Hella Mundhra was born in 1939 at Hameln, Germany. Growing up during the war years and deeply shocked and disturbed by the cruelties in her own country under the Hitler regime, she developed a feeling of guilt for being part of the people, who had brought such unimaginable suffering to the 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 in her teens that in her own life she would struggle 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 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.
In the 70s Hella and her family put down their roots in Bangalore. Here, they set up the Ashok Nursing Home offering medical services to all people, irrespective of whether they could pay or not. Soon, Hella also began health camps in nearby slum areas. What she saw disturbed her deeply. Unable to change the situation as a 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. Critically sick children were admitted to the Nursing Home to be nursed back to life in many months of intensive treatment. In this process her original vision emerged again, which was to engage 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 started 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 guide 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 was 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. Over the years under the influence of Anand, a God-sent person to take over the local leadership, a Vocational Training Centre and a Child Care Centre were created. Coming from a poverty-stricken family of the agricultural society he had been brought up by Don Bosco Brothers, who instilled in him a deep love and concern for the underprivileged child. Thus Anand’s aims and aspirations blended ideally with Hella’s ideas. It was this combination of two personalities who complemented each other perfectly due to a deep respect and admiration for each other’s thinking that Shishu Mandir could grow into the organisation, which it became. The warmth between all members of the organisation, giving respect to all and allowing everyone to speak on the same eye-level has made Shishu Mandir an outstanding organisation, where everyone feels like a part of a family. Though Hella lives in Germany, much of her day goes into the development of Shishu, and every few months she visits 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 and “Anand Sir” as its guiding force, who holds the reins firmly in his hands.