Few of her awards:
* 2010 - Ahilyabai Holkar Award, given by the Government of Maharashtra to social workers in the
field of woman and child welfare 
* 2008 - Woman of the Year Award, given by daily Marathi newspaper Loksatta
* Sahyadri Hirkani Award (Marathi: सह्याद्रीची हिरकणी पुरस्कार)
* Rajai Award (Marathi: राजाई पुरस्कार)
* Shivlila Mahila Gourav Award (Marathi: शिवलीला महिला गौरव पुरस्कार)
हम अक्सर शिकायत करते हैं कि अगर हमें सुविधाएं मिलती तो हम भी कुछ बन कर दिखा देते। पर अगर हम अपने आस-पास ध्यान से देखें तो हमें ऐसे अनेक लोग मिल जाएंगे, जिनके पास सुविधा नाम की कोई चीज नहीं थी, पर उन्होंने वह काम कर दिखाया जो सभी सुविधाओं को होते हुए भी हम नहीं कर पाते हैं। ऐसा ही एक नाम है सिंधुताई सपकाल का।
पूर्वी महाराष्ट्र के नवरगांव के गरीब चरवाहा परिवार में जन्मी 62 वर्षीय सिंधुताई सपकाल ने सिर्फ कक्षा चार तक ही शिक्षा प्राप्त की है। सिंधुताई को प्यार से सभी माई कह कर बुलाते हैं। सिंधुताई से माई तक का यह सफर कांटों भरा था। उस समय की परंम्परा के अनुसार सिंधुताई का विवाह 9 वर्ष की अल्प आयु में 30 वर्ष के युवक के साथ कर दिया गया था। सिंधुताई को पढ़ने का बहुत शौक था। इसलिए जिस पेपर में पति सामान लपेट कर घर लाते, सामान रखने के बाद वह उसे पढ़ने लगती। पति को उनकी यह बात कभी अच्छी नहीं लगती थी, इसलिए अक्सर उन्हें इस अपराध के लिए पति के हाथों पिटाई सहनी पड़ती। सिंधुताई कहती है कि ऐसा इसलिए होता था क्योंकि पति को लगता था कि इस तरह मैं उन्हें नीचा दिखाना चाहती हूं, जबकि ऐसा था नहीं, मैं सिर्फ और सिर्फ पढ़ना चाहती थी बस!
तीन बेटों को जन्म देने के उपरांत चौथी बार जब वे गर्भवती हुई तो पति ने उन्हें छोड़ दिया। इसलिए चौथे बच्चे का जन्म जो बेटी थी एक गौशाला में हुआ। जहां उनकी देखभाल करने वाला कोई नहीं था इसलिए पास पड़े पत्थर से गर्भनाल काटना पड़ा। मां ने जब बेटी के बारे में सुना तो वे उसे और उसकी नवजात बेटी को अपने साथ ले गई। लेकिन उनके पास भी इतने साधन नहीं थे कि वे अपनी बेटी और नवासी का पालन-पोषण कर पातीं। अपनी जीविका चलाने के लिए सिंधुताई सड़कों, रेलवे प्लेटफार्म और गाड़ियों में गाना गाकर भीख मांगती थीं। अपनी परिस्थितियों से तंग आकर उन्होंने दो बार आत्महत्या का भी प्रयास किया। पहली बार असफल रही। दूसरी बार जब वे आत्महत्या करने जा रही थी बेटी की रोने की आवाज ने उनके बढ़ते कदमों को रोक दिया और यही वह पल था जिसने उनकी पूरी सोच को बदल दिया तथा जीने का एक उद्देश्य भी दे दिया। उन्होंने निश्चय किया कि उन्हें न सिर्फ अपनी बेटी ममता के लिए बल्कि उस जैसे अनेक बच्चों के लिए जीना है, जिन्हें समाज अपनाने को तैयार नहीं है।
पिछले तीस सालों में सिंधु ताई 1000 से ज्यादा अनाथ और अनचाहे बच्चों का पालन-पोषण बहुत ही संघर्ष पूर्ण जीवन जीते हुए किया है। इसके लिए उन्होंने वह सब कुछ किया जो वह अपनी बेटी को पालने के लिए करती थी। कई ऐसे मौके भी आए जब अपने बच्चों का पेट पालने के लिए उनके पास पर्याप्त पैसे नहीं होते थे, तब छोटे बच्चों के दूध में पानी मिला देती थी और बड़े बच्चों के खाने में सब्जियों की कटौती होती थी।
सिंधुताई के इतने बड़े परिवार को चलाने के लिए कोई व्यवसायिक प्रबंधन कार्य नहीं करता बल्कि उन्ही के परिवार के तीस बच्चे जिनकी उम्र तीस वर्ष या उससे थोड़ी ज्यादा है इसे चलाने में माई की मदद करते हैं।
अन्नत महादेवन की फिल्म मी सिंधुताई सपकाल ने अचानक उन्हें पूरी दुनिया में लोकप्रिय बना दिया है। आज वे लोगों की प्रेरणा स्त्रोत बन गई है। देश-विदेश में लोग उन्हें भाषण देने के लिए आमंत्रित कर रहे हैं। उनके भाषण जीवन को प्रेरणा देने वाले गानों से भरे होते हैं। वे कहती है कि भाषण दिए बिना राशन नहीं मिलता। वे अपने हर भाषण में अपने बच्चों के घर और राशन के लिए अनुदान मांगती हैं।
She has nurtured more than 1000s of orphaned children and transformed them into doctors, engineers, lawyers and well educated people. She has taken on a dreaded mission that most would not dream ,if they were in abject poverty, hungry, beaten & abandoned by her husband when pregnant and absolutely destitute…
She is none other than Sindhutai Sapkal & also known as Mother of Orphans is an Indian social worker and social activist known particularly for her work for raising orphan children. She loves being called ‘Mai’.
