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Thursday, August 09, 2001

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True followers

VIVEKANANDA SAID that an empty stomach knows no religion. Mahatma Gandhi and Subramanya Bharati strove hard to make the poor and downtrodden feel part of society. The dreams of these three great men find a fruitful union at Sevalaya, which aims to provide food, shelter, education and medical care to orphan children.

Far away from the bustle of the city, Sevalaya (temple of service) is situated in Kasuva, a village on the Peripalayam Road. A brainchild of V. Murlidharan, a software engineer and K. Thangaraj, a master of arts and education, who did social work work even while studying through the Vivekananda Association, which the duo formed along with a few friends. The association used to bring out a manuscript magazine "Ragamalikai", in which the young members wrote about various social issues.

After completion of their education, in 1998, Murlidharan and Thangaraj started Sevalaya in a rented premises in Sivanvoil village, near Tiruninravur with only five children. Today, Sevalaya has grown to shelter 150 children in its own premises - Swami Vivekananda Home for boys and Mother Teresa Home for girls.

Besides providing food, clothing and shelter, it also provides value-based education and technical training to children. "Orientation in the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi, Swami Vivekananda and Bharatiyar is the main aim," says Murlidharan. Computer science is part of the curriculum from the third standard.

The institute also runs a school named after Mahakavi Bharathiyar to provide free education to the inmates and poor children from nearby villages. Everyday the school van picks up the village children from their homes. The school has 300 students - 150 from the orphanage and 200 from the villages. The salary of the teachers is taken care of by the U.S.-based, India Literary Project, which helps Sevalaya run the school.

The institute also encourages interested students to pursue higher studies and takes care of them till they are financially independent.

It has now undertaken the construction of a four-storeyed school building with aid from the German Government and V. Rajagopalan (of Germany).

Besides education, the Mahatma Gandhi medical centre takes care of the inmates' health and offers free service to people of the surrounding villages. The Swami Vivekananda library and reading room with nearly 5,000 books are available for both Sevalaya and the village children.

The institute's services extends to animals too. The Vinobhaji goshala, a cow-protection centre, is where cattle are reared and milch cows are kept to save them from being taken to the slaughter house. A home for the aged named after Shree Ramakrishna Paramhamsa is now under construction with a sizeable donation of Rs. 30 lakh coming from the Government of Japan. The building is expected to be ready by year-end.

Tree plantation and farming has also been taken up with the help of the U.S.-based, Association for India Development.

According to Murlidharan, Sevalaya incurs a monthly expenditure of Rs. 2 lakh. As there is no corpus fund nor any aid from the State Government or the Social Welfare Board, it necessarily depends on donations, most of which comes from software professionals. Apart from financial support, many people have also donated school vans, computers, tailoring machines, fridge, TV etc.

With so much happening, it is not surprising that Sevalaya is the favourite destination of NSS teams from Chennai schools and colleges.

N.V. R. SWAMY

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