna Kalyan Samiti.
I am a person who works at the grass root level, so as a chairperson or advisor, I just don’t sit in a chair and attend meetings. On the contrary, I specifically look at every small aspect of these centers, right from administration, cleanliness and patient’s well-being, everything is on my checklist. I often conduct vocational education and training programmes at Snehalaya and as an advisor to the Rugna Kalyan Samiti, I take the patients for outings and picnics and organise small gatherings at my house thus making them feel included. It is all about nurturing my chosen mantra 'Make others happy to be happy'.
As the national coordinator of The World Community for Christian Meditation, London, how would you describe your role?
My role as a national coordinator was more like a contact person rather. As a coordinator, I was a bridge between London and the Indian community. I was responsible for conducting many sessions at church and for arranging meditation, which was highly appreciated and received a larger response. My meditation teaching was not limited to regular practice, I taught different types of meditation with human rights, environment and several other real-life practices. It was all about practicing the way to connect with God, the creator of this beautiful universe and so I believe it is to 'look back and thank God, look ahead and trust him, look around and see him and look within and find him'.
What inspired you to convert the old-fashioned education and impart value-based learning?
I can’t pinpoint something which is very practical. I always wanted to develop a holistic education and I did that with my non-formal school thus path-breaking the traditional education. For instance, apart from teaching in school if I consider my work for women in prison it is not just limited to their development but is an independent approach where I believe to impart value-based education for their brighter future outside prison. As a part of it, we have started a six months certified beautician course for them that is likely to add feathers to their shredded wings.
You are known as the 'Mother Teresa of Thane', a tag bestowed for the responsible work you are determined for. How do you carry this title that brings in great responsibility?
Every award and title bring great responsibility. It reminds, refreshes and rejuvenates me to renew my commitment to God and society. And people addressing me as ‘Mother Teresa’ is a reminder I can’t abort and sit back, it’s an alarm to keep serving society. I carry this title enjoying my work, believing in my future and doing the present work without any distractions. In simple words, if you are boiling milk, concentrate on the flames and be in the kitchen a small distraction or leaving the kitchen will spill the milk, likewise, I am concentrating on the purpose of doing social service for which God has specially assigned me a human life.
What is your future plan for bringing more reforms?
I had a hectic life and of course, I don’t regret it at all. After all, it helped me serve my life purpose and still motivates me to do more good work. But today in my 70s, I can’t catch up with the speed but looking forward my life will not turn dull and have a dramatic, beautiful end. So, I am again thinking of restarting my work in tribal areas and developing my house into an old-care centre. Today I live with my old ailing sisters, so the care centre is already started in a way. In the coming years it will be developed properly.
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