This 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.
Englishwoman Dora Scarlett founds Seva Nilayam (Home of Service) – a rural clinic in Theni district of Tamil Nadu providing free treatment to all.
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.
Arogya Agam achieves dramatic reduction in leprosy, extends activities to community health, particularly mother and child care. First funding from Department for International Development. Gunasekaran starts Vasandham (Springtime) as an outpost of Seva Nilayam.
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.
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.
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.