BOSTON- Maintaining our sense of identity and pride living abroad is no easy task – many parents write to Shishu Bharati Principal Renu Tewarie every year with the struggles they face and why the volunteer-managed school plays such an integral role in their lives and what it has done for their kids. Not only does teaching culture and language allow kids to communicate with their family in India, but also gives them the self-confidence needed to be proud of who they are and with it the self-esteem to take on bigger leadership roles in the future.
Ms. Tewarie has served as the Principal of Shishu Bharati Walpole for 12 years, a branch of Shishu Bharati, New England’s largest and entirely volunteer managed school dedicated to teaching Indian history, culture, and languages to over 800+ students spread over three branches. Before serving as the principal, Ms. Tewarie spent her time building the Shishu Bharati Norwood branch as a member of the Executive Council, and then managing and overseeing the full transition to the Walpole Branch, where they started with 100 and then grew to over 200 students. In addition, she has also served as the Head Professor of Hindi at Brandeis University, bringing over 20+ years of experience teaching.
Over 90% of all Shishu Bharati students who graduate serve in a leadership position in college and an even greater number from them go on to start their businesses, run for office, or serve as doctors, artists, lawyers. Getting this level of success as an entirely volunteer, non-profit organization is no accident; Ms. Tewarie and her team have worked tirelessly to ensure the school’s curriculum remains rigorous and relevant, maintaining a strong budget and resources needed to thrive. Although their work is far from done, the organization’s goal is to always push for more progress. Shishu Bharati Walpole has retained record attendance and sign ups throughout the COVID-19 pandemic
Ms. Tewarie also serves as the Domestic Violence Program Manager for Saheli. In this role, she manages and leads Saheli’s non-profit domestic violence program, to help people overcome their current trauma but also to be future-oriented and turn Saheli’s clients from victims into victors.
“For most victims, the trauma isn’t only present, but also the scar of potentially living with this pain they’ve gone through forever,” said Ms. Tewarie about her work at Saheli. “There is a sense of hopelessness in each victim that comes to Saheli, and I make it my responsibility to instill that [hope] back in them. While we can’t turn back time, we can ensure that their future is bright and filled with optimism.”
Ms. Tewarie starts every day thinking: ‘How will these victims lead a meaningful life in the future?’, ‘What resources and tools can Saheli provide them so they become fully independent so they never have to go through this ever again?’
Emotional, mental, and financial independence is at the heart of Ms. Tewarie’s job and her role doesn’t just end when the victim heals from their trauma; as a matter of fact, that is when the real work starts: getting them back on their feet and ready to be a success.
Over her time at Saheli, she has provided personalized workshops and individualized support that ranges from legal workshops (What are their rights? How do they ensure that they get their fair share?) to financial counseling (How do you budget? How do you invest your funds?) to resume building workshops (how do you get placed at a job?) to on-going support around mental health.
Moreover, she and her team also assist with immediate issues: preparing clients for trials and tapping into their legal network to find the best counsel for them, helping them locate shelter, a stream of income, and in many instances, also find employment.
Ms. Tewarie has served over 300+ clients with Saheli and majority of them tell her that they are “happier than ever before.”
On March 6, Ms. Tewarie will be honored as one of the 20 Outstanding Women of 2021 during the 18th Annual Woman of the Year Awards ceremony— to be held virtually this year. To buy a ticket, please click here.
A Q&A with Ms. Tewarie:
INDIA New England News: Please tell our readers about your work and what you enjoy most about it?
Renu Tewarie: I am relentlessly passionate about giving people the tools they need to uncover how powerful they are. All we can do is to serve as a powerful catalyst, that “spark” that gives them the push to get there – whether it’s through counseling, or mentoring, or teaching, or giving them a community they never had. There is nothing more gratifying than seeing a woman transforming from feeling like a hopeless victim to living their life free of abuse or from a student who doesn’t feel connected with their roots grow up to be proud of their heritage and serve in a leadership role creating many jobs for others in the community. This is what empowerment is truly like and it’s a common thread in every role that I have served in so far. I want to give back by building others up.
