Gandhian health care activist Dr.R.Kouslaya Devi receives the Soroptimist Woman of the Year Award

After wrapping up her day’s work at Kasturba Hospital in Chinnalapatti, then taking a 90-minute drive to Madurai during peak evening hours, sitting through a function of Soroptimist International (SI), Madurai chapter, for an hour on the dias, Dr.R.Kousalya Devi’s acceptance speech went off like a breeze.

Receiving the “Woman of the Year-2013” Award, the 83-year-old gynaecologist-cum-obstetrician said, “By God’s grace I got the opportunity to serve people. I am privileged. I am able to do the work because I am happily unmarried.”

She kept it short not because she was worn out and bored. She is simplicity and humility personified. There was no trace of tiredness on her face. She smiled and bowed as she took the big in size and well-framed citation in her hands. Her presence in a simple Khadi cotton white sari dwarfed all those who surrounded her. She left late in the night for her return journey to Dindigul but not without inspiring the audience.

Such is the power of Dr.R.Kousalya Devi, Managing Trustee of Gandhigram Trust and Advisor Kasturba Hospital, who rarely attends public functions or receives awards. This was a special occasion for the 30 members of SI, Madurai Club as it only reaffirmed when committed women work for larger benefit of society, they do so silently.

Dr.Kousalya Devi has led an exemplary life integrating rural health services for the region’s poor and needy. She has delivered three generation of babies ever since she came to Kasturba Hospital on deputation from Government in 1969 and then stayed on simply because she “liked the place”.

Three people inspired her -- Mahatma Gandhi, her father Raghupathi Reddy and social worker Dr.T.S.Soundaram, the founder of Gandhigram. “Her life is the song of true karma” read her citation as she is popularly known as Mother Teresa of South India. Having done more than one lakh family planning surgeries, Dr.Kousalya is also known for carrying out the innovative recanalisation procedure. She has steered the hospital with compassion for four decades winning two National and 14 State Awards for the hospital for best practices.

“I am enjoying my life”, she told the Soroptimist members, who are equally keen to usher in changes in the lives of the downtrodden.

The Madurai chapter is the 16th Soroptimist Club in India and the second one in Tamil Nadu after Chennai. In its four years of existence, it charted out its priority and worked on creating awareness among the city’s residents on plastic waste segregation and management, created a green space in the city called the Cosmo Park and a scholarship fund to sponsor the college fee of girl students.

Soroptimist International was started by 80 women in 1921 in Oakland. It consists of over 100,000 members across 120 countries who work towards “making a difference to women”. The Indian branches of Soroptimist International are affiliated to the U.K. body and started with its headquarters in Pune 15 years ago.

For the Madurai Chapter, 30 women from different professions from Madurai, Sivakasi, Dindigul and Rajapalayam, have come together for the joint venture to share their time, talents, and financial resources to enrich the communities.

“Every woman has the ability and can make the world a better place to live in. Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate but that we are powerful,” said Sukanya Jegannathan, the president. The vice president Dr.Sudha Dheep outlined the success of the “Good Touch Bad Touch” project taken up this year. An extensive tree planting scheme in the club’s adopted village Kallikappen is also on.

Projects are carefully chosen to address the challenges faced by individual communities and particularly women. In the coming days, the members plan to make a difference with the Go Green Compost Project that will enable people to convert daily kitchen and garden waste into soil nutrition.

The Go Green composters called ‘Kambha’ are made in terracotta and the SI will make them available to educational institutions that show interest or also encourage households to use them. Based on the various projects planned by SI (Madurai) so far, an honour has also come to the club with the selection of its founder president Anitha Rajarajan to attend the 79th Soroptimist International conferenceto be held in U.K next month end. She is the only Indian and one of the four women chosen from all over the world to interact with other Soroptimist sisters and look at projects of different countries.