“Believing and owning what you do” Continuation of the series *Ten*Times*Ten – a presentation of 10 Stella supporters via 10 questions: 2nd part

Today, I interviewed Sohini Karmakar who is living in Delhi – India. She is my key contact person when Udayan Care (Delhi) and Stella (Munich) identify those educational projects that need special external funding support. Sohini is an incredible positive person combined with a clear and strong thinking mentality as well as an overwhelming social care taking attitude.

If you want to read more not only about the daily life in our partner organization in India, Udayan Care, but also about Sohinis attitude regarding the Indian caste system, how she handles defeats or her advice to avoid depressive symptoms, please continue here.

Enjoy the reading and a happy, warm day – Corinna-Rosa Hacker


1173832_585569231500363_331794768_nName: Sohini Karmakar

Nationality: Indian

Place of residence: Delhi, India

Position: Manager for Resource Mobilization for Udayan Care (one child and education center that Stella has been supporting since 2008)

Education: Master’s in Philosophy (Major), M.Phil in Cognitive Science, Master’s in International Family Studies

Engagement for Stella: Key of contact when it comes to the aspects what educational projects of Udayan Care Stella can support

Description of Udayan Care: ‘Udayan’, in Sanskrit, means Eternal Sunrise. Registered as a Public Charitable Trust in 1994, Udayan Care aims to bring sunshine into the lives of vulnerable children, women and youth by empowering them. Our initiatives are focused towards regenerating the rhythm of life of the disadvantaged with our unique and innovative model of mentorship.

1. Can you describe how a typical working day at Udayan Care is looking like for you?

My day at Udayan Care starts at 9.15. I reach office walking through the warm lanes of Lajpat Nagar neighborhood colony-they say these lanes have poignant memories for the dwindling population of refugees who came from Pakistan in the wake of the Partition of India. Every day, Sahablal, our office coordinator, who is associated with Udayan Care for the last 22 years greets me morning with a broad smile. I plan out my day quickly as per the calendar for the next 20 mins. I have a great team to work with. I think it calls it for a success when you build on a team from the scratch and see they share the same vibes, enthusiasm and sincerity and most importantly love the work they do. Mostly 80 % of the day goes as per plan and 20 % falls under hand on urgency stuff to take care of. I being the part of the front end of the organization servicing the existing partnerships and making new partnerships for expansion plans in order to reach the vision of the organization is the nut shell of my work here in Udayan Care. We wrap up by 6 in the evening.

2. What was the best advice you received and what does it currently mean for you?

The best advice that received in Udayan Care is “Believing and owning what you do”-as if you have doubts the work you have taken up, do not own them as your stake-hold – you will not be able to make others believe in our work. That advice has given me a different perspective for my role in the organization. As for others, when I go and speak about my organization, all that they could judge my work is through the belief, passion and conviction of the work that I share with them.

3. A lot of people are enthusiastic about doing “good in the world”, some of them do talk about becoming active but do not implement their intention so that their good will as well as their good ideas will partly remain empty words. What is your advice here?

I believe having the belief and right intentions of doing “good in the world” is the first stepping stone of brining about any change. Also, it is true to translate the thought/belief/intention in actuality depends on various external variables, which are, right kind of support from likeminded people to ensure the same, right situation to cut across the intervention decided and ensure that the considered intervention will actually make a difference for good in the life of the audience targeted. Naïve approach can and unclear objective be dangerous. Most importantly, before taking onto into practical intervention a thorough thought process needs to be involved of deciding who, why, what how and when. You need to have a plan and that’s a must, right enthusiasm is just a catalyst to the greater cause, where transformation takes a lot more than just thought.

4. Through which defeat did you learn the most and why?

All of us have had our share of failures but then what and how one sees those failures are important. To show you have strength is not relevant when things are at their absolute best but rather, then, when you have all the reasons to give-up. I think both personally and professionally the biggest defeat I faced –when the person in front of me has said NO. As those are the reasons why I am doing it for myself and stood for myself and will continue doing -what I belief is right. It has given me enough strength to say, it is okay to fail. Ever Tried. Ever Failed. No Matter. Fail Again. Fail Better.

5. Please share one special moment that you experienced through your social work with Udayan Care.

I don’t know where to begin and where to end –as my association with Udayan Care has given so many social moments to cherish for lifetime. The unconditional love I received from Children and their ever warm and beautiful gestures to make you feel special are beyond words to describe. I would just like to share one small moment which is very close to my heart. The other day I was writing a proposal for a funding agency, requesting for a grant which we would need for the education and living cost of the kids we take care at our Sunshine Homes. A little one-an 7 year old girl, came to the Head Office as she was supposed to be produced before the Child Welfare Committee for Monitoring compliance. She came running to me and asked what I am doing and I said I am writing an application asking for some support that I need. She nodded her head and continued scribbling with her pencil. Then she is been asked to go for the monitoring visit. Suddenly she came and hugged me tight and said, “Didi (elder sister in Hindi) , thank you very much as I know you have been writing that letter for me so that I can continue going to school and have my favorite Barbie doll to play. Thank you!

