Our Founder

Hella Mundhra was born as Hella Brauns in Hameln, Germany. Growing up during the war years and deeply shocked and disturbed by the cruelties under the Hitler regime in her own country, she developed a feeling of guilt being part of the people who had brought such unimaginable suffering to the whole world. Under the influence of some of her high school teachers, strong, highly cultured, well-read women, who were committed to humanism and pacifism, Hella decided early on that in her own life she would contribute to abolish discrimination of any person on whatever basis and deepen respect and understanding among peoples. When Hella discovered the works of author Stefan Zweig and followed his life and works closely, she was again horrified at how much this gifted writer had suffered under Hitler´s torturous death machine. And this because he was a Jew. All of this made a deep impact on her mind that she connected herself more and more to pacifist ideas, choosing unity over divide and acceptance over intolerance.

Her school years in post-war Germany were marked by modest living to the point of miserliness. Her parents worked extremely hard and could provide whatever was needed, but they believed in being self-sufficient and Hella followed in their footsteps. Their garden provided most of what their meals needed. Not given to any excesses, Hella´s life was comfortably simple.

Hella´s introduction to India came, when she was a student and she was intrigued by the writings of Vinoba Bhave. She went on to marry a young Indian doctor named Dwarka Das Mundhra. Although Hella had planned for a career as a teacher, meeting Dwarka Das changed everything. When she knew that they would marry and live in India, she agreed to pursue medicine. Both were young, idealistic and yearned to be of service in a country, where it was sorely needed. Germany would have offered a comfortable, even luxurious, life, but the young couple opted for a life of service instead.

Hella and her family put down their roots in Bangalore in the 70s. Here, they set up the Ashok Nursing Home offering medical services to all people, irrespective of whether they could pay or not. Soon, patients from the nearby slums began to come here for medical treatment. Meanwhile Hella also began health camps in nearby slum areas. What she saw disturbed her deeply. Unable to change the situation on the whole, she chose to concentrate on the children who were born into these circumstances and whose lives seemed to spell hopelessness even before their birth.

To the nursing home, Hella admitted children who were on the verge of dying to nurse them back to life in many months of intense treatment. In this process her original vision emerged again, which was to deal with children and to shape their minds towards a better world. Thus was born Shishu Mandir, as a home for children.

Soon there were 16 children being looked after by Hella and her helpers. When they reached school-going age, they were admitted to private schools in the neighbourhood. Unhappy at the quality of education that even private schools offered, Hella went on to start an experimental school of her own. Today the Shishu Mandir School has grown in size, has beautiful buildings and a team of committed staff members.

In 1995, Hella returned to Germany. In the preceding years her marriage had ended and with most of her fundraising happening in Germany, she decided to shift there. She received support from Carolin, a young doctor and an early volunteer, who had been a part of Shishu Mandir from its inception. Together they set up the Shishu Mandir Society in Germany to formalise the fundraising efforts.

Hella´s vision for Shishu continues to determine the path for the organisation. She insists that the children´s inner growth remains the primary focus of the organisation. All activities and initiatives must ensure that the children receive comprehensive support from the Home and School. Hella´s dream is of a Shishu Family where children can learn and grow without fear and insecurities. Equally important are qualities of honesty, self-respect, responsibility and integrity. These are the foundations on which Shishu Mandir has been built.

In every aspect of Shishu Mandir´s working, Hella is closely involved, from the functioning of the Home to the teaching methodologies at the school and to every single village initiative. Living in Germany, much of her day goes into the workings of Shishu and every few months, she is here visiting her Shishu Family. It´s this attention to detail and a keen desire to ensure that the children can truly be enabled to a better life that makes all the difference. Shishu Mandir continues to run as a large family, with “Mama”, as Hella is fondly called by everyone, as its firm, yet loving head.