Venkatram Iyer left his job as a marketing manager of Unilever in Muscat and came to Bengaluru in 2000. Being fond of teaching, he taught some school children. Soon he and his wife, Vijaya Iyer, adopted 15 girls and started teaching them. Gradually they started providing English teachers to the convent school. "When we talked to the nuns in the convent schools, we realised that we could do more than just providing English teachers," Venkatraman Iyer told The Logical Indian. In 2001 they formed the Swabhiman Charitable Trust. It works in the slum areas in Rajendranagara, LR Nagar, Neelsandra, Austin Town, Vivek Nagar and Ambedkar Nagar that is home to 15,000 families.
Swabhiman's areas of work include interest-free microlending, charity clinics, scholarships, community computer labs, women empowerment programs, and daily meals to the slums. Interest-free microlending began 16 years ago aimed at lending money to women free of interest. The program, which initially lent to 10-20 women, now lends to 350 women. "Although we do not ask for any identification, registration, bank guarantee or anything of that sort, the women always promptly lend back the money when they realise the benefit it has for their family," said Venkat.
The clinics operate in Rajendranagar since 2003 and provide medical treatment at ₹10 for almost 100 patients every day. Besides providing medical treatment, the clinics also provide home remedies to prevent sickness.
The education scholarship that began 13 years ago now provides financial aid to 250 girls. "These students now have graduated, have a good job and often come back to help our trust," said Venkat.
They also provide training to women stitch to cloth bags. The bags are then sold for ₹150-200 each. Twenty-eight women have been benefitted from the programme so far.
Apart from this, Swaabhiman also provides around 10,000 meals every month by collecting leftovers from corporate houses and distributing them to the slums every day except on Sundays. Since the pandemic began, they have also been providing grocery kits to 1500 families.
When asked how the lockdown has affected their initiatives, Venkat said that their education activities have gone for a toss. "We try doing our bit with online education, but it's just not the same. We still continue giving the daily meals. However, the number of people have reduced from 10,000 to 8,000," added Venkat.
"Last year, we were able to acquire police passes which helped us drive through the city, and we had also conducted COVID-19 awareness at our slums with the help of 36 volunteers collaborating with the Azim Premji Foundation," said Venkat.
Speaking on the effect of lockdown in the slum areas, Venkat said, "It's not the fear of corona that has affected them, but rather the economic downfall caused due to the lockdown."
"This lockdown is worse than last year for the people in the slums. They have no savings to live. Their businesses had just picked up in January and February when the second wave began in March and finished their savings. The uncertainty of the lockdown is killing them. Last year, they were provided with some food rations, but this year, that too is absent," Venkat added.
"The people are always waiting for food when we go to their houses. On Sundays, there is a sense of desperation when we go there without food. Every day, they're uncertain if they'd get food that day," Venkat said.
If you wish to donate, Swabhimaan has a donation drive on Milaap, or you can contact them if you have any information regarding a permanent resource for their daily meals service.