LEXINGTON, MA–Meena Ramamurti is Vice President at the Shishu Bharati School of Indian Languages and Culture in Lexington, MA. Shishu Bharati is a secular non-profit institution that strives to educate kindergarten through eighth-grade students about their Indian heritage.
As the mother of three children who were born in the US, Ms. Ramamurti was drawn to Shishu Bharati’s mission to connect young American children with their Indian roots, foster a warm and welcoming Indian community for them to be a part of, and teach them an Indian language so they could communicate with their thrilled relatives.
She started volunteering at Shishu Bharati in 1992, when her eldest child joined the school, and has served as VP of Languages for the past 15 years. She also serves on Shishu Bharati’s Board of Directors, which sets the overall policy and direction of the school, and on Shishu Bharati’s Advisory Committee.
Today, she coordinates 40 volunteer teachers across five different languages: Gujarati, Hindi, Marathi, Tamil, and Telugu. The school’s enrollment has increased from 40 students in the 1990s to close to 900 today.
Through her role as VP – Languages, Ms. Ramamurti has led numerous initiatives to improve the rigor of Shishu Bharati’s curriculum. She helped create clear proficiency standards for each language level that students had to meet to advance to the next grade. She helped establish a special “Presentation Day” for each language when students perform a play or give a talk in front of their parents in their Indian language, and launched an annual language writing competition.
Outside of Shishu Bharati, Ms. Ramamurti has also served for 10 years on the board of the Friends of Cary Memorial Library in Lexington, where she helps to plan and publicize library events and book sales.
Born in Chennai, Ms. Ramamurti earned her B.A. (Hons.) and M.A. (Hons.) in English Literature from Madras University and competed the Certificate of Special Studies in Management from the Harvard University Extension School.
Here is a Q/A with Ms. Ramamurti:
INDIA New England News: Please tell our readers about your work and what you enjoy most about it?
Meena Ramamurti: I have been involved with Shishu Bharati for 27 years and have worn many hats: parent, teacher, curriculum developer, and special programs coordinator. Presently, I am the Vice Principal for Languages. It has been a thrilling and rewarding experience helping Shishu Bharati grow from just 40 students when we enrolled our son in 1992 to almost 900 students now.
I am proud that Shishu Bharati is an institution run entirely by volunteers and that it strives to educate children about their Indian heritage. What I enjoy most about my time at Shishu Bharati is working with a group of wonderful and selfless people.
INE: To what charitable, community and professional groups do you belong and why?
MR: Besides Shishu Bharati, I have also volunteered for the last ten years at Lexington’s Cary Memorial Library. I am on the board of the Friends of Cary Memorial Library, a nonprofit organization dedicated to advocating for the library and supplementing and enhancing library services. Many of the volunteers are older than me — a few are in their nineties — and I am continually awed and inspired by their positive attitude, energy, and youthful spirit!
INE: What are your hobbies and interests?
MR: I love reading (mostly classics, mysteries, and nonfiction books) and traveling to new countries to learn about their history and culture (have been lucky enough to visit 26 countries so far). I also spend a lot of time on the phone chatting with elderly relatives in India providing them long-distance companionship.
INE: In what way you feel you have most positively influenced or served the local community or your company/organization and professional field?
MR: At Shishu Bharati, I have spent many years strengthening the curriculum to conform to the Foreign Language Curriculum Frameworks. I have worked to raise the standards of teaching and created games and activities to make learning fun and effective for the students. I have also been part of the core group of Shishu Bharati leaders working to establish clear systems and procedures so that the institution can function smoothly no matter who is running it.
INE: What is the most pressing issue that you believe women are facing today?
MR: Balancing work and life.
INE: What is your rare talent that people don’t know about?
MR: I love tongue twisters!
INE: What are your favorite books?
MR: The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot, Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell, and To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman.
INE: What are your favorite quotes that motivate you or make you smile?
MR: I like this quote from Mahatma Gandhi: “Service which is rendered without joy helps neither the servant nor the served. But all other pleasurers and possessions pale into nothingness before service which is rendered in a spirit of joy.”
I have been very fortunate to volunteer with different groups that provide service in this spirit and bring me great joy.
Another favorite quote is “Forever is composed of Nows,” by Emily Dickinson. I am trying to put this quote into practice and am working on mindfulness!
INE: Who inspires you the most?
MR: Those who toil anonymously and make time to help others. The senior volunteers of Shishu Bharati, like Vasant Jinwala, who still not only come every Sunday but spend many hours contributing to the School. They are truly evolved and selfless karma yogis who inspire the rest of us.
INE: Who is the one person you would like to meet and why?
MR: I would like to meet Nelson Mandela. We visited Robben Island in South Africa where he spent 18 out of the 27 years that he was in prison doing hard labor under extremely harsh conditions. Once he became President he worked on reconciliation and healing deep wounds. To forgive and forget and work on peace is truly inspiring.
INE: What are your core values that you try to live by?
MR: My father used to say, “If you can’t be helpful, at least don’t be a nuisance”.
I try to follow his advice!