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Ripples of Empowerment

Children in the field

I am always amazed to see how empowered people inspire others. It seems that such people emanate something mysterious. That unseen element seeks out and connects with a few among the multitudes, people who carry within them the seeds of empowerment. It is like a candle seeking other candles and quietly lighting them. 

Susheila Singh
Susheila Singh
Take the example of my mother, Mrs. Umrao Singh in Allahabad, India. Widowed at the age of 52, she was in deep depression. Left all alone in her large house, she bemoaned her fate, with only memories of the good times with her husband and five children—now all grown and moved away.
But then inspiration struck. She started to teach two preschoolers from a poor family, children who would never have been able to see the inside of a school. Soon more children came, and by the time she died there were 400 students. Trees for Life supporters also helped her school. Today there are 1,000 students, and it is a premiere educational institution in the city.
Her work inspired dozens of people to start their own schools. One of these people was Ramjiyavan Patel (Rom-jee-ya-vun Pa-tell)
Ramjiyavan Patel
Ramjiyavan Patel
Ramjiyavan lived in a very poor village where there was no work. So, to support his family, he traveled 20 miles to the city of Allahabad. He was fortunate to find a job at my mother’s school. He started as the lowest man on the totem pole. That’s why practically everyone was surprised when he started his own school! Here’s how he tells it in his own words, translated from his native Hindi language:
In 1979, I came to work as the night watchman at Umrao Singh Memorial School. Lovingly, everyone called Mrs. Umrao Singh “Mother.”  She was so dedicated to helping poor girls get an education that she literally worked day and night. I witnessed how she built the school one brick at a time. For me, her dedication and determination were awe-inspiring. 
Unfortunately, in 1999, my younger son Ashok was struck with polio. With timely medical care, he recovered. But what I had seen of the horrible treatment of disabled people, and the conditions in which they had to live, dismayed me. So I decided to follow Mother’s example. I would help provide education to the disabled. 
That year I started a school for disabled and other poor children in my village, Bari Bajahiya. I went door-to-door trying to convince parents of the value of education for their children. I gave them my personal example, with which they could identify. We all had to lead a very hard life because of our lack of education. 
The education at my school had to be free, because the poor families of these children could not afford to pay even a nominal fee. We prayed a lot because none of us had any resources. Other people came forth to help, including Trees for Life. Funds came for uniforms, furniture, and distribution of free mid-day meals to the students. My two sons and their wives joined the school staff. Courses in handicrafts, tailoring and cosmetology were added. We even hosted a free eye clinic day with doctors performing cataract operations, and 300 people regained their eyesight as a result. 
At one time we were educating 295 handicapped children from our village and nearby areas. However, because of rising prices we can only handle 60 students now, and we are finding it very difficult to continue our school. The only source of funds at this time is my fixed income as a night watchman for the school in Allahabad. 
But despite these difficulties, we are not giving up. Mother set an example for us of how she lived and survived with practically no resources.
- Ramjiyavan Patel
Ramjiyavan Patel at ceremony
Young lives blossom at the school started by Ramjiyavan Patel (top, at left). His dedication and sacrifices inspired others to help support the school so the children can have more opportunities in life.               
Children under awning
Boy reading
Children in the village
Children in class
The inspiration of my mother’s example was a major factor in the birth of Trees for Life. And, stories like Ramjiyavan’s can be told by several other people who were inspired by her. As each of these people continues to inspire others, who knows how far the ripples of empowerment may spread?
Ramjiyavan Patel and child
The path of education leads to hope for a brighter future for children who will someday pass on their knowledge and experience to others.