On 3rd and 4th of February 2015 about 170 people gathered in Chennai to celebrate SOCHARA-CEU’s Ten years community health journey in Tamil Nadu. Mentors, executive committee members, staff members of SOCHARA, Community Health Learning Program (CHLP) fellows, associates, partners, Health workers, friends of SOCHARA and the most importantly community members across the state including elected representatives all came together and lit the lamp to guide the trajectory of next decades journey of the unit.
Though Chennai CEU unit started its continuous journey since December 2004 after Asia Tsunami, SOCHARA’s engagement in Tamil Nadu’s “Health for all” initiative begun way back thirty years ago with the TN Voluntary Health Association, the Kottar Social Service Society and other groups and individuals. This link was strengthened in the year 1999-2000 through supporting various organisations in mobilization for the first Jan Swasthya Sabha in Kolkata and the first People’s Health Assembly (PHA) held in December 2000. After the launch of the Jan Swasthya Abhiyan (JSA) a number of activities took place. During JSA’s Right to Health Care campaign and in related to public hearings held in Chennai, SOCHARA played an important role to support Makkal Nala VazhvuIyakkam (MNI-Tamil Nadu JSA unit) to organize the southern regional public hearing. In 2004, during the Tsunami disaster in Tamil Nadu, SOCHARA mobilized medical teams and helped local institutions in medical relief in Nagapattinam and Cuddalore districts of Tamil Nadu. Subsequently in response to needs expressed by local community and civil society groups, SOCHARA set up a small Community Health Cell CHC) extension unit (CEU) in Chennai in February 2005.
Since then the unit started building communities in various settings including in man-made and natural disaster affected areas; strengthening Peoples Health Movement (PHM) in Tamil Nadu; supporting like-minded civil society organisations and advocating a people centred public health system in Tamil Nadu.
In line with SOCHARA’s believes and history, we decided to celebrate this journey with every individual we connected in Tamil Nadu. “Celebrating partnership and the role of SOCHARA-CEU in Tamil Nadu” was the theme for the two days event. The entire event was planned under four broad categories viz., a) disseminating and sharing of SOCHARA’s initiatives in Tamil Nadu, b) reflections of each one’s association with SOCHARA-CEU, c) preparing a road map to future initiatives through comprehensive analysis of the current situation of Tamil Nadu from various perspectives and d) giving meaning to the partnership.
Based on that, on 03rd February 2015 a full day meeting was organised with 120 people across the states as well as Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka. First Panel discussion was on “Experiences of civil society in building community accountability mechanisms to strengthen people oriented health system in Tamil Nadu” chaired by Mr. Selvaraj, land rights activist. Senior social activists from Environment (Ms. Swetha), Land rights (Mr. Selvaraj), Educational rights (Mr. Prince Gajendira Babu), Child rights (Dr. Shanmuga Velayudham) and Health rights (Dr. Chandra) areas shared their views and experiences of building people centric accountability mechanisms in each sector.
The second panel discussion was on “Engaging with current situation of health and health system of Tamil Nadu” chaired by Dr. Kurien George, Head of the department, CHAD, CMC Vellore. This session was analysed the national policy environment by Dr. Thelma Narayan, current policy environment in Tamil Nadu by Dr. V.R. Muraleedharan, The government measures to tackle the situation by Ms. Girija Vaidyanathan I.A.S, and the alternative perspective was shared by Dr. Rakhal Gaitonde.
The third and final panel discussion was on “The role of civil society and the center towards responding to the current context” was chaired by Prof. A. Marx, writer and human rights activist. Views from Women’s movement (Ms. Suganthi, AIDWA state president), Un organised labour union (Ms. Sujatha Modi, NTUI), Health system (Dr. Amalorpavanathan) and civil society (Mr. Shankar, DHVANI) shared their views.
Broadly the workshop stressed on, the need for core health system strengthening activities, supporting larger movements other than health sector by the unit, building equitable health status in Tamil Nadu from social justice perspective and broadening the alliances in Tamil Nadu. SOCHARA need to build upon its future activities in Tamil Nadu based upon those broad suggestions.
On 4th February 2015, about 170 people gathered in Balamandir German Hall to give meaning to the partnership and the initiatives taken by the unit in last decade. Wider group of audience representing various sectionassociated with the unit gathered and the day started with the “Paraiyattam (One of the forms of drums)” by Chennai media group and a Bharathiyar song by Balamandir Kamaraj trust’s children as representation of the wider association of the unit. Dr. Mohan Isaac’s presidential address video was shown followed by key note address by Mr. Devasahayam, Retd., I.A.S. officer who insisted SOCHARA’s future involvement should also be in larger determinants such as corruption, water privatisation and public health issues including alcohol.
In order to show inclusiveness and alliance building on of the principles of SOCHARA, the documentary film on Community Action for Health process was released by Panchayat presidents from six districts of Tamil Nadu and received by the NGO partners from the respective districts.
One of the major involvement of the unit in the past decade was working with the Village Health Water Sanitation and Nutrition committees (VHWSNCs) in 446 Panchayats and few committee members from Kandhili block of Vellore district performed Karagattam.
Fellowship was one another important involvement of the unit. Mr. Venkatesan, CHLP fellow and extended team member’s social awareness songs were released followed by submission of gratitude of SOCHARA to Balamandir Kamaraj Trust for their continuous support all these years.
The program concluded with felicitating Dr. Chandra, senior health activist and great supporter of the unit. The overall purpose of coming together, celebrating the journey together and giving meaning to the partnership was the overall thread of the entire day.
2. Dr. Mohan K Issac's Presidential Message