How a Railway Officer from Chennai Became Foster Father to 200 Children of Farmers from Maharashtra

Meet Ajeet Saxena – foster father to over 200 children of farmers in Maharashtra. This railway official has dedicated his life to the welfare of these kids, who are all known as Ajeet Saxena’s children wherever they go.

In 2008, a farmer in the Vidarbha region of Maharashtra committed suicide. He was survived by his wife, four children, and his very old father. Three of the four children were girls. The eldest daughter, Deepa, was 14 at the time. Sapna was 11, and Swati was about 7 years old. The family was thoroughly shaken by their loss. They had no hopes for the future, no prospects and no dreams. But what happened next was something they never expected.

Today, Deepa is 22 years old and is working in a hospital after finishing her diploma in nursing. Sapna recently completed the same and Swati is in the second year of a BSc Yoga Education course in Bengaluru. They are educated, confident, and completely aware of how they want to plan their futures. The one person who made it all possible for them is Ajeet Saxena – a man who refers to these three girls and 200 other children from the region as his own.

He is their foster father, a philanthropist who is hand-holding and mentoring children of farmers in Vidarbha, while providing also financial support for their education.

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“After seeing these girls for the first time, I sat inside their hut and cried, thinking of what would happen to them. They had nothing to look forward to,” he says.

Ajeet, who is currently posted as the Chief Commercial Manager of Southern Railways in Chennai, embarked on this journey with a desire to help farmers and stop them from committing suicide. It started with the many stories of farmer suicides that were all over the news in those days. Ajeet was deeply moved. He saw two options before him – to go home, watch the news and feel sorry, or to get up and do something sustainable. Choosing the latter, he took 10 days of leave from work and headed to Vidarbha. There, with the help of some volunteers of the Sarvodaya Movement in Sevagram village, he met 29 families of farmers in about 15 villages.

“The highest amount of money for which a farmer had committed suicide in the area was about Rs. 45,000. And the average amount was Rs. 15,000. I was completely heartbroken. But I felt that the situation could be handled if more people came on board. With farmers giving up their lives for just Rs. 15,000, I was sure people would be willing to step in and help,” he recalls. With that thought in mind, Ajeet returned to Chennai after giving the farmers his phone number and asking them to call him in case they felt depressed.

Being a regular speaker on spirituality, he addressed many people in a Rotary Club in Chennai, a few days after he returned. To his surprise, when he told the listeners about the devastating condition he had witnessed, there were many who came forward asking what they could do to help:

“I saw the inherent goodness in people and realised that everybody wants to do their bit but they just don’t know how to move forward.”

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Ajeet Saxena with 10 nursing students in Chennai and his 6-year-old daughter Sharanya

By this time, Ajeet was sure he wanted to do something for the farmers to augment their incomes. But this was before he received the news that another farmer had committed suicide. This farmer’s daughter was a student of Class 11 and he had taken some loans to support her education. And now, suddenly, the young girl was left in the lurch.

“It was after this incident that I reached a final decision – I didn’t want any children from the region to drop out of school and wanted to support their education.”

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Meeting at Sewagram Ashram

He opened bank accounts in the villages for some of these children and started talking to various people he knew to find someone who would be willing to help. One of his friends agreed to sponsor the education of 15 children, some others said they would sponsor three or four kids, and so on. The amounts were set – Rs. 250 per month for children studying up to Class 5, Rs. 400 for those between Classes 6-9, and Rs. 500 for children in Classes 9-12. Each person who agreed to sponsor the education of a child could transfer the amount directly to the child’s bank account. “I know that education for school children in the age group of 6-14 is already free. But this money acts as an incentive for their parents or relatives to not push them into child labour,” says Ajeet.

Within two months, a girl named Rajni called Ajeet and said – “After meeting you, I have a lot of hope that I can do something in life. I want to take up a course in nursing and I am in a bus to Amravati right now.” Rajni found that the fee for that course was Rs. 2 lakh. When she informed Ajeet, he just asked if she was willing to study in any other college, and then talked to the authorities at a nursing school in Chennai. They agreed to enrol her and told Ajeet he could pay the fee later. In this way, Rajni became the first girl from the village to travel outside and finish her education.

She learnt Tamil and English, finished her course, worked in Global Hospital in Chennai for about a year, and has now shifted to Nagpur.

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“All children in the region were very hopeful after this development. And that was when a college named Mahila Maha Vidyalay in Nagpur came to know about us. They were willing to accommodate 10 girls to study there and live in their hostel. They were also ready to take the fee at a later stage,” says Ajeet.

Today, all 200 children, a majority of whom are girls, are known as Ajeet Saxena’s children in Vidarbha. Three girls have moved to Latur for teachers’ training courses, 10 girls are in nursing and four are completing BSc Yoga Education in Bengaluru.

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The four girls (left and right) studying BSc Yoga

Ajeet arranges the funds by writing to his friends, well-wishers and several organizations, seeking sponsors. His intervention is no longer limited to children of farmers who have committed suicide, but all children in the region who come from financially weaker backgrounds.

He is also setting up a trust named Sharnagat Foundation in Nagpur to take this initiative forward at a larger scale. Ajeet visits Sevagram once every three months and lives there for two days to ensure that children are receiving their money on time and nothing is being misused by their parents or relatives.

“The amount of difference I have been able to make in the lives of these children with zero investment from my side is what keeps me moving forward. I feel that all of us should start thinking beyond our own families and handhold at least one child who cannot afford his/her education. All my children are very confident now. They are not at anyone’s mercy. And seeing them succeed gives me immense satisfaction,” he concludes.

You can contact Ajeet by writing to him at [email protected].

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