An interview with Gazala Paul, Managing Trustee & Director, Samerth Charitable Trust, which works works to leverage government programmes to enable poor and marginalized communities to get their due rights and entitlements:
What inspired you to set up Samerth? Why is the cause so close to your heart?
I was always eager to work for communities and socially excluded groups such as tribals, disabled persons, children from geographically remote areas, and those who are unable to fully participate in society – leading to deprivation, lack of opportunity and denial of sources of livelihood, land, housing, education, and skills.
Can you recall an act of giving that you did/experienced or witnessed that changed your life? Do tell us about it.
Instances that changed my thinking:
i. While going through the bastis in Ahmedabad city, I once saw a special child being tied to a cot while his mother went to work as a domestic help. Seeing that made me see the importance of having a service in the vicinity for children who are mentally challenged – helping them learn skills and daily living. I decided to do something about it. Today we have a day care centre that trains 70 mentally challenged children and helps them to stand on their feet.
ii. During a field visit to Rapar block of Kutch, we saw a village where there had been no water supply for 15 days. People had not bathed for 9-10 days and the water for drinking was not potable. We decided to bring the community together and work on local ways of conserving water by reviving traditional water structures, such a wells, ponds and step wells. These are sustainable community-led solutions that ensure better management and control of supply. So far, we have constructed 188 ponds, 228 dug wells and 2 step wells.
iii. On one of my trips to tribal villages in Chhattisgarh, I saw a boy of 2 or 3 years of age playing with the mouse. The child was from the Baiga community (a Particularly vulnerable tribal group). He had attached a string to the mouse and that was his game. Finally he killed it, roasted it and ate it. This incident prompted me to set up an early childhood centre in those remote villages so that children who are so creative can be meaningfully engaged. Another important initiative I started was to promote kitchen gardens to improve nutrition. In Chahattisgarh we are working with 8000 families to promote livelihoods in remote tribal areas. We also work with poor urban communities, helping them construct affordable housing under Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana.
Is there somebody (living or dead) whose giving/philanthropy you admire? Why?
Mr. Arun Doshi was an individual philanthropist. He passed away in November 2016. Originally from Nairobi, he was staying in an ashram near Sayla, in Gujarat. He was part of the Shree Raj Saubhagh Satsang Mandal. He helped Samerth to establish its individual donor base and was an ambassador for Samerth. He spoke to friends, family and helped Samerth to create its visibility.
Do you have a motto or mantra, or even a quote that you live by?
The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. – Lao Tzu.
In a perfect world, what dream do you want Samerth to accomplish in the next five years, and what kind of a future would you like it to be part of?
We would like to reach out in areas where no facilities are available. Link the communities with various government programmes, entitlements and ensure they have access to income earning assets and education.
Samerth wants to see a future that is equity sensitive. I would like to see that communities and individuals who face social and economic exclusion are given additional protection in the form of anti-discriminatory measures.
 Particularly vulnerable tribal group (PVTG) (earlier: Primitive tribal group) is a government of India classification created with the purpose of enabling improvement in the conditions of certain communities with, particularly low development indices. The features of such a group include a pre-agricultural system of existence, that is the practice of hunting and gathering, zero or negative population growth, extremely low level of literacy in comparison with other tribal groups.
 Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (PMAY) is an initiative by Government of India in which affordable housing will be provided to the urban poor with a target of building 20 million affordable houses by 31 March 2022.