By Jamuna Rangachari March 2010 The success of Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) across the globe, has allowed the ordinary citizen to take responsibility for the welfare of fellow human beings Transforming a Villageby Uma Garimella Sevalaya’ Murali has always taken the road less travelled. From what I had heard of him earlier, he had worked at Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) for the last 20 years – and yet had enough time and passion to spend every weekend at Sevalaya (he had only recently quit the job to devote all his time to the cause). When I came across an India Today article (Game Changers, July 27, 2009) mentioning him, I realised that he must have been pretty young – barely out of college – when he started it all, and not an ageing retiree on a social service spree. Murali (centre) with teachers at Sevalaya The philosophy It was a Subramanya Bharathi poem that inspired 11-year-old Murali – one that affirmed that a true Saraswati pooja would be to start free schools where there were none. He connected this with Vivekananda’s philosophy – if someone is hungry, then food is his God – and that of Mahatma Gandhi – India lives in its villages. Today, the campus lives and breathes the three philosophies, together referred to as BGV. An orphanage, an old-age home, a goshala, a medical centre, a craft centre and a library are part of Sevalaya. Services and philosophy extend beyond the campus. Sevalaya recently conducted a BGV philosophy course in the Coimbatore prison. Seminars on themes including prohibition, basic education and communal harmony are conducted regularly. Then and now Murali and five others founded Sevalaya on May 29, 1988, with five children and a small rented house in Sivanvoil village. Formal classes began in 1991. Having come a long way from there, the school now maintains a pass percentage close to 100 per cent in the X and the XII board exams. No ordinary feat this – we are talking of first-generation learners who come from illiterate families. Twenty-one years ago, children in Kasuva would work for meagre wages – in fields and brick kilns – and it was hard to convince villagers to send them to school. Today, Sevalaya gets 500 applications for 50 seats a year – mostly from among the poorest of the poor, who apply because they have actually seen Sevalaya change lives. The institution now teaches 1,050 children for free, 100 of its alumni are in colleges, and some have become software engineers and bank officers. Measures of success ‘I wouldn’t have, even in my dreams, thought that my son would one day become a software engineer and get into a big firm. I was just a peanut seller at Thiruninravur station. Sevalaya is solely responsible for my son’s growth,’ says Ilayaraja’s mother. IIayaraja, a Sevalaya student, now works for TCS and is also a trustee in Sevalaya. Indeed, in nearly 15 villages near Sevalaya, there is no child labour now – all children are in Sevalaya. Less alcohol is consumed in these places, and the use of hazardous industrial waste oil in the nearby brick kilns has stopped. Volunteerism is always in the air, with 50 to 60 youth engaged in community service at any given time. Still, Sevalaya has to contend with two challenges that every expanding organisation faces – raising funds, and hiring committed manpower. Sevalaya University in sight? When Sevalaya was an elementary school, there were drop-outs after the fifth grade, and when it was upgraded to high school, students dropped out after the tenth grade. Then, the higher secondary school came up, and now, bright students are funded for college. Sevalaya supports the higher education of about 100, with 20 in engineering colleges. Murali feels that running their own university might be not only cost-effective but also more relevant, with job-oriented courses To know more about Sevalaya, visit: http://www.sevalaya.org/home.html Polishing gems from the streets of MumbaiLed by the gentle and serene Father Fonseca Placido, Sneha Sadan, which translates as a house of love, provides a haven to children lost in the streets of Mumbai. “Where is Sneha Sadan,” I asked a young man on the road trying to find the place. I was in an auto. He smiled and said he was heading there too. I asked him to get in and we begin to chat. “This is my real home,” he said, with a smile. He had come to the organisation as a young boy who ran away from his home in Andhra around 15 years back. Though he never really undertook formal studies, he trained to be a mechanic, was employed with a technical company for a while and then came back to Sneha Sadan, his first home. Such stories abound in this haven, which provides succour to many in the streets of Mumbai. Providing a bedrock of support “A family is the bedrock of society and the little ones are often misled, deprived and ignored by many of us,” says Father, whose first priority is to reunite the children with their parents, if it can be done. At the contact centre, usually the first place a child comes to, the aim is to make the children comfortable, knowing they have a place to turn to. Some of them do not really take to studies, as they have tasted freedom, and don’t realise that studying will help them in the long run. Those who do come regularly are reunited, rehabilitated or put through formal school. They are encouraged to follow their own traditions, and when their origins or traditions are not known, they take a decision only after careful thought. Sangeeta Punekar, a social worker at the place, explains how they try to use different models in different places, all in the best interest of the child. “Some communities are open to bringing up the child in his or her own place, and if so, we enable that,” she says. With 16 centres all over Mumbai today, Father Placido gives full credit to the vision of Father Ricardo Frances, SJ, the founder of the institution, who was very keen on providing a haven to the underprivileged. Polishing gems This is a complex issue, however, which cannot be resolved by one person alone, he realises and hopes the day arrives when all children are noticed and nourished. “Every life is precious, yours, mine and the street child’s. If we would look at them and listen to them, they would become visible again,” says Father, who is spending all his waking hours polishing these gems. Sneha Sadan – some facts The organisation has over 16 centres all over Mumbai. The contact centres are at Chatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST) and Borivli and there are 15 centres all over Mumbai and one at Lonavla. Father Fonseca Placido was also on the think tank of the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) to set up the childline service. He has been on the expert committee to frame the law for children in India called Juvenile Justice Act. He has also pioneered the concept of Corporate Social Consciousness, and was part of the think tank to develop Childline in India along with TISS. What we can do• Childline service links to all homes in India and it is a free service, • Call 1098 if you see children employed when they are not supposed to be. The reach has now extended to over 33 cities in India. • Follow up on the case and get involved when possible • If you can volunteer your time, don’t hesitate to do so. To know more about Sneha Sadan, visit: http://www.snehasadan.org The Magic TrainWorking in areas that most certainly need help, Impact India’s Lifeline Express and Community Health programme is being seen as a role model in many parts of the world. “When I see the smile of a child who has had a cleft lip surgery, it is the best reward I can expect,” says Zelma. Sharing her journey of being sent by the Tata group (Voltas) to manage the project, she agrees that professional services and time are the best help a company or even an individual could offer. “From my side, I never lose hope and optimism, and I have been amply supported by all the team members.” I walk across to meet a couple of the team members, Olga Monteiro and Neelam Kshirsagar. Olga avers that working late and hard has never been an issue. Seeing the poor benefit has brought in tremendous rewards. Jadu ki Gadi Indeed, that is the way Impact India functions. So great are the benefits and the success of their projects that Impact India has been invited to extend consultancy services, for similar ventures in other countries of the developing world! “The Magic Train” – Jadu ki Gadi as it is also known as, was launched on July 16, 1991, and so far over 500,000 Indians have benefitted from this amazing project. The Lifeline Express has miraculously brought medical service to thousands of poor and deprived people in India, and has helped them to regain their eyesight, their hearing, their very health, and all this entirely free of cost! This hospital on rails travels to remote parts of India with a medical team and other railway staff, who offer their services entirely free. The doctors and nurses are a committed lot, and work long hours to treat as many patients as possible. The modus operandi of the Lifeline Express is as follows: It arrives at a particular railway station in a remote part of our country, and remains on the siding platform for a 30-day duration. The people in the surrounding villages are informed days in advance about the arrival of the Jadu ki Gadi through various means such as the town crier with his drum, distributing leaflets, and a megaphone on a cycle rickshaw. Those people who are suffering from disabilities and illnesses start converging, with family members in tow, to the train from all directions. First they go through a check-up, where the doctors decide upon the
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