When Janaki Visvanath finished her Masters from TISS in 1988 in Human Resources all she wanted was blue chip companies, travel, career and money. Rapid career ascension, foreign travel and marriage followed and all the boxes got ticked. At 33 when she had her daughter, she quit to be a stay-at-home-mom and enjoyed every bit of it. By the time her little one turned three and had started playschool, Janaki wanted to get out and start something. By then they had moved to Pune and the locality they lived in, Aundh, surprisingly did not have a good leisure bookstore. That’s when she opened twistntales a neighbourhood space that was much more than a bookstore. She successfully ran the store for 11 years and enjoyed it thoroughly. When ecommerce started becoming the next big thing, she could see the writing on the wall. That was when she consciously decided to close down twistntales and celebrated the fact that while it lasted, it was joyous for everybody.
Within a year of closing twistntales, she started Saathi Haath Badhana Social Foundation.
SHB aims at helping people tackle stress that comes from the fast, digital lifestyle that society is becoming a slave to. With a background in HR, Janaki always watched out for trends. She realised soon that though we as a society boast of being modern, we have very little civic sense. Instances of domestic violence, child sexual abuse, suicides and other such social issues impact our daily lives more than we realise. “Yes, cows should not roam freely on our roads, but I have seen enraged motorists honk madly at cows crossing the road! Something is surely wrong with us” says Janaki.
The only way to bring about a positive change is to work together towards one goal. And as the name Saathi Haath Badhana suggests, the idea is to collaborate and work with other organisations in the same space.
A very unique concept that SHB today has is the Listening Post. It is a ‘vent’ space offered to anyone who is going through a stressful period in life. Be it adults dealing with separation, layoffs, death of a loved one or students dealing with peer pressure, anxiety Listening Post is free and open to anyone who wants to talk about their problems. SHB has listeners who are trained in compassionate listening; a process of active listening that soothes the mind.
SHB focusses on three main areas under which their reach-out programmes are conducted– Compassion, Gender Issue and Life Skills.
Under the Compassion vertical, apart from the Listening Post there is another distinctive programme called “Caring for the Caregiver” in which there are group sessions for all caregivers to help unwind and release their own stress. There is Smart Phone assistance programme for senior citizens every alternate Wednesdays.
Under the Gender Issue vertical, SHB works with schools, young adults and Corporate India. In schools, SHB conducts workshops on preventing Child Sexual abuse for teachers, non-teaching staff also making them aware of legal provisions under the POCSO (Prevention of Children from Sexual Offences) Act. The young adults, typically children in 9th standard and above are made aware of gender, sexuality, stereotypes, expression and identity. Lastly, their work with corporate organisations involves awareness sessions on Prevention of Sexual Harassment at the workplace.
Under the Lifeskills vertical, Janaki and her colleague Vibha are qualified coaches who mentor other individuals. They also work with educational institutions like ITI and others to build life skill modules as part of their ongoing courses. All programmes under all three verticals are run with the help of volunteers.
Other activities by SHB that have received great response are the Saturday morning workshops that happen on the SHB premises in Aundh, Pune. These are hobby workshops conducted by skilled teachers to provide an opportunity for people to interact and learn newer skills.
Janaki hopes that each one of their programmes benefits more and more people from all classes within the community eventually bringing in a wave of change. Currently self-funded, the programmes in schools and corporates are chargeable and the revenue is used to fund other in-house projects.
In a changing world, if our mental mind-sets do not evolve, we will face mental and social stress. I know that one person can’t do much to bring about this change, but together we can. Collaboration is the way forward.
Part time maker of handmade jewelry. National adventure awardee. Erstwhile software professional. Guilt ridden mother. Swimmer. Compulsive DIY-er. Sea food lover. Oh, It’s a long list ….