Raj Jariwala was faced with an unspeakable tragedy—the death of his 12 year old son, Hardik. The shock of his younger son’s untimely passing due to an accident in 1999, sent Rajbhai and his family into a tizzy. His elder son Ravi was just 15 at the time and the family was feeling the full weight of this unfortunate event. It was enough to cause a huge shift in Jariwala’s way of life. “It is not easy for anyone to see one’s young son pass away especially at this age. When I saw my family totally shattered I resolved to shut down my business to look after them and work for social causes as well… At an age when a lot of people are running after name, fame and money, I decided that I didn’t want to earn any more money.”
In memory of his son, Raj Jariwala, fondly known as Rajbhai, established the Hardik Jariwala Foundation, an NGO that would follow the three tenets of social work—vidyadaan, or the gift of education; annadaan, or the gift of food; and finally, vastradaan, or the gift of clothes. From the beginning, the decision was made to work in rural areas where the need for education, food and clothing was more. With the help of a few close friends, Rajbhai began working in the village of Mokhamal near Sabaridhaam in Daang, a tribal district in Gujarat.
“I first went there in 2002,” says Rajbhai, explaining why he chose the village of Mokhamal. “This was a remote area and I noticed that there was no development there since years. People were really needy and led difficult lives. My heart went out to the little kids of this village.” Mokhamal is home to 2500 tribal villagers and is so remotely located that Rajbhai likes to jokingly say, “No power and no tower,” meaning that they lose all mobile connections as well as electricity when they turn off towards Mokhamal.
Since 2002, Rajbhai took his first step at helping the village children by interacting with the kids and the villagers. The NGO had not yet been formally established at this point. He realized that a lack of basic stationary materials and bags had a serious impact on the attendance and drop-out rates in the school. As he began donating these items year after year once the NGO was formally established, he realized that the attendance kept on improving too. Soon, children from neighbouring villages started showing interest in attending this particular school. Some started staying 12 kilometers away in this village of Mokhamal from their own villages just so that they could attend school. “They came to live with their relatives in the village and went home only for the weekend. This was a huge motivation for us,” he says.
Rajbhai along with his friends have established this organization. What started with just one school has now become a movement with over 800 children being supported with education, nutrition, health, hygiene and sports equipment.
Apart from the main school in Mokhamal, Rajbhai also helps four other schools as part of the foundation’s work. He recounts an inspiring experience from one of the medical camps he had set up where a girl required a corrective heart surgery. The operation was going to cost 2 lacs, so the Foundation put up 1 lac and Jariwala found a hospital in Chennai which was willing to give a 50% discount. Rajbhai even went to extent of accompanying the girl and her parents on their journey. A heart specialist from Geneva, Switzerland, Dr Kolongus, operated upon the little girl and the surgery was successful. The girl went on to complete her schooling and not only that, she applied for further studies to become a nurse herself!
Like her, many other students who passed through these schools eventually took admission in colleges in Ahwa and Mehsana. Team of these pass-outs would come back at teach kids in the village. Bhubaneshwari, who studies at an Ahwa Commerce College and Jignesh Babul who studied at Mehsana Engineering college are some of them. From 2019, the foundation also started offering scholarships to exceptional students for their diploma and bachelor’s degrees. They are currently sponsoring a BVoc course in Hospitality and Management in Anand, Gujarat for three girls from this village. After the bachelor’s degree, they will also extend their funding so that the girls can complete their MVoc, inspiring other students to take after them.
Long before Covid-19 existed, Rajbhai and the foundation volunteers had introduced the concept of sanitizers and handwashing to the children and adults of Mokhamal. Since 2017, they would put up cleanliness camps which would explain how washing hands with soap could prevent mild and severe illnesses. During the Covid-19 lockdown, they also distributed ration kits on April 5, 2020.
Rajbhai continues to honour Hardik’s memory by distributing stationery kits and uniforms, a ritual that has been followed since 2nd June 2013, Hardik’s birth anniversary. Similarly, an art competition is conducted on his death anniversary, 29th July, where three prizes are given in each standard.
It may seem that things went smoothly for Jariwala in his journey of social work but that is far from the truth. “When I began this work I had decided that I would only work in the tribal areas. This in itself was a big challenge as it is not easy making in-roads in such areas. And more so after you have crossed mid-life,” he explains. It is his attitude towards these challenges, however, that make them seem like they can be overcome. “All these (hurdles) seem inconsequential after the tragedy that I have gone through in my personal life.”
As of today, Rajbhai has given himself over completely to social work. He has put his factory on rent and whatever we makes out of that is used for basic needs and charity work. His wife, Varsha, son Ravi, daughter-in-law Khubhoo and his granddaughter Yashvi, support his social work and help him with his projects as well. The main volunteers since years, namely Amad Deshmukh (a Surat college graduate and a local of Mokhamal), Pankaj Pithwa, Priyavadan Patel and many more, continue to strive to make the foundation’s impact even bigger. “I am so happy doing this that I don’t crave for anything else now. My life begins and ends with these kids… For me, life has begun at 50. Till then I was a successful businessman, now I am a satisfied human being,” he says.
Some of these facts have been compiled from the biography of Raj Jariwala in the book “Beyond Fifty” by Jahnavi Paal. You can get in touch with Raj Jariwalaon email@example.com