Ramakrishna Sarada Samiti has become a part of the fabric of the local community, especially women and children
Dr Rajadhyaksha and Mekhala Jha were inspired by late Swami Ranganathanandaji, 13th president of Ramakrishna Math & Mission to serve in Mumbai’s slums; thus began the free medical service at Kherwadi (Bandra East) and Pratiksha Nagar (Sion).
In 1968, they founded the Ramakrishna Sarada Samiti (RKSS) along with a group of service-minded women under the guidance of Ramakrishna Mission (Mumbai). It began on a small scale, with a group of doctors identifying the most neglected areas in Kherwadi and dispensing free medicines that they brought along with them. They carried a snack for the underprivileged children as well. Today, RKSS does much more in this Mumbai neighbourhood, with the same spirit of service and dedication.
In 1974, RKSS was granted land on lease by MHADA (Maharashtra Housing & Area Development Authority) and a modest building was constructed in 1976 at Pratiksha Nagar. This initiated the next phase of RKSS’s 46-year association with the community which involved providing regular primary medical care through a health centre and organising health camps and workshop on women’s health and nutrition. At the request of women of the community, a range of services, such as and pre-school education, a balwadi (crèche) and a tailoring course for women, were also started.
The diverse background of RKSS’s board of trustees adds to its ability to connect with and respond dynamically to the community’s needs with innovative solutions. The current trustees include Hema Shetty (advocate), Sujata Haldipur (former banker and Sanskrit scholar), Dr Bharathi Srinivas (economist), Vidya Raghu (an architect), Dr Mamatha Venkatesh (rheumatologist), Rakhee Puri and Sheila Chowdhury (both educationists) and Bulbuli Ghosh.
Vidya Raghu says, “The constant engagement of doctors, teachers and social workers with the women from the community, in a strictly non-political environment, enables trust and sharing of concerns.” This is RKSS’s strength today.
The community health centre is run in collaboration with KJ Somaiya (KJS) Medical College, department of community medicine. The centre is run five days a week by doctors from KJS Medical College, with OPD in mornings and consultation with specialists in the afternoons. The centre has social workers, nursing trainees and pre-school teachers to monitor malnutrition in schools. The monitoring is followed up with regular nutrition and hygiene workshops with mothers and children of the balwadi at RKSS.
The Little Lamps Gammatwadi has around 100 students in the age group three to five years. Dedicated trained teachers create training materials in-house. Nutritious snacks, school uniforms and study materials are provided free of cost. There is a nominal fee (of Rs100 per month), but the fees are waived for deserving candidates.
Focusing on women-related issues in the neighbourhood, Vidya Raghu points out, “The high drop-out rate of girls from the education system due to early marriage, lack of social security and lack of skills or employability, has left many women vulnerable and marginalised, with no way of supporting themselves or helping their families.” RKSS has vocational training programmes for women to empower them to become employable and earning members of their family. The tailoring course trains and certifies 25 women each year. Successful candidates are provided a sewing machine at the end of the certification programme to kick-start a small business for themselves.
Despite its seemingly steady growth, the journey hasn’t always been smooth sailing. In 2007, when Mumbai was hit by an unusual cloud-burst, RKSS’s building, on low-lying MHADA land was completely submerged. The repairs and clean-up reduced its funds to near zero and it was like starting all over again. But the journey continues, thanks to the dedication of a committed board and volunteers. You too can join this effort.
Donations to the Samiti are exempt under Section 80 G of the Income-tax Act and are welcome from readers.
Behind Ekvira Darshan
(Building T – 66&67),
Pratiksha Nagar, Sion East, Mumbai – 400022