The Leading Ladies
Women are the helm of every field which affects their families directly or indirectly. Though many may not come out in the open to show their strength, there are those who make a difference by voicing out their concerns loud and clear to bring about social change. In Goa, many women social activists have brought a huge change to the state through their efforts. Cafe pays a tribute to a few who have been constantly working towards their goals
SUJATA NORONHA Director Sujata Noronha is the director of Bookworm, a library in Taleigao which received the Goa State Best Library award. A literacy educator with extensive experience in literacy instruction and children’s literature, Sujata and her all women team have been tirelessly taking books to children in schools and various communities. Starting out with the library along with Elaine Mendonca over a decade ago, her team is now 20 members strong. Bookworm runs three programmes, the Bookworm library, the school programmes and the Mobile Outreach Programme. “What really keeps us going is that children are interested in stories and books and more importantly when there is a teacher opening and reading these books to them. That gives us the motivation to see the enthusiasm of the children. We cater to children in schools as young as five and half years old whereas in the Mobile Outreach Programme, we even have pre-schoolers who are three years old,” says Sujata. Noticing the trend in the last ten years on how children are offered entertainment and technology over books, Sujata feels that reading should be given more importance. “Reading is an important part of their lives and it has been proven by cognitive research studies that watching on screens either on the mobile, tab or the TV, can hinder the motor movements of the child. There is very little eye movement when they are staring at the screen compared to reading a book where their eyes would move up, down and left and right,” explains Sujata.
ANWESHA SINGBAL For anyone even vaguely familiar with the Konkani movement in Goa, Anwesha Singbal needs no introduction. But for everyone else, her industrious and diligent work for the upliftment of the Konkani language is what makes her stand out. Anwesha started Abhinav Creationz with her colleague Amol Kamat, with an intention to market regional language books that were the victim of a poor marketing system. The duo started moving from school to school with a bag of Konkani books, meeting the principals of the school. Almost all the schools that they visited welcomed them and bought the books. While the team covered almost 100 schools last academic year, this year, they have covered more than 30 schools with book exhibitions. Anwesha also conducts regular story telling sessions for children in schools, aimed at inculcating the reading habit amongst the children. Another important offering of Abhinav Creationz has been in the form of a festival called Majja that has been a huge hit with school children. Majja engages the children in the age groups of 5 to 10 in various activities like drawing, theatre, music and craft, through the mediums of stories and music in their mother tongue, thereby taking them closer to the environment they are born in. The duo also introduces the otherwise seemingly boring subjects like science and astronomy in an enjoyable manner so that children can develop a liking for them. Anwesha believes that for her, Konkani is not just a language but her identity. This makes speaking in Konkani, working for the upliftment of the language comes to her very naturally unlike those who feel that English is the ‘in’ thing. Doing something for the Konkani language is now a habit than a compulsion, something that Anwesha says she believes from her heart.
JUDITH ALMEIDA Judith Almeida is housewife from Colva who has been being active in the field of environment and human rights for the past 15 years. She works through an organisation known as the Colva Civic and Consumer Forum and takes up various issues across Goa. She has been fighting to protect the environment whether it was to oppose coal transportation and a hub in Goa, the restoration of the sand dunes at Sernabatim-Colva, or the dumping of waste in the Colva creek. Most recently, she demanded an apology from Michael Lobo, saying that Goa’s own Dhangar community had yet to obtain SC/ST status. “Goa is my only reason for taking up these issues. For me, it is first humans and then the environment because humanity depends on the environment. If we destroy it now, what will remain for the future generations? I am against anything that can affect the air or water as I feel that my generation has destroyed it and nothing will remain for our children,” feels Judith. She is also supported by women at every level as she believes that women are the first to feel the effects of the family and the environment. “Many women stand by me and are many time stopped by their family, relatives and friends. I don’t want them to be targeted and I take the heat but we are always united to sign the resolution as the court demands a resolution. I want to do the right thing as it is the only thing we can do to please Goa or else there is no meaning to this life,” says Judith.
MEENACSHI MARTINS Dr Meenacshi Martins maybe the face of a popular Konkani movie that you love but behind that humble facade, she is a fiery woman. She has donned many hats to protect the weak and to be the voice to those who cannot shout out against abuse. Meenacshi is currently the Chairperson of the North Goa District Committee for prevention of sexual harassment at work place. She was a founder member and consulting Psychiatrist at Drug Abuse Prevention Program (DAPP) in 1983. She was a student activist who was encouraged by Goan activists like Mathany Saldanha and Satish Sonak to stand up for what is right. “I like to be the voice of the people who suffer and have no platform to speak about their issues. They don’t know where to address their issues. I realised that there was a need to be vocal when I was invited as a speaker at a PTA meeting at Don Bosco to speak about Drug abuse prevention. I was sent to Maharashtra to open the first drug addiction centre. I was a student when I was fighting for Konkani language agitation and also the Goa unit of India against Corruption,” says Meenacshi. Speaking about whether women come out to support various issues over the years, Meenacshi is in the affirmative. “There are many women who are very vocal at the gram sabha meetings which are held in the villages, as they are concerned about issues, which are affecting them directly and can have a huge effect in their village and surrounding areas in the future. They are working on the ground level activism, which is very important for the state. I mostly contributed to the state level issues without hurting anything or coming in anybody’s way,” says Meenacshi
PUJA MITRA Armed with a Masters degree in Biodiversity Conservation & Management from Oxford University, Puja Mitra has worked on numerous land-based conservation work that included Elephant conflict in Assam, among others. After moving to Goa about six years ago, this eco activist has been tirelessly working for the conservation and protection of the marine ecosystem in Goa. One of Mitra’s notable contributions in creating a positive impact has been in the form of a campaign that she ran with FIAPO to counter the plan to start six Dolphinariums or Dolphin circuses in the country, one of them being in Goa. Mitra recollects, “We wanted to counter the Dolphinarium project because not only is it a colossal waste of resources, but at the same time, it is unbearably cruel to the animals. Dolphins are social animals who cannot do well in captivity.” The campaign gained a lot of public traction that resulted in the then Minister of Forests and Environment through the Central Zoo Authority (CZA) banning captivity of dolphins in India, thereby making India the fourth country to ban it. Soon after that World Wildlife Fund (WWF) roped her in to study the impact of tourism on dolphins and corals. Mitra says, “The outcome of that study was that dolphins were already displaying an avoidance behaviour, which they do when they are stressed. To understand the subject better, I took a ride from Baga and was horrified looking at the manner in which dolphin-watching tours are conducted.” After working on multiple areas that included sensitising the tour operators, among others, Mitra found the need to found her own startup to garner better results. Thus, Terra Conscious - a conservation oriented enterprise, that promotes sustainable wildlife and ecosystem based tourism practices, was born. Since then Terra Conscious, through various initiatives, has been working on ethical travel and marine conservation.
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