Bernadette Pimenta

Women’s Day Special: Interview with educationist, social activist Bernadette Pimenta

March 7, 2020

Celebrated on March 8 every year, International Women’s Day will follow the theme of “I am Generation Equality: Realizing Women’s Rights” this year. On this occasion, we spoke to Bernadette Pimenta — an educationist and social activist who is committed to the upliftment of women and girl children — and also principal of The Garden School, a non-formal child enrichment school in Mumbai.

After providing children and youth supplementary curriculum enrichment programmes for over two decades, Pimenta switched tracks to social work. She is the founder-trustee of Sevadham, an NGO which has been working for the poor and marginalised, especially women and children, in prisons across Maharashtra. The social activist is also the chairperson of Snehalaya, Thane and the ambassador of the Indo-Global Social Service Society, Delhi. 

Excerpts from the interview:

How did you come up with the idea of Sevadham? What are the challenges you faced as you navigated your career?

I have always had a vision for each decade of my life. At 30 plus, I wanted to have my own school which would impart values to children. At 40, I dreamt of setting up my own NGO, which would work for the poor and the marginalised especially women and children. The Church had a consultation at which I was a delegate. I attended on the condition I would return and make a contribution to Thane and its environs to start with. The conclusions at this consultation were several goals for the church in Mumbai. I chose for myself to be a Witnessing Church, since my education in St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai taught me to be a very inclusive person and to engage in the upliftment of the less privileged. Whatever I launch, I am of the firm conviction that it is God’s work and not mine. The only challenge perhaps was identifying committed persons to take forward the motto of my NGO “Serving God in Humanity”. Fortunately for me over the last 28 plus years, Providence has always sent me persons who share my vision and are committed to a mission.

As a woman, what are the challenges you faced while growing up/the liberties you enjoyed as a woman?

There is a gap of 10 years between my third sister and myself, so I guess I was the privileged one. I had absolutely no interference from my parents or my sisters in pursuing my dreams. Having no male sibling, I grew up to be a very responsible person who had to juggle my time looking after my ageing parents and my professional career. Hence, I have always enjoyed challenges for I am of the conviction that they help you rise to your full potential.

How do you balance between your personal and professional lives?

I trust implicitly in Divine Providence and in every situation, I respond to my inner voice which speaks to me. I have to thank God for an excellent home staff, school staff and staff and volunteers of my NGO. I guess as a meditator, it also enables me to tide over stressful situations since I am multi-tasking 24X7.

What according to you is feminism? As a woman, where do you think we are lagging behind? And how can we address them?

Feminism, in my opinion, must be best expressed by manifesting profound respect for all human beings, irrespective of caste, creed, nationality or social standing. God has made men and women in his own image and likeness. In the several cases I have handled over the years as a professional counsellor, I have concluded that women have been gifted with great resilience and are very accommodating in the face of all the several challenges they encounter day-in and day-out. Feminism is also about encouraging, affirming and empowering both men and women to engage in building a better society and a better world. It is all about nurturing human values, encompassing concern and care for our environment, which is God’s gift to us and the welfare of those on the periphery of society.

We are sometimes lagging behind because we belong to a highly patriarchal society where the male voice dominates and is supposed to be heard loud and clear in all spheres of life. This mindset of the male, with a dominant ego, needs to be explored and this can be done only if women/mothers engage their children in proper nurturing patterns in childhood.

Your message for women on Women’s Day?

Dear Women, Women’s Day is observed sanctimoniously year after year. You and I can change the plight of women if each one of us is committed with passion and compassion to reach out to other women who are assailed by the tribulations that lie in their paths. Let us together enable other women to engage in building a more equitable and just society.

Also read: Women’s Day Special: Interview with social activist Dr. Pragati Singh

Sukanya Nandy

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