October 31, 2011

Discover Dharavi

Dharavi is the last of the places a person will like to discover when he comes to the glamour city of Mumbai. Although, in the recent times thanks to movies like Slumdog Millionaire, it has become an indigenous element of the travel plan of any firang visiting Mumbai, assuming to see what real India is. However, this extends beyond...

Social Service League of St.Xaviers College, Mumbai discovered this potential which Dharavi has. The aim was to involving well to do students in discovering for themselves what lies beyond Asia's largest slums. With visionaries like Tanvi Shah and Lizann Fernandez, there were tie-ups done with URBZ ( and Sneha ( .

This picture is taken just outside the URBZ shelter. There were initial obstacles as to what type of program, college going youth can bring in. Will those used to a comfortable lifestyles and latest gizmos, be able to interact and in fact make a difference in the lives of small children. So, they decided to name the program 'Discover Dharavi'. The objective being discovering for oneself, how one with the passion to make a change can mould himself in a completely new environment and start with small steps.

This picture shows how Amitav Ghosh has extended beyond boundaries and language barriers following the SSL motto says "Leave the place better than it was." This should be an inspiration to Indians as should we wait for people from outside the country start transforming it?

Moving on with the story, posters were put up on the St.Xaviers and social media (Facebook) was used to appeal to the youth. Similarly, classroom announcements were made. So began the process of attracting youngsters to Discover Dharavi. The response were good, with many excited to visit Dharavi in the first place. But the question still remained, 'Can this be made sustainable?'

Thus, the journey began. From exploring the bylanes of Dharavi which are confusing, to exploring the underground flourishing industry which lies within, it was an eye-opening experience.

Finally, they made their way through and the work began. The door opened and now they had tasks to accomplish and challenges to face, quite different from the ones at college. They found this process interesting. More than a discovery of Dharavi it turned out to be a journey a self-discovery.

Another, task undertaken was to invite the slum kids and paint the Dharavi Shelter. As seen in the picture, you can see children engaged in creativity and happy to build something of their own.
Colours that define childhood. A child feeling happy at her very on Mickey Mouse.

This picture shows how a cute dog made a rather broken wall more beautiful.
Blue-the colour of hope. Children having fun at mixing colours.
Such, adventures thus became a routine. With students visiting the shelters, twice a week after college and when they got time. And this time, the 'time' they spent with the children mattered the most. With making them dance of boogie woogie, to teaching them nursery rhymes, narrating stories in English and asking them to introduce themselves in English, it boosted their confidence.

Shown in the picture, Xavierites finding transport back to home. But somethings brought them back to this place. Some emotional incidents being pulled by children to see their colony ganpati or just being asked by them ' Will you come next week again?'

The objective of writing this blog is to draw light on how this model can be prototype by other colleges. Rather than just doing social work to get media attention and acknowledgement, how can youth be involved in impacting the grassroots.

Picture courtesy:
Lizann Fernandez and Gisho Gajbhiye.

Article courtesy:
Saahil Narang,
SSL Secretariat.

September 29, 2011

Can you handle the heat?

Forms available at the SSL and Fr. Terry's office. Last date to register is 5th October.

August 3, 2011

The SSL Report 2010 - 2011 (College Magazine)

We started the year with a vision: to make the Social Service League bigger than it has been and align all projects so as to bring about greater social impact.

We also noticed that of the 3000 students in college 2000 didn’t know what the SSL was and there were only 200 registered members. A huge number of talented and driven Xavierites were not contributing; therefore our first goal was to make the SSL more visible. After weeks of brainstorming over the summer we came up with a new plan, new ideas, a new work culture and a new logo.

We introduced new projects and restructured the old ones to make sure that our focus remained on social service.

The first step we took was to work with Malhar in order to reach out to more students. We tied up with the Malhar Social Cause Campaign and a two day blood drive was conducted in early August. The second blood drive which was conducted in January benefited from the tie-up as we learned how to organise a larger scale blood drive more effectively. Over the two blood drives we had 689 donors donating a total of more than 700 units of blood: the highest numbers we have achieved. One of many proud moments to come.

