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Meet Papa Reji: The Man Who Adopted 22 HIV Positive Abandoned Children

Smruthi Kishore

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Meet Papa Reji: The Man Who Adopted 22 HIV-Positive Abandoned Children

Rajib Thomas lovingly called as Papa Reji, by his 22 adopted children who are HIV positive. He is an ordinary man who did extraordinary things and proved that he is his kid’s hero.

All of these kids have been living with 44-year-old Thomas along with his wife and two biological kids since a decade.

How it all started?

“It was in the year 2007, I met a girl lying outside a hospital who was also an HIV positive patient. I asked her what she wanted to eat, she replied noodles. Though I couldn’t arrange for what she asked on that day, I managed to get her that on the very next day. But I realized she was no more as she passed away the previous night,” said Mr. Rajib Thomas.

It was then he decided that he should do something for all those HIV positive patients who were abandoned by their parents only because they are HIV infected.

He later spoke Divya Mithale who is an HIV/AIDS specialist who helped him to adopt those abandoned children. At first, she arranged for him to take two newborn babies.

It was in 2009, he rented a big house to accommodate his family who included his wife, their two kids along with the two newborns.

Later on, people recognized his efforts and then started donating beds, food, and money to help them out.

Eventually, his family started expanding and now the number counts 22 kids.

This wouldn’t have been possible without the support and efforts of his wife Mini. She cooks all the three meals of the day for all the kids. She says: “We make sure none of the kids feel left out,  we scold them like our kids and love them equally.”

Papa Reji aka Rajib Thomas exclaimed: “These kids call me papa and I’m not doing anything great as it any other father’s duty to take care of his child.”

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Arunachalam Muruganantham: India’s Social Entrepreneur And Menstruation Man

Ramya GovindRaj

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While a majority of men and women in many urban cities of India still consider the menstrual cycle a taboo, this man from Coimbatore changed the perspective of millions of women in rural India. Arunachalam Muruganantham, also know as PadMan, in an effort to impress his wife decided to produce sanitary napkins himself. Little did he know that a few years down the line, his whole world would be turned upside down, from almost getting a divorce to becoming the first man to wear a sanitary pad.

The initial idea seemed simple enough. Buy cotton, cut it in the size of a regular pad and wrap it using a thin layer of cotton. However, the feedback he received from his wife was devastating. His homemade pad was useless and she would rather continue using old rags. He did not stop there. He first enlisted his sisters to test his pads. When they refused, he visited a local medical school and asked the girls studying in those colleges. When they also eventually stopped helping, he created a makeshift uterus using a football bladder and goats blood to test the sanitary napkins himself.

When the neighbours started complaining about a foul smell and stained clothes, his wife left him and went to live with her mother. But, it was no longer about helping his wife anymore. Arunachalam was on a mission to produce low cost sanitary pads for all the girls and women in his country.

A school dropout from Coimbatore, Arunachalam challenged an age old taboo and changed a fiercely competitive industry with his cheap and affordable good quality sanitary napkins. After years of research, lots of sacrifices, a great deal of hard work and the willpower to succeed, he successfully created a low cost machine for the production of sanitary pads. His easy to use machines, priced at $ 950, created a revolution in India challenging the $ 500,000 imported machines. More than a decade later, his single product has helped employ more than 7000 women in rural India, selling 1,300 machines to 27 states in India and 6 countries.

However, the man behind the ‘Second White Revolution’ is still as humble as ever. Startup Stories had the opportunity to speak with Mr. Arunanchalam Muruganantham about his surreal journey. Speaking about his experiences and his journey, he says, “I feel grateful for what has happened so far it is what has made me what I’m today.” Despite changing the lives of over 3.5 million women in rural India, Arunachalam feels there’s still a long way to go. “Awareness is missing. But things do have changed compared to 2 decades before.. still a long way to go.” He further adds, “Menstrual hygiene is totally connected to a women’s health and lifestyle. Sanitary pad does play a role. We have over 80+% women not taking care of themselves. A lot of efforts needed to make them use hygienic practice.

