Dentistry is an intimate profession, requiring a dentist to have the closest physical contact with his or her patients. It is testament to the transformative power of education that an individual like Mahesh Pednekar, whose very caste prohibits touch altogether, could establish himself in such work.
Mahesh was born a Dalit. When he was 13 his mother died from tuberculosis, and his father from alcoholism.
At this time he was working as a home help, accepting payment in the form of leftovers for himself and his family.This was often the only food in his home. Faced with this situation most children would have abandoned their education completely, but Mahesh studied diligently with the attitude: 'If you don't study you don't get a better life.'
When he was 15 Mahesh was offered a place in Karuna's hostel for boys in Goa, and in this environment he found he could concentrate on his studies. His exam results improved and hostel staff encouraged him to apply to college.
Mahesh Pednekar is now a fully-qualified dentist with a private clinic in Goa, offering low-cost treatment to those in need, and free checks for students at the hostel where he felt at home for so many years; but it was far from easy for him to get into college.
He applied to the local educational loans office for help, but he had no birth or caste certificates. Without official documentation it is difficult for Dalits to enter government schemes.Mahesh remembers loan officials telling him: "You poor people always want help."
It required determination, clear-sightedness, and the help of many friends, for Mahesh to complete his education and raise himself out of his circumstances.
Only with your generosity was he able to do so.
"India is not a rich country and untouchability does still exist," Mahesh says. "I’ve experienced it. This is why so many Dalit students drop out of school.
"Caste still perpetuates itself within Indian society, and affects Dalits on many levels. Sometimes it appears through the subtle or overt abuse of power, but it can also explode in the shocking violence of caste atrocities.
Anyone who visits India can see for themselves that many people still live in desperate poverty, especially in Dalit and other low-caste communities.
Education is a fundamental aspect of Karuna's work in India, to help disadvantaged children not only go to school, but also to stay in school. With this help they can lift themselves out of the legacy of prejudice and oppression, and the poverty that coexists alongside it.
"I am so grateful to Karuna supporters," Mahesh says. "Without your help we would not have the support to study."