A mother herself, Benazir knows how badly all parents want their children to be well.
Benazir Patil, PhD, honors her own mother by connecting mothers-to-be and newborns in India with lifesaving information and care
Benazir Patil’s mother always had big dreams for her daughter. Get an education! Find a career! Make the world a better place!
“She was very clear right from childhood that I had to do something in life,” Benazir recalls fondly.
In an average Muslim household in Jalgaon, India, where parents at that time often didn’t consider educating their daughters, such encouragement wasn’t commonplace. Her mother’s determination ignited a spark inside Benazir. She completed a certificate course in geopolitics and international relations, then a bachelor’s degree in politics, then her master’s degree in social work. Now she leads some of PATH’s innovative work touching poor communities in India.
Love for her mother lights the way
When her mother died from illness when Benazir was 22, the spark grew to a beacon. “Because of her passing away, it became like a force behind me, that I could not let her down,” Benazir explains.
She returned to university for a PhD in public health policy and began working on projects across India with several international governments and agencies, including the European Union and the World Bank.
Her interests, like her determination, were also because of her mother. Benazir had always dreamt of working to improve society, she says, and moreover to improve the health of women in her country—women like her mother, who lost a baby due to complications from a pregnancy when Benazir was young. That childhood experience scared Benazir, and it stayed with her. If the health of mothers in well-off families was at risk, what were the health conditions like for Indian women living in poverty, she wondered? The answer: not so good.
Every mother’s wish
In 2006, Benazir joined PATH as the Maharashtra state coordinator for Sure Start, a project to improve the health of newborns and young pregnant women living in crowded urban slums and remote rural communities. PATH trains community health workers to reach out to women as soon as they miss their periods, encourage them to seek skilled care from a doctor or nurse, and teach the women and their families to safely care for their newborns.
The project is an opportunity to make positive changes that perhaps any mother can relate to, Benazir included. Like her mother, Benazir also had complications in her pregnancy: a last-minute hemorrhage that required an emergency Caesarian section. Fortunately, her son, now nine years old, was born healthy. Her love for the baby as it grew inside of her “made me realize how every mother feels when the baby grows in her womb,” she says—and how badly mothers want their children to be well.
The flame, that determination, inside Benazir doesn’t stop at her education or her career. In her family life, for example, she married a Hindu man—but kept her own Muslim religion even though tradition dictates that she convert to her husband’s beliefs. She took her ailing mother to Hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca, and cared for her in the last stages of her illness. She practices spirituality, she paints and creates art, she cherishes her close-knit group of friends, and she passionately believes in helping her country progress.
As her mother had hoped, Benazir has achieved big dreams, and now she’s helping other women realize their own.
Photo: Satvir Malhotra.