The Holland Welfare Centre (renamed Apnalaya in 1976) was founded in 1972 by Tom Holland, the Australian Consul General in Bombay, to provide daycare for children from the hutments at Nariman Point, where land was being reclaimed and buildings constructed. Their parents were mainly migrant labourers from Andra Pradesh and Karnataka. By the time Tom Holland was posted out of India early in 1973 it was being run by a small group of volunteers led by Shanta Gupta as President, and was registered under the Societies Registration Act.
In 1975, when required to move from Nariman Point, Apnalaya relocated to established slums in New Jaiphalwadi, Tardeo, where a balwadi was started and the first social worker employed, and to nearby Datta Mandir, where the need was for a clinic.
Under the guidance of Pratima Panwalkar from the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, we adopted a community development approach in these two communities based on people’s participation. Local women were recruited as balwadi teachers for our centres and trained in the popular ‘Workshop’ training programmes that we ran for many years. A preventive Community Health project was started in Datta Mandir, and local women trained as community health workers to spread preventive health messages in their communities.
In 1976, Apnalaya acquired another new centre - in Lotus Colony in the slums of Shivaji Nagar, Govandi. Located in M/East ward, in what was the far north eastern corner of Mumbai and cut off from the rest of the city, the area was a Site and Service development of the Municipal Corporation for people relocated from slums in other parts of the city. The wasteland surrounding the plots was being rapidly encroached by squatters and slumlords, as work could be found nearby in the newly opened abattoir and on the dumping ground it bordered. With a population of around 3 lakhs, Shivaji Nagar was very much bigger and a more challenging environment in which to work than our earlier communities.
The brief given to our first social worker here was to find out what the community members felt they needed and how much they would participate in meeting these needs. This was a mixed area, with Muslims making up more than 60% of the population. With few schools or employment opportunities nearby, the youth were eager to get involved so work on building and training local community groups became a priority for Apnalaya. It was some time before they wanted a balwadi; but as time went by more programmes were initiated.
Apnalaya opened its centre in Wadaripada, Malad, in 1977 with the aim of making schooling and healthcare accessible to this poor community, comprising mainly Wadaris from the Maharashtra Karnataka border area. The emphasis was on getting children into school. Initially the local Rotary Club ran the balwadi and provided basic health care for the children. When Apnalaya took over running the centre 2 years later, recreation sessions and programmes for adolescent girls and women were started. The centre also housed our drug rehabilitation unit for poor addicts for 9 years from 1988, by which time alternative treatment facilities had opened. Eventually in 2003 the whole community was rehoused in an SRA housing development and Apnalaya was able to withdraw completely.
Apnalaya's work in the Chikuwadi community, inside the BARC Complex in Mankhurd, began in 1981. Comprising two small isolated clusters of huts, with no civic amenities and no access by road, the inhabitants were from the outlying borders of Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka, largely Banjaras. Only one youth in the entire population was literate enough to draft a letter, so getting children into education became the first priority.
The youth here were keen to be involved from the start, and took it upon themselves to build our first centre. Apnalaya started a medical programme and school sponsorship, sewing and literacy classes, all involving community participation. But finding women to train as balwadi teachers and health workers was difficult because of the low educational level in this community.
It was here that the citizenship programme was initiated, favouring rights-based solutions to issues. Apnalaya played a key role when the government shifted the community out of the BARC colony to Mankhurd, where they were eventually settled into newly-built tenements in 1994.
As getting children into school and preventing drop-out was a priority in all the centres, programmes included preschool education, sponsorship for school going children, and structured recreation. In 1977 we started a Workshop training programme to train balwadi teachers, not only for Apnalaya but for NGOs all over Mumbai, which became a flagship programme. Community health projects were launched with the emphasis on preventive health education and maternal and child health. Apnalaya was one of the first NGOs to train local women as community health workers to work in their communities.
By 1990 we were stretched to our limits with centres spread out between south Mumbai and the Western and Eastern suburbs. However, following the riots in 1993, our work in Shivaji Nagar gathered new momentum, and two new centres were opened on the far side of Shivaji Nagar, in Padma Nagar and Shanti Nagar.
Further programmes were added: sports coaching and organising an annual inter-school sports event, awareness and prevention of drug abuse, HIV/AIDS, and later TB control. Work with community groups on civic issues such housing and water increased, and in Shivaji Nagar community groups were mobilised to participate in the Slum Sanitation Project of the Municipal Corporation. A pioneering collaboration was initiated to be run jointly with the Rationing Department which led to the setting up of Rationing Kruti Samiti.
To help meet our own requirement for community workers we started a Para Professional Training programme in 1991 in which for many years we trained workers for our own needs as well as for NGOs all over Mumbai. By 1997 the number of staff employed by Apnalaya had increased to 80 of whom 75% were from our communities and trained by us as balwadi teachers, health workers, counsellors and Para Professional workers.