However, Arunachalam feels the Government can help boost this movement forward. “Tax has increased the price of pads. But still. Cost is one side of the coin. Government can make it tax free – the loss they might incur is not a loss at all as making pads affordable and accessible will make more women healthy – that is a greatest asset of the nation. Women strong – country strong.”

We could not agree with him more! India is a country that has seen some extremely powerful women in the leading roles. Nevertheless, like they say, there is strength in numbers and only when men and women work together, will this revolution be validated.  It takes a lot of strength, courage and determination to take such a brave step forward. Startup Stories wishes Mr. Arunachalam Muruganantham all the best for his dream of making all the women of India use sanitary napkins.

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This Young Entrepreneur Believes In Making Stories Special

Ramya GovindRaj

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Everybody has a story to tell, and I help make yours unforgettable. – Ramya Sriram.

While a good measure of the millennials keeps wondering if their life choices are right, one young entrepreneur took charge of her professional journey and found her passion. Meet the 29 year old founder of The Tap, Ramya Sriram. Ms. Sriram enjoys expressing life through comics, using visual vocabulary to break language barriers. This simple and enjoyable hobby led Ramya into starting up her own business.

However, becoming an entrepreneur was not her first career choice. Like every child, Ramya, was very sure about what she wanted to do in her life. The only problem was her career choice seemed to change every few weeks! When she was 15, Ramya started coaching for medical school. Two years later, she dropped that idea altogether and joined the Vellore Institute of Technology, to pursue engineering instead.

Just like the majority of engineers feel in India, after graduating from VIT, Ramya believed a MBA was the next logical step. However, after joining a reputed Business school, Ramya realized Management was not her cup of tea. A few days into her course, she decided to quit and join a publishing house instead. At the new job, Ramya spent her days editing, nights writing and drawing, for the next five straight years.

During our conversation with Ramya Sriram, she shared about her journey from working in a publishing house, to the leap into entrepreneurship and setting up her own company.

1. While you made the move from MBA to publishing, who was your inspiration and why?

I never really wanted to do an MBA. I was quite confused when I started the course itself, though I had voluntarily studied for the entrance exam! What bothered me was that I might be stuck in a field that I might not enjoy. A week into the MBA, I knew that the course wasn’t right for me, and I needed to first find what kind of career I “fit” into. It wasn’t inspiration as much as it was resistance really. The major issue with the MBA was the time. Two entire years seemed an enormous amount of time to spend on something I wasn’t convinced about. When I got a job in a publishing house, my decision was made.

2. What would you tell other potential entrepreneurs who still are unable to make that final jump?

I can only speak from my own experience of running a very tiny outfit as a freelancer/self-employed person.

I would say that if the circumstances are favorable, then just take the plunge. Don’t let fear hold you back. I get so many mails from people who are really unhappy in their jobs. Life is too short to feel trapped. If there are people financially dependent on you, or if your circumstances are such that you can’t quit your job without some planning, then I suggest taking up small steps towards what you want to do. Even a couple of hours a week can make a big difference. I think the great thing about having a 9 to 6 job is that it gives you some leeway to freely experiment outside of it, since your bread and butter isn’t dependent on the experiments.

Before taking the plunge, it helps immensely to expose yourself to a variety of audiences and get feedback/advice from mentors. And when you really want to do something, you will.

Ramya’s path, from making the move from engineering, to MBA, to working in a publishing house, to finally starting her own company, Ramya has written about her journey in a Linkedin post. She states, “You can’t always find your passion within you, you have to get out there and look for it. Make things happen. Unless you try a whole variety of things, you might never know what truly brings you joy or satisfaction. As Bernard Shaw said, “Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.”

And so, The Tap was born! The Tap has now become “a storehouse for stories that originate from my wandering mind and pondering pencil.” What started off as a hobby brought in her first customer via Facebook when a friend asked her to run a comic strip for his magazine. Since then, Ramya has worked on a variety of projects that involve ideation and content creation.

3. What was the hardest part about deciding to start The Tap?

I have to admit that it wasn’t very hard, mostly because I knew what I wanted to do, and had a lot of support from my family. I had started The Tap as something on the side, along with a full-time job. By the time I decided to work solely on The Tap, I had a general idea of what kind of time, energy and effort it would involve.

