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A model of development

A model of development

By Fraser Harland

Last Thursday, Mount Allison students and staff filled Crabtree Auditorium to listen to the inspiring words of the fifth speaker in the President’s Speaker Series, Dr. Balasubramaniam. Balasubramaniam told the remarkable success story of the grassroots movement that he founded, the Swami Vivekananda Youth Movement (SVYM).

After graduating from medical school at the young age of twenty-one, Balasubramaniam quickly found that the practice of medicine that surrounded him didn’t exemplify what he had hoped to do with his skills.

So, in 1984, with the help of a small group of other medical graduates, Balasubramaniam founded SVYM with the hope of working to improve the lives of those on the economic and social fringes of Indian society.

Balasubramaniam named the group after Swami Vivekananda, an Indian religious leader who is considered a key actor in the revival of Hinduism in India. The group aims to work for four key values – truthfulness, non-violence, service, and sacrifice – taken from Vivekanada’s thought.
Upon SVYM’s formation, Balasubramaniam and his colleagues intended to provide medical care in the Mysore District of Karnataka, India. An important part of the population in this region is a group of indigenous people (or ‘tribals’ as they are known in India).

According to SVYM’s website, these tribals “were evicted from their forest homes due to the construction of the dam across the river Kabini in the sixties and the subsequent declaration of forests as protected area under the ‘Project Tiger.’ ”

It was in an interest to help this historically oppressed community that Balasubramaniam chose this region of India.

However, while medicine was a need of this community, it quickly became clear to Balasubramaniam that medical care was only a small facet of the wide range of issues facing the people of the region.

For Balasubramaniam, this realization was not reason to despair, but only to act more urgently. Thus, the SVYM began to grow into its current form.

After twenty-five years of expansion, the organization now has a team of over 400 people that caters to a population of over 300,000 in the areas of not only health, but education, community development, training, research, and advocacy.

In terms of health, SVYM runs two hospitals. One, the Vivekananda Memorial Hospital, is a seventy-bed secondary care facility established in 1998. The hospital has an impressive range of services including an emergency care facility, a fully equipped operation theatre, a care and support centre for those living with HIV/AIDS, and a blood storage centre.

The second hospital is smaller with only ten beds, and serves mainly tribal populations. Here they combine both Western medicine and Indian medicine (ayurvedic treatment).

SVYM also offers a health outreach program that “visits every tribal colony in the Taluk, at least once a week and offers basic diagnostic and curative services, free of cost, in addition to health education.” Educational programs are on sanitation, HIV/AIDS, and childcare.

SVYM’s educational programs are focused around two schools. Serving over 650 students, the schools use experiential and child-focused pedagogy modeled after the Montessori school of teaching.

The organization also runs a program with the aim of improving education in government-run schools. Here, the emphasis is on child rights, the rights of girls to education, and reducing school dropout rates.

Regarding community development, SVYM’s programs are multifaceted. Some of these activities include the creation of rural infrastructure, training youth with vocational skills, and support to income-generating activities from bee keeping to cloth making.

For any students interested by the important and life-giving work of SVYM, a final important element of the organization is its connection to Mt. A.

Those students who participate in the Shastri exchange have an opportunity to spend time assisting with one SVYM’s projects. Furthermore, for the first time this year, the exchange is also offering an additional one month internship where students will be able to gain more extensive first hand experience in one of SVYM’s endeavours.

Given his tremendous efforts to aid the poor and marginalized in Indian society, Dr. Balasubramaniam’s wish to work in this spirit of Swami Vivekananda is clearly being lived out. During this Year of International Engagement at Mt. A, Balasubramaniam serves as an example to us all.

Excerpted FROM: http://www.argosy.ca/view.php?aid=42068