French lady helps poor on streets of Bodh Gaya

French lady helps poor on streets of Bodh Gaya

French lady helps poor on streets of Bodh Gaya
Sometime back, on a chilly winter night, a septuagenarian French woman in Bodh Gaya was seen travelling on a motorcycle looking for destitutes who did not have even a blanket to cover themselves. Dr Jeanne Pere, who was riding pillion on her secretary Munna Paswan's bike, was carrying piles of blankets for a large number of homeless, orphans and beggars, mostly Dalits and Mahadalits.

The 76-year-old has been doing this charitable work for more than a decade but it has largely gone unnoticed as she abhors publicity. Locals in Bodh Gaya say Pere, fondly called Mummyji, not only provides the destitutes clothes and shelter, but also makes arrangements for their food and education through her non-governmental organisation Mummy Ji Educational Charitable Trust, which she has been running in this Land of Buddha.

Having the privilege of working with Mother Teresa in Kolkata, Pere goes about looking for destitutes in Gaya who spend nights on the pavement under the open sky. She covers them with blankets and moves on silently. “We do not believe in publicity. We work silently and try to bring some smile on the face of the needy. This gives me immense satisfaction,” she says.

Her close associate Munna Paswan, who is secretary of the Mummy Ji Educational Charitable Trust, said that so far the NGO had been successful in the uplift of scores of children from Mahadalit community who would sit every day outside the revered Mahabodhi Temple in Bodh Gaya, seeking alms.

“We first picked up 150 children from the Mahadalit community, who were forced by their parents to resort to begging at the entrance of Mahabodhi Temple. We counselled and told them the practice needs to be given up. Initially, we faced stiff resistance from their parents, as they were dependent on such children seeking alms. Now the trust takes care of clothes, food and education of such children,” the secretary told DH.

Born on November 25, 1940 in France, Pere has two children-- a son and a daughter-- and they are settled in London (UK) and California (USA) respectively. Her husband passed away in 1993.

A graduate in psychology, she started her career as a teacher in French primary and elementary schools and then graduated to college, from where she retired. It was during this period that she was often sent by the French government to different places where she also doubled up as a social worker.

“She got to interact and work closely with the physically challenged children as well as those kids with learning disabilities,” said Paswan. This phase of her life prepared Pere for the social work she was planning to undertake in India. Pere had the privilege to work with Mother Teresa in Kolkata in 1993-95. Later, she undertook a training programme in yoga from her Guru at Maharshi Vinod Institute in Pune and obtained a degree also.

Eventually, she reached Bodh Gaya and religiously followed the teachings of the Dalai Lama. The widespread poverty in and around Bodh Gaya jolted Pere. In 2002, she set up her first NGO which had five schools for the underprivileged children.

In 2015, she started her Mummy Ji Educational Charitable Trust, which has a free boarding school where proper training is imparted in sewing, computers and beautician course, all free of charge to the needy.

“In the nondescript villages of Bodh Gaya like Shripur, Mathihani and Shekhwara, lack of employment had encouraged migration and women and children had no option other than to beg. Moved by their plight, Pere decided to open an institute for skill development for rural women in association with Japanese and Canadian tourists frequenting Bodh Gaya,” said Paswan.

“Many organisations have been working here. But none of them thought of bringing about a qualitative change in the condition of deprived women and children. I realised the basic cause of poverty here was the lack of work, especially for women. That’s when I decided to find a way out to help them,” said Pere.

Two other Buddhist devotees-- Monica Mass of Germany and Yuki Inoue from Japan--brought together benevolent fund donors and friends in Russia, Australia and the USA to work for the project which was aimed to economically empower rural women.

Monica, who joined as an ordinary volunteer, has so far trained over 150 women in villages of Bodh Gaya. This effort has yielded the desired result. Now products prepared by these women, which include school bags, purses, bouquets, carry bags, toys and kitchen tools, are not only marketed in India but also in European countries with the help of offshore volunteers.

“In India, we have roped in Big Bazaar chain which will allow a special outlet to sell products made by rural women,” said Paswan, who feels the move has completely transformed the lives of rural women and inspired others to follow suit.

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