Dora 120 x 90This is the story of one woman who was moved to start a simple medical service for the poor, and whose drive, determination and example inspired others – western and Indian – to extend that service to a wider poverty and justice remit.

1960s

Englishwoman Dora Scarlett founds Seva Nilayam (Home of Service) – a rural clinic in Theni district of Tamil Nadu providing free treatment to all.

1970s

Village Service Trust formed by Tony Huckle and others to raise funds for Seva Nilayam. Seva Nilayam’s leprosy centre relaunched as Arogya Agam (Place of Health) run by John Dalton. Gunasekaran starts Vasandham (Springtime) as an outpost of Seva Nilayam.

1980s

Arogya Agam achieves dramatic reduction in leprosy, extends activities to community health, particularly mother and child care. First funding from Department for International Development.

1990s

Arogya Agam, Seva Nilayam and Vasandham embrace women’s empowerment through forming self-help groups. Arogya Agam pioneers Aids education in Theni district, a ‘hotspot’ for HIV in India. Health work focuses on TB – with funding from the European Commission.

2000s

VST engages a full time staff member, Angela Russ, and begins Network Theni project, covering community health, TB control, Aids education, micro-enterprise, women’s rights and efforts to make the panchayat system of local democracy serve the poor. The project insists on working principally with Dalits. It is funded by the National Lottery, Department for International Development, Target Tuberculosis, Elton John Aids Foundation, and many individuals, groups, and trusts. The network comprises Arogya Agam, Vasandham, Seva Nilayam and other NGOs in Theni district. Network Theni steering committee evolves into Development Action Consortium Trust, led by a development professional, Jothiramalingam, a long-time associate of VST. DACT and VST agree formal partnership to work together in health, development and human rights in India.

2010s

Major programmes encompass Dalit rights, panchayat activism, violence against women, micro-enterprise, and vulnerability to HIV. Tony Huckle takes on main administrative role on a voluntary basis. Jothiramalingam announces retirement from DACT, which then merges with Arogya Agam. Increased focus on working with community based organisations, particularly the district women’s movement, with the objective of building such organisations into independent self-sustaining bodies.