Born in Madras (now Chennai) to Anglo-Indian parents, Rita was five when her family migrated to Australia and she returned to India as a tourist with her husband in the late 70s and again in 2007 with their two children.
“That’s when I thought it would good for students to do a school trip where they can reassess their values and make a real change in their lives and that of others,” she said.
With colleague Matthew Noble she devised a program that involved a rigorous selection process and required students to work part-time to pay their own way as well as raise money for the orphanage.
Her vision has “morphed” into the Dare 2 Dream Foundation which today funds five projects run by its local partner, the Indian Centre for Integrated Development, established by Dominican priest Father Herald D’ Souza.
Rita, who is Deputy Principal (curriculum) at St Dominic’s, continues to lead student pilgrimages every two years but fundraising efforts have gradually expanded beyond the school community.
“I’m currently organising a fundraiser dinner and I start my emails with ‘it’s Rita begging again’,” she laughed.
Currently on leave, she and her husband Rob will spend two months later this year in Nagpur assisting Fr Herald, who has stayed with the family in Adelaide and become a good friend.
Rita said initially the students volunteered at the Yuva Yothi Children’s Home but the focus had changed from ‘voluntourism’ to raising funds for self-sustaining projects such as sewing programs for women and small business enterprises. The students still visit the orphanage and play with the children but “there is an over-abundance of labour”, she explained.
“We received a research grant to look at the root causes of poverty and why these children were being abandoned…the research shows that if you help the mother you help the children.”
Rita’s voluntary work for the award-winning charity is one of the reasons she was awarded an Order of Australia Medal (OAM) on Australia Day this year.
But her contribution to the community also includes a long association with the Geography Teachers Association, of which she is a life member, the Fitzroy Football Club (as a trainer and team manager) and the West Torrens Lacrosse Club and State Lacrosse team.
“I’m a doer, not a talker,” Rita said, adding that she wasn’t sure if she wanted to accept the OAM at first.
“There are so many more deserving people…I do these things because I like doing them, not because I want any reward.”
It was only when Rob pointed out that people had gone to the trouble to nominate her that she reluctantly accepted.
A member of the Prospect parish, Rita said her philosophy was that if you believe in God you should be willing to do his work.
“I believe it’s about putting your values and your faith into action,” she said. “We need to be grateful for all we have and use the gifts that God gave us to do good in the world.”
Rita and Rob said the women and children in Nagpur were “like family” and they spoke with pride of Abalash, one of the first young orphans they met. Found abandoned on a train platform, he has just completed his Masters in social work.
For more information about Dare 2 Dream, visit www.dare2dream.org.au
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