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Reaching out

Rukmini Devi's agility and drive will put people half her age to shame



Rukmini Devi: `I want to help more women.' — Photo: K. Gopinathan

YOU'RE INTO your 60s and feel you have done your bit, and it's time to sit back and reflect on the past and the future. Once in the 70s, you start looking for help from others. Touch the 80s, you're convinced you simply can't carry on unaided. As for helping others, forget it.

Meet Rukmini Devi and your views will change drastically. Her agility would put a teenager to shame. At 80, she not only lives alone and does all the household chores, but has also formed a trust, Maa Charitable Trust, which aims at providing vocational skills to destitute women so that they have a source of livelihood.

Says Rukmini Devi: "This is my way of repaying my debt back to society." About a dozen women converge on the second floor of her small house to make camphor pellets, agarbathis, phenyl, dishwashing powder, mosquito repellents, and liquid soap. Some are into tailoring, making blouses, cushion covers, baby quilts, and the like. Others are into more skilled labour like creating utility and craft items from waste. Thus there are decorative bangles, earrings, necklaces, key chains, and artefacts made out of coconut shells, flower arrangement from cleaned mango seeds and bagasse, and artefacts from pine cones and nutshells.

Having done a home industry training course in Madurai, besides one in Ayurveda, Rukmini Devi backed by sheer chutzpah, is well equipped to train these women, who also get help from the India Development Foundation. She proudly displays the quality award she has received for her camphor pellets. Incidentally, she gets no government funds.

How did she get involved with destitute women? "I started this three years back. I had worked for the Social Welfare Department and I always wanted to help others. Once my children settled down, I needed to do something where I could actually make a difference in people's lives. This was an answer to that craving."

Women like Parvati, who lost her leg when a bus ran her over and was subsequently deserted by her husband, have found a new meaning in their lives, thanks to Rukmini Devi's efforts. Organisations like the Rotary Club has helped Parvathi, who has been awaiting compensation for over six years now and who has had to battle severe depression.

"But that is not sufficient. We don't make much from selling our products. We need funds not just for these women, but many more like them who are out there waiting to be trained and pick up the pieces of their lives. My work here hardly touches the tip of an iceberg," says Rukmini Devi.

Though constrained by funds, she is certainly not short of ideas. One of them is to start a mess, which would provide employment for these women and also make them self-reliant. For those who want to contact Rukmini Devi, call her at 28462406.

NANDHINI SUNDAR

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