Social worker Sheela Balaji was awarded the Nari Shakti Puraskar 2017 for her meaningful contribution to women’s empowerment by the President of India International Women’s Day, on Thursday.
Balaji is the chairperson and managing trustee of AIM for Seva and Swami Dayananda Educational Trust. She is also the brain behind Spirits of Earth.
Recognised for her work in the field of rural education, apart from her initiative in reviving traditional grains, Sheela was among a host of highly impactful women in the areas of social service, science, business, sports, entertainment and the arts.
Talking to DT Next, Balaji said, “This is such a huge recognition as it is the highest civilian honor for women.”
She said that she least expected it, adding that it was heartening to receive the award after 15 years of hard work. “We have over 130 projects and have impacted the lives of close to 20 million people. Since the projects are (implemented) in rural areas, paddies and their cultivation are an integral part of it,” she said. The Spirit of the Earth initiative that takes back people to the organic and original traditional grains is a culmination of her five-yearlong work, she said.
Balaji said the next step was to bring 500 farmers into the fold of organic cultivation.
She added, “There is a lot of demand for these varieties. In fact, our clientele includes those in the age group of 30-40 years, who consciously take to it, as they want to know where their food comes from.” Sheela said she hoped that the award inspired more women to find their identity.