I still do not how it was possible for a 7 year old to understand or comprehend what I was doing. But from that day onward their happiness became my responsibility and everyday my mission is to ensure that they continue getting all that they deserve in their childhood.

6. As you are working in the urban world of New Delhi for the child care center Udayan Care, how do you view the current educational situation of underprivileged children in India, what are their greatest needs and to what extend can education change their lives?

Educational System of this Country is not something we can be proud of especially for unprivileged section of the society. The situation of Government schools apart from the metropolitan Cities and States cuts a real sorry figure, where there are no good teachers in school; infrastructure is poor, irregularity of teachers, low attendance of students. People below poverty line still think it is better to use their children to earn money for the family rather than waste time by going to school. Child Labour is a great issue hence. Although it has become mandatory by the government as they passed Right to Education Act (RTE ACT, 2009) where the primary education has from 6-14 years has become mandatory free of cost. Enrollment percentage at the primary school level has gone higher but the drop out are also still at the same level. We need to work to increase the monitoring of the school dropouts, organize Teachers training modules, inducting good teachers, community mobilization in the villages to encourage parents to send their children to school, quality of Mid Day Meals should be highered (Tiffin for kids in the government schools), remedial classes/ tuitions to be arranged, support for getting school books and uniforms for the students. Stereotype , as the girl child need not to study as they would be married off soon to take care of the household chores( issues of child marriage) needs to be addressed, so the drop out of girls from primary to secondary , then from secondary to higher secondary and then for the college educations can be restricted. More scholarships, fellowships and similar schemes to support education cost of meritorious students should be launched. Executing and monitoring of the same also needs to be brought into the system.

7. When it comes to India, some people view the caste system as one of main barrier to social balance in your home country. Having said that, I might add that also we in Germany have hidden differentiation criteria as e.g. studies prove that the privileged society part is still covering a disproportional high rate in leading business positions or – to make it simpler – the German Bundesbahn as well as Lufthansa have a second and a first class sections.

Might I ask to what extend you can feel the Indian categorization through birth in your work or private life? How do you think we can overcome that distinction?

Caste System is still a huge stigma which exists still in India. It is affecting the private life than the professional one. Societies and families till date are very stringent when it comes to inter-caste marriages leave apart inter-religion marriages. Choosing a life partner has become such a calculative affirm and you are expected to keep your caste in mind while you decide to go on to the next level while choosing someone for marriage, which I think in today’s age is such a disgraceful act. Professionally I do not think it is making such a huge difference in terms of business positions. Here caste based reservations has actually made the career choices and opportunities easy for the one coming from the lower caste of the societies. All Governmental Educational Institutions and working organizations do have a caste based reservations where seats are booked for the people from lower strata and the criteria of selection is much lenient. All the Christian and Muslim Schools and Colleges, have the reservations to under the minority quota, which gives preferences to the Christian and Muslim students.

Professionally, I think there has to be a policy level shift where the reservation for the educational and professional sector (Govt) needs to be made only on the basis of financial status and physical disability. So that the economically poor section of the society and the physically disabled section can avail the facilities. Caste cannot be the parameter to judge one’s caliber and potential to get chance in any educational and professional sectors. We should detest such system and work towards bringing in policy level changes in the selection clause of these premiere institutes.

Personally, I completely detest the idea of caste based differentiation in respect of choosing a life partner and then the family disapproving the same. It should be completely the choice of 2 individuals, most importantly to choose the person based on right mentality, education and thought process and value system rather than focusing on which cast and creed he/she belongs from. It is essential to judge the person his/her interest areas and behavior not his /her caste background and this will speak none.

8. You are an extremely joyful person. You are taking care of the underprivileged part of society. A lot of the children you are working with know the “hard side of life”. Depression is one major disease in our Western societies. Do you want to let us know your advice on how you would spread the “joie de vivre” – I will describe depression knowingly in reduced terms – to “souls that feel mainly despair and sadness”?

Depression is the most common symptom that even in India, individuals ranging from 15 – 60, everyone is meeting this vice once in awhile during their life phases.

Now, as an individual when I thought to me and obviously I also reach a dead end during my journey or hit the rock bottom of my life phase, when I feel depressed, I tried analyzing every time the reason for my feelings and what I understood is, when one tend to lose control over oneself and the definition of happiness depends on the other person/situation, this could setting unrealistic expectations, unreal goals, there’s where depression starts.

As long as you are happy and content with yourself and your happiness only depends on what you decide to do in life and have self control, your soul will get rid of all despair and sadness.

9. Do you have any crazy idea that you always wanted to realize?

I wanted to visit the Top 10 Universities of the World and write a blog about the same. It is like the top 3 things I want to do before I die. I hope to achieve it soon.:) Also, I want to donate my eyes and I want to finish the paperwork before this year ends.

10. If one wish could come true, what would it be?

I want to adopt one child and I truly wish I would be able to do so (given the cultural and societal norms and context).