By Manvi Pant
What Manjiri Gokhale Joshi enjoys most is to “dream up something audacious, and then pursue it with focus and passion.” The co-founder of Maya CARE Foundation, an NGO which has been serving the elderly since 2009, Manjiri has set out along with her family to create a unique model of elderly care in India, which not only gives seniors a safe environment to thrive in but which is completely free of charge.
Their volunteers are based across Indian cities like Mumbai, Pune, Nashik, Bengaluru, Ahmedabad, Vadodara, Chandigarh and Trichy, and also in UK at London, Cambridge and Milton Keynes.
With more and more Indians embracing a fast-paced urban life and nuclear family structure, a rising need of housing senior citizens in a care facility has been reported in the last few years. The reasons leading to it are multifold. With increasing work pressure, children now have limited time, and many in fact are moving to other countries or cities for better career opportunities.
While Maya CARE does not offer housing, they instead reach out to senior citizens struggling with living on their own, sorely missing the active, intellectual and emotional stimulation and conveniences that they once had. “In India, this is still the first generation of senior citizens who have had to accept that – though they looked after their own parents/in-laws and grandparents – their own children will be away from them geographically or even if they live in the same city or home, work pressure will be so high that children will have limited time for them. Especially as longevity goes up, it is the need of the hour,” says Manjiri.
The NGO volunteers call themselves “the next best thing to family” and their services are completely free of charge for the elderly. “Our representatives who visit senior citizens are patient, friendly people who have taken on an assignment because it gives them immense satisfaction. There is genuine passion and involvement with the senior citizen they visit,” says Manjiri. They have served over 1500 senior citizens and conducted over 10,000 visits so far.
A training and management specialist, with a Master’s degree in mega-project management from Said Business School, University of Oxford, Manjiri was among the 12 professional experts selected among 13,000 applicants by Linkedin and Virgin Media to judge, train and mentor entrepreneurs pitching for a £1 million fund from Sir Richard Branson. She is a recipient of the British High Commission Chevening scholarship (2006) and has authored five books.
“Every challenge and crisis brings with it an opportunity. A crisis of today is the past learning of tomorrow,” she philosophises, explaining why she decided to quit a successful corporate career in April 2020 to focus on scaling Maya CARE and making it self-sufficient on funding.
“The choice of career as well subsequent career decisions came as a response to a situation (often negative) beyond my control. Every human being faces disappointment, but these are not times to dwell over negative events, and instead, to find a cause bigger than yourself and give it your best shot,” she avers.
Manjiri grew up in a joint family in the heart of culturally rich old Pune and went to St Helena’s school and Fergusson College. “A joint family teaches you the importance of collaboration, sharing of responsibility, presenting a common unified face for external stakeholders, co-existence among people with diverse points of view, flexibility, and not letting niggling differences come in the way,” she says, adding that these are precisely the traits that are taught in management studies as essentials in leadership and team working.
It was in keeping with this thought that her family, including her mother Dr Vidya Gokhale – an 80-year-old former medical college professor who still teaches Bharatanatyam – and her father Dr Suresh Gokhale – who at 82, still practices medicine, plays tennis and goes to the gym – are both actively involved in Maya CARE along with Manjiri’s husband and co-founder, Abhay Joshi.
Since the past 11 years, the couple has funded the NGO through their own personal incomes and, occasionally, small donations. “We have received immense goodwill from people who have used the service, their family members and several others who simply hear of Maya CARE and offer a pat on the back. This has kept us going, especially during personal financial crisis periods. However, our dream is to have Maya CARE continue to serve senior citizens way beyond our lifespans. Therefore, we are calling upon people across the world to support Maya CARE as potential donors and volunteers,” says Manjiri.
The NGO follows strict procedures to ensure the safety of the senior citizens as well as the volunteers, who are pre-registered, submit government-verified ID and address proofs, and carry photo-ID cards before they visit senior citizens. Visits are restricted to outdoors and the living rooms, except for those who are bedridden.
The UK model is the same as in India, but the kind of services expected are slightly different as senior citizens in the UK tend to want to be more independent. “While interviewing new volunteers, we welcome people who have the strong desire to be good listeners and proactively want to help,” says Manjiri, adding that they have also been actively recruiting persons with a disability, especially for back-end administrative and data roles.
One such exemplary full-time team member is Pune-based project coordinator Jyoti More. Associated with Maya CARE for over a decade now, Jyoti first met Manjiri in 2010. A healer by heart and astrologer by education, Jyoti suffered twice from polio virus attack as an infant, but since her father was in a transferable job, she could not be shifted to several locations.
“I started living with my grandparents while my parents and siblings would move to different cities. Every day, my grandfather would help me get in my wheelchair and drop me at the school. He would also lift me from my wheelchair and place me on a bench in my classroom,” she narrates.
By the time Jyoti reached ninth grade, she developed shivering in her fingers to such an extent that she could not even hold a pen. “It took a lot of medication to ensure that my fingers stay stable. Despite all odds, my condition did not stop me from securing the first position among girls in my school in SSC boards, and I got felicitated for the same. My grandfather has played a major role in my school education,” says Jyoti, who went on complete her MA in economics from Tilak Maharashtra Vidyapeeth.
Confined to her home, Maya CARE was Jyoti’s first job 10 years ago. She moved out and worked in a call centre for a few months before returning to the foundation. Her experience as a tele-caller helped her in handling Maya CARE enquiries over phone and she now manages their helpline along with a team of interns. Recalling her first meeting with Manjiri, Jyoti says, “It was the most important milestone in my life’s journey. She taught me a lot.”
Of all the qualities that Manjiri has developed as a leader, the one she rates most important is “attempting to infuse one’s own passion in someone else” and igniting one’s own spark in others. “We set our own limits to what we can do. There is always a first, and that first can be you.”
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