Sevadham: Inter-faith power

Sevadham: Inter-faith power

Since its inception in November 30, 1991, city-based NGO Sevadham has been organising programmes for the welfare of the poor, marginalised and deprived women and children. Its first project was a healthcare centre, which today operates independently, as do many other projects initiated by Sevadham in the past decade or so. The organisation works, or has worked, for the welfare of tribal children, convicted women serving a prison sentence, street children, and many such other neglected segments of the society.

Sevadham was founded as an inter-religious group with an underlying philosophy of mutual respect and appreciation for all faiths. Tabbassum Sheikh, Late Francis Linhares, Abraham Menezes, Shamshuddin Sheikh, Sudha Bhave, Veda Rebello, Marcus Alvares and Dominic Pereira were among the founding the members of the group. To underline the inter-faith belief, Sevadham organises three to four meetings every year to promote respect for all religions. These meetings are held on special days like festivals and important holidays and take place in worship houses of various faiths: a Hindu Temple, a Jewish Synagogue, a Sikh Gurudwara, and so on.

Among the various projects that Sevadham initiates periodically, those that deserve special mention are welfare of women convicts and development of tribal people. Sevadham reaches out to women in Jails of Thane, Kalyan, Nasik, Byculla and Pune. It organises educational workshops, provides legal intervention where needed, offers counselling to depression cases and regularly distributes old clothes to serving a jail sentence. "Recently we have begun a "Beauty Culture" course for women convicts, which trains them in basic beauty skills and certifies them so that they can use these skills to earn a livelihood after completion of their sentence," said Bernadette Pimenta, an active social worker and one of the founding trustees of Sevadham. The group also endeavours to rehabilitate many such women, although they admit it is a difficult task. Each year, Sevadham also celebrated Women’s Day in the prisons.

For tribal children, Sevadham organises food supplies (meals), educational programmes and developmental activities such as excursions to various places in the city and beyond. Recently, Sevadham helped a tribal boy get admission in class six in Thane’s MH School, a first-of-its- kind achievement for the NGO.

Sevadham keeps its financial requirements to the minimum and that is usually fulfilled by friends and well-wishers of the trustees. It networks closely with many other NGOs and social units such as Karuna Kendra, Bhartiya Mahila Federation, Joint Action Awareness Group (Jaag), Commission for Inter-religious dialogue, Justice and peace commission, and the women cell of Thane Police. They are helping AGNI to open its office in Thane.

Along with this network, Sevadham conducts various socially relevant programmes. For instance, street children project was started along with Father Degama and NGO Aasara. The project, which involved identifying street children and providing them with education, food and shelter, is independent. Today, there are several homes for street children. Another endeavour of Sevadham is the pro-life programme, which is conducted in various schools to spread awareness about AIDS, prevent chemical dependency (drug abuse) and deal with other issues that affect young people.
 
What’s next? Sevadham will continue to serve the deprived and the marginalised. For instance, it is planning to work in the remand homes for the welfare of juvenile delinquents. Starting July, every third Saturday of the month, Sevadham will organise healing sessions in Thane Mental Hospital which will use play therapy and music therapy to comfort and heal mentally disoriented people. "Soon, we also plan to start a Day-Care centre for the mentally challenged people," Pimenta added. The list of Sevadham’s social projects is endless and so is the compassion of its volunteers.

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