• Between you and me

  • Beacon of Hope

  • For the Children

  • Her joy is in giving

  • Good Deed of the Day

Between you and me

The Hindu, 11 March 1996

To readers of this column, Maria Seva Sangha, by which I mean its objectives, its work, in the cause of the under-privileged, is not new. More to the point, readers know their interest in organizing a mid-day lunch for school children of a slum background, irrespective of caste or creed or colour, if that appeals to your sense of rhetoric!

Is there anything new to the story? You already know that they are organizing food for children in the lunch interval, that is, for 100 needy children in three different schools at the elementary level. You also know that as a result there has been a noticeable improvement in attendance, or the drop-outs show a decline.

What is probably new in the story is, they want to build a corpus fund which can keep the scheme going, without depending on donations from friends and well-wishers year after year. But that must go down as a remote aspiration, at least for now. More practical perhaps is their immediate concern to raise Rs. 4.5 lakhs to cover three years expenses on the present scale.

Their yearly budget on this account is Rs. 1.5 lakhs. That includes the cost of feeding 300 children from three different schools, 250 days in a year, the monthly expenses averaging Rs. 4000 per 100 children. A new element is the cost of a social worker (Rs. 1000 per month) who will be in constant touch with the children in the lunch interval and their parents or guardians in their homes.

A word about its objectives, Maria Seva Sangha is looking for answers to some questions. They know that the children need food at school, but they would look like to go behind or beyond that. They would like to see the setting, the cultural milieu, from which they come. They would like to meet their fathers, mothers or guardians.

In other words, it is an exercise in sociology. It could be either this or that, they children do not bring their own lunch because it is just not there, or no one at home has the time for the child's need. It is a whole time job for the social worker, and possibly one visit could lead to more visits as interaction develops.

Here is an appeal to industrial houses. Do they not spend lavishly on expensive gifts and holidays for executives in Singapore or elsewhere? If only they give a thought to the hungry child, Maria Seva Sangha's target should be easily achieved.

Contributions are exempt from income tax and necessary certificates are issues. Write to: Maria Seva Sangha, Villa Maria, 12, Rest House Road, Bangalore – 560 001.

Beacon of Hope By Debbie Rodger

Metro Life – Thursday October 2,2003 Page 7
A group of concerned individuals who reach out to the needy and poor, the Maria Seva Sangha has alleviated many lives. However it is crippled by financial constraints and is looking for a way out.

Hunger was *Kavitha's constant companion during her impoverished childhood. Today, the 12th standard student is grateful that there was someone who cared enough to provide her with one decent meal a day. *Hema, financially crippled, was so thankful for the scholarship that enabled her to pursue her dream of higher education, that she donated her first salary to the people who cared.

The people who cared are a band of dedicated citizens working under the banner of Maria Seva Sangha(MSS). This low profile organization has, since 1981, been making a difference in the lives of the underprivileged, irrespective of caste, religion or community. They started with a mid-day meal scheme that currently reaches 1,416 children from 11 schools across the city. They branced into education and now 550 SSLC students are recipients of scholarships to pursue professional and technical studies.

The president of MSS, Air Commodore(Rtd.) Melville Rego, sats of the 72 member team: "All our activities are action oriented; there is nno time wasted on discussions – just solid work." Activities include a low-cost housing complex at Krishnarajapuram with preference given to battered women, widows and their dependent families. Two acres of the same property is also being demarcated into sites that will be allotted(not sold) to needy families on a case basis. An old age home in town is also on the agenda, with MSS holding sanctioned plans for this project.

However, thanks to unscrupulous individuals, their property on Rest House Road meant for this purpose is, after ten long years, still under litigation. With trademark determination, MSS have still managed to build limited accommodation for the aged. Says Rego: "Approximately 100 senior citizens have applied to our home, but because of the litigation, we cannot progress."

But for every person who puts a spoke in the wheel, there is another who is willing to help – caring individuals like 12-year-old Jason D'Souza who saved his pocket money and donated it to MSS for their mid-day meal scheme, professionals like Dr. Pratibha Pereira who gives generously of her time and expertise by providing free medical checks for the impoverished school children that MSS works with. MSS then follows this up with free medicines and medical aid.

In recognition of its tireless efforts, MSS received the Dr. M C Modi Service Award from the Governor of Karnataka in November 2002. Their first award was from the Social Work Foundation and Human Rights Association in 1998. But while recognition is good, it does not help pay the bills. The work is so much, the needy so many and the funds too low. MSS desperately needs help. Note that donors can avail of a 100% tax exemption under Sec 35AC and 80G.

Should you wish to be a part of this group of caring citizens, in whatever capacity, contact Maria Seva Sangha at 12, Rest House Rpad, Bangalore 1. Tel: 5589066, [email protected] (*Names changed to protect identity.)

For the Children By Debbie Rodgers

Indian Express, 24 October 2001

Listen to this story. A class of 60 students in a small school in Shantinagar were asked a simple question: "How many bring lunch to school?" Eleven hands shot up. They tallied with the 11 tiffin boxes that stood in majestic isolation at the back of the class. What do the rest do? Grin and lie. Lie that they are not hungry so they don't need to bring a tiffin. Dream that they have enough money to buy a few morsels from the steet vendor. Hope that an imaginary friend will share a meal with them; anything but admit that their parents are too poor to feed them even once a day. It is an all-too-familiar scene that replays itself throughout the cinematic scope of the city.

