Alphabet of a Revolution

 

Rapid urbanization and migration to urban cities provided the backdrop for the birth of Mobile Creches. An idea born out of compassion for children, indignation at their plight and the determination to make change, Mobile Creches stepped into the arena of Early Childhood Care and Development, in 1969.

 

Meera Madhevan, Founder - Mobile Creches

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Meera Mahadevan, doer, dreamer and founder of Mobile Creches, died on July 22, 1977. She left behind a strong functioning organization. Mobile Creches carries the mark of her personality and thinking, in its very structure, to this day. It is fitting that we start our blogspot with excerpts from a tribute, eloquently penned by Devika Singh, in her attempt to record in perspective the shaping influence of Meera - her friend, colleague, and the founder of a movement.

 

She was born in Karachi in 1930. She belonged to a small Bene Israeli community. There was no affluence in her home. Her father worked in the Port Authority. He brought dignity to his humble job by his uncompromising honesty …                

 

These were hard years ... Vinoba and socialist thought were shaping her ideas, bringing into focus the problems of India’s poverty. This focus was only to sharpen with the years till it became a passionate obsession.

 

Her marriage also brought the hard experience of isolation and rejection by her father and the Jewish community. From now on she was on her own … Whatever the pain of these broken links, she grew to value the freedom it gave and was always impatient with the demands social ties imposed on the Indian women … Her natural delight in childhood was counterbalanced by her frustration of the constraints imposed on a woman rearing her child in a nuclear family with limited means … Perhaps her passionate response to the need for Creches was born out of her feeling for motherhood, for working mothers, their tensions and the responsibilities …

 

In 1969, when her son was old, right on her doorstep a situation presented itself. Across the road a pavilion was being raised to a great man - Gandhi. Rajasthani construction labourers, men and women, worked from eight to five. Their children trailed behind or wandered loose on the building site. Nothing new. It was, as it had always been. But there was something about this moment in the maturation and life and experience of one woman, and perhaps in the moment in history … A Creche for these children …

 

Mobile Creches Archives: Humble beginnings

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A simple thought needs simple action to go with it. India’s children do without almost everything, so do India’s poor … Surely a creche in India does not need to cater to the material needs of the family, but does need to provide a worker to take over the child from its enforced neglect. It does not need to give him bright toys, or clothes, or a brick and concrete building … but it does need to give him medical help, nutrition, teach him, watch over him for safety, and with care. So the Creche movement was born, simple, practical and basic.

 

… Mobile Creches, with mud plaster murals, the traditional wooden jhula (swing) … created an atmosphere in which the mother and child felt at home. Patchwork, many-holed tin sheets formed the roof, a hand pump shared by the community and, of course, no latrines … The creches were, each one, as rough and rudimentary as the jhuggies(slum) around them. Meera disliked the intrusion of English, visual material with western settings, and foreign looking toys, into the centers … it helped to make a migrant community at home with a totally new experience. The establishment of a dignified relationship is the basis of any successful program. Mobile Creches’ methodology is firmly rooted in this.

 

No one was allowed to complain about the sun, the exposure, the equipment that had to be packed each and everyday and carried to a distant storeroom given by the contractor. A belief in austerity went deep down in Meera’s own nature to her Jewish roots and to the hardships of her growing years … For her it was also a philosophical belief reinforced by Gandhi’s thought, in the value of simplicity and discipline as essential for the growth of the human spirit …

 

… In October 1969 when three creches were in operation under the auspices of the Centenary Sub Committee for Women and Children, the planners, remote from the field, rejected the need to continue the creche program after the completion of the centenary year. Meera learnt the bitter lesson of social work carried out by people away from the field. Thus the first action … was to form an executive out of the volunteers already shouldering responsibility in the field … Mobile Creches was registered as a separate society with a donation of Rs.100 from a friend to enable the society to start a bank account. This was an act of courage and of faith. Meera saw to it that the principle of work was written into the constitution of the society …

 

In 1972-74 Mobile Creches was well on its way … The war was being waged on many fronts. There was the battle of getting Mobile Creches accepted by the contractors and by the government. Persuasion, patience, guile, one upmanship, confrontation - the whole gamut of methods was tried … There (was) ungrudging recognition from all that she established the Creche movement in this country by taking an uncompromising stand for the underprivileged child … There was never any doubt about the genuineness of her anger at life and opportunities passing by the children on the streets. There was never any doubt that Mobile Creches working in the circumstances it did had shown a way to combat this problem.

 

Meera disliked seeing people away from the field. She hounded them out of the office … all specialists who could not take these demands were rejected outright. Today, thanks to this concept, Mobile Creches has a sturdy team of workers able to take the tough circumstances and function in them with flexibility and resourcefulness …

 

In conclusion I would like to say that Mobile Creches does have a special feeling for childhood. Meera was interested in children. She enjoyed them. She shared their need for freedom and also their need for warmth and approval. During her rapid visits to the centres, she noticed the individual child, enjoyed a moment’s conversation with the children, and remembered them.

 

She saw the child as a whole being, saw his need to be handled with love and respect as essential to his wellbeing as healthcare and education. This vision lies at the core of the comprehensive care provided at a Mobile Creche centre … her work and the organisation she had created is based on fundamental insights and sanity of approach, which will stand the test of time.

 

 

 

 ---Devika Singh, founder member Mobile Creches

 

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