Awarded a Padma Shri at 92, Prabhaben Shah sits down to recall more than three decades of sheer persistence, hard work and dedication.

An ardent follower of Gandhi, she believed in the saying “Be the change you want to see in the world”.

While she had to quit her education after marriage, she wanted her kids to graduate. When she did not find a school in her district, she started her own Gujarati-medium ‘Bal Mandir’.

To fund the school, she started working in a Khadi Ashram as a clerk.

Two years later, she had to move to Daman as her husband got transferred. Daman, too, did not have a school.

Instead of starting a school directly, she started a Mahila Mandal and opened a school through it in 1963.

Women still followed the pardah system and she had to hold meetings indoors to encourage them to speak freely.

As the group’s popularity grew, they started a credit society to give loans to women who wanted to start small-scale businesses like papad making, sewing, grocery store, etc.

Besides helping women, the group also focused on helping those in need. Between 1965 and 1971, they actively raised donations for families of soldiers and martyr’s.

The mandal had similar projects during the Bhopal Gas Tragedy in 1984, the devastating Kutch earthquake in 2001 and, more recently, the Kerala floods in 2018.

“We donate, stitch and purchase clothes for adults, the elderly and children whenever such a crisis arises,” says Prabha.

While she might have retired now, her work continues to inspire hundreds throughout the world.

“[My husband] earned Rs 250 per month so I would save most of it and donate it to the Mahila Mandal. Ek ek pai jod ke hum ne kaam kiya hai (We have worked by saving every penny).”