An NGO to her name was only the beginning for this Royal Air force dentist, Ajitha Sugnanam now travels far and remote in the service of people and charity.
Wing Commander Ajitha Sugnanam story is a remarkable tale in every sense from success to international travel, and joining the Royal Australian Air Force as a dentist allowed her life to navigate the route she wanted. Ajitha’s travels within RAFF taking her to people in need in remote locations was only possible with her experience back home in India, where she started her own NGO providing the health care and required support.
Originally born in Saudi Arabia to professional Indian parents, she was brought up in Caboolture before moving to Canada. They spent time in the Newfoundland Labrador province, and she graduated early from high school at the age of 16, eventually completing her degree in Dentistry at Griffith University, Australia, and joining the RAAF in 2010.
Ajitha’s parents had always given her everything she ever needed. Both her parents helped and pushed her to succeed, and so, it was a shock to them with her decision to join the military. “Of course, they have flipped hundred eighty since then, and they are now very proud of her. My father particularly had his reservations about me joining the military as an Indian heritage female, and when I passed my Officer Selection Board it caused some family tension” says Ajitha
People often say charity is a selfless act. She honestly believes that those who choose to volunteer or do philanthropic work, do it because it gives them a sense of fulfilment unable to be gained through other facets of life, so not selfless but truly fulfilling. She started doing charity work because it gave her a sense of purpose, surrounding her with like-minded, loving, giving people. Allowing her to concentrate on her efforts in an impactful manner with a team of unbelievable people. “When I focus on what others don’t have it’s hard not to be grateful for what I do have. The ripple effect of sense of community has made a profound impact on how I see the world and what I believe we can achieve together.”
Ajitha Sugnanam has spent the last ten years – and about a hundred thousand dollars of her own money – bringing health care and life skills to people in need in three continents.
Now the Indian Australian Wing Commander has registered her Esesson Foundation as a charity in Australia and is seeking donations to allow her to continue the work here, with vulnerable refugee children and families firmly in her sights.
“I want to make the Foundation more sustainable into the future and expand the work we have been able to do in places like India to help people in need here in Australia” she said.
Treating more than ten thousand people since Ajitha started doing this work during her leave in 2011, takes a lot of effort to put together groups of clinical staff who all donate their time and expertise and fund their travel to the locations they provide care.
By leaning on family and political connections in India and with support from medical equipment suppliers, colleagues and medical friends, the Esesson Foundation has run dental and women’s health clinics across the sub-continent. She has also led teams of volunteers to Vietnam, Cambodia, Mexico and Uganda.
Everything happened organically as one day a relative who was the principal of a school put Ajitha in front of a class full of young ladies and asked her to speak to them. From that experience, it became clear that there was a need for some of the other things they now provide. Since 2018 they have been providing nutrition and fitness coaching, and self-defence lessons which sadly many of them may be forced to use.
With the COVID-19 pandemic making it impossible to travel overseas, the foundation is now working with ACCESS Community Services to provide dental care to children at the Milpera State High School.
This is an area where there are some very long waiting lists, and this is a real problem for these kids who are facing a number of other challenges as new arrivals to Australia. If a child needs to wait for two years for dental treatment, they might end up losing their adult teeth before they are even adults.
“We will work with anyone who is among the neediest whether or not they are migrants or refugees – what matters to me is there is a group of people who need the kind of help we can provide their background isn’t what’s important” Ajitha points out.
As we ask her what is the future of women and any message for young aspiring leaders?
On that, she replies that the future for women is whatever we choose it to be. There are many women in the past who have set us up for success. Australia’s current trajectory is well on its way to equal opportunities. “My message to aspiring leaders is, “do not make the decision not to do something based on history, and make sure you have tried every avenue within your limits before you make a conscious decision that you believe you cannot do it, because otherwise, it just means you have not tired.”
Ajitha has served all over Australia and had been deployed to Afghanistan and the Middle East. She was recently promoted to Wing Commander, and completed her Masters in Clinical Dentistry – Oral Surgery at Griffith University
So, what’s next for this inspiring dentist?
She simply seals it with her academic curriculum, currently gaining a Masters in Defence Studies. She hopes to continue working for the Royal Australia Air Force, hopefully proving that she’s capable, while being exposed to opportunities that allow her to learn and manage complex issues in this large service-oriented organisation. In the long term, she hopes to increase the impact Esesson Foundation has by expanding the reach of its current programs while ensuring the impact is consistent and enduring.
Indeed, a story of a brave woman and her noble cause has definitely inspired us and we hope this beautiful story has inspired all our readers too. With that, we at G’day India wish Ajitha and her Esesson foundation the very best to reach new heights. We couldn’t help but quote Mother Teresa “Never worry about numbers. Help one person at a time and always start with the person nearest you.”
(By G’day India)
(The Esesson Foundation is a registered charity in Australia and India and donations are welcome via https://esesson.org/donate-now)