CHENNAI: The year was 2000 when N Annapurna first heard about a humble charitable trust functioning from a rented building in the village of Kasuva in Thiruninravur, about 40 km west of Chennai. A brewing urge to serve society impelled her to reach out to the budding organisation doing commendable social service. The organisation was only twelve years old then and its modest beginnings, Annapurna daintily expresses, stand as the announcement of an awe-inspiring commitment to community service, a deep-rooted vow for collective growth. 34 years down the road since its inception in 1988, the charitable trust of Sevalaya now operates across 10 districts through 16 centres.
At the Sevalaya in Kasuva, patience and perseverance seem to have paid off in a charitable style. Spread across 18 acres of lush land, it is nothing short of an ode to welfare activities.Today, Sevalaya boasts of a school, hostels for boys and girls, an old-age home, a community college, a clinic, a mobile medical van and a goshala. Annapurna is now the honorary principal of the campus.
At a time when parents compelled children to work at brick kilns, V Muralidharan, the founder of Sevalaya, and volunteers stepped in to intervene. “Earlier, our volunteers and the founder used to visit every home in the village and ask the parents to send their children to school. They would reply that the children will be sent to school only if the organisation compensates for the salaries earned by the kids,” said Vijaya, headmaster of the campus school. Child labour and marriage are no longer prevalent in these villages.
More than 2,000 students are studying free of cost at the Sevalaya school in Kasuva, with over 400 of them staying in the hostels. They are provided green and nutritious food.Most of the students lodged in the hostels don’t have any relatives, revealed Sankarapandian, a physical education trainer at the school.
Therefore, the elderly persons residing at the old-age home have been asked to take care of five children each. The students visit them every day after class and a strong, family-like bond is branching out among them,” he said.
Apart from studies, the students are involved in sports, with many of them getting into colleges or being placed through sports quota, he added. The Sevalaya owes the credit of its success story to its transparency—something that has been tightly holding the trust of the donors together. Annapurna, who was also a trustee, said the school was only a small building in the 2000s. “Every time we received a donation, one classroom would be built. We were also the first to introduce the Montessori education in primary classes and fund the higher education of those children who were not able to pay the fees,” Annapurna said.
The teachers, the students maintain, were super-friendly and dear-to-heart, and “they have always been there for help whenever required.” S Inbavel, one of the top scorers in this year’s Class 12 examinations, opened out about his ambitions and the support he received. “I want to pursue artificial intelligence. My parents are daily-wage labourers. The teachers here encouraged me to carefully choose a course that promises a good future and enables me to support my family,” he said.
“The centre at Kasavu is our biggest one. All the centres have community colleges. Based on the request of the donors and well-wishers, we have been running old-age homes in Thanjavur and Dharmapuri. We also provide free breakfast to government schoolchildren in Thanjavur,” Annapurna added.
The Sevalaya just did not limit its growth to the educational sector alone. Healthcare was given equal weightage and priority. The clinic set up at the campus is equipped with a physiotherapy unit, with eye and dental check-ups provided once a week for the patients.
Further, the mobile medical unit travels to the neighbouring villages daily to treat patients who find it difficult to travel.What not, at the community college, those above 18 years of age can enrol for various courses, including tailoring, carpentry, baking, electrical, nursing, beautician and e-publishing.