BIS #6779 Adivasi Ratna Award for Mrs Sonali Shelke
By Fr Blany Pinto for BISMumbai
Mrs Sonali Shelke has been on the Don Bosco, Lonavla, outreach staff since 2009. She currently resides at Bhaje village near Karla, close to Lonavla.
Her association had a humble beginning as a craft teacher to the students of Maria Ashiana - a rehabilitation center for substance abuse youngsters. It was at that time, Fr Barnabe D’Souza initiated Mrs Shelke to work with the adivasi community in Lonavla. He introduced her to the community development projects with the adivasis in the villages.
Mrs Shelke was able to fit in easily and take up the tasks entrusted efficiently as she had the inclination and desire to work for the upliftment of the poor from her younger days. She also grew up with her parents and her teachers inculcating in her that what she has received she must share with the poor. All this motivated her to collaborate with the projects of Fr D’Souza, who taught her the basics of social work in the village.
Prior to embarking on her journey in social service, Mrs Shelke learnt about the rights of the poor and the various schemes available for the poor. She then commenced the social work by trying to obtain the various documents for the adivasis: Adhaar card, ration card, caste certificate, death certificate, school certificate. She began to explain the functioning of the gram panchayat to the adivasi community, and how they ought to raise their concerns in the panchayat meeting. She motivated the children to pursue school education, and began tailoring classes for the women.
Due to this, the villagers began to benefit from the various government schemes. Consequently, these villages were on the path to progressive development as there were lots of improvements within the villages and among the villagers. Villagers obtained various certificates, children got educated, roads were constructed, provision for water was made, and few obtained houses through various government schemes. This brought contentment and self-satisfaction to Mrs Shelke, and she was motivated to do more and more for the villagers. Mutalne village, thickly populated with adivasis, began to invite the Don Bosco staff to dedicate time for the improvement of their lives.
Mrs Shelke’s family has been very supportive of her venture. Her husband, Ravi, decided to leave his job and dedicate his time and energy to work with Sonali for the adivasis. Due to this, during covid, with the help of Mrs Unita Doulton, around 10,000 food kits were distributed to 14 villages in a period of five months.
Recognizing her dedication and efforts for more than a decade for the upliftment of the adivasis in and around Lonavla, the Adivasi Welfare and Savardhan Society, Pune, presented her with an award on 9 August 2022. This has motivated Sonali to pursue her studies in the field of social work and she wants to dedicate her entire life for the upliftment of the adivasi community. She is indeed grateful to Don Bosco, especially to Fr D’Souza who initiated and mentored her, and to Fr Xavier Devadas who supported her. She is also grateful to her teachers, Mr Ramesh Bondre and Mr Ranganath Vare. She is also deeply grateful to her husband Mr Ravi Shelke for all the support he extends, and his continued cooperation with her.