As They Grow – Nikitha’s Journey

A Difficult Start

In the 17 years since SOFKIN was founded, some of SOFKIN’S children have been with us for several years and are turning into amazing young adults.  This is one of our occasional blogs where we highlight their individual stories.  Today we’d like you to meet Nikitha.

Nikitha came to SOFKIN with her older sister, Nivedita, in 2010 when she was 10 years old.  The sisters had been orphaned when both their parents died when Nikita was one year old.  Their aunt and grandmother stepped in and cared for them for several years.  However, it became increasingly difficult for them to provide for all their needs, including their school fees and related expenses.  When their aunt heard about SOFKIN, she brought them to us.

Nikitha reported that her initial adjustment to SOFKIN was hard.  She cried a lot and didn’t talk to the other children.  Gradually, as she came to trust the love and care that she received, she realized that she had, in fact, gotten a new family of 40 kids!

Becoming Comfortable

Over time, Nikitha got involved in all the activities offered at SOFKIN and learned that she particularly loved, and was good, at dance.  She enjoyed classes in classical Indian dance.  She also learned Western contemporary dance moves from YouTube videos (that had been approved by Chaya Amma!)  She and a core group of kids who were also accomplished dancers began choreographing dances for other SOFKIN children.  Many of these dances were featured at SOFKIN events, including Rhythm 2022, SOFKIN’s annual fundraising celebration.

Nikitha said that her initial career goal when she was in elementary school was to be a teacher.  However, as she got older, her goal shifted.  Drawing on her passion for animals, she decided that she wanted to be a veterinarian and then an owner of a shelter for stray animals.

Finding Her Passion

A couple stories from her teen-age years reflected Nikitha’s deepening concern for the welfare of animals.  In one, she related that Chaya Amma discouraged having pets at SOFKIN when she discovered that the kids were spending more time playing with kittens than studying. However, Nikitha persistently lobbied for the chance to raise a kitten, which Chaya Amma ultimately approved.

Nikitha also explained that Chaya Amma was very specific about ensuring that the daily diet at SOFKIN met the children’s nutritional needs.  This included a very nourishing morning porridge made with milk and eggs, among other ingredients.  However, as Nikitha became more interested in a vegan lifestyle, she decided that she couldn’t keep drinking the porridge.  She wrote a long mail to Chaya, explaining her reasons and making her case.  This resulted in some back and forth between the two, with Chaya finally granting her request. Chaya then worked with her to find workable, vegan alternatives for the porridge.

Becoming an Animal Champion

Nikitha earned a BA  in Life Science (which included the core subjects of botany, zoology, physics and chemistry)  and completed a Masters in Zoology in 2022.  While in college, Nikitha was active in programs that aligned with her values.  She organized two events for Vegan Outreach that taught students how our food and life choices impact both our health and the environment.  She was also a member of an Animal Welfare Club, that put on dog shows, arranged for regular checkups of pets and rescued stray animals.

After receiving her MA in Zoology, Nikitha worked at a 6-month internship at WWF, World Wildlife Fund for Nature, where she worked on a Biodiversity Restoration Project.  She was able to get this prestigious internship with the assistance of Uday Peyyeti, a part of PamTen and a SOFKIN Board Member.

Nikitha said that because of the internship, her career goals shifted again.  She realized that if nature is doing well, animals will survive – opening career possibilities beyond those focused primarily on animal welfare.

After successfully completing the internship, Nikitha was offered a job at WWF as a Producer Unit Manager.  Her responsibilities include helping to coordinate the activities of a 10-member team working on a Better Cotton Initiative.  As Nikitha animatedly described the goals of the Initiative – growing sustainable cotton, improving the local diversity of plants and animals, promoting regenerative agricultural activities – it was clear that she has found her niche, at least for now.

Independence and Advice

Nikitha’s job required her to relocate to another district, where she is currently living in a youth hostel for working women.  She described living conditions very different from those she grew up in at SOFKIN: everybody is independent, there isn’t the close, family bond that SOFKIN nurtured, and the food isn’t as good!  Because of the distance, she stays in touch with SOFKIN through phone conversations, although she tries to make the 6-hour journey for special occasions or when Chaya is visiting.

When asked what advice she would give her younger brothers and sisters at SOFKIN, Nikitha said she would tell them that life outside SOFKIN is complicated.  They will need to showcase the moral values, ethics, and personal skills they have been privileged to develop at SOFKIN.

Nikitha said that that she always knew that, regardless of what was happening in Chaya’s work or personal life, that the children of SOFKIN were a priority. But she is also very grateful for all she has been given by SOFKIN and all the support she has received from the sponsors and supporters who make life at SOFKIN possible.  

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