The petite young Sonia H. Mackwani has both an impressive and intriguing resume. After a Masters in Clinical Psychology and Doctorate in Clinical Hypnotheraphy, Mackwani started a life enhancement theater called The Therapy Theater. She is the trustee of Atmviswas Vidyalaya, a rehab center for mental illness, and the author of a children's book, Tales from Indian Mythology - Ramayana and Mahabharata. In 2003, Mackwani founded the Touching Lives Welfare Trust, an association with a mission and vision of love and humanity. Touching Lives is deeply involved in holistic community development of people. As if this were not enough, this mistress-of-many-trades is a radio jockey in her spare time.
In an exclusive interview with the founder-director of Touching Lives Welfare Trust, Your Story finds out more about the enigmatic Sonia Mackwani.
Q. How did Touching Lives become the mission of your life? A. As far back as I can remember, I have dreamt of making a difference in the lives of others and doing something meaningful.
Q. In your entrepreneurial journey, where did you start and where do you want to go with Touching Lives? A. Since our modest beginnings in 2003, we have grown to a dedicated staff of five complemented by a team of fifteen volunteers. Our growth model resonates with the mission of Touching Lives - 'if you ever wonder how to make a difference... Touch One Life.' In the last five years, the growth has been phenomenal in terms of the lives we have touched and the difference we have made with our projects.
Q. How does Touching Lives help in community development? A. I believe that I must get involved entirely with the lives of the people I work for. For this purpose, our projects are divided into zones of education, health, and entertainment, so that we can fully engage with the everyone in the community. Touching Lives runs an open school in the slums of Mumbai. Through non-conventional modules, we provide different ways of learning for children and evolving systems for NGOs to work with. People in the communities we serve are given educational funds and counselling too.
The health zone is associated with the Atmavisvas Vidyalaya, a rehabilitation center for persons with mental illness, at Valsad in Gujarat.
The entertainment zone is a video unit, which trains people to make documentary films. Our volunteers have also produced a music album featuring young talent from the streets of the city - children and teenagers who sing at bus and railway stations to make a living.
Q. What is the vision of Touching Lives for 2010? A. In 2010, Touching Lives plans to expand its school to an Open School University - a place where the mind is without fear and knowledge is liberation. This university will serve an urban-rural population which needs a good foundation in a foreign language, as well as vocational training depending upon their varied interests. The open university will allow drop-outs to conitinue their learning curve and improve their chances of securing a decent job. The university would provide a strategic platform for children to upgrade their talents and build strong foundations in life. The school will be open to all and will provide scope for alternative learning and journeys of self-realization.
The development of Atmavisvas Vidyalaya is also in the offing for 2010. On completion of our goals for the Vidyalaya, the center will provide exceptional care and support to its inmates and assisstance to the families of patients. There are some plans to develop a training institute and rural mental health programs.
Q. Why did you decide to become an entrepreneur? Why did you not pursue a regular job? Since I was a teenager, I persistently asked myself, "What is so infinite in me that I can give the world? And the only answer I came up with was 'love.' When I decided to spread the love, I realised the enormity of 'service' involved. At first, I felt I was serving the needy but as time elapsed and experiences sparkled my life, I realised that it was 'my' need to love and to serve. That has been the most important message of my life.
Entrepreneurship is the best way to serve the drinks in your own bottle. It is incumbent upon how you one can bring vision and mission together in a qualitative manner. I am an entrepreneur, but first, I am a grass-root level reformer, a grass-root volunteer, working to make the world a better place.
And about regular job, I believe all the work in this world is service to humanity in one form or another.
Q. Can you tell us something about the initial years- what kind of challenges, struggles did you face? My dream was my biggest challenge. Now, when I look back I see them as stepping stones towards the purpose of my life which is Touching Lives.
Q. What was the turning point in your business /career? The understanding of the beauty of my purpose in life was my turning point. Once I realized Touching Lives is the purpose of my life, everything else fell into place. I realized what I wanted to accomplish and how I wanted to achieve my dreams.
Q. Did you at any point feel like giving up and getting back to a regular job or doing something different? Hehehhe… Not yet! I would have to find a better purpose in life to give up Touching Lives.
Q. What drives you? Love. Compassion. The belief that every human being has potential. The belief that every human being has at least one story to tell, one lesson to teach!
Q. Can you share any trade secrets of being successful entrepreneur? One question that each of us can ask is , 'who am I and what is my purpose in life?' The answer will hold the key to your purpose in life. Once you realise your purpose and what is it that you want to achieve, ask, 'why you would wish to achieve that and what is it that you can do with what you achieve.' I think life is made up of simple answers, if only we would care to ask the simple questions. Believe in others that they can also be a part of your journey and that makes our life much simpler. Love and compassion are the means to everything!
Email id: firstname.lastname@example.org
You can get involved with Sonia Mackwani's mission to Touch Lives. Visit the organization's website at www.touchonelife.org
Or, you can email Mackwani at email@example.com