INE: If you are engaged with any charity or non-profit, please tell us why this group and what do you do for them?
RT: As I mentioned in my biography – my work in charities and non-profit organizations run deep and it’s what I spend almost every waking minute doing. Apart from my work with Saheli and Shishu Bharati, I also sometimes volunteer my time working with Community interpreter Service translating documents in English from Hindi such as legal certificates, doctor reports or school and examination documents.
INE: What are your hobbies and interests?
RT: I spend my free time with my family and gardening. Having lived in five different countries and on three different continents, I love traveling and am looking forward to being able to travel again once the pandemic ends. In addition, but very importantly, I am very much interested in further studying and working towards ending domestic violence by understanding its socioeconomic roots and finding ways to play a role in ending them.
INE: In what way you feel you have most positively influenced or served the local community and your company/organization and professional field?
RT: In the last three years, through my role at Saheli, I have counseled nearly 300+ domestic violence survivors – including those in life threatening situations. This has involved helping them obtain restraining orders, providing them with a support structure and system, and helping them navigate the immigration process. As I mentioned previously – the most positive aspect of this has been to turn many of these victims into empowered women who are financially free. Being able to make a difference in the lives of these women is an honor for me and what keeps me going every day.
In addition, through my work at Shishu Bharati, I have been able to turn many of our students into community ambassadors and leaders, instilling them with pride and love for giving back to their own communities. The majority of our graduates return to Shishu Bharati as student volunteers, offering their time to assist teachers, help the school administration, and prepare school programming. This has resulted in many Shishu Bharati Walpole students being awarded the President’s Volunteer Service Award for the past three years. My efforts are always towards strengthening Shishu Bharati’s language program. Many universities including NYU, Boston University, Boston College and Brandeis University give incoming students language credit for studying at Shishu Bharati.
INE: Your rare talent?
RT: I write Hindi Poetry. Poetry has been a great creative outlet for me and I have been fortunate enough to be awarded by Hindi Manch for significant contributions to Hindi language and Indian culture in the past. I plan on publishing my first book of Hindi Poetry. Especially as I trace many of the difficult untold and unheard experiences of domestic violence that need to be voiced.
INE: Your favorite books?
RT: I’m an avid reader, but the two books that have stood out to me and left a lasting impact (probably as a result of the time at which I read them and my family history) were:
- Godaan by Munshi Premchand, and 2. Train To Pakistan by Kushan Singh
INE: Your favorite quotes?
RT: “How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.” – Anne Frank
INE: Who inspires you the most?
RT: A woman who taught me that unmatched persistence could destroy social norms and break glass ceilings: my grandmother. As a woman living in India in the early 1900s, she was ahead of her time, adamant about getting herself and her 5 daughters educated even if it meant going into a school with only boys as there were no schools for women. She was ridiculed and taunted by the community but she was unwavering in her commitment for equality. As her daughters and granddaughters got older, she further pushed them to break barriers in society.
If it wasn’t for her, I would not be here and be nominated for this prestigious award today. She made me realize what a role model truly is – not someone who is known solely for their material success, but someone whose very presence and persistence lifts up everyone around them, and in her case - more than three generations of women.
INE: Your core value you try to live by?
RT: The core value I live by is the notion that I am never an “expert” and always a “student.” As one becomes more senior in a role, especially in the work I do in teaching and counseling, it’s important to realize that while experience is a great teacher, it doesn’t mean we need to stop learning, stop listening, and stop striving to be better. That’s a process that never ends. The minute it does, our progress halts and we become the victim of our biases.
It’s a humbling lesson, but one that I always abide by in my career and in my personal life that has propelled me to make continuous progress. Even though I have taught hundreds of students and counseled many victims, every student is unique, every victim is unique. Their stories matter and they need to be heard. I’m OK knowing that I’ll never know everything, because I am OK knowing that I need to continue to learn because by doing so, I am providing the greatest community service I can to all my students and clients – eliminating each bias and working towards one goal: making them (as an individual) become empowered.