Arama Features Usha Shah (nee Jani)
What a privilege it is for us to do a feature on Ushaben, someone who has played a big role in so many people’s lives. This elegant lady who is almost always draped in a sari has a brilliant sense of humour and loves to laugh! She’s so cool and moves with the times – did you know she can whatsapp in 4 languages – English, Kiswahili, Gujarati and Hindi? Read on to find out more…
Name: Usha Shah (nee Jani)
Marital Status: Married (for 55 years)
Her Fam Jam: She met her husband, Shanti, when she was 18; after dating for 5 years they got married. She says she is very lucky – her husband has always supported her in everything she has done and given her the space and independence she needed to thrive and grow! They have 3 sons, 3 daughters in law and 7 lovely grandchildren.
A bit about Ushaben’s career: She started her teaching career when she was only 16! She taught at Visa Oshwal Primary School (VOPS) for 20 years.
She then joined the Hindu Council of Kenya and in 1994/1995 became the Chairperson. To date she is the only lady to have held that position – that is IMPRESSIVE! During her tenure, they established a syllabus in Hindu Religious Education (Kenya was the first country to have an official syllabus in Hindu religion).
Over the years she has helped many people in various ways and continues to do so. She has received an award from the Queen – the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE) for her service to community.
A week in the life of Ushaben: She is currently the head of Karuna Charitable Trust and is the chairperson of the Theosophical Society of Kenya. Through both these organisations she is involved in a vast amount of charity work:
- Karuna school in Mathare serves 350 children
- Pay fees for tertiary education for numerous other students
- Feed 500 children every single day in schools in Mathare and Kibera
- Donated boreholes and food in various parts of Kenya
- Women Empowerment Programme which strives to make women independent.
After all that, she also finds the time to get involved with social and charitable groups and organisaitons.
What does a typical week in her life look like?
- Monday – help people with social problems like domestic violence. Also advise on documentation for British immigration/visas
- Tuesday – Karuna activity
- Wednesday – Social community gathering – with other ladies (some dancing is involved if Ushaben is around!)
- Thursday – Karuna work or other social work (similar to Monday)
- Friday – Gujarati class for little children
- Saturday – Theosophical meeting where she often presents talks on subjects like Living Life Positively, Traditions & Culture and Literature & Poetry. Every Saturday her entire family comes over for a meal
- Sunday – meetings in the morning, catch up on emails and spend time with family.
She loves to nap but rarely gets a chance to!
Not sure how she manages but she is currently doing an online diploma in Theosophy too!!
Her Hobbies and Interests:
This a fascinating list:
- Cooking – every day! Her speciality is Gujarati food (YUM!!!).
- Crochets, knits and does embroidery
- Reads alot – anything
- WHATSAPP, GOOGLE and FACEBOOK
- Addicted to Spider Solitaire
- Loves to dance – to anything – she’s not fussy!
- Letter writing – she writes letters every Monday.
- Creative writing – about anything and everything (we’re convincing her to publish some of her work, her response was JOSU – WE’LL SEE)
How does she do all this stuff?!
Wakes up at 7 am and sleeps at 1 am – and every minute of her waking hours is spent doing something. Whatever she does she does with her full heart!
She’s very spontaneous – even on the eve of 80 years old! She says YOU’RE ONLY GOING TO DIE ONCE – SO MAKE THE MOST OF IT!
Her most vivid memory as a young girl?
Playing games like ambda pipi and marbles (she was an expert), climbing trees. She remembers the simple life in Nairobi.
Being a Kenyan citizen (finally) and being able to vote. She cried when she got her citizenship certificate at Nyayo House.
Her future plans?
She would love to have a mobile soup kitchen and a mobile library. She used run a mobile library under a tree – in New Muthaiga where she used to read to about 50 children from Gachie.
Her message to those under 60?
She admires young people – says they are very intelligent. But asks them to direct some of their energy to social work. She also asks that they spend time discovering their culture and religion – not in the conventional and ritualistic sense but the true essence of religion (which she believes is to touch the lives of all living creatures).
Life Lows? None! All lows have led her to highs. She wanted to be a doctor but couldn’t – but who cares?
Life Highs? Each day of her life – filled with happiness, laughter, meeting people (young and old)