Students Reunite With Didi Maa During Newtown Visit

Published: July 16, 2018 at 12:00 am


Sadhvi Ritambharaji, known as Didi Maa, hugs Superintendent of Schools Dr Lorrie Rodrigue, left, during a welcoming event at Newtown Municipal Center on July 9. Resident Reena Sahani, second from right, and NHS science teacher Susan McConnell, right…
Sadhvi Ritambharaji, known as Didi Maa, hugs Superintendent of Schools Dr Lorrie Rodrigue, left, during a welcoming event at Newtown Municipal Center on July 9. Resident Reena Sahani, second from right, and NHS science teacher Susan McConnell, right, look on. (Bee Photo, Hallabeck)
Roughly three months after Newtown High School students traveled to India through the Newtown International Center for Education (NICE), Newtown welcomed Sadhvi Ritambharaji, known as Didi Maa, on July 9, when a welcoming event was held at Newtown Municipal Center.

Students who traveled in April were reunited with Didi Maa at the afternoon event, and all of the students in attendance dressed in colorful attire for the occasion. The girls wore saris.

Didi Maa leads the efforts at Vatsalya Gram, where the students visited three schools in April. According to its website (, Vatsalya Gram is a voluntary organization that provides homes for women in need, mothers and families for orphans, and vocational and life-training skills for women. Children also attend one of the three schools at Vatsalya Gram.

During the July 9 welcoming event, the students shared stories from their time in India. For the NICE trip, NHS science teacher Susan McConnell and resident Reena Sahani traveled with the students. Ms McConnell shared a presentation about the trip at the July 9 event, and Ms Sahani acted as an interpreter for Didi Maa, who shared stories and descriptions of Vatsalya Gram.

Superintendent of Schools Dr Lorrie Rodrigue said this was Didi Maa's second time visiting Newtown. Her first visit happened before the NICE relationship between NHS and Vatsalya Gram was finalized.

"This was the coordination of many people," said Dr Rodrigue, who presented Didi Maa with flowers.

Didi Maa then gave Dr Rodrigue a scarf.

Dr Rodrigue said that "everyone talks about kindness and compassion," but Didi Maa embodies those attributes. While visiting India, the NHS students, Dr Rodrigue said, were able to fully learn from that example. The students will remember what they experienced for the rest of their lives, she continued.

With Ms Sahani translating, Didi Maa described some of the efforts at Vatsalya Gram for the gathered crowed in the Newtown Municipal Center's Council Chambers. Vatsalya Gram, she said, is an attempt to bring three generations together to bond families. The women in the families are bonded for life.

Later, Didi Maa said the world needs Vatsalya Gram and its concept of giving to the needy and supporting the needy. Everyone, she continued, should work to instill love and support into their lives to create a better world. She asked everyone present to visit Vatsalya Gram to experience it, the way the NHS students did.

Looking back on the trip, Ms McConnell said, "My face would hurt from smiling when I saw our children interact with their children."

NHS students who traveled to India in April were Marc Carlson, Jackie Matthews, Danielle Johnson, Claire Dubois, Olivia Shull, Madison Wittmer, and Sophie Wolfman. While at Vatsalya Gram, the students stayed with families in the program. The NHS students also attended school at each of Vatsalya Gram's schools.

The students who attended the welcoming ceremony shared their experiences.

"I felt so much love from the families," said Olivia.

Jackie said the students did not need a shared language to communicate with the families.

"It wasn't a vacation; it was a learning experience," Jackie added.

After the welcoming ceremony, food was shared and everyone in attendance was encouraged to meet Didi Maa.

Didi Maa stayed with Ms Sahani's family while visiting Newtown for two days. During that time, Didi Maa also visited Newtown High School.

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This Week's Poll

Newtown Cultural Arts Commission is presenting or coordinating on six weeks of special events. Which event are you looking forward to the most? (Visit our Features page for a full story with details about all of these events.)

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Newtown Arts Festival weekend, September 15-16
50% (1 vote)
“An Evening of the Arts,” September 15
50% (1 vote)
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“The Main Street Replica Project,” launching September 25
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The 3rd Annual Newtown-Sandy Hook Restaurant Week, October 8-14
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Basket weaving workshop with Tina Puckett, October 13
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“Courageous Conversations in A Complex World,” October 17
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Live at ETH: David Wax Museum concert, October 19
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The 2nd Annual Fall Carnival at Fairfield Hills, October 19-21
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Connecticut Author’s Reading Series, October 21
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Natalie’s Open Mic, October 21
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“The Wordsmiths,” October 24
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Someday Cinema Series double feature screenings of “Bride of Frankenstein” and “The Beast with Five Fingers,” October 29
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Total votes: 2