“True humanitarianism is when you work for all living beings be it animal or person.” Establishing a foundation for animals alongside being a qualified therapist, Ayesha Chundrigar is the epitome of humanitarianism. She was five when she started teaching the children of drivers and maids in her street. Her journey continued with teaching at schools in slums, visiting orphans and handling refugee camps. She attained qualifications in journalism and humanistic psychotherapy. Now at 28, she is the proud founder of Ayesha Chundrigar Foundation Animal Rescue where she rescues and rehabilitates around 200 various types of animals including cats, dogs and donkeys. Alongside her social work, she practices therapy, as well as provides free sessions for acid burn survivors, orphans and women in abusive relationships.
Obviously there have been ups and downs along the way. When Ayesha first initiated the foundation, she found little support as no one wanted to work with injured or stray animals. “It’s very difficult to keep trudging forward when you take one step forward and someone makes you take two steps back,” she explains. However, Ayesha’s mother has been her backbone, giving her endless support and freedom every step of the way, and for that Ayesha is truly grateful. “When I was 5 years old I would bring home random animals. She’d come home, see 10 chickens, and ask me what is this now? I was young and I would play with them and let them be so she would have to run after them. I had goats, cats, turtles and fish. Name it and I had it. I was always into humanitarian work. I would bring the children of drivers and maids from the entire neighbourhood to my house after school and try to teach them. I always thought it was very unfair that I got to learn and they didn’t. My mom would always make us snacks. She was very supportive like that.” She, along with her mom, would make Eid a big affair. They would celebrate Eid with orphans with mehndi and bangles.
Ayesha’s miracle moment was last year at her shelter’s opening. Her paralysed dogs ran around in wheelchairs, 3 legged dogs hopped around and everyone played with the animals. There was a lot of love and compassion in the air. According to Ayesha, “It was kind of like God had taken the mental image that I had made in my head when I was 5 years old and He had literally placed it in reality in front of me.” This shelter is now her ‘happy place’, where she can play with the animals and enjoy her work.
Being a therapist, hearing stories of orphans and abused women was emotionally challenging for Ayesha. “Every story made me want to cry.” She encountered a woman whose husband had thrown 4 bottles of acid on her. The woman felt like a candle with her skin melting off. These stories are hard to listen to, but even harder for the victims to tell. However, positive changes can be made in each person, by being empathetic and just talking to them. Ayesha claims everyone wants someone to listen to them. Everyone should allow themselves to show vulnerability. How does Ayesha deal with her vulnerabilities? “What I do is I pick myself up and I dust myself off and I carry on with life.”
Ayesha advices women to be self-aware, have principles, and be the reference point by which they view the world and set boundaries. Know who you are because only then can you be emotionally or financially independent. So far Ayesha is unstoppable. She is the beacon of hope for those who cannot speak, and an inspiration for those who can.