Sanchetana began its journey in 1983 from Millatnagar, a slum of Ahmedabad, where Dr. Hanif Lakdawala started a clinic for the poor in a wooden partitioned cabin.
In a situation where public health service was rife with corruption and grossly inefficient, quacks and private medical practitioners flourished.The poor, who are the victims of civilization, are left to perish. Survival of the fittest is the logic the civilization has come to follow. Poverty, exploitation, lack of education, ignorance of their rights, tradition-bound dogmas and divisive loyalties to castes and communities chained the urban poor to a life of enslavement and prevented them from challenging the status quo. Dr. Lakdawala wanted to change this brutal, inhuman, exploitative and unjust system where only the rich and powerful live and thrive. Realizing that only informed and aware people can bring about this change, Dr. Lakdawala founded Sanchetana- which means raising awareness which goes beyond one’s consciousness that one is born with.
The journey began in a very modest and committed way where genuine health services were provided to the urban poor who were as neglected as their rural counterparts. The slum-dwellers came to the clinic in droves. The clinic offered medicines to the poor at the price that did not pinch them. Dr. Lakdawala’s clinic offered cure for both body and mind. Patients came to him with their tales of suffering physical and mental.
Community health work became entry point for Sanchetana reaching out to urban poor intervening to improve their health standards; Sanchetana has gone a long way defining holistic health in the context of poor and un-healthy conditions in urban slums. We are convinced that the health of the community cannot be improved without improving the living conditions, hence we have responded to the needs of the communities like education, healthy environment, basic amenities in the areas, residence etc. Sanchetana aimed at strengthening collective actions at the community level so that slum dwellers are able to stand together against exploitation and discrimination and become participants in their own development. Beginning from a small clinic in a slum of Ahmedabad, Sanchetana has evolved as a human rights body that rallies the urban poor for the common cause of social justice, education, gender equity, women’s empowerment and secularism. Sanchetana has made concrete efforts for communal harmony and peace building. Starting from state level advocacy to grass root level efforts have contributed to building communal harmony and peace among the marginalized.
The sphere of the work of Sanchetana has expanded over the years across different geographic areas and communities through freshness and creativity remaining loyal to its roots… just as the logo of Sanchetana symbolizes the journey over the years like a flowing river and it shall continue nurturing the tree of empowerment.
Our Journey Continues
Since the inception genuine Community Health Program tended to expand and addressed the determinants of health. It included de-mystification of medicine and enabled the community to take care of not only health, but various aspects of their lives as citizens of India. Hence, new components were added, new interventions were introduced towards the broader objectives. So now we have a composite Development Program where each component is independent yet linked to the Development Program
After three decades and a half, we see that the daughters of the women whom we have worked with are now women themselves. Though the change is slow but subtle. The new generation with whom we work now is comparatively educated (though not very highly educated) and their aspirations are different. They are giving more space to their daughters than the previous generation. Our work on Community Health, Education and Income Generation has brought us close to the urban poor community over the years. The new generation of women are organized under area level Community Based Organizations- CBOs, who take leadership in their communities. They have done a lot of work to bring basic amenities to their areas, get an access to educational and health rights. They are socially and economically empowered and they use their leadership to empower other people of their communities. At present around 500 women and adolescent girls are reaching out to more than 1 lakh people of their communities through different ways. Our role is that of the trainers and facilitators, where we impart training on self-identity, importance of CBOs, their socio-economic rights etc. and facilitate them to address their problems themselves. They also believe in non-state justice redressal process and intervene for the same. Their efforts have created acceptance in their community. Many leaders say that the respect and recognition from the community is the main motivational factor for them to work for the community
At present, when on one side the leaders have taken a number of steps to improve their community lives through networking and advocacy efforts with government machineries, on the other side leaders are themselves imparting education and health training to their communities. The leaders are at the same time bringing a change to their own lives through our scholarship and income generation programs. It affirms in real sense our conviction that the communities could be empowered through empowering their leaders.
It is a journey punctuated with hopes and despair, dreams and hopelessness, a relentless struggle by the team- Sanchetana.