Heroes have existed among us since ancient times. There have been so many of them. Some remembered, some forgotten. However, with the advent of digital media, it has become easier to bring light upon these saviors. Today’s story is about one such savior of the forsaken, a woman known for some great groundbreaking work in the villages of Jalgaon, and the narrow confines of Maharashtra.
Persistence and patience in tough times can override roadblocks. Personifying this, we have Nileema Mishra, an innovative leader who has worked through odds to cause great social impact. Her spirit is unstoppable and she continues to find new ways to serve and succeed at her life goals.
Born around three siblings into a middle class family of Bahadarpur, Maharashtra, Neelima showed inherent qualities of helping the needy, since childhood. Her compassionate soul and was stirred by the troubles of others. Neelima was aware of the poverty in her village. It led the farmers to commit suicide and the plight of widows was moving, who could barely survive facing the dogmas of society.
At the age of 13, when her father decided to marry her off to abide by the village traditions, she took a resolution to go against it. Neelima stood firm on her ground and was determined to pursue education and help the underprivileged class of her village.
To put her plans in perspective, Neelima decided to move to Pune to pursue Masters in clinical psychology. She could have easily become an urban professional bagging a high-paying job with the degree she had but she gave up the life of comfort and instead pledged to transform the lives of downtrodden women in her village.
She had realised after living amongst these women that the biggest problem they faced was monetary. So, she wasted no time and plunged headlong into forming the organization Bhagini Nivedita Gramin Vigyan Niketan (BNGVN) on a humble scale.
Neelima started with a handful of women. As the organisation grew, Neelima was in dire need of funds to take the organisation to a new level in 2000. So, for the welfare of these women, Neelima sold her mother’s ancestral jewellery for Rs 3 lakh. This helped her start a new income-generating scheme and buy basic amenities like computers. She took the micro-finance route for uplifting the financial status of women.
Her journey with her organization has now covered a span of 13 years, 200 villages and more than 25,000 families. Today, the movement has more than 10,000 women in various self-help groups, engaging in micro-credit, production of edibles and export quality woven quilts. Her organisation also trains the rural women in income generating small scale businesses. It educates them about marketing, accounting, computer literacy, procurement in bulk at better prices, building warehouses etc.
Her hard work helped her gain national and international attention. Neelima was awarded the Ramon Magsaysay Award (also known as the Asian Noble Prize) for Emergent Leadership in 2011 and the ‘Padma Shri’ in 2013 for social work.
While announcing the winner, Magsaysay Award Foundation said:
“She is recognized for her purpose-driven zeal to work tirelessly with villagers in Maharashtra, India. Thus, she is helping them successfully address both their aspirations and adversities through collective action and heightening their confidence to improve lives.” Furthermore, she was also awarded Rs 22 lakh from the Ramon Magasay Award to further fund her social work.
As Nileema puts it in words, “If we work hard for ourselves, we lack the soul we put in, however, if the same effort is put in for others, it soothes our soul.”
Her dedication to work for the society and help the downtrodden is praiseworthy. The international acclamation she has received for her benevolent work goes on to show that becoming successful does not simply have to be in terms of money. It is how we touch and leave an impact on the lives of others and create a better world for every section of the society.
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