We have the absolute pleasure of interviewing Meera Gandhi, a philanthropist who strives for the betterment of humanity. Her selfless work has received accolades and support from dignitaries such as Bill and Hillary Clinton, Oprah Winfrey and Kerry Kennedy.
Meera worked with Mother Teresa at the tender age of 16. Today, she is the founder of ‘The Giving Back foundation’ which aims to alleviate communities that are marginalized, women and children. Among many things, the foundation has adopted New Delhi’s St. Michael’s School in India. As a result of the program, the children are provided with meals on a daily basis and have had their entire school and its grounds refurbished.
Here the torch bearer sheds light on her charity, inspiration, raising children, education, motherhood and more…
What sparked the idea for ‘The Giving Back foundation’?
Since I was very young, I had involved myself in various projects, trying to do whatever I could to help those that could not completely help themselves. But these projects were always through an organisation or some middleperson, and did not satisfy me wholly as I wanted to be in direct contact with the people. As I grew up and attained enough knowledge and education to launch my own initiative, I knew I just had to start my own project, in order to connect directly with those I wish to help, and out of this, The Giving Back Foundation was born in 2009-10.
“Children at a young age deserve just that- the privilege of a healthy childhood.”
You wish to develop education, and spread positivity and peace. Your movement has received the support of Bill and Hillary Clinton, Oprah Winfrey, and Kerry Kennedy to name a few. Do tell us more.
One of the most important factors of starting something new is to be inspired and to have those around you that inspire you. The people I surround myself with are those that inspire me to be better and to give back. Their support is not financial in nature, but more wholesome than that, it is in the form of belief and faith. They have achieved so much in the past, and I am humbled to receive their support in my endeavours.
In addition to the people mentioned, my largest role models would be my children. They inspire and motivate me every day, and give me faith to continue my quest for welfare.
You are the daughter of an Irish mother, Ellen Mary, originally of Dublin and an Indian father, Admiral Perbodh Nath Agarwal from UP, India. You grew up in India, England and Ireland and were educated in India, Canada and the United States. Could you tell us how this prolific upbringing shaped you as a person? Any interesting anecdotes that you would like to share?
Having lived in such diverse areas, and being brought up by parents from such variable backgrounds is one of my greatest strengths. It has helped me understand any point of view, and empathise with problems and perspectives of both the east and the west. I feel I can connect with people at a cellular level, which makes for seamless communication.
What was the most valuable advice that you received from your mother?
My mother is one of my greatest role models. Her strength and belief always motivated me and gave me support. If I had to select the one piece of advice that is most valuable to me (and there are many!), I would say it was when she told me to always be careful with regard to whom to trust and to always have faith in the right people. She also added that it is of utmost importance to be self-reliant!
“The best thing I learnt from Mother Teresa was the pure joy one revived from unconditional giving.”
How was the experience of working with Mother Teresa in Asha Dan, Mumbai at the age 16? What was the most priceless thing that you learnt from her?
Working with Mother Teresa was wonderful. She was such a wholesome woman, and never liked to draw attention to herself. Her love and devotion to her mission always inspired me. The highlight of the experience was definitely the children. Their simplicity, appreciation and joy of companionship truly moved me.
The best thing I learnt from Mother Teresa was the pure joy one revived from unconditional giving. Service of another human is truly pure and most joyful, in any manner or form. To correlate this to my own personal life, recently my son was quite ill in the hospital for an extended period and I was there, day and night, to make sure he felt comfortable and secure in his healing. It was pure bliss. Sleepless nights did not affect me, as I was only focussed on getting him better, and servicing his journey to better health. Such is the power of helping another without any conditions.
You have devoted your life to charity and to helping those in need: abused and hungry children, widows, the sick, the deaf and blind, and are particularly interested in education as the stepping stone to success. How do you strike the balance between home and your calling?
Balance of mind brings balance to life, and balance to almost everything. It is never a struggle for me to balance. I just try to do the right thing at the right time. It’s pretty organic and natural.
You have adopted New Delhi’s St. Michael’s School in India. As a result of the program, the children of St. Michael’s School are provided with meals on a daily basis and have had their entire school and its grounds refurbished. The program provided a new hostel, a playground, and a new school block filled with classrooms. Do tell us more…
The project with New Delhi’s St Michael’s School is a soup to nuts commitment and has over time become a cornerstone project for the giving back foundation. I believe this endeavour will bring about a real change in the learning environment of a student. A hungry child, an unhappy child, or a tired child cannot learn to his/her full potential. Children should not see education as an obligation, but something they will cherish and enjoy. In taking up this project, The Giving Back Foundation hopes to make the learning environment a healthy one.
What do you feel is the ideal education for a child? Are there any aspects the schools in India need to improve on?
Schools on India need to encourage creativity and curiosity. That has been stifled in our current ‘learn by rote’ system. We are so comfortable with our tried and tested ways of imparting education, that we do not realise it is not in fact resulting in real learning. We should challenge the rich potential in the minds of young children and foster it to grow and develop.
“In the topic of parent’s outlook towards their children and their education, it is important for us to not focus so much on grades.”
What are the key things that you feel children at a young age require?
Children at a young age deserve just that- the privilege of a healthy childhood. They require a great family life- which I think is beautiful in India, with our rich culture and social environment which is alive and well. Good nutrition is also of utmost importance, which I believe is present in our country as well, due to our love of food, and elaborate meal preparation!
Which are the areas you think parents can improve or focus on while bringing up their children?
I believe that there is always room for improvement in all aspects of our lives. In the topic of parent’s outlook towards their children and their education, it is important for us to not focus so much on grades. Grades, tests and scoring is important, but it has unfortunately become the sole focus of academia in India, with creative development taking a back seat. Relieving children from the pressure of unrealistic grades would be a great place to start.
Which are the values that you would like to pass on to your child?
Be healthy, be your best self, make every space you go into a little better than when you found it.
Find your true calling and then simply live your best life.