APPALLED by the stark reality of 31 million orphaned children in India and the condition of institutions housing them, Dr Kiran Modi decided to spread ‘Eternal Sunrise’ in their lives by starting Udayan Care in 1994.
What started as just one small family home (Ghar) for abandoned and orphaned children in Delhi, is now providing family-like care to vulnerable children and empowering women and youth, in 25 cities across 14 states of India.
Through its Udayan Shalini Fellowship, Udayan Care also nurtures and encourages girls studying in government schools to realise their full potential by providing individual mentors and monetary support as they pursue their secondary school and college.
Through these initiatives Udayan Care has nurtured 25,000+ young minds and continues to do so in spite of challenges like the pandemic.
In this chat with GiveIndia as part of our Lead Read series, Dr. Modi shares her journey with Udayan Care, the big turning points in her life and much more.
GiveIndia: What was that one big moment in your life that led you to specifically work towards providing orphaned children with a loving home?
Dr. Kiran Modi: When my son, Udayan, was studying in the US, he used to save the allowances he received from home and his part-time assignments to support orphans in Biafra and other African countries. My husband, Sudhir, and I discovered this while going through Udayan’s papers after his tragic death.
This left such an indelible mark in my mind and heart that it led me to resolve, right away, to continue my son’s vision of helping underprivileged and orphaned children. This is the genesis of Udayan Care. I took this opportunity to transform a deep, personal tragedy into unbound happiness and joy for me and my family, as well as for thousands of disadvantaged children and youth, after Udayan’s untimely passing into the Maker’s hands in 1994. He was barely 21.
That was the biggest moment and turning point in my life. I started visiting different causes to understand what I must do to perpetuate the cause my son had taken up. My visits to many orphanages confirmed the need to take up the cause of children without parental care.
I observed that children at these Child Care Institutions (CII) lacked a sense of bonding and belonging with their immediate staff. This happened as most caregivers lacked the awareness and understanding to relate to the psychology of a child who has been through various social, financial, mental and physical traumas. I clearly saw the need to build one family-like institution, as well as a trained team of carers to ensure healthy upbringing of vulnerable children so that they could be transformed into wholesome individuals when they grew up.
And thus Udayan Care started spreading its work. Twenty-seven years of relentless, focused work in Udayan Care has gained me and the organisation thousands of supporters, and tens of thousands of underserved and deprived children and youth their right to family and education.
GI: Any memorable or impactful story of a “Shalini” that made you feel that the Udayan Shalini Fellowship is going in the right direction?
KM: There are thousands of impact stories created by our Shalinis in the Udayan Shalini Fellowship programme, each more inspiring than the other. As of now, we are working across 21 cities in India to support, nurture, mentor and inspire approximately 10,000 girls from weaker socio-economic backgrounds.
One of our Shalinis, Dr Darshana Joshi, completed her doctorate from Cambridge University and is now giving back to society with her NGO, Vigyan Shala, an initiative to equip and support youth with project-based learning, training and mentoring around STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics). Many other highly accomplished Shalinis like Dr Bharti Singal, have joined hands with her in this onerous task.
Smita Verma, who completed her management degree from IIM, has helped set up one chapter of the Udayan Shalini Fellowship in Mumbai and is supporting and inspiring hundreds of girls with her passion. Apart from this, many of our girls are inspiring and spreading awareness about education for girls through their YouTube channels. They are providing free coaching and guidance to the girls willing to succeed in their lives.
Our Shalinis have evolved a TEDx-like show, called Shalini Talks. Here they share their real-life inspirational stories on YouTube. It hosts a bi-monthly event to spread the words of hope, courage and resilience to every girl with aspirations.
GI: Who is Dr. Kiran Modi outside Udayan Care?
KM: My quest for knowledge is my guiding spirit. I pursued my education even after marriage, getting gold medals at both my Bachelors’ and Masters’ examinations. I then went on to do a PhD in American literature – the works of Philip Roth – at the prestigious IIT, Delhi.
After teaching English to undergraduate students at Delhi University’s Aurobindo College, I decided to foray into community services. I helped find a children’s theatre group for disadvantaged children. I launched Delhi’s first community weekly newspaper – Neighbourhood Star – in 1986, with a consistent print run of 10,000. I ran it till 1998 when I closed it down to move on full-time to Udayan Care.
GI: If you could have a superpower, what would that be?
KM: I would make one move of a magic wand to ensure that no one should go hungry, there should be ample opportunities for everyone to realize their dreams. I strongly feel that everyone is blessed with certain wonderful traits, and dreams give them a purpose in life. Nurturing and ensuring that they get access to resources is the kind of superhuman prowess I would like to possess.
GI: If you had to choose between listening to music, watching a film or reading a book – what would it be? What would you listen to/ watch/ or read?
KM: I love to read books, especially fiction. My favourite novel, still, after many many years of its publication, is the time-tested Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell. The sentiment of the novel resonated very deeply with me and I derive inspiration out of its message of hope and resilience as tomorrow is another day.
GI: How has COVID-19 impacted the Udayan family?
KM: With Covid-19 there was always fear of cases at the Ghars. So we had to work meticulously in creating isolation rooms along with sanitization measures. Still some children and staff got infected.
The children at our Ghars always look forward to visits, especially by their mentor parents. However, with the lockdown and restrictions in movement, the children now for over a year have not met anyone as all the interactions have been reduced to online meeting platforms making them miss the much needed in-person love, care and affection. Not just that, the counseling sessions by the counselor and psychiatrist went online. Some of the children with severe psychiatric concerns or psychological issues find it difficult to cope up with sudden change in the intervention style.
And when it comes to academics, there is this delay and stagnation in academic planning and children who had board exams or had to be enrolled in schools have also faced a year lag due to the current situation, bringing an uncertainty about the future.
GI: In the second wave, there are many stories of children losing either one or both parents, or being abandoned. The need for their alternative care has increased. Has this affected Udayan Care?
KM: Government has already stepped in. If there are such cases, they are not coming to child care institutions yet, as the extended family needs to be tapped. So we have not been approached except for two cases where, on our advice, the extended families were counselled and the children stayed with them.
Interviewed by Sruthy Natarajan
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