In March this year, we visited Udaipur to see, first hand Seva Mandir’s incredible work.
Our initial visit was to a school where over 50 children attend. While there were few resources available, each child showed an inordinate amount of pride in their work and a real hunger to learn. They were very keen to demonstrate their skills in reciting the English alphabet, doing sums on the blackboard and singing songs.
Working alongside the teacher was a 17 year old assistant whose education had started in this same village school. She had since worked her way through the government education system and had returned to her village to assist in the school while learning to become a teacher. It was a pleasure to see that the contribution and assistance Seva Mandir had provided was having a real benefit both for the assistant and the students she was helping.
Our next stop was a pre-school where we met the teacher responsible for 25 children aged between 1 and 5. Singlehandedly, she provides a structured learning programme which includes teaching the children about their families. This gives the kids a clear sense of identity. She provides both a cold lunch, and a hot meal for late afternoon before the children go home. Where necessary, the teacher will administer medicines and vitamins as well as advising parents on childcare matters. It was lovely to see kids that were happy, and most of all, were safe.
Both visits were in an area where villagers are increasingly self-sufficient, referring to Seva Mandir principally for advice and general support. It was fantastic to see the sustainable approach of Seva Mandir in real life.
Our next stop was a women’s shelter on the outskirts of Udaipur. This shelter was no bigger than an average house and garden in the UK yet it is home to 20 women and their children. These women were quite likely sheltered from abusive relationships. The shelter provided not only food and a roof over their heads but also emotional support through counselling for them and their families. The aim every time is to reunite the families. When this is not going to happen, the shelter then assist in finding employment opportunities and empowering the women to create a new life for them and their children.
As Treasurer for the UK Friends, I visited the Seva Mandir offices in Udaipur. While all the people we met were proud of the work being carried out, they were very quick to remind that the success stories we have seen were just the tip of the iceberg. There are many more villages needing help and many of these are even more remote.
Funding is of course the biggest challenge. There is simply not enough money to do everything they would like to do. In the short term, certain cycles of funding from major partners are coming to an end and the role of the UK Friends to help here was never more clear.
Our visit to Udaipur was delightful and humbling in equal measures. The country is wonderfully diverse, colourful and fascinating. But seeing first-hand the poverty and hardship faced by people every day is truly humbling indeed. We are proud to be associated with Seva Mandir and it was good to see that the small contribution we make goes some way towards making a better life for those people in need.
Mark and Karen Francis
Click here for the April Newsletter from Seva Mandir.