Community champion Prabha Shetty
Community champion Prabha Shetty
An inspiring local hero
Prabha Shetty is a true community hero and was nominated in our awards for her work for Milaap. But that is not all this remarkable woman does for the local community. We find out more…
“I usually say I wear different hats when it comes to my voluntary work. I am passionate about serving the community. But I hasten to add that it is not all altruistic because I get a big buzz and satisfaction from helping those who are not as fortunate,” she says. “The small but meaningful changes I can make to people’s lives is a big reward for me.”
Even so, the time and dedication she puts into her roles is phenomenal. She has volunteered with the Milaap Multicultural Day Centre for 31 years, and been elected chair on and off for about 15 years. Milaap provides Day Care services for older people which includes freshly cooked meals, transport, and activities like Yoga and Ki Gong. “Our members, who live in and around Kingston, come from different ethnic backgrounds. The majority are from BAME communities as many of them cannot join mainstream centres due to language, dietary and cultural needs. This is a much needed service as it adds quality to their lives. It prevents older people from being lonely, excluded and socially isolated. It enables them to make friends, build relationships and have a sense of belonging, purpose and self- worth,” says Prabha.
As the pandemic took hold across our communities, without the dedication of people like Prabha, the world would have been a lot bleaker place as we faced such a huge challenge. “Sharing what I have and offering physical support to collect medicines and shopping for people who were shielding or self -isolating has given me and many others I’m sure, an even greater sense of purpose, feel good factor and an ethos of community spirit never before witnessed in the seven decades of my life. The best thing it’s done (thanks to a lot of patience and hard work) for many of my Milaap members (aged 65-90) is up skilled them. I will go so far as saying they feel enlightened by the new skills of becoming tech savvy that they never thought possible. Their lives and those of their extended families are enriched in a very meaningful way and what a pleasure it is to see them practising their newly acquired skills whilst using their new tablets and smart phones which we purchased with support from the National Lottery, to use WhatsApp, Skype, Face Time, Zoom and other social media platforms to participate in activities and connect with family and friends.”
Prabha’s other voluntary work includes supporting the Kingston Race and Equalities Council (KREC) and she has been a Trustee Board member for 20 years, mostly as Chair of the Project Board within KREC overseeing all the projects it does locally and nationally. “Equalities and Human Rights should be everyone’s entitlement but sadly we all know it isn’t. Therefore, we as activists, need to fight for the people who don’t have a voice. Although legislation plays a part in preventing overt discrimination we all know that mindsets cannot be changed by force. We therefore find creative ways to raise awareness and celebrate both our similarities and our differences. We do projects that bring people from all our communities together.”
One of the best-known projects it does is the Kingston Carnival. “It brings in thousands of people from Kingston and the surrounding areas to have fun, share exotic foods from around the world, dance to the beats of different music and learn about each other so we can live harmoniously,” she says.
Sadly, due to the pandemic, it had to be cancelled this year. “We were all gutted when we had to make the decision to cancel. We had hundreds of messages from the public saying how much they would miss it as it was a highlight of the year for many people especially families who appreciated the efforts we made to ensure it was not only outstanding but a safe, family event.
“We are definitely hoping to go ahead next year as Kingston Carnival will celebrate its 21st birthday – the demise of COVID and Government guidance permitting obviously. God willing I aspire for this 70 year old body with the mind of a spring chicken to have the stamina to make it an even more entertaining event than before!”
KREC’s other activities include Bike Across Cultures and All Nations Projects like football and cricket to more strategic policy events such as Hate Crime Awareness Week, Black History Month, Human Rights campaigns and more recently the Black Lives Matter events.
The community can support the work of KREC (www.kingstonrec.org) by referring and reporting victims of Hate Crimes to the organisation. KREC provides advice, counselling, advocacy and mediation services for victims of all types of Hate Crimes, and supports people who suffer discrimination in employment to take their cases to Employment Tribunals.
Prabha is also a Trustee of Global Arts, promoting Arts and Culture from different parts of the world by organising events that showcase young people’s talents, and is an Independent Custody visitor, to help ensure that people in custody are treated fairly, which she has done for the last 20 years – this led to her being invited to join the Kingston Independent Advisory Group (IAG) and subsequently the Met Police Race IAG.
Her incredible charity work was preceded by her impressive accomplishments in her career – and personally, spurring her three children, one of which has disabilities due to cerebral palsy, on to great achievements. Originally from Mumbai, she married at 16 and moved to the UK. With her husband, she worked in their contact lens and opticians business, training to become a technician. When he moved back to India, she stayed and when her children were themselves studying in higher education, she returned to her studies, working hard to gain her BSc, MSc and Post-Graduation and Leadership training qualifications, focussing on psychology, and social work.
But she is ever-modest and is reluctant to blow her own trumpet. “I don’t think I have achieved anything that other people couldn’t achieve if they have the drive, motivation, resilience, inner strength and be willing to put in some hard work. I am a great believer in the fact that nothing in this world is for free. We get out of life what we put in – good, bad or nothing – the choice is ours!”