by Vishaal S Shah
on Aug 14th, 2007

My Tryst with Peace!

Ma NiketanTucked away in a corner in Thane near the Upvan hills is Ma Niketan – a shelter of 350+ destitute girls who have either been abandoned on the streets or have been brought to the shelter by relatives or single terminally ill parents who could no longer afford the upbringing of the child.

Of all the holy places I have visited, and trust me, the believer in me has been at many places, right from Hindu temples to Muslim mosques to churches to Buddhist pagodas to Jain Upashrayas, the peace and calmness I experience @ Ma Niketan is equal to the one I experience @ these holy places.

The first visit of Ma Niketan is always a reality check for people. At least it was for me – in a strange way. After meeting the girls, right from age 4 to 22, and hearing their stories, I suddenly felt privileged beyond words.

After facing so much at such a young age, these girls have probably weathered it all – and still have emerged out stronger and smiling out of this ritual. No doubt, the credit of all this goes to a very large extent to the sister’s @ Ma Niketan but the spirit of endurance and survival these girls display is extra ordinary.

Ma NiketanThe sisters, lead by Sister Barbara, have their task cut out. They want to create strong individuals out of each and every girl that comes to Ma Niketan, so that when they leave the shelter, they are ready to take on the challenges that life has a habit of throwing up.

Maybe that is the reason; Ma Niketan does not have a school of its own. The girls are sent to schools in the locality and the default learning medium is English unless they have an academic background in Marathi (the regional language). This makes the girl interact with the outside world in a controlled environment and to a large extent prepares them for it.

Also, the extra curricular activities undertaken at Ma Niketan, right from computer classes to yoga, kathak (traditional Indian dance form) to Tai chi, personality development to science awareness classes, Time Management to Behavior Patterns – these girls are prepared in every way. All these are voluntary activities, done by individuals and organizations who strive for the development of the girl child.Ma Niketan

The accommodation and food is adequate. After all, feeding, housing and educating 350+ girls are no mean task. Ma Niketan runs on donations made by individuals and corporates alike. If you go there and sit in the reception on some evening, you might see locals from neighboring low-cost housing colonies coming in and offering fruits and old toys to someone stepping out from a luxury car and writing down a cheque and meeting the kids.

There have been many success stories out of Ma Niketan. Right from air hostesses to nurses to teachers to secretaries to fashion designers to hotel management graduates – these girls have graduated out to the world and are leading a life of their own. The shelter finds the right grooms and many are married into families.

I still remember at one of the lunches @ Ma Niketan, I came across a lady who had grown up @ Ma Niketan. She was accompanied by her husband and the happiness on her face said it all!

The fact remains, that Ma Niketan is an institution in itself. Girl child is most vulnerable on streets and here’s a bunch of saintly ladies bringing them under their roof and making independent individuals out of them – giving them a chance at life !!!

My friend Sunil and myself had personally started our tryst with Ma Niketan some 18 months back by teaching computers to girls. However, the time investment that we used to do @ Ma Niketan took a back seat due to the usual excuses of work pressures, domestic and international trips and other social pressures.

Despite everything, Ma Niketan had always been in our thoughts and the well being of the girl child is always @ our hearts. We have adopted Ma Niketan as our personal and organizational cause and shall strive for better visibility of Ma Niketan and bring it to corporates and individuals who would like to support the cause of girl child.

For further information please visit the Ma Niketan website at or call on + 91 22 2534 17 73 or + 91 22 2536 69 49 and ask for Sister Barbara.

If you have any ideas of how you would like to team up with us please email me @

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