“The best way to find yourself, is to lose yourself in the service of others.” These words of Mahatma Gandhi stand true for Supraja Borthwick, a woman, who dedicates her time to social service in Visakhapatnam.
She traces her first steps in the direction of social service to 2006, when she was serving at Nirmal Bhavan. “Mostly involved in meditating back then, I was somehow drawn to the presence of God in people around me.” Feeling the omnipresent power, she slowly started to reduce meditating and began enjoying interactions with people around her. Spending time with destitute at Nirmal Bhavan brought joy to Supraja, who shares that it was more of an act of devotion. “I wanted to give joy to people who needed it most.” She did not shy away from feeding them, cleaning them, and looking after them, as she would spend half her day there. She was soon visiting old age homes or feeding homeless on the streets. “I wasn’t doing this work in large number. For me, more than the quantity, it was the quality of work that mattered.”
Cyclone Hudhud, was a turning point in Supraja’s journey. When Visakhapatnam had come to a halt, she along with a neighbour in her community did the best they could. “We organised for workers to clear the streets and also to maintain sanitation. We put up dustbins and also helped GVMC workers with repairs and improvised cart designs to make their work easier. During the strike by GVMC workers, we would go around the neighbourhood at 5 AM, and incinerate whatever trash we could. From feeding close to 200 people everyday, to planting trees on their street and the entire Lawson’s Bay colony, to ensuring that the saplings are watered everyday, Supraja took upon herself to do whatever she could to improve the surroundings around her.
It was around this time that she came in contact with the Hospice at St. Joseph’s Hospital. Her son Aaron had just completed his tenth boards, and she wanted him to have some experience at community service before he started college. She got in touch with Dr. NS Raju of Age Care Foundation, who showcased the work at Prema Samajam and at St. Joseph’s. “There was a 16 year old terminal bone cancer patient called Anil at St. Joseph’s hospice. Perhaps because he was the same age as my son, or for some other reason, I connected with him.” And so, the mother and son duo, decided to contribute their time at the hospice. They would go there everyday and Supraja clearly recollects the day Anil died. “I had been travelling to Europe, and when Anil called me I was at Qatar airport, waiting for my flight to head home. He asked me for an electronic piano, and I bought the piano in Visakhapatnam, thinking I’d tell him a lie that I had picked it up in Europe. I thought I’d visit him the next day. But I got a call saying that he had passed away the night before. From then on, I’ve never postponed anything. I learnt that there’s nothing like the next minute. If you want to do something now, do it now.”
As a constant volunteer at the hospice till date, Supraja spends time with terminally ill patients. She gives them company, makes them food they like, feeds them, talks to them, and even sings to them if they want. “I support them in whatever way I can, be it financially or by fulfilling their wish, like a pilgrimage trip which I organised for some of them.” Ensuring that their passage is smooth through life, she also helps wherever possible after their death. “My spiritual strength supports me through all this.”
As a member of Rotary Vizag Couples since 2005, Community Service Director- Rotary for 2018, and as a member of the Crafts Council of Andhra Pradesh, her work towards people continues to drive her forward. Her many works through Rotary have focused on children, health, environment and sanitation. From improving access to potable drinking water for tribal people, to setting up Biogas plants with NERDCAP, to beautifying and cleaning Kailash Bhoomi, the crematorium. she has taken up innumerable ways of leaving the world around her a better place. A project with Nippon paints also enabled the painting of 65 houses in the slum area of Hanumanthawaka, in Visakhapatnam, making it the second such project in the country. Besides this, health camp at Mardaguda near Anantagiri for 700 people with Rotary, and one for artisans at Bobbili through CCAP have been other initiatives she was a part of. A cause that is close to her heart is greening, and so for Environmental Day, she participated in creating and dispersing seed balls on the hill slopes, with the help of villagers.
For her future, she hopes to impact more number of people, and spread more smiles. With a focus on hospice, she wants to also work with people in tribal regions, as she finds it to be a sector needing support. As she hopes to reach out and impact larger number of lives, treating this service towards people as service to God, we can only stand by her and wish her the best. May her tribe increase.