Think of this when you sit down to a hot, nourishing meal- your third for the day? Hopefully you will have trouble swallowing that mouthful. When that happens, pick up the phone, dial 5589066 and ask for Melville Rego. The Air Commodore(Rtd.), President of Maria Seva Sangha(MSS) will then guide you on how to enjoy your next meal.

Melville Rego will enlighten you about the Nourishment Programme that currently provides a wholesome mid-day meal to 950 impoverished children from seven schools. This is but one of the many schemes run by MSS since their inception in 1981. This organization of dedicated, caring citizens are deliberately low profile, preferring their work to do the talking. Their mission: " To reach out to deserving, underprivileged persons – irrespective of class, religion or community, so as to improve their self-image and quality of life."

And what better way to do it than through education. With many organizations already catering to primary education, MSS chose to tackle post SSLC/PUC, PG, Vocational and Professional courses, explains Melville. Radhika(name changed), a young girl from one of the slums in Ulsoor, was the very first beneficiary of the 362 who benefited from this Scholarship Programme, since 1982. Today she is a full fledged staff nurse at a prestigious hospital, is married and a mother of two children. On receipt of a gift of land at Krishnarajapuram, MSS initiated a low-cost housing project to assist poor families and in particular, battered women and widows. The first block of eight flats is now almost ready for allocation. A Home for the Aged, located in the heart of Bangalore, is currently on the anvil. MSS has obtained sanctioned plans for construction of a home for 73 persons,and the fisrt phase has already been realized. In acknowledgement of its consistent service to the community, MSS received an award from the Social Work Foundation and Human Rights Association in October 1998. Further recognition has come from the Government in the form of a 100% IT exemption to donors under Sec 35AC and 80G.

Should you wish to be a part of this group of caring citizens, contact Maria Seva Sangha at 12, Rest House Road, Bangalore 1,Tel-5589066 e-mail:[email protected]

Her joy is in giving

Deccan Herald – 19 September 2001

She lives in an Old Age Home after having sold her own house and donated a chunk of the sale proceeds to welfare projects. ETHEL BRITO's work with poor children, destitute women, homeless old people and widows is truly inspiring, writes MARIANNE de NAZARETH

Meet Ethel Brito, a petite, slim, gentle-faced woman in her simple pastel coloured saree and you'd never imagine the single minded passion with which she pursues what she loves best. Organizing mid-day meal schemes for hungry school kids, helping battered women, finding finance for the underprivileged scholar, raising funds for an old-age home, building shelters for the marginalized – and then, you are riveted by her eyes! It's there in her eyes, the windows of a woman's soul, where you can see her burning desire to give "unselfishly" to all in need and thereby make a tiny dent in the lives of the poor and suffering in Karnataka.

Educated in the Good Shepherd Convent, Bangalore, Ethel joined Government service soon after her graduation. She rose through the ranks to become the Deputy Director of Information and Publicity in the Government of Karnataka. "It was tough going," said Ethel, "I was faced with severe male chauvinism during the '60's and'70's, but I never gave up and with sheer belief in myself I carried on to reach a reasonable level of success".

After retirement she was nominated as a member of the Board in the BDA and here too she was a lone woman. Throughout her career her husband, Anslem, supported her whole heartedly and they untiringly spent all their free time doing social work and jointly helping the poor.

"Slowly", she says, "we found more and more families that required help to be. Either there was an irresponsible father who frittered or drank up all his earnings with a wide who was unemployed, unable to work as she had the children to look after. Or the man of the house was disabled or seriously ill with no means of earning a livelihood for his family." The poor, mainly from the slums of Murphy Town and Munnivenkatappa Gardens, came to them for help.

Then the old and destitute whom their children could not support and look after started coming in for help. "That was heartrending," says Ethel. "It was not that their families did not want them, there just wasn't enough to go around."

Another problem in schools that came to her attention was poor attendance. "The poor kids preferred going to work as domestic help in order to get some food rather than go hungry to school. This was an issue that had to be addressed if we were to bring the little ones back into schools." says Ethel.

So in 1981, with a group of like minded philanthropists, Ethel began a non profit society called Maria Seva Sangha – a registered charitable organization to reach out to deserving, underprivileged persons.

Realizing the desperate need of these people who Ethel wanted to help, the Archbishop of Karnataka donated 5 acres and 36 guntas of land in Krishnarajapuram to start a low income housing project mainly for battered women and widows to acquire a home irrespective of class or creed. Ethel then got plans sanctioned for a low cost housing scheme on this gift of land. The scheme has begun and as she proudly states, "Thirty three blocks will be finally constructed and the first block of eight flats is nearing completion."

One day she got a call from the parish priest in Munnireddipalyam that there were many poor children going to school without food. The school could get money to give them books and free tuition but food was needed desperately, even just bread and milk for breakfast. So with some generous help from Switzerland, she started giving the children bread and milk in their homes and the mid-day mean scheme was born.