I think I have to emphasize that I never really looked at The Tap as a big commercial venture or something that I wanted to grow into a big company. I wanted to focus on learning and doing good work for good clients. During the initial few months I was a little alarmed whether I could actually make it work. But there was only one way to find out.

4. What were some of the first milestones and major challenges of The Tap?

The first milestone was my first (very unexpected) commission. I was doodling for fun, and putting up my work on Facebook, when I received a request to create a custom comic. I was very surprised and happy, and that was what prompted me to start taking up paid work. Another huge milestone was Comic Con, in Bangalore. I went with some T-shirts, bags, pillow covers and coasters, and was thrilled with the response. Having your audience in flesh and blood in front of you makes such a huge difference, after an online following. The biggest thrills have come in the form of mails from readers online — lots of folks have sent me their own stick drawings — people aged 7 to 70!

The major challenge was being able to understand what the scope of The Tap was — there were so many things I wanted to do — make merchandise, take up commissions, work with social enterprises, create custom products, collaborate with other artists/writers AND continue to write. I finally decided to pick a couple of things every year.

5. What’s the next step for The Tap?

I would like to focus on social issues. I did a series with CRY India last year, and I’m hoping to work with more NGOs this year, so that people not only read the comic but there is some follow-up action. I would like to create stories that will drive people into taking positive, effective steps — though I’m not sure that can be achieved easily.

Here’s a comic I did on the International Day of the Girl Child last year.

6. What would your message be to other aspiring and confused entrepreneurs?

Well, I think the confusion is good, because it can be a great motivator. I think my advice would be to just do something which makes you wake up every day feeling excited and energetic (sic.) We are our own demons sometimes, so clearing your path of self doubt would be a good step in figuring out your next steps.

Like Ramya said, the future is all yours to grab with just a little bit of luck, a dose of courage and a whole lot of determination! We wish Ramya Sriram all the very best for her future with more projects, more milestones, more drawings and more stories!

 

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Bharti Foundation Donates 10% Of Family Wealth To The Giving Pledge Initiative

Smruthi Kishore

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The Bharti Family, led by industrialist, Sunil Mittal Bharti, announced early today, it would pledge 10% of its wealth (approximately Rs. 7000 crores,) including their 3%  stake in the Bharti Group flagship, Bharti Airtel, towards Bharti Foundations, the charitable arm of the organization.

With this move, the Bharti Foundation plans on significantly increasing the scope and reach of the Foundation, thereby giving the Group a wider berth for growth. Further, the Foundation plans on increasing innovative development models to support aspirations of India’s underprivileged, including the students of Satya Bharti Schools.

The Foundation works with around 2,40,000 underprivileged children in an attempt to increase the level of education provided to them. The company, in a statement, said the Satya Bharti University for Science and Technology would have a strong focus on future technologies like Artificial Intelligence, Robotics, Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality and Internet of Things, in addition to offering degrees in Electrical and Electronics Engineering and Management.

This pledge by the Bharti family is yet another example of billionaires extending into philanthropy. Infosys Chairman Nandan Nilekani recently signed the Giving Pledge Initiative sponsored by Warren Buffett and Bill Gates, which is an invitation to the world’s wealthiest to donate a majority of their wealth to charity.

The only other Indians to have signed the Giving Pledge Initiative are Wipro Chairman Azim Premji, Biocon MD Kiran Mazumdar Shaw and P.N.C. Menon of Sobha Developers. The Bharti family draws a strong influence from Mahatma Gandhi’s way of life and this move reaffirms that very fact. The Bharti Foundation helped establish the Bharti School of Telecommunication Technology and Management at IIT Delhi, Bharti Centre for Communication at IIT Mumbai and Bharti Institute of Public Policy at ISB Mohali.

Global taxi hailing startup Uber’s co founder Garrett Camp announced he’s also joining the Giving Pledge to donate at least half of their fortune to philanthropic causes. In a blog post, Camp added, “I’ve now spent 15 years focused mostly on startups and while I’m still passionate about creating useful products, I also realized I shouldn’t wait to start giving back.” 

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