Next week, New Englanders will have the opportunity to meet Sri Mata Amritanandamayi Devi — a woman dubbed the "Hugging Saint" by international media outlets for personally hugging roughly 33 million people around the world.
Affectionately known as Amma, the Indian native has been helping groups around the world through a number of various initiatives. The social activist is the founder of Embracing the World, a vast network of international charities, is the founder and chancellor of Amrita University, one of the fastest growing institutions for higher learning in India, and is the founder of AIMS, a top nonprofit hospital in Kerala, India.
"India has had such a great legacy of women who have contributed to all spheres of development in society; may it be warriors, teachers, spiritual luminaries, musicians or social workers. Though not acknowledged enough in our history books or in the social media, their contribution has been prolific," Amma told the Indian Express. "This legacy has to continue and grow with time. The forthcoming age should be dedicated to awakening universal motherhood. Women everywhere have to actualize the qualities of motherhood within themselves. This is the only way to realize our dream of peace and harmony. And it can be done! It is entirely up to us. Let us remember that real leadership is not to dominate or to control, but to serve others with love and compassion, and to inspire women and men alike through the example of our lives."
In 2010, Amrita University organized the ACM-W Celebration of Women in Computing conference, the first ever conference of its kind in India. The conference drew 800 delegates from around the globe, including prominent women in computing from the United States, such as keynote speakers Rema Padman of Carnegie Mellon University and Radha Nandakumar of the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign.
Amma believes that in today's world, women's empowerment must begin with a woman being financially independent. To this end, Amma has established Amritasree, a network of 6,000 self-help groups providing women with vocational education, startup capital, marketing assistance and access to microcredit loans and micro-savings accounts from government-regulated banks. As a result, nearly 100,000 women have been equipped with the skills and means to set up small-scale businesses.
Amrita University is also ushering in a new era for the empowerment of socially and economically weaker sections of women in India by taking computer aided vocational training courses to villages using technology-aided mobile vehicles known as Mobile Vocational Education. The solar powered MoVE units typically contain 20 computers through which students are trained in vocational skills using haptic technology.
Amma is currently providing for the minimum needs of over a million elderly and destitute women through distributing pensions. Another scheme she recently launched seeks to train 100,000 home nurses to help provide care for the elderly. Amma also distributes scholarships to poor children, especially girls, and those who are afflicted by the suicide of their farmer parents.
"Even if women are socially and financially empowered, for their full potential to be realized, it is very important that they believe in themselves," she said. "It will be difficult for a dancer to dance on a stage that is continuously shaking. In a similar way, for women to achieve true success, the foundation should be self-confidence."
Amma was born into a fisherman family in a remote village in Kerala and has had no formal education past the fourth grade. With no financial resources or support from family or people around her, Amma had to overcome innumerable difficulties virtually on her own to become the person she is today.
Currently, Amma has millions of well-wishers who are inspired by her life and teachings. She has received many prestigious awards such as the Gandhi-King Award for non-violence by the United Nations and an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from the State University of New York. Amma has addressed the United Nations twice, and has also been the keynote speaker at the World Parliament of Religions.
Amma will be at the Best Western in Marlborough, Mass. on July 15 at 10 a.m. and 7:30 p.m. and July 18 at 7 p.m. to host a number of free programs that will include music, meditation, spiritual discourse and personal blessings.
For more information visit www.ammanewengland.org/tour.