An Irish lady in TN, a school, and an animal farm
Why did Amanda Murphy, a 28-year-old woman, leave her hometown of Belfast in Ireland to set up a school in faraway Thirumangalam in southern Tamil Nadu?
The answer lies in the simple question a small boy asked her at an orphanage in Madurai, which Murphy was visiting with her friend Anita Roddick in 1990, when the duo was undertaking some volunteer work while traveling through India.
At the 'Boys Town' orphanage, one of the children asked Amanda, "You speak so well, why don't you build us a school and teach us"?
Amused and moved at the same time, the former veterinary student replied, "Sweety, I am not a teacher and I don't have the money".
But 20 years down the line, Amanda has not only built a school for over 700 students in the area, she also runs a $2.5 million business which provides employment to over 1,000 locals in this Tamil Nadu town.
Reportage: A Ganesh Nadar
Image: Amanda Murphy with son Teddy
Photographs: A Ganesh Nadar
She runs a $2.5 million business
Before deciding to move to India, Amanda had completed two years at the Royal Veterinary College in London; she could not clear her exams in the third year as she was busy nursing her then boyfriend, who was suffering from multiple sclerosis.
Even after she returned to London, Amanda could not forget the boy's simple question. After dropping off her friend Anita at her residence, she sat in her car for nine hours, lost in thought.
The solution to her predicament came from an unexpected quarter. Anita's husband Gordon, who was the managing director of the 'Body Shop' line of products, saw her sitting there and asked her why she hadn't gone home.
After hearing her story, Gordon showed her a wooden massage roller. "Why don't you go back there," he said, "This particular wood is available there. Make me 2,000 rollers in six months. I will buy them from you. You can start building your school."
So Amanda quit her job in London, packed her bags, moved to Tamil Nadu and started making wooden massage rollers.
Soon, Amanda's modest carpentry unit to manufacture massage rollers diversified into the business of home furnishing. The company today also has a tailoring unit which makes bags from organic cotton clothes.
Image: The tailoring unit
A company with a difference
"There is a flow chain to ensure that everybody gets the benefits, nobody is exploited, there is no animal testing and no child labour," she explains passionately.
Amanda has been trying to make a difference and practice a policy of inclusiveness even while running her school and company.
Of the 700 children in her school, 80 are differently-abled, and have special teachers to help them. Forty personnel of her 1,000-odd workforce are differently-abled; ten of them are HIV positive.
Her three companies -- Teddy Exports, Murphy Products and Happy Wood -- employ nearly 600 women. The companies also have a day-time medical clinic with four doctors, two nurses and HIV counselors.
Amanda also has a farm section with its own staff, six horses, 50 dogs, ducks, hens and donkeys. "The farm section is for love. I keep many animals so that there is someone to love me," she says with a twinkle in her eyes.
She continues to take life head one with the same spirit and passion that made her shift continents and settle in India two decades ago. A car accident in 2002 killed her husband and left her in a wheelchair for three-and-a-half years, but she continues to fight on, running her school and companies with the same zeal.
Amanda has two daughters and one son, who study in a boarding school.
"If you think education is expensive, try ignorance,' states a slogan etched in large, bold letters across one of the walls of her school.
Amanda's personal cabin is surprisingly small for someone running such diverse and challenging operations. But the office space matters little, as it is easy to see that the lady has her heart in the right place.
Image: The furniture manufactured by Amanda's company