Chris Wiscarson Chairman
“After years of very positive progress in the Indian economy, the country has hit something of a brick wall. Substantially lower growth and rising inflation has led to a recent collapse in the exchange rate and a reassessment of just how India’s future will play out in the world economy. The small silver lining to the Indian cloud is that the country is in the news and so a platform for the UK Friends to promote the very real needs of the people Seva Mandir serves.
It is not only the economic turbulence which makes the news in the UK but also the horrific stories concerning the treatment of women. The Delhi bus rape last December generated much publicity and has brought into greater focus the treatment of many women in India.
One of Seva Mandir’s most pressing issues is their pioneering work in reducing violence against women. In April, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, recognised Seva Mandir’s impressive work in the Chali area of Rajasthan in regard to water, sanitation and their women’s resource centre. Thanks to the discretionary gifts raised by the Friends, the women’s resource centre under the guidance of Seva Mandir was able to resolve numerous cases of domestic violence, husbands deserting wives, and women not being able to access their pensions.
Another Seva Mandir success has been their fight against the Indian Government’s Right to Education Act which would have closed down schools not based in cemented buildings with toilet facilities. Seva Mandir advocated the validity of alternative schools in remote areas and, blessedly, the Local Government of Rajasthan granted Seva Mandir’s schools the status of Special Training Centres, exempting them from the Act. Local Government officials acknowledged that the learning levels of Seva Mandir’s schools were significantly above those found in state funded schools.
In August, the Indian Government launched its new food law which aims to provide 800 million Indians each month with 5kg of rice or wheat at a nominal price. The law has great merit in seeking to enshrine a national obligation to give children a daily hot lunch. The promotion of better nutritional help and healthcare for under 6’s, especially girls, can only be welcome.
Yet, helping children requires more than a supply of base calories. A lack of protein or vitamins in diet, neglect of girls, lack of education on hygiene and ill nourished mothers who get pregnant all contribute to the plight of poor Indians. It is easy to see that Seva Mandir’s mission remains intact.
Seva Mandir’s progress over the last year has been, as ever, life changing. The problem, though, is that it is not enough.
One prominent long standing funder has come to the end of its scheduled support so Seva Mandir are having to take a very tough look at what services have to be dropped before new funding is generated. That is where the UK Friends come in.
Our trustee Board set itself a target of £100,000 to be raised in its first year in charge. We raised £137,000.
Our principal means of making Seva Mandir relevant to donors is through sponsored events and here we have been prolific. Priyanka Singh’s visit in April was a catalyst for five events.
We have developed a modern and vital website. We were invited to give our comments on BBC news following the UK’s withdrawal of Government funding to India. We were also able to promote Seva Mandir on Paddy O’Connell’s Sunday show on BBC radio. From this led an invitation by Tim Samuels of BBC Men’s Hour in June to broadcast a piece on the plight of men in rural Rajisthan.
We have set ourselves a fundraising target for £165,000 in the year beginning April 2013 and, we are well set to exceed that.
It is an important principle that all donations are passed directly and promptly to Seva Mandir, and that there are no deductions for administrative expenses other than what is unavoidable such as the cost of insurance. In particular, all events must be sponsored and this was so throughout our first year office and continues through October.
I must mention now the important role of Mandy Pirrie, our administrator who behind the scenes has kept us so much on track. Mandy has other important priorities in her life and has asked if she can be released from her duties. Of course we must support that. We are lucky that she will be succeeded by Michelle Gilligan.
Thank you again for your support, enthusiasm and, above all, your belief in the work of Seva Mandir.”