Mukta Jeevan – a model for companies, governments and individuals.
Here is what can be achieved if we work for the right reasons.
Picture a place far outside the limits of a city. With hills in the background, the landscape is harsh. Dusty brambles and cacti cover dry, rocky soil. Perhaps it changes to something more lush during the monsoons but for most of the year, it looks unforgiving. The sun beats down mercilessly. Not much seems to call this place home. A few industries and small impoverished villages contribute to the human presence. Who would choose this area to settle down?
From the highway, we make a turn onto a road that we almost miss. The road is brutal. Not a dirt road path but one that was paved so poorly that the first rush of rain washed it away leaving behind a ribbon of sharp edged stones embedded in mud. To say it tests the durability of good car tires is an understatement. We push forward passing what looks to be a construction site of small apartment buildings. It occurs to us that the site looks exactly as it did a year ago. Wondering why work stopped we drive along. Did the contractor run out of money? Were they waiting for further clearance from zoning or planning boards? And what vicious creatures must call the surrounding wild vegetation home? I shudder to imagine.
Finally, we approach a gate manned by an old man who beams at us a toothless smile and waves us in with a gesture by a hand that has a few missing fingers. We enter an oasis. Lush with trees and plants in bloom, the air feels cool and fresh. This compound of pretty gardens and neatly painted buildings look like a retreat of sorts. It is.
Welcome to Mukta Jeevan. That translates to free life. Society’s rejects are welcomed here where they can live with dignity and joy. The sisters of the Society of the Helpers of Mary make it happen.
Despite frustrating bureaucratic rules, lack of steady funds and in the midst of nowhere, Mukta Jeevan flourishes. Well maintained buildings and landscape are managed by fourteen nuns. Under the leadership of their mother superior Sr. Barbara, here exists an incredible model for how with the right intentions and resolve, anything is possible.
In a country enmeshed in corruption, mired in poverty and embroiled in bureaucratic protocol, to get anything done is a real test by fire. It’s easy to give up on altruistic projects. So to see how beautifully Mukta Jeevan operates and what it has achieved by sheer hard work and the dependence on the the kindness of strangers, it makes one believe that there is indeed a god.
All this place does is offer shelter to people afflicted with Hansen’s disease ( remember the grinning gatekeeper?), children born HIV positive, women with HIV/AIDS and the destitute aged. None of whom are welcomed by the outside world. At Mukta Jeevan, each group is provided with their own building of clean, airy living quarters, occupational training like weaving and candle making for the adults and schooling for the children and a general surrounding that offers them the opportunity to thrive and live as fully as one wishes. What an achievement!
But, it does not stop there. The goal is to be as self-sustaining as possible with sound organic practices. To that end, there is a animal husbandry where goats, pigs and chicken are raised for meat and eggs, cows are housed separately and provide milk and yogurt. Vegetables and herbs are grown seasonally and an abundant variety of trees yield fruits like mangoes, coconuts, bananas and such. Even tapioca and turmeric are grown here.
At one time, tankers delivered water but now with a big rain catchment area, there is a surplus of water! So irrigation is not a problem. With so much sunshine available, each building has been set up with solar panels. And this in remote, rural India!
Within the compound is a hospital and rehabilitation center. Occupational therapy and psychiatric counseling are provided. Everywhere are gardens with flowering plants, shrubs and vines. Most significantly, the residents look happy and content. Everybody contributes their time and efforts to keeping their home beautiful, clean and efficient. It is a special place.
With no credentials from any business school, Sr. Barbara runs a first class organization. There is no big corporate funding, no bank offering money, no industrialist performing acts of great philanthropy. It is through the generosity of ordinary people that Mukta Jeevan operates. Of course should anybody come forward and ask how they might help, Sr. B has just the right request! Be warned. You will want to give her whatever she wants. And more.
Overseeing every aspect of running this establishment keeps Sr. B crazy busy. Yet, she manages to do it with a cheerful, calm demeanor. With ready smile and greeting, she engages with the various residents, is hands on with all thats happening, in tune with individual personalities and still gets all the mundane paperwork done. Her cell phone never stops interrupting and there is always someone or something demanding her personal attention. She always has time for everybody. How she handles it all with such efficiency and skill would be a good subject for a graduate student’s thesis.
The most recent project is the new building to accommodate the ever increasing numbers of the aged. These are folk who have either no family or have been abandoned by them and now in their sunset years would be homeless but for this sanctuary. No money is asked of any of the residents. “The Lord will provide” and it seems He has.
From breaking ground to having it up and running has taken exactly one year. Thats right, one short year. Amazing by any standards. I cannot help thinking about that ‘stopped in the middle of construction’ project we passed by on the way here. The building is large, spacious and comfortable and will house fifty more of the destitute. All relevant details have been factored in – the visiting physician’s office, the covered area to line dry clothes, a space for ironing, a roof terrace from which to enjoy the cool evening breeze and watch the sun set over the hills. It has been provided with the infrastructure to have three more floors should the need arise in the future. Brilliant.
Regarding the children, Sr is always exploring and obtaining means to augment their education and well being. The children are being given the necessary medications and nurturing to ensure that they grow up and lead productive lives. To think society had pretty much written them off.
Residents from surrounding villages are hired to assist with the cooking, cleaning etc., This has been a boost to the local employment levels. Several are given accommodation on the premises. I would imagine that these jobs are highly sought.
If Mukta Jeevan was described for its environmentally sound sustainable practices, humanitarian efforts and successful, smooth not for profit operation sans big investors and against great odds it would be lauded by every ‘expert’ as an ideal business/town model. So, I ask, if this unexpected, humble group of fourteen women can achieve it, why can’t our towns, corporations and yes, even ourselves?
For myself, seeing first hand the loving, steadfast, wholehearted service of the sisters at Mukta Jeevan, the beauty created by organic, healthy horticultural methods and the potential for those children to become contributing adults reaffirms my own belief that it is possible to change this world. To make it better and fairer for all. And I must do my very best to help these sisters continue doing what they do.
This is my passion and my mission.
For more pictures go to photos.