She will give till it hurts

 All of 31, Sanchaita has got a tough mission to accomplish! A mission of delivering basic rights like water and sanitation to the underprivileged, writes Sharmila Chand.

She is unyielding, passionate about her work, and bent on reforming society. Sanchaita Gajapati Raju, the founder of Social Awareness, Newer Alternatives (SANA), knows no limits when it comes to realising her dreams. Here is a story of pure resolve shaking hands with success, touching numerous lives. All of 31, a native of Delhi, Sanchaita is like any other bright girl her age. Except for one little difference — she’s got a tough mission to accomplish! A mission of delivering basic rights like water and sanitation to the underprivileged. The sheer magnitude of the problem is so gigantic: over 600 million Indians defecate in the open, while over 40 percent of villages have no clean drinking water.

In October 2013, SANA was recognised for its unique integrated clean drinking water-cum-sanitation model and was honoured with the ‘Google Global Impact Award’. SANA received the highest number of votes, out of the half a million cast worldwide. Currently, SANA is working on water purification and sanitation infrastructure with green technology. “It may be small when you compare us with larger and more financially-equipped foundations and trusts, but we have successfully reached out at the grassroot level in our own special way,” says Sanchaita.  

So, what instilled in her such resolve to be a changemaker? “My parents are my inspiration,” says Sanchaita, earnestly. “My mother Uma Gajapati Raju became a member of parliament at a very young age, and then a successful media entrepreneur. As a member of parliament, she was uncompromising for her concerns for the marginalised and continued with her social work in the Visakhapatnam region even after her transition into the media. I particularly remember accompanying her on a hospital on wheels, which carried cutting-edge medical facilities and highly qualified doctors to the tribal regions of coastal Andhra; it left a deep impact on me. On the other hand, my father, Baba Ramesh Sharma, a six-time national-award-winning film maker, brought me up with very high regard for social responsibility and values. It is from them that I learnt the importance of social interventions and social justice.”

Armed though she was with degrees in political science and law from Delhi University, Sanchaita had a rough beginning with her NGO. She explains, “As a young person, starting any venture, you face cynicism. It is difficult to convince anybody of your intentions. Moreover, the word ‘NGO’ itself has lost credibility. There are a few bad apples and scams which have tainted it.”

Not the one to give up, Sanchaita designed an innovative working model. She devised a unique social intervention, using solar powered compact water station, to provide clean drinking water to school students. Also, she managed to get technology partners who were willing to donate the plant and machinery as a pilot project. Ultimately, SANA was the first NGO to use this innovation, and therefore, the success of this social intervention gave Sanchaita both recognition and credibility from then on.  

Sanchaita genuinely believes in her ability to be able to touch lives. “The recent tragic rape-and-murder case of two young girls in Badaun highlights the horrific fact that 60 percent of rapes are committed when women go for open defecation. The work that I do in the water and sanitation space helps restore human dignity. Access to sanitation makes women less vulnerable to sexual abuse,” she maintains.

And since the Google grant money was a handsome rupees three crores, it helped Sanchaita scale up SANA’s activities. She has even received a hand-written letter of appreciation from Sachin Tendulkar for the work she has been doing in the water and sanitation space. “The most important lesson is not to underestimate yourself,” says the young achiever to other young women like her. “In this modern age, educated women are as efficient, smart, and capable of delivering what they set out to do, as their male counterparts. I don’t mean you need to be arrogant, but do not be defensive because you are a woman. Be confident.” 

Her message is crystal clear: While you live life to the fullest, give back to the society till it hurts!” 

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