Survived by a wheelchair and an iridescent spirit, Bente Haulund Madsen works for the poor

Survived by a wheelchair and a heart of gold, Bente Haulund Madsen traveled all the way to India, out of curiosity over Shabana Azmi and Late poet Kaifi Azmi's Mijwan Welfare Society.

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Survived by a wheelchair and an iridescent spirit, Bente Haulund Madsen works for the poor

There lives in Denmark, a die-hard fan of the father daughter duo of Kaifi and Shabana Azmi. When Kaifi Azmi visited his hometown of Mijwan in Azamgarh after suffering a paralytic stroke, and founded the Mijwan Welfare Society- something told Bente Haulund Madsen that her disability too was just another  part of  existence. Survived by a wheelchair and an iridescent spirit and a heart of gold, she decided to lead a movement that would join Denmark in Solidarity towards fighting poverty in Mijwan. Here is her inspiring account of her journey across Europe, to India- in the pursuit of everyone’s happiness. As interviewed by Binjal Shah 


Would you share some of the turning points in your journey with us - what inspired you to go down the path of service, and what made you stumble upon Mijwan Welfare Society?

In Denmark we have a long tradition in having organizations and most citizens are members of one or more organizations. The Deaf culture that I grew up in, because my parents are deaf, has a strong network with many activities, so it was natural for me to join many associations, especially women's movements, from a very young age.

I love Shabana Azmi’s movie so I Googled her, and MWS popped up arousing my curiosity. I got in touch with Shabana, and she immediately accepted! I stayed in Mijwan for two months, to get under its skin. I had many experiences, difficult- especially studying the girls and women there- but mostly wonderful.

I am always honored and humbled when people tell me their stories. Both Shabana and her father Late Kaifi Azmi, who founded the MWS, have been inspiring.  Shabana is like a super nova, she would be in two-places at once if she could. And Kaifi Azmi, a disabled person who did so much- helped me when I got my disability. My identity changed from being a disabled person to just a person with a disability. It was one of the best experiences of my life.

Tell us a little bit about your work. Which of MWS’ initiatives and causes do you feel most strongly for?

Because of the experiences I had in Mijwan, the capable leadership Shabana Azmi and her goddaughter Namrata Goyal-  the tremendously competent Youth President of MWS- I felt great passion towards founding the Denmark-Mijwan Friendship Association. DMFA's objective is to disseminate knowledge of MWS and MIjwan, make arrangements for the benefit of Mijwan, and Kaifi Azmi College.


I did so, because I feel strongly about the cause of literacy- Education is one of the important ways out of poverty and disparagement.  Through my upbringing among deaf people I have seen how life-changing education is. Poverty is a global problem and responsibility.


Running an NGO must be more than a full-time job. Did you have a strong support system to egg you on to work your way around your disabilities?

In Denmark, the President and the rest of the board of an association have equal responsibility; because of my disability, I need a wheelchair most of the time. I get a pension from the state- which is enough to live on. I spend all the time I can, for Mijwan, as I have understanding and wonderful family and friends.

I just pursue my dreams passionately. But I have learned that this is not the norm for a woman, especially of my age. The attention and responses I have gotten, especially from women are so heartwarming and encouraging – like 'how daring of you to travel all the way to Mijwan alone for two months at your age', and 'of course, we still have dreams at this age, but we wouldn’t have thought of this.'



 Having interacted with women in pockets of Denmark through your line of work, what revelations have you witnessed? How has your perspective evolved in the process?

Although we are protected by law, I have found that we are one of the European countries with the largest number of women who are victims of violence and rape. It is necessary to change the mindset about women. Yet, since the 70s, the women's movement in Denmark had some landmark reforms by the law, giving women and men a new identity.

For instance, when I was travelling across Europe for 4 months with my students, to help them choose their own subjects, our bus broke down. We all had to be able to repair the buses, or we could not have completed the journey. In my opinion - all women should learn to use tools and men should learn to knit- we need to individually find our own identity, through opportunities and capabilities.

What are the mantras that you have followed through your life that you would like to share with the aspiring women of today?

Don't be afraid to be different, the barriers is our mindset, release yourself.

Shabana Azmi Shethepeople kaifi azmi bente haulund madsen