"There were poor children from a slum in Koramangala who were coming to the St. Euphrasia's School as the bus to bring them was free and sending the children to school was easier than looking after them, for the parents," said Ethel. Here again she got a frantic call from the principal that the children were obviously hungry. So, Ethel tells this heartrending tale of how she asked the little ones, "Those with tiffins, please out up your hands", so 24 out of 60 did. That shocked her when she realized the majority were hungry. Then, she said, "Open the tiffin boxes children, I'd like to see what you have brought". This was at the gentle prompting of the principal. "Would you believe that 11 of the 24 boxes were empty?" Ethel asks. "Those kids were too proud to say they were hungry, so they just carried an empty box".

Maria Seva Sangha now runs a Nutrition Scheme which arranges to serve a hot, nourishing meal each working day in certain schools with the support of the management. "Attendance rose sharply to 80% after that," she says. The scheme now feeds 950 students in seven schools.

Good Deed of the Day by Swati Das

Times of India, 3 May 1996

"There are thousands of starving children among the urban poor and we try to feed them," says Ethel Brito, one of the founder members of Maria Seva Sangha. What Maria Seva Sangha needs for one of its noble schemes is Rs. 100 per month from individuals, to sponsor one child's mid-day meal for a month.

A social organization founded in 1981, it feeds 100 children in three schools of Bangalore, irrespective of religion, caste or creed, every afternoon, 250 days a year.

"On a survey in 1992, we found that most of the children coming from the slums either brought empty lunch boxes or brought none. Some of them are too proud to admit, and claimed that they preferred playing during lunch time or said they are going out for lunch. Some sat separately, eating from empty boxes. When questioned as to what they were eating, they would answer puries, bondas, bujjies… We were stunned and disappointed," says Ms. Brito.

Since this revelation, the Sangha began its mid-day meal scheme with St. Euphrasia's school and went on to introduce it in the Sacred Heart Upgraded School and St. Anthony's School. One hundred students were selected from each school from amongst the "poorest of the poor". These schools cater to the slums of Koramangala, Neelasandra and four slums of Jayanagar. However, there are many more who need to be fed and who stand and watch the more fortunate of their lot eat. According to the executive director of the Sangha, Air Comde M.C.Rego, what is served at the noon meal scheme of the government, which mostly comprises wheat or ragi rice meal packets, is hardly palatable. Food is perhaps an incentive for these children to attend school.

The Sangha has established kitchens in these schools to make different menus every day. Rice, dal or curry, vegetables and sometimes egg is served. The response was immediate and the result heart-warming – the students became healthier and some of them now hold ranks, said Air Comde Rego.

Some parents were even offered Rs. 10 per year to send the children to school. "It was not an easy task to convince them, as poverty has made them bitter. The men, who have more than two wives, are very hard to reform. Even more difficult are the mothers, who sometimes depend on the children's income. In many cases, the children are sold as bonded labourers by the parents, as domestic servants or rag pickers, "observed Ms. Brito.

"We want to expand our scheme. However, we are short of funds. The total cost per month for supply of mid-day meals to 100 children works to about Rs. 4,000. Hence, Rs. 48,000 is required to sustain the programme throughout the year, in one school alone. There are two options before us. One is to expand the number of students in the three schools and the other to introduce the scheme in another school. For the first, infrastructure is available, but for the second, we require more funds," explained Air Comde Rego.

The Sangha needs sponsorship of Rs. 100 per month from individuals for one child for the first scheme and for the other, to set up a corpus fund to keep the scheme going. Their expenses do not end with just feeding, it also involves salaries of the staff engages in the meal scheme, and social workers counseling these children and their families.

When the Sangha was established in 1981, it began with helping financially backward students with education, with different loan schemes, especially with professional colleges and career guidance.

Presently, the Sangha has two major projects coming up. An Old Age Home is situated on Rest House Road, where the Sangha office is situated. The land is donated by a Pinto family and construction has started for a two-stories building.

It will accommodate 72 inmates, who come from a lower middle class background comprising teachers, clerks and those having worked in private firms but do not get pensions. They would have to pay Rs. 25,000 as deposit and Rs. 1,500 a month (Rs. 1,000 for food and Rs. 500 as rent).

The other project would be on a 3.8 acre land in Krishnarajapuram, donated by the Archbishop of Bangalore for providing small houses to underprivileged families. These 42 blocks with 378 tenements are meant for Dalits in the age group of 25-40, especially women from the slums who have come up in life through education, battered women, women working in export tailoring units, primary teachers, typists in companies and shops and their likes.

The BDA has sanctioned the development plan, but to release the papers, Rs. 8.37 lakh has to be deposited. The Sangha could collect only Rs. 2 lakh, basically through donations.

"Bangaloreans have always been generous. What we have achieved so far is through help and co-operation. Yet, what we have is not enough. But we believe that for a good cause, help will automatically come," said Ms. Brito. Those interested may contact Maria Seva Sangha, Villa Maria, 12 Rest House Road, Bangalore 560 001, Phone: 5589066