Born on 6 February 1993, Ashwin Maharaj Ramasubramaniam was an enthusiastic sportsman, social-worker and budding lawyer. From the very beginning, he was actively involved in the upliftment of weaker sections of society.
While he was a student at the Jindal Global Law School in Sonipat, Haryana, he started something called “Sports for Development”. This involved using football as a means to help orphaned children learn. Ashwin noticed that these children were usually remorseful and bore a feeling of ill-will, no doubt due to their living circumstances.
After playing football, however, they were noticeably happier and more receptive to value-education.
During his internship in Mumbai, Ashwin was instrumental in filing a Public Interest Litigation on behalf of 350 less-privileged students who were about to lose their access to education due to a lack of funding.
During college, Ashwin had another objective. He wanted to spread legal awareness amongst the rural populace. He wanted to do this through animation, short video films and cartoons.
Rural people, he noticed, weren’t very well educated. They weren’t aware of their own legal rights. Recently, the Union Law Minister made an announcement to all law colleges, imploring students to make short films to increase the legal awareness among rural people.
Tragically, Ashwin was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia in 2015. The initial procedures for his treatment began in Chennai, after which he went to San Diego for further treatment. During his time in California, Ashwin started receiving music therapy as a part of treatment.
He loved music, and the therapy immensely benefitted him, helping him to cope with the pain and nausea and facilitating better sleep.
After obtaining a perfect match and undergoing a stem-cell transplant, Ashwin and his family began to hope for the best.
Unfortunately, Ashwin passed away, but before doing so, he conceptualised and started implementing his vision.
Ashwin’s dream was also to help spread awareness about stem-cell donation, promote legal awareness for the common man and to help other cancer patients in rehabilitation through music therapy and meditation.
In his memory, the Ashwin Maharaj Foundation was started in December 2015. The Foundation, through its work, aims to keep Ashwin’s legacy and dream alive. Cancer is a debilitating disease, and patients who don’t have adequate access to proper healthcare infrastructure have a tough time with treatment.
The Foundation aims to ease the life of cancer patients across the country, by infusing music therapy in their course of treatment and providing supplementary nutrition to them via protein-powder packets.
The music therapy sessions began twice a week at the Adyar Cancer Institute in Chennai.
Day-care chemotherapy patients received the high-protein health powder. With ingredients like almond, flaxseed, horse gram and others, this special recipe, provided by Dr V Shanta, Chairperson of the Adyar Cancer Institute, is very light on the stomach and loaded with essential nutrients. It costs around Rs 250 to take care of the supplementary nutritional requirements of one cancer patient, per month.
The music therapy is conducted by the foundation in conjunction with a group of dedicated volunteers. The sessions are beneficial for patients when clubbed together with other forms of cancer treatment.
Music therapy has been found to reduce pain and discomfort, improve mood and diminish stress while improving the quality of life of the patient.
Music therapy isn’t a cure by itself, but heals the patient physically, mentally and emotionally. During the music therapy sessions conducted at the hospitals, soothing instruments are played and volunteers sing.
Volunteers spend time performing in front of patients in the hospital wards. The music sessions have a positive effect, as patients always seem relaxed and happy, and make song requests occasionally as well.
The music is soothing and mellifluous, and the performers and the audience both enjoy the time music therapy. The volunteers are mostly college students, and Ashwin’s mother praises the student volunteer-musicians, mentioning that they are committed to the cause, enthusiastic and don’t have hidden motives.
AIIMS has been working with the Ashwin Maharaj Foundation, and patients there have been receiving music therapy for the past 15 months. The Lok Nayak Jai Prakash Narayan Hospital has been receiving the protein mix every month.
The foundation is also working closely with the Kidwai Institute of Oncology, providing music therapy for both children and adults, and distributing the protein powder.
Other notable hospitals that the foundation is involved with, include the Gujarat Cancer Research Institute Ahmedabad, the CMCH institute in Coimbatore, JIPMER Pondicherry, and the Rajiv Gandhi Government General Hospital in Chennai.
The Ashwin Maharaj Foundation is also associated with the Jeevan Bone Marrow registry in Chennai, with an aim to create awareness about bone-marrow transplant. Patient rehabilitation through music therapy and distribution of nutritional packets is their primary objective.
Speaking about stem-cell donation, Ashwin’s father mentions that awareness needs to be created amongst the population.
Ashwin wished for more awareness about stem-cell donation in India, and the foundation has been instrumental in proliferating this cause through the country.
The foundation has been recognised under Section 80G of the Income Tax Act. Donations to the trust are exempt from tax.
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The Foundation is looking to partner with more corporates, under CSR, so the health drink can be manufactured on a larger scale. Here’s hoping the Ashwin Maharaj Foundation succeeds in making the lives of those battling cancer easier and happier.