Ashweetha Shetty is the founder of ‘Bodhi Tree’, a foundation that offers life skills training, personality and leadership development programs to rural graduates. Growing up from a rural village in India, Ashweetha had gone through a lot of struggles to achieve her basic education. Wanting to support rural graduates like her and to help them develop their soft skills, she started Bodhi tree foundation. Beyond all her constraints, today – she is a social entrepreneur and a TED speaker bringing hope and change in others. Ashweetha shares more about about herself and her foundation with womenpreneursofindia.com
Just believe in yourself. It is hard but it is the only thing that will lift and sustain you.
I grew up in a small village in Tirunelveli district of Tamil Nadu. Living and growing up in a village had its perks like playing in the mud, throwing stones on guava trees, plucking tamarinds, catching fishes with shawl. These activities kept me engaged during childhood. Come adolescence and I had my encounters with the male dominated society in my village and family. I rarely talked to men and did not voice my opinion in front of elders. When I was 13, I read the autobiography of Helen Keller, and that was a life-defining moment for me. I realised that the power to transform my life lies within me and no one else!
I was good at studies and was always fascinated with teaching. So, I started helping my friends in my neighbourhood with their studies. I also started a tuition centre for kids and taught them all the basic subjects for a group of 15-20. When more and more people joined, it boosted my confidence. Then, we became a community.
My parents are illiterate and are not aware of education, so there was a need for me to struggle and convince my parents every time I wanted to go up on the ladder of education. Though my circumstances were adverse, I am fortunate to be blessed with parents who now understand my choices for life.
After my fellowship, I worked as a Community Engagement Manager at Sughavazhvu (SV) Healthcare – a social enterprise focused on developing models for delivery of affordable primary healthcare to rural India. There, I developed content and conducted awareness sessions in schools and colleges about Anaemia and cardio-vascular diseases.
While I was working there, I questioned myself constantly, ” What am I doing with the education I struggled so hard to get? What in the world needs to change? What differentiated me from my friends who are still suffering in the village struggling for a suitable career option? What did I do to deserve this life?”
And, my answer was exposure to the opportunities and the chance to improve my soft skills – The fact that I strive to overcome those problems, all together made me believe that I can create innovative solutions and make a difference. This has led me to start ‘Bodhi Tree Foundation’ which empowers rural graduates like me by imparting soft-skill training and exposure to opportunities.
Bodhi Tree Foundation offers rural college graduates a combination of life skills, leadership and personality development and employability skills. We believe rural graduates can be trained and equipped to communicate with others, develop their self-esteem, learn to take responsibilities for their actions and make informed decisions. We also believe our intervention will help to create true leaders who own the local dreams and make their village a better place.
I remember walking with Anitha – one of our trainee on the dusty roads of kuripankulam village and telling her about the best university in the country and today when I see her at Ashoka University, I believe in more, about the potential of our rural youth! This would be an unforgettable milestone for us. And, I consider being useful to my community in some way as my biggest achievement.
My dream vision is to live in a nation where there is no rural urban divide based on human knowledge, skills, resources and opportunities. And, Bodhi Tree Foundation is a step towards achieving that endeavour.
But, Fundraising-getting institutional funds to set up infrastructure and processes in place to engage and mentor our trainees has been our biggest challenges. Human resources is also a big challenge. Currently, I am looking for people who can join me to contribute. We raise funds through Individual donors. We are looking to raise funds through institutional funds to set up infrastructure for our next project – Girls leadership academy.
However – With every passing day, I remind myself – how fortunate I am to have a life which so many people in my village couldn’t get, a sense of independence and freedom to spread my wings, to claim my dreams and shape my world!
Thankyou Ashweetha. You are such an inspiring social entrepreneur, who is an example for ‘women can achieve anything beyond their boundaries’. WOI wishes you – all the best for your future endeavours. Keep Inspiring!