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Diplomatic way to spread cheer

Lekha Sreenivasan belongs to that breed of `diplomatic wives,' which believes in contributing to the welfare of humankind. In Vienna, or Washington, she has pursued this belief. She tells K. PRADEEP about Karuna, the charitable organisation she started.


FOR LEKHA Srinivasan, endeavours and explorations are never incomplete. She has never left the lilies of ambition unplucked, simply for want of time. She believes that there is always time for a little something.

The picture of a diplomat's wife, is always that of a life, where they revel with a fag in one hand, a wine glass in the other, heavily made up, high laughter and loud gossip. But Lekha Sreenivasan, the wife of the present Ambassador of India to Austria, is different. Simple, generous, she has accompanied her diplomat husband to the furthest corners of the world where, despite her diplomatic obligations, she has been able to leave a legacy that spells hope and growth for the downtrodden. The founder and permanent chairperson of Karuna Charities, she spends most of her time, making a difference in the lives of the needy and disadvantaged.

"Karuna Charities is a non-profit international charity organisation which was first established in New York in 1993, when my husband was posted there, with the help of a group of friends and volunteers. We now have chapters at the Washington DC and Dallas, Nairobi, Thiruvananthapuram and Vienna. I think over the years we have been able to bring solace, happiness and light to so many people through numerous beneficiary organisations," says Ms. Sreenivasan.

Currently celebrating its 10th anniversary, the organisation is run entirely by volunteers, working solely to provide help to the most deserving cases, who would otherwise have been hapless. "Since we keep moving around, special committees are appointed to run the projects at these different places. We want each of these chapters to gather its own momentum and to work independently. " With absolutely no administrative costs associated with its functioning, all the contributions to Karuna is fully utilised for charitable and deserving cases. Since its inception, Karuna Charities has donated nearly $120,000 in cash and $95,000 in goods to orphanages, nursing homes, battered women's shelters, AIDS patients, and individuals in need of expensive life-saving medical assistance in India, Africa and the United States.

Kerala has also been a huge beneficiary of the various Karuna projects. The New York chapter shipped a container of clothes and around 9,000 eyeglasses each in 1994 and 2001, which was distributed throughout the State through the Lions and Rotary clubs. In 2002, the Vienna chapter established a vocational training centre for destitute girls in Thiruvananthapuram and earlier, a community wedding was also organised for 22 destitute couples.

Apart from this, various individuals and institutions have been recipients of the munificence of this charity organisation through these years. "Most of my time during my visit home is spent going around and keeping a tab on the various projects undertaken by Karuna. This time, on this very brief stay here, we went to meet the patients at the Regional Cancer Centre, distributing money for the needy, gifts for the children, which we had carried from Vienna. We have also finalised a plan to construct a short-stay home close to the RCC, for the relatives of the patients admitted here," reveals Ms. Srinivasan.

Another important agenda during this visit is the meeting of the World Malayalee Council (WMC) in Kochi, which has Ms. Srinivasan as its chairperson. This meeting is to discuss and finalise plans for the WMC kick-off at Bahrain next year. "The WMC is primarily a meeting point for interested Keralites all over the world to open up new possibilities of their mutual growth and better understanding. But then it is also making a major contribution to humanitarian projects in Kerala." A mobile health care unit is already operating, four villages have been adopted, at Thiruvananthapuram, Kollam, Malappuram and Wayanad and plans are afoot to adopt a village in every district in the State. Apart from this, the WMC has published a textbook, `Basic Malayalam,' for the NRI children and non-Malayalam speaking individuals and a bi-monthly journal called World Malayalee Journal.

Friends identify Ms. Sreenivasan with her manifold artistic achievements. Trained in bharatanatyam from her childhood by renowned teachers, she still choreographs and continues to grace stages even today. "I was fortunate to have almost everyone who mattered on my side when it came to pursue my dancing. My mother loved music and dance; my only sister was an excellent dancer till she quit dancing after her marriage. My husband likes dance and has been a great source of encouragement." As she has travelled the world, Ms. Sreenivasan has also picked up more dances and taught the South Indian classical dance to many. She has performed in more than 25 countries.

To understand that this lady is a true artist one needs just to visit her home in Vienna where her works of art, including ceramic, acrylic, paintings, aluminium embossing, a fine collection of Lord Ganesha and cute elephant figures. She has exhibited her works in several countries and all the proceeds from her artistic pursuits are pumped into charity.

Countless are the children and the poor who have benefited from her charity organisation and the shows she conducts. Charity is not about giving lectures or spending a bit of that extra wealth one has. It is all about giving oneself fully to this cause. Ms. Sreenivasan is one of that rare kind.

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