Her nickname was ‘Chindi’ meaning ‘torn cloth’ in Marathi. She was named thus as an unwanted child. Her father, Abhiman Sathe was an illiterate cowherd in Pimpri who was keen on educating her, much against his wife's wishes. So every day on the pretext of sending her out to graze the cattle, he would pack her off to the village school. She could only attend school until 4th grade. She was brought up in abject poverty. "There was no money to buy a slate," recalls Sindhu. "I practiced the alphabet on thick, palm-sized leaves of the bharadi tree, using its thorns to write."
Marriage at the age of 10 put an end to her education. The groom, Shrihari Sapkal, alias Harbaji, was 30. "I was told there are only two processions in a woman's life. Once when she gets married and the other when she dies. Imagine my state of mind when they took me in procession to my husband's home in Navargaon forest in Wardha," says Sindhu tai. In course of time, she bore three sons.
Sindhu tai created a sensation in Navargaon in 1972 when she demanded that the forest department pay the village women for the cow dung they collected. The department used to auction the dung to landlords and pocket the cash. "We won the fight," says Sindhu tai.The taste of success was sweet, but it broke up her family. She claims that an annoyed landlord, Damdaji Asatkar, spread the rumour that the child she was carrying was his. "My husband decided to abandon me," says Sindhu tai. She was beaten up and dumped in a cow shed, where her daughter, Mamata, was born. "It was October 14, 1973," Sindhu tai intones. "I cut the umbilical cord with a sharp-edged stone lying nearby."
She later sought shelter at her parental home, but her mother did not accept her and instead told her to go and die on the railway line. Sindhu tai wandered from town to town, singing and begging near temples. In Faijpur, Jalgaon district, she left Mamata in the care of a temple priest's family while she moved around singing bhajans. "Those were the days of soul-searching. I began feeling I must do something for those suffering like me." she said.
Then one day as she was begging for bhakri(bajra roti) to feed herself and her 2 year old daughter and wandering in the scorching sun for long, she was so exhausted that she almost decided to commit suicide with her 2 yr old tied to her stomach. She was standing under a tree and suddenly its stem caught her attention; she noticed that it was badly axed but it was still giving her shade. She almost screamed ‘No I will not die.’ She hit upon a plan to take care of orphaned less privileged children of Adivasis.
The idea was just taking root when she found herself in Chikhaldara. A section of the Melghat jungles on the border of Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh had been earmarked for a tiger project. It meant people from 84 villages would have to be evacuated. "I reached there on a very dramatic day," says Sindhu. A project officer impounded 132 cows of the Adivasi villagers of Koha. "For three days he did not free them; one cow died. The Adivasis stood looking at their cows helplessly. That day I decided to take up their cause." Adivasis are primitive tribal groups which live in utter poverty, have low levels of literacy and health and are a result of severe feud since 18th century.
Sindhu tai fought for the rehabilitation of the 84 villages. In the course of her agitation, she met Chhedilal Gupta, the then minister of forests. He agreed that the villagers ought not to be displaced before the government had made appropriate arrangements at alternative sites. When Prime Minister Indira Gandhi arrived to inaugurate the tiger project, Sindhu tai showed her photographs of an Adivasi who had lost his eyes to a wild bear. "I told her that the forest department paid compensation if a cow or a hen was killed by a wild animal, so why not a human being? She immediately ordered compensation."
Those things made people look at her with admiration.
Soon she realized the plight of orphaned and abandoned Adivasi children. Initially she took care of the children in return for some meager food. Looking after them was a source of livelihood. It didn't take long for it to become the mission of her life. She later donated her biological child to the trust Shrimant Dagdu sheth halwai, Pune, only to eliminate the feeling of partiality between her daughter and the adopted ones.
Many of the children that she adopted are well educated lawyers and doctors, and some including her biological daughter are running their independent orphanages. One of her child is doing PHD on her life. Till date she is honored by 272 awards. She used all that money to buy land to make home for her orphan children. She has started construction and still looking for more help from the world.
‘Oh God, teach us how to laugh; but let us not forget that we had also cried once upon a time.'
These words are etched on the wall behind Sindhu tai's chair at the Sanmati Bal Niketan, Hadapsar, Pune.
Beginning with her first ashram at Chikhaldara in Amravati district, Sindhu Tai went on to set up five homes.
A home for destitute women, The Nadarmai Mahila Adhar Kendra, functions out of the same building that houses orphans at Chikhaldara. Her homes survive on donations and grants, and she unabashedly begs in village after village to put whatever they can into a cloth she spreads out on a table after her speech.
Today Sindhu tai proudly states that she has 36 daughters-in-law and 177 sons-in-law. Most of her children are well placed in life. Sham Randive is a lecturer in history at Mhasvad in Satara district. Seema Kokare is an Ayurvedic doctor and settled in Aurangabad. The list goes on. But at 61, Sindhu tai says she still has plenty more to accomplish. "Let me tell you I am not Devaki who gave birth to Lord Krishna, I am just trying to be a perfect Yashoda."
This mother's ability to work is just amazing. She can work tirelessly for 8-10 days at a stretch. There have been times when she has travelled throughout the fortnight, came home for a while and then set out again. She is ever willing to respond to a plea for help from an orphan or a destitute. She refuses to take any rest saying she cannot afford to till every institution she started becomes self-sufficient.