Bhubaneswar: A friend, philosopher and guide, she's the motherly figure for the children of jail inmates in Odisha. Meet 42-year-old Niroja Laxmi Mohapatra, the guardian angel for these children who look up to her as they strive to carve their own niches in life.
Her concerted efforts through the years have yielded fruit with two of them becoming engineers and some others pursuing higher education and technical courses.
Mohapatra is the supervisor of the Madhur Mayee Adarsha Siksha Niketan, a hostel for convicts' children, located adjacent to the special jail in Bhubaneswar.
Her unique hostel, which was launched with two children in 2003, houses over 60 students of different age groups today.
"The hostel opened with two children in November 2003 when the Odisha government was implementing a reform programme in prisons across the state. We started the hostel to help educate and provide a better life to the inmates' children," said Mohapatra.
The hostel is managed by a non-government organisation, Odisha Patita Udhar Samiti, and depends on public funding.
She said the NGO had conducted a survey to identify the children of jail inmates a few years back and brought 23 children here.
"After deciding to set up the hostel for such children, we discussed it with the then IG-Prisons Bidya Bhushan Mohanty and the state government. The state Women and Child Development department accepted the idea and provided an initial investment to run the hostel," said Mohapatra.
She said it was the first ever hostel for the children of prisoners in India.
The state government has plans to take over the hostel for better management and a secure life of the children of jail inmates, she informed.
This hostel has become an incubator for these children who want to make a positive mark in life. And Mohapatra is sparing no efforts to help them achieve that. The first step is education. With the support of the hostel and due to Mohapatra's earnest efforts, several youngsters here have secured admission in various schools and colleges.
Manas Ranjan Sahoo and his friend Bighnaraj Bagh are now pursuing engineering degree from the KIIT University while several others have got admission in plus-three and ITIs.
"This year, six children appeared in the 10th Board examination and all of them cleared the hurdle. Sujata Sahu, who was studying at the Capital High School, secured over 80 percent marks. I facilitated her plus-two admission in BJB Junior College, one of the prestigious colleges in the state," Mohapatra informed proudly.
She had brought Sujata from Nayagarh jail, where her parents are imprisoned on murder charges.
Besides curriculum activities, the children are also learning dance and other art works.
However, Mohaptra's role is not limited to nurturing these children alone. This woman with a golden heart, who hails from Tirtol in Jagatsinghpur district, has also set up the state's first college for the hearing-impaired in 2007.
"When I mulled the idea of setting up a college for the hearing-impaired, many advised me to drop the plan as it would be difficult to run a college without any financial support by the government. Then I formed a welfare trust and founded the Satyabhama Devi College," she said.
The college is imparting higher education in the plus-II Arts stream to such challenged students.
Mohapatra, who completed her graduation in 1992, also successfully pursued a diploma course to teach the blind. She then completed her Master's degree from the Utkal University before working as a teacher in several schools.