Every Sunday, a small group of enthusiastic SSLites went to a Cheshire Home in a quiet corner of Andheri. The residents are paraplegic men who have amazing stories to share. Cheshire visits changed from just interactions to helping the nuns who run the place with basic administration work. The Cheshire team spent time with the inmates during Diwali when we celebrated the festival of lights: singing, dancing, playing, eating.

A new concept of the SSL was G. I. Joe. This project was started with a long term vision to make an impact on the environment from inside Xavier’s. Differently coloured bins were given to Anna in the canteen for segregation of kitchen garbage into dry and wet waste. We then started with an experimental vermicompost pit behind the hostel building, generating a couple of bags of compost. The Joe team also made progress with another sub-project called The Bicycle Project. Cycles were collected from around the city,repaired and cleaned up, and then given to schoolchildren in a village at Palghar, Maharashtra. Thirteen bicycles were donated and the students were chosen on the basis of their academic profile, financial needs and the distance they travelled between home and school every day.

One project that everyone would directly associate the SSL with is Project Care. Pre-visits , Project Care and post-visits. Aligning the objective of Project Care to the larger vision of the SSL, it was decided that the project should impact children in a more sustainable way. Project Care visits started in July and not in November. We identified Navjeevan Centre and Our Lady of Dolours School as two NGOs. Every week 20-35 volunteers went out to these centres and taught the children Maths and English, followed by creative sessions that stimulated the children’s thinking. This culminated in a two day event in December where the kids came to Xavier’s and spent the weekend with their didi/bhaiya, taking part in all the activities and workshops planned.

The Exhibition and SSaLe that was handled by the Publicity team was a major success. The Exhibition was not focused on just one theme; all members of the SSL were given a free hand to make a poster on any issue they felt for. At the Exhibition we had around 200 visuals spread across over 30 socially relevant issues. The SSaLe section had stalls from the SSL and other NGOs. The SSL stall had souvenirs made from old calendars, invitation cards and other recyclable products. The Publicity team did an awesome job this year: a testament to their hard work was the membership numbers increasing by 400%. The numbers jumped from 220 in the previous year to 850 this year.

50 SSLites. 10 days. 1 aim: rural impact. Rural Camp, the popular SSL project, is a ten day camp where fifty SSLites go to a village for ten days of manual work which will directly impact the community in some way. To go to last year’s campsite and see the completed fish-pond was a morale booster. This year our task was to level a patch of land for cultivation. Working seven hours each day for ten days, we have to admit that we are only halfway there, but . it’s not just the village that we impact: all campers who come back feel that their lives have been transformed when they realise how much they have pushed themselves in those few days.

Workshops is an open-ended project which tackles current socially relevant issues by organising talks and, well, workshops. This year, SSL General Body Meetings were organised where everyone was invited to be a part of a discussion. First, everyone was updated about the current progress of the SSL and then we opened up the floor for anyone who wanted to give new suggestions about projects and any issues that we could work on. We worked with Smoke Free Mumbai , creating awareness about the hazards of smoking and the laws surrounding smoking. We also ran a petition signing campaign on the days of Malhar where were collected more than 2000 signatures from college students against the lenient laws around smoking in public and low taxes on smoking. SFM is now working with more organisations to collect enough signatures to appeal to court. There were workshops supplementing Project Care and Rural Camp and a talk by an executive from Childline. The Workshops team ended with a bang by putting together the NGO Mela where NGOs are invited to come sell their products and use the revenue generated for their activities.

The year came to an end; satisfied by moving a step closer to the vision, we handed over the baton to the next year’s Exec-Comm, who are now working full swing to try and maximise the impact the SSL has.

Aadi Rungta

General Secretary 2010 - 11

July 18, 2011

Cheshire Home: A whole new year.

Last Sunday, the Social Service League had its first visit first visit of the year to Cheshire Home. This was the first visit for many of us new SSL members, including me. As soon as we got there, we were greeted by Sister Melba, the administration in-charge. She further told us about the basic needs of the home and instructed us to do specific jobs. Some of us had to clean the terrace, which had clogged due to the monsoon, while some helped dig a compost pit for bio-degradable waste. Some volunteers even helped in the workshop by painting articles that are made by the men staying at Chesh. A couple of the volunteers even helped a few residents with his studies.
Every volunteer contributed wonderfully in their own way. We had a lot of fun as did the residents. They were really happy to see us. At the end of it all, it still felt as if we have done only so little… But I plan to visit Chesh every Sunday and every visit better than the last one.
Sohail Gupta

March 2, 2011

Applications open!

