Meet your first freelance social worker - a girl who sings, dances, paints, tattoos, hugs, cooks and loves for various NGOs every week

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How many of your skills do you harness on an average day? Your answer must hover between one and two. I met someone who utilises all of hers to establish a heartfelt nexus with the marginalised section. She dances to heal, hugs to exude love, paints to educate, cooks to pamper, and sings to fill a room with positivity. And that’s just an average week in the life of 32-year-old Gayatree Joshi.

She decided to work in the social service sector at the age of 17. “Society doesn’t figure in our priority list. I stopped wasting time hanging around with friends and became a regular volunteer. I worked as a volunteer for six years and was appointed as social work professional at Don Bosco shelter. After 15 years of experience, I realised that a lot of my creative skills and dedication can help so many people in different forms,” Gayatree says.

So, she decided to quit the organisation to ‘freelance’ as a social worker. She started to think of all the things she could do in her individual capacity to create impact. “I realised the importance of the healing of mind, body and soul for complete rehabilitation,” she says. Gayatree decided she will be at the service of any NGO that needs a professional to impart a skill or even a volunteer to give them a hand.

The Great Indian NGO Crawl

Joining over a hundred NGOs for two to three weeks each for projects, Gayatree dedicated her life to living for others.

She started training the youth at various NGOs in dance as a hobby, as well as for their upcoming performances and events.

Word got out and NGOs contacted Gayatree on their own to seek her services. She has never refused. Soon, her talent for sketching was also unearthed. “I visited NGOs in the weekends to teach little children how to sketch cartoons, but would give them sketches with messages around the different issues of our community,” she says. Come summer, she would organise two-week art retreats for all interested.

Gayatree took her art to the youth. “I could see how stress ends up with people abusing substance and being plagued by mental illnesses. I use different art forms with therapy techniques releasing stress, emotional regulation, healing and empowering the client group I work with. This project has helped me heal youth from government’s observation homes, juvenile delinquents, street children, drug addicts, dropouts, mentally disabled, cancer survivors etc.,” she explains. Anybody she trained got to accompany her as her apprentice, and together they became tattoo artists for over 50 parties and events. She let the budding artists keep the extra income as pocket money.

Jaadu ki Jhappi

In her tryst with the marginalised sections of the society, Gayatree learnt that the seed for so many of their problems is sown because they are denied the most rudimentary things as little children – most important of them all being affection. “A lot of people don’t get hugged as required. Hug therapy emerged when I realised that the group of people I have worked with don’t feel loved and hate their lives. Many cannot afford to have a human-sized teddy bear in their homes or may have not seen such a teddy or can’t afford. One of my friends luckily happened to donate a teddy bear and that’s how hug therapy emerged. Till date, 1733 people hugged their hearts out and got a 15-second oxytocin release,” she explains.Four NGOs have adopted this therapy.

The adventures of Gayatree

She also decided that this life-changing experience of being on the roads and exploring should be for everyone. “It was such a lovely experience being in nature. Adventure helps build your personality. I started taking kids trekking with me every weekend and got my friends to sponsor it,” she adds.

She started trekking for a cause this time, and helped 18 boys land jobs in the adventure Industry. Many work as river rafting guides in Kolad, Rishikesh, Nashik, kite surfers in Rameshwaram as well as adventure instructors.

Gayatree’s mother, an excellent cook, also pitched in and taught girls and boys ‘survival cooking,’ which is recipes for healthy, nutritious and delicious food when they set out to live independently.

How does she do it?

You may have one pertinent question – this woman must also have her own dreams, fantasies, hobbies and interests. How does she live this dual life? Here’s how.

Gayatree lives a simple life, to begin with. The self-taught artist and cartoonist paints walls professionally on assignment, earns her salary, but most of that is spent again to paint for different social causes. “I started painting walls to change perceptions. That’s how my initiative Paint for a Cause emerged. With witty lines of my cartoons I try and touch hearts by making people laugh and at the same time hit their minds,” she explains. She has painted about 30 schools in Gujarat, 1,000 Anganwadis in Rajasthan and 70 schools in Maharashtra, not to mention innumerable streets in Mumbai, especially around the central suburbs.

She was awarded the Inspiration Award 2015 by CLA and Reliance Industries. She now wants to solidify all her efforts into a formal organisation, so she can be on the grid and accessed easily by anyone who needs her support.

Who is she healing next?

If you run into Gayatree in March, she is probably painting a street children home in Baroda, revamping a forest amphitheatre for the Save Aarey campaign with MTV Junkyard Groove, creating a music studio for Dharavi Rocks, breathing life into A1 Snehanajli, an old-age home, or pumping colours into Mumbai’s dreary-looking railway stations.

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