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Interview With Archana Kaul, Founder, Srijanatmak Manushi Sanstha: Reaching Out To Empower

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By Ateendriya:

“Let me tell you one thing about us, the first thing in fact- we do not look to free a person from the clutches of the society only to have them become dependent on us. What we aim for is true empowerment. What we offer is not charity; it’s a community, a sort of a common platform for expression and empowerment.” These are the first words I hear as I sit down for a one-on-one with Ms Archana Kaul, one of the founders of SMS or Srijanatmak Manushi Sanstha: a non profit organization that works towards the holistic development of women & children. It was founded by Archana Kaul, Neelam Thapliyal and Dr Kusum Sabherwal.

Though registered under Societies Act in 2003, the organization started back in 2002. In the early years of its inception SMS’s mission was to provide a creative platform for women. But with the need for a better tomorrow, the initiative expanded its boundaries to reach out to not just women in general but also the underprivileged and uneducated women & children.

“Our organization was initially meant for the ladies in our society and we did not have at that time an NGO in mind. But as it turns out those women who were our initial target consumers were least motivated or interested in doing anything constructive for themselves. They were happier attending Kitty Parties than doing anything that is socially relevant.”

So how did it all start?

“We realized there were people out there who actually needed our help and we decided we might as well use our energy for people who want and need it. So I and my partner decided to turn our initiative into a non profit organization that would help such people.”

Tell us about your motivation. What is it that keeps you going?

“Motivation, I’d say is the satisfaction we get. Once you start something like this, even though it requires huge commitments, the satisfaction and joy that comes from helping others and seeing the people you help become strong and empowered- nothing compares to this feeling. No spiritual or materialistic gain can beat this feeling.”

What was it like in the beginning- infrastructure, funding and all?

“A friend, a kind soul, gave us a room to us, but it was such a minsicule room that if ther were 30 people, we would all be so badly huddled in that it would be difficult to teach. We then asked a small school nearby to let u use their premises after school hours for running our non-formal education centre and they agreed. We charged bare basic amount, around 20 bucks I think and eventually the students from that school itself started coming to us instead. This led to some complications and we had to then look for a space elsewhere. But with the help of donations and our own contributions we managed to rant a room and get computers and all.”

When you look back, from that one room unit till now, how far do you think SMS has come?

“At this point, we are almost a full fledged institute running computer classes, adult literacy classes, vocational training etc. All we charge is Rs. 25 for all activities and Rs 50 extra each for computer classes and English speaking classes. We also have health care units that provide information and aid to mother and children.”

This marvellous initiative, functioning almost entirely on contributions from the founders and occasional donation, with no outside sponsor or beneficiary packs more punch than some of the more well-know, long-established organizations. SMS offers not just educational upliftment but legal support as well.

“We offer legal counselling as well. Last year we helped out a woman who was abused by her husband. She came to us for help and we not only informed her about her rights and the various options available to her so she could protect herself, we actually took her in and had her stay over at our place until something could be done. ”

Besides such help, the organization also sell eco-friendly products such as greeting cards, diyas, decorated paper bags, cloth bags, pen drive covers, stoles, cloth bound note pads and diaries, women’s Kutras, hand painted gift wrapping paper etc. hand-made by the women involved in SMS.

“The idea behind this is to make women financially independent while also preserving our local cultural art forms in the process”, says Ms. Kaul.

A very impressive thing about SMS is that even though there is a team of founders and many volunteers —both school and college students- the organization sincerely believes in an atmosphere of equality and thus has no system of hierarchy. All initiatives are wholeheartedly supported by volunteers as well as founders, with a mindset to “empower women / children with skill & education.”

If you were to tell people about SMS- what would it be that you’d say?

“Ours is a non profit organisation running at the grass root level working for a holistic development, comprising of egalitarian, well-informed, skilled people looking to work towards a peaceful and ecologically sustainable environment.”

Is there anything at all you would like to say to people about SMS or just anything at all in general?

“Well, we are a group of people working towards total empowerment of women, children and all people in general. We welcome people who want to support us, financially or by volunteering. If it isn’t for people like them we would not be able to function as we do. And for anyone looking to contribute in terms of time or money, just remember, the one thing you will get out of this is something you will not get elsewhere: the satisfaction of helping others and knowing that this in turn is helping you.”

For more details, contact:

Archana Kaul, Founder of Srijanatmak Manushi Sanstha

Phone no. : 9868967335

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