Dear friends,
It's been a great year for the Social Service League. We've had over 700 blood donors, close to 900 members, revived the Cheshire Home project, instituted a new one in the form of G. I. Joe, conducted a sustainable Project Care, an incredible Exhibition and publicity campaign, an insane Rural Camp (if you know what I mean) and a Workshops department with fantastic ideas. Also, even if I do say so myself, the Executive Committee of 2010 - 2011 has been rather killer. Fr. Terry, as always, has been, well, himself.

All of the above, and so much else besides, was possible due to the dedication of the Secretariat, a core group of about 20 to 25 people that run the various projects of the SSL and contribute to its functioning throughout the year. It is our pleasure to inform you that applications to be a part of this close knit and elite group are now open. The format is:

Necessary details
Past experience (SSL and otherwise)
Why are you applying to the SSL Secretariat?
What new things do you think the SSL should do/take up, if any?
Elaborately explain, especially in case of a new project, what exactly you would like to do as a part of the Secretariat and how you would manage and implement these ideas.
Mention three of your skills/talents?
Describe the SSL in three words or less.

Anything else you want to add.

Word association, quick!
1. Project –
2. Terry –
3. Aadi –
4. Ambition –
5. Exec –

If you feel worried, confused or are otherwise caused discomfort by any of the above questions, by all means omit them. You may email your applications to or drop them off at the SSL office or at Fr. Terry's.

The projects we're retaining from last year are:
Blood Drive
Cheshire Home
Creatives (Publicity reinvented)
G. I. Joe (modified)
Project Care
Rural Camp

Thus your options comprise, but are not limited to, the above projects.
We look forward to welcoming you to our family. Last date to apply is the 15th of June.

The SSL.

P.S. - For any queries or doubts feel free to contact us at or:

Elton - 9867952811
Herold - 9920304714
Neil - 9821827726
Vaishali - 9833800132
Nihar Nair - 9820819844

December 5, 2010

Rural India, Urban French.

When I came back from camp, one of my French friends asked me how it was. I told him that we woke up at 5 a.m., dug for hours, slept on the ground and ate spicy food. Horrified, he said, “You enjoyed that?” “Of course, I did,” I replied. It was a great experience and I met amazing people. I learn a lot - how to throw gammys, how to participate in a ‘cock fight’, how to be a goalkeeper in a water polo match and how to try to sing a song in Hindi without understanding what I was saying, how to eat with my hands and even how to catch mud with my eye (which is not so easy, I was particularly good at this last activity).

What was funny in camp was that everybody kept on asking me, “What’s up Léa ?” Most of the time, I didn’t know what to reply with, except when I was passing gammys. After spending ten days with them, I can say that the friendliest people I met in India are part of the SSL, for sure.
Conclusion: Camp was a lot of mud…sorry, I meant to say fun, if you know what I mean."

- Léa Clouteau

Exec Comm note: Some jokes just can’t be explained. You’ll just have to make it for Rural Camp 2011!

November 28, 2010

Life lessons

Just as every saint has a past, every sinner has a future. Here are my adventures on the matter. I considered the SSL weirdos, attic dwellers on the ground floor (blasphemy strictly in violation of the code) and overall morcha kind of people. I was no better being a science dude, fourth floor dweller (it would be an attic if it had a roof, that distinction left for the biology guys and gals). I spent most of my time huffing and panting, walking up the enchanted stairs to class and down, cursing the mornings, the 4th floor and Statistics.

My association with the SSL started in my second year because I was told that the Rural Camp was a quick and simple way to get a social service credit. So before deciding to apply for the easy way out I walked around to the office to confront the creatures that inhabited the room under the stairs. Man was I wrong about those people! There was a magic about the place. I walked out of that office after applying to be a sub-secretary at Project Care, a post I later got.

