Upadhya, also known as Sister Jessie, or Didi by the local people, is a
Christian Sannyasin who has devoted her life to a program she calls Massihi
Gyanjyoti Abhiyan ("Campaign for Awakening Wisdom").
Before beginning the campaign for Awakening Wisdom, Sister Jessie spent 9 years with the Sisters of Notre Dame as a teacher and social worker. During that period, Sister Jessie found that her calling was to help the poorest and most illiterate in India. Specifically, she wanted to be with the people belonging to the lowest caste, the Mussaher (Harijans), in Bihar, the poorest state of India.
Upon leaving the Sisters of Notre Dame, Sr. Jessie began her work in Bodhgaya, the place where Buddha is said to have gained enlightenment 2500 years ago. For many years, she moved from village to village, giving children a basic education, showing women the importance of keeping their huts and surroundings clean, and living on what the people could provide for her.
It was not until the summer of 1999 that she had a place of her own. A few years before, some women from Switzerland provided financing to help her build something. An Ashram was built, which Sister Jessie called Massihi Gyanjyoti Ashram. This Ashram has since become her home, the village hospital and the teachers' training center.
Sister Jessie receives no financial help from the government but relies
primarily on aid from tourists and students who visit the area and her Ashram.
Once they see the work she is doing, they help her in any way they can.
For example, in 2000, a Canadian visitor, after noticing that there was
no public transportation in the interior, left the scooter he had been using,
for Sister Jessie's use. With such
generous supporters, she is able to continue her work in the villages.
But this leaves the local government suspicious that her objective is to
convert the people to Christianity. That
is not her aim. Dressed as a Sannyasin, Sr. Jessie practices Karma Yoga
and Nishkarma (Comteplation through action and actions without reward). She is guided by the teachings of Christ, Buddha and
Gandhi and accepts people of all religions.
Sister Jessie has set out to help the people of the lowest caste take ownership of their lives, their communities and their futures. To help them develop the skills necessary to improve their lives, Sister Jessie focuses her work on four fundamentals: literacy, environment, health and economy. These four together make up what she calls the Massihi Gyanjyoti Abhiyan.