Faith can move mountains

Sujata Sahu's 17000ft Foundation provides tribal communities in remote Ladakh mountain villages with opportunities to upgrade their lives

 The Womenz team had an opportunity to interact with Ms. Sujata Sahu, Founder, Director - 17000 ft Foundation, India and here’s what she shared with us

 

Please give some background like your education & life before 17000ft 

A techie by profession, I worked for over 15 years in Corporate IT in India and mostly the United States before I decided to move back to my home country in 2002.I quit my corporate job to work with children and taught at a leading private school in India for a few years.


What inspired you to begin with 17000ft? How did you coin this interesting name? 

A solo trek into Ladakh was my turning point, staying in home-stays, seeing the tiny schools, their limited resources and their desperate need to get their children educated. The simplicity of the people and their desperate need to stay on in their tiny settlements, despite the lack of facilities and opportunities available was extremely inspiring. Trekking alone in those high altitudes, I suffered from Pulmonary Edema, and with no access to health care, it brought into sharp focus just how many difficulties the terrain posed and how tough life in the remote regions was.I started 17000 ft with the basic idea to help these indigenous people to live better lives in their chosen regions without being forced to migrate and desert their land.

17000 ft Foundation was named after a particularly difficult mountain pass that we crossed on foot to reach a very remote school in Ladakh, a journey which took us 3 days on foot. The Foundation, named after the altitude of the extremely difficult mountain pass, serves as a reminder of the eagerness of the children and the amazing resilience of the hundreds of communities that lie isolated and ignored across high, mountain passes.



Your initial journey and motivation to scale this far?

Getting into the not for profit sector was a tough call to take, and there was a lot of discussion at home, but I could not have done it while holding a full time job as well. What helped was my husband sharing my vision and passion for Ladakh, and our deciding to put our full energies into it together.

Once we had made up our minds that we would work in the remotest interiors of Ladakh, our biggest challenge was actually of finding a long term sustainable solution for a region like Ladakh. The terrain, weather, altitudes, distances, remoteness, limited infrastructure and the sheer costs of running programs in such vastly spread out remote villages (over 600+) was daunting.

The inspiration has been twofold. One, the land itself, its people and their keen desire to live in complete harmony with the land, yet aspire for a better life for their children, despite all odds. Two, the encouragement, support and knowledge sharing by our partner organizations, Pratham Education Foundation and Akshara Foundation, both doing extensive work in education in India.

Ladakh is not a small region and working in just a few villages would not have made an impact. Working at scale was the only option if we were to demonstrate solutions that could work for the region as a whole.

 


Morning Assembly in progress at Middle School Fotoksar, Altitude 11348 ft


As a women did you face any hurdles in your journey so far?  If yes, how you faced & conquered them?

I don’t believe I faced any hurdles in my journey as a woman. Though my commitment and ability to sustain this initiative long term have been questioned due to family or other commitments, they have not deterred me in any way. I don’t see myself as any different from any other human being who would have taken on such a task. I believe that I was given an opportunity to make a difference and I acted on it. The hurdles I have faced are also no different than what anyone else would have faced in my position.


The programs conceptualized and the agenda or 17000ft. 

The focus of 17000 ft is to empower tribal communities living in remote, isolated and neglected mountain villages, provide them with opportunities for a better life and help them achieve it. Our programs focus ongenerating geo-mapped and accurate data to document information about isolated settlements; planning and implementing sustainable large scale interventions by facilitating and demonstrating, and finally, creating a bridge with the outside world to facilitate development


How is 17000ft is different and the plans for the future?

There are 100s of NGOs working in Ladakh but their focus is in the more accessible areas of Leh and Kargil, leaving a large majority of the hamlets ignored. Many also create parallel solutions creating a system completely dependent on outside support.

The uniqueness of our organization is our ability to go extremely remote, regardless of geography and difficulties in terrain. Our technology backbone, MapMySchool enables us to generate accurate information about these forgotten hamlets and also enables the local communities and the local administration to create well informed plans for development. Our Voluntourism Program enables outsiders to get involved with the work of the Foundation, thereby effectively reducing the isolation and sparking development in the region. In all of our projects, we work very closely with the existing community, ensuring that their needs and aspirations are well represented.





Tell us about your family? How you manage to both fronts family & 17000ft

I live in Gurgaon with my family. I have five kids, two of whom are still in school and the oldest who is already working. My husband, Sandeep Sahu has also quit his mainstream Advertising career to join me in the Foundation, and this has become our life’s work. Our kids, at various times have volunteered with us in the remote villages of Ladakh and helped the office during the early days. Between my husband and I we manage, both, the house and the Foundation, with only one of us travelling to Ladakh at a time. It is not without challenges, but a lifestyle that all of us, including the two dogs, have learned to adapt to.

 

What is your biggest achievement so far?

Personally, I do not have a single biggest achievement. I have a journey that is full of achievements and one that is still continuing. As an organization, I7000 ft’s biggest achievement in just a short span of time has been the acceptance and respect of the community it has gained. All of its projects are milestones that will continue to grow and spread.


Ms. Sujata Sahu being facilitated for her TEDx talk at BIMTECH, Greater Noida,  India

 

Your message to  other women who are struggling  to  prove themselves

  • Don’t struggle to prove yourself.
  • Start by believing in yourself.
  • Then watch the world follow you.

 

We The Womenz team thank her for her sharing her story with us. We are sure that her story will certianly inspire our readers.

Ms. Sujata Sahu can be reached on 17000 ft on Facebook , TwitterLinkedin

First Published: 02-Apr-2017- 14:08


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