Interview

Volume 2 Issue 15 - August 01, 2004

"We slowly built trust over a period of time"

T.K. Mathew started working in the development sector with jobs at Caritas India and ASSEFA. In 1979 he was one of seven founders of Deepalaya, an organisation that aims to identify with and work along with the economically and socially deprived, the physically and mentally challenged -- starting with children -- so that they become educated, skilled and aware. Under his guidance, Deepalaya established the first N.G.O. public school for poor children and a human resource centre for capacity building. He also founded Deepalaya Gram, which rehabilitates street, working and disabled children. He talks to Anne-Marie Prayas about how his N.G.O. has developed over the past 25 years.

Picture of T.K. Mathew, one of the founders of Deepalaya.

What led you and the other founders of Deepalaya to set up the organisation?

Mr Y Chackochan, Mr Abraham and I worked as office-bearers in our Church for two years after we came from South India. Though we were satisfied with our work, several questions and thoughts boggled our minds. We questioned ourselves as to why we had travelled all the way to North India for jobs. We felt confident about our education when it came to looking for jobs. Education empowered us, and we wanted to use that power for the benefit of the whole community. Christian morals of sacrifice, love and duty towards one's neighbour were our driving forces. We knew we had to serve our community.

Back in the time of British rule, India did not have any child rights but civil society felt it their responsibility to educate their progeny. As I was educated in such a manner I felt that justice had been done to me and I in turn had to do justice to others. I was a custodian of this education and I had to practice distributive justice, not monopolise it.

The third factor which motivated me to set up Deepalaya was my patriotic loyalty to my country. India is a huge country. It is multilingual, multicultural and multiracial, yet it lags far behind developed countries. Developed countries only got to that position because they had worked to educate their citizens. If India were to progress, all would have to be educated.

We reflected over these three factors for two years and then decided to set up Deepalaya. In 1979 our seven founding members gathered together, pooled in a meagre sum of Rs 2,500 each and started by teaching five children in a shared rented room in Delhi. From then on there was no looking back and Deeplaya, or 'House of Light', continued to grow.

As you celebrate 25 years of existence, what do you consider to be Deepalaya's best accomplishments?

On of our biggest achievements is the empowerment of several lives. More than 40,000 children have achieved 10-12 years of schooling from Deeplaya in the past 25 years. All of these children are from the weaker sections of society. Not only has education changed their lives but their families have also been transformed. We have demonstrated a relationship between the child, family and society. Hence we have facilitated families to secure themselves and their children. More than 30,000 families have benefited from Deepalaya, in the form of social, financial and organisational support. We have taught them how to manage their own resources and provide for their children.

Deepalaya has done a lot of work for the girl child; 50 per cent of our children are girls.

We have worked hard to mainstream disabled children and street children by providing them with skills, education and hope.

Above all, our biggest achievement is that Deeplaya has established and integrated and all rounded developmental process to enable its beneficiaries to survive in adverse conditions.

What challenges did you have to face in the initial years?

We had to face several challenges and obstructions in reaching where we are today. At that time the government did not grant children any human rights. It had power and authority, which was misused to complicate matters against the poor. We had a lot of bad experiences but that did not stop us. The government did not give us any assistance or aid but resources came to us through other channels.

Society also posed a lot of barriers. The poor are sold as commodities by moneylenders and politicians. Hence, the poor become wary of strangers and that was a great barrier for us. We slowly built trust over a period of time.

Some religious groups were wary of us as they thought our ulterior motive was conversion. Their suspicion became a major impediment to our work.

What is the focus of Deepalaya's work? What are its main areas of activity?

Wholesome education is our main focus. Besides this we have several other projects and activities. These comprise community health, gender equity, mainstreaming the differently abled and institutional care for the vulnerable.

Under community and health, we cover HIV awareness programmes, reproductive health, sanitation and hygiene, and TB and eye camps.

In our gender equity programmes, we focus on the empowerment and the emancipation of women. We give financial aid and education to women and young girls. We hold seminars and workshops expressing our opposition to female infanticide and feticide. We also have a very large number of women employees in our organisation.

Deepalaya also focuses on inclusion for the disabled. More than 6 per cent of our employees are disabled people, when the government requirement is merely 3 per cent.

We provide institutional care to mentally disabled children and youngsters. Most of the poor families cannot afford to give these children adequate medical treatment and developmental skills. We step in and rehabilitate the children and provide them with counselling and treatment.

Deepalaya is working on providing institutional care to the vulnerable. Runaway children, children of sex workers and other groups of vulnerable and exploited children are covered under this scheme.

Apart from these in-house projects, we lobby with the government, network with other organisations and advocate with policy makers.

Your 'Sponsor a Child' scheme has been quite successful. Tell us about the scheme and the number of children covered under it.

In this scheme a sponsor gives towards one particular child -- male, female or disabled. The relationship between the sponsor and the child is very personalised. The sponsor knows the child's name, face and case history. The child and the sponsor communicate with each other in a moderated manner. The child writes letters to the sponsor and the sponsor receives regular updates on the child's progress.

The sponsor also receives newsletters and updates from the organisation. At present 2,000 children are covered under this scheme.

How does one sponsor a child?

Sponsors can choose from various kinds of sponsorships.

The Integrated Sponsorship looks after the health and education of the child.

The Education Sponsorship takes care of the child's tuition fees.

The Sponsor a Child in a Project scheme allows the sponsor to give for the child but the specifics of the child are not disclosed. Instead the sponsor is briefed on the profile of the project.

The Perpetual Sponsorship scheme involves the sponsor depositing a lump sum of money in the name of the child. The income generated from that amount is then used to look after the child's educational needs.

Besides these schemes, there is the regular Annual Sponsorship, for sponsors to donate certain sums of money for a child every year.

What are the different ways in which individuals can volunteer with Deepalaya?

Anyone from any profession and skill can be a contributing factor to us. We need graphic designers for our publications, teachers for our educational programmes, music and, art and craft teachers to discover latent talent in the children, researchers, doctors, architects, engineers, administrative officials and policy makers can all put in a lot of productive work for the organisation.

We also welcome corporate sponsorships and volunteers.

The 'Friends of Deepalaya' group is a novel idea? Tell us more about it.

'Friends of Deepalaya' are known people whose names carry credibility to the organisation. They range from social workers and bureaucrats to professionals and policy-makers. These respected personalities lend their profile to add value to the organisation.

What are your ambitions for the future of Deepalaya?

We hope to start working with other NGOs to help them reach out to the poor; to carry out capacity-building for smaller organisations to enable them to carry on the work on their area of the country.

We hope to make 'Deepalaya Gram' -- an institutional care centre for vulnerable children and youngsters -- a reality. Due to their circumstances, these children are exploited and forced to indulge in illegal and immoral activities, which destroy their innocence and self-esteem. They become unaccepted in society and are left to fend for themselves. We hope to set up this institution to refine them and bring them back on the right track. Similarly, we hope to work with the children of sex workers and give them a new lease of life.

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