Gradually hard work paid off, but it took time. For the results of our concerted effort to ensure school enrolment and prevent drop out to show results took a generation. For the health benefits of safer delivery, regular immunisation and better nutrition practices to become apparent it took years. Giving people the knowledge, skills and confidence to strive for a better life for their families and their community has always been Apnalaya's goal. As the condition of the communities in which we had worked improved we began the process of withdrawal.
In 1998, as Apnalaya celebrated 25 years, we were well into withdrawing from 3 of the communities where we had been working for most of that time – Jaiphalwadi and Datta Mandir in Tardeo, and Wadaripadda in Malad. All three communities were embarking on Slum Redevelopment Schemes and would eventually move into tall apartment blocks, with water and electricity and a much better living environment. Chikuwadi community was also rehoused in new buildings, and some programmes were either closed or handed over to local groups to run. By 2001 withdrawal was either complete or well under way in all four communities, and we had decided to focus on Shivaji Nagar where, alas, there was no prospect of better housing in the foreseeable future.
From the start, working in Shivaji Nagar was completely different from in our 4 other slum communities, though it took us some time to realise it. A Municipal resettlement area for communities removed from slum pockets elsewhere in Mumbai, families were provided with plots of 10’x 15’ on which to make a home. Space for common toilets was provided but were seldom functional. In 1976 most of the houses were made of tin sheets, but over the years as their condition improved, the residents in the plots built more pukka housing, some 2 or even 3 floors high. But infrastructure was minimal from the start and has remained so, with insufficient schools and medical facilities, shortage of water and electric connections, and a complete lack of planning for commercial space such as for banks.
Bounded on three sides by the dumping ground, peripheral land was gradually reclaimed and encroached upon, giving rise to a number of “illegal” settlements. Initially our work was concentrated on the Lotus Colony side of Shivaji Nagar, extending up to Rafi Nagar. Then came the riots following the Babri Masjid demolition in December 1992 and again a month later, which were particularly bad in Shivaji Nagar, and Apnalaya was appointed the nodal agency for relief work. Only then did we witness the extreme deprivation of the families living in Bainganwadi on the far side of Shivaji Nagar, in largely “illegal” settlements on the edge of the garbage dumping ground. Since they lacked even the most basic amenities we started work here with a preventive health programme funded by the government through PVOH-II. Soon more centres were opened, balwadis started, and work with adolescents and women and with rag pickers, forming them into a group to address their common needs.
Many new programmes were started in response to expressed needs, and run in new centres in rented space in more communities. These included starting a family counselling centre, sewing and mendhi classes for women, Government funded programmes for drop out children and working children, extending school sponsorship, and launching the Challenger project to work on disability. By now the communities around the garbage dumping ground were the main focus of our work, where the people were mainly rag pickers or involved in some way in recyling. Many hutments, but not all, were considered “illegal” and therefore not entitled to the basics such as water or electricity, sanitation or roads. So over time, instead of being able to withdraw as we had in our other communities, we were under constant pressure from the community to become involved in more and more problem areas, being the only NGO they could turn to for help.
In 2009 we embarked on a restructuring process, to take stock of what we were doing and to set future direction. In the process some programmes were transferred to community groups or other NGOs to run, some were closed down as their purpose was fulfilled, and the key interventions realigned in keeping with our vision. Facing pressure to expand, the decision to stay focused primarily on Shivaji Nagar and M/E ward was taken, as there was still a long way to go before we could consider these communities as self sustaining. The outcome was to see Apnalaya emerge stronger, and more focused on Integrated Community Development, recognising that issues are interrelated, and that in addressing micro issues we should not lose sight of the bigger picture.
The need to run services remained, particularly in Health and Disability. But the focus shifted to training community members, adults and children, to respond to the needs of the community across all the main areas of concern. Once trained these community volunteers become the backbone of Community Based Management.
Increasingly it became apparent that for families to achieve a better standard of living usually several issues have to be addressed. Targeted intervention with severely malnourished babies and children to improve their nutritional status is unlikely to bringing about lasting improvement if other issues impacting on the family are not addressed. These might include domestic violence, chronic illness, environmental hazards, lack of water and sanitation, or as is usually the case, extreme poverty.
From 2014 onwards the focus on enabling communities, to avail its rightful entitlements, has intensified through a structured, curriculum-based Citizenship programme. A community-based management model is being tried out to ensure sustainable community development. Detailed measurement and evaluation tools have been put in place to enable Apnalaya to capture data across all programmes, collate this data for measuring impact, and track the impact on the families and communities. This also enables Apnalaya to carry out a number of research projects relevant to the environment in which we are working and for which reliable date is sorely lacking. Apnalaya is now recognised for its research capability, and is able to play a leading role in advocacy for all marginalised groups in Mumbai.
Details of current programmes can be found here in the Annual Reports uploaded in the Gallery section.