Despite of being born in an orthodox Sindhi family, what she has done in her life and what she is doing right now will leave you wondering. When you meet certain people in life, you realize that you are doing nothing in life. She is one of those rare people. Certain part of her story gave me goosebumps and her story indeed inspired me. From being a crime reporter to working for women empowerment in tribal areas, Sonal Rochani (Founder, Shakti Foundation) shares bits from her journey with BuddyBits. Have a look at our conversation with Sonal Rochani.
How was your journey in earlier life?
I was a shy kid, a book worm and a nerd! Had only few friends. Was a scholar until college time. Reading and writing were my only hobbies. (Thankfully, there were no gadgets and social networking sites back then!) After graduation, my dad wanted me to become a professor in college. In year 2004, after graduation (B.A. with English), I went to university to get prospectus and found P.G. diploma (mass communication), to be suitable for me. Without thinking much, I took admission in the same.
Mass communication changed my life. I developed interest in mass media. I was passionate for writing already, but now meeting various people started exciting me. I started liking meeting different people, with different walks of life, from different cultures and for different purposes! After that course, I did a six month internship in Divya Bhaskar. I was given a desk job (like proof reading, etc.). I wasn’t meant for that. I wanted to do the field work. So I joined Samna as a crime reporter. I used to go to Civil hospital and police stations to cover various crime stories and news. This was the turning point of my life. I saw deaths, crimes, criminals and victims very closely. Women were the victims of majority of crimes. Rape, dowry, female infanticide, molestation and end number of crimes were being committed on women.
Then I joined, Gujarat Mitra, one of the oldest newspapers of India as a sub-editor. I learned a lot from senior journalists like Bhagvati Kumar Sharma, Narendra Joshi and more. After three years, I joined My FM as an executive producer. I got an opportunity to lead the team very first time there. I leaned a lot. Then I joined TV9 , but it didn’t work out for me. So I came back and joined Franchise Mart as a media manager for a while.
My last corporate job was with Dr. Joy Shah. I stayed in Nashik for some time. Here again I saw extreme poverty and illiteracy in the tribal women.
So what made you turn towards social entrepreneurship?
One terrifying incident, while I was working for Samna turned me towards social entrepreneurship. One day, I was reporting at Civil Hospital, and a pregnant lady came running towards us. She was terrified. Her clothes and her body were soaked in kerosene. Her in laws tried to burn her alive just because they found out that she was growing a baby girl inside her! I was terrified. That’s when the seed to serve the women and underprivileged was planted inside me.
Tell us something about your journey as a Social Entrepreneur.
I used to work for Government of Gujarat as a free lancer along with my corporate job. In 2010, I translated some Government documents and sent them to Central government. At that time came to know about various government schemes for tribal and marginalized communities. My uncle Shri A. M. Khatri was additional collector at that time and he encouraged me to work in tribal areas and work for the upliftment of the tribal women.
So, in August 2011, “Shakti Foundation” came into existence. For one year I roamed in entire south Gujarat with government staff and tried to understand the actual condition of tribal women. I stared doing awareness campaigns, identifying the underprivileged women and started working for their skill development. Kotwadiya and Hadpari are the most primitive of the tribal community. I started working in the interior most areas of Surat and Tapi district.
Here, illiteracy, unemployment, poverty, indebtedness, malnutrition, early marriages, alcoholism, gender discrimination are rampant! Poverty resulting from unemployment, lack of proper access to a sustainable means of livelihood throughout the year and constant look out for alternative livelihood make these women vulnerable to forces that undermine their right to life.
Solution to address above problems is to provide them with a source of sustainable livelihood income along with the awareness and education. With Shakti Foundation I started toiling hard for this.
You know, despite increasing urbanization, extreme poverty continues to be a rural phenomenon. Of the world’s 1.2 billion extremely poor people, 75% live in rural areas and are mostly dependent on agriculture, forestry, fisheries and related activities for their survival. In India, most people in rural areas do not even earn 100 rupees a day! Now try to imagine their life! Specially women. Their husbands don’t earn and they have 2 to 3 kids to raise solely!
After the skill development of tribal women and engaging them in various livelihood activities I asked them to form self help groups. Opened their bank accounts and asked them to save some money. Again that money was invested in starting some small enterprises. Thus, they become RURAL ENTREPRENEURS!
What are you doing right now?
Right now I am focusing on the health, hygiene, nutrition and education of tribal women and their kids. Actually, we (urban citizens) have many resources and these tribal people don’t have much resources. So for them, survival is very difficult. When government of India is moving towards Smart Cities, I am trying to make Villages Smart; where people are 100% self reliant, educated and are considered equal in the society. For that, we, urban people will have to work. How can we live happily when our fellow citizens are not happy?
How would you describe your experience working for rural women empowerment?
I faced so many challenges in this development process, but what I have earned is simply priceless. I have earned a whole lot of experience, well wishes and blessings of tribal women. That is why I say, if the blessings I have earned get credited into my bank account, one day I will also get featured in the Forbes magazine.
Two years back, I survived from Acute Pancreatitis, a disease with very high mortality rate. All thanks to the tribal women who prayed for me!
What message would you like to convey to our readers?
Keep going no matter what happens; your dreams must not die! If you believe in something and don’t do something about it then you are dishonest to yourself! I would request everyone to come forward, take responsibility and try to make a difference. Let’s try to bridge the gap between city and rural parts. Even your smallest contribution towards rural empowerment will get counted! Let’s together work towards building a great nation.
What do you think about BuddyBits?
I have seen BuddyBits growing into one of the finest info-entertainment websites. It has helped a lot of people making reading a regular habit! Best wishes to entire team.
Well, thanks a lot for your words. We are truly inspired by the work you are doing. And we as a media organization and as responsible citizens, will definitely work towards rural empowerment. We wish you all the best for all your future endeavours.
Add your opinions and views in comments below. If you have such heroes around you, suggest BuddyBits their stories. We would love to bring such stories which inspires people to do something good in life. Stay tuned to BuddyBits to meet the rest of The Doers.