Rural Camp became my first proper interaction with the SSL, since PC would only come at the end of the year. It is an experience I will not forget. The QQ’s, the entertainment sessions, the jokes and the fatigue weren’t the memories I retained. It’s a feeling, this sublime feeling that one can’t describe, a feeling that is felt differently by different people but it’s a feeling that is just absolute bliss. You learn things without being taught, you see things without looking, you come back with empathy and compassion you never possessed before. These lessons in humanity were reinforced during PC.

I will always admit, I learned different lessons in life at different times and places and through this journey called life I will learn many more, but at SSL and Xavier’s I learned to be a good human being. To Father T and the rest of my ‘SSL peeps’, I will always be thankful.

- Akshay Thiagrajan.
SSLite for life

November 25, 2010

Fun Factor

   The first few days at college were rather boring, if not disappointing. I was lost. We were just having a look around the place when I first stepped into the little SSL office and registered as a member, not too sure of how I would be able to help. At that time I was a bit nervous, now walking into the SSL comes naturally and I owe it all to my first SSL project - The Exhibition and SSaLe.

   On a normal evening when I was whiling away my time in front of the TV, I was asked to volunteer for the Exhib. I was hesitant but I still said yes. The next day we had a little meeting and suddenly I knew so many people! And amazingly, they knew me too! Ever since that day, I never felt lost again. We would be working till around 8 in the arches, laughing, gossiping and so much more. I kept going back to work every day, not because it was imposed but because I always wanted to. It translated into more fun than I had ever imagined. Getting to work on this sort of project in one's first month at Xavier's is honestly the best thing one can hope for. It gives you an unparalleled sense of belonging - to the organisation, the college and the people. The things we came up with in like such a short span of time were amazing.

   From brain-storming to actually making everything, it was just a beautiful journey! That’s when I realised, we have some of the most amazing seniors. Not remotely close to those typical scary, bullying ones you expect. They were warm and welcoming not only in the beginning but also throughout the Exhib and even after. The suggestions we put forward were always appreciated, and they’d help us make them better. They treated us wonderfully. At the end of the event they showed their gratitude in the form of a very cute hand-written, personalised note!

   Now when I come home early in the evening and while away my time in front of the TV or the computer, I actually miss the Exhib, the work, the staying back and everything else. I’ve met some of the most wonderful people and made the most beautiful friends, all while contributing to a social cause.
                                                           - Siddhi Pathak.

November 5, 2010

The SSL and I

   In the four years of my life at St. Xavier’s, this is the first time that I have been associated with the SSL. I met some of the most genuine people in college here. Among the plethora of organisations in college where one witnesses one-upmanship and power hunger, the SSL is a place where I have observed these sentiments the least, if not none at all. We have archetypes in college. There are people that are musically inclined, the photographers and the teachers’ pets, to name a few. However the SSL is truly a diverse group of people that welcomes everyone – painters and writers, the old and the new, with open arms. In my rather brief association with the SSL, I have realised that everything that is conceptualised eventually falls into place. For example, the two hour workshops end up having a full house irrespective of the publicity, as everyone spreads the word. This collective spirit is what drives the SSL. The leadership is enjoyable as nothing is ever imposed and flexibility is believed in. Like all other clans, the SSL sure knows how to party and have fun, especially the Exec Comm! (wink, wink.)

   Some of the most memorable moments of my college life have been with the SSL. One vivid image that comes to my mind is that of the children at Navjeevan hugging us and not letting us go. It takes just that one hug to keep them happy. Be it action or taking the initiative, the SSL has done it all. The Bicycle Collection Drive and projects like G. I. Joe are great initiatives that have been undertaken with a lot of passion. To me, the SSL doesn’t preach much. It just acts and sets an example. That has been the greatest lesson for me. I truly respect all those that are silently working for a cause. The SSL has many such heroes. If one needs to give an example of unconditional love, I have one: Aaron’s love for the SSL! His brownies, enthusiasm for Rural Camp and general ‘being there’ attitude is phenomenal!

   All in all, there is a selfish reason to be a part of the SSL. The Blood Drives, Project Care, the Exhibition: they just make you feel good. Many people say that there's nothing that matches up to the feeling of helping someone less fortunate. They're all speaking the truth. Being an SSL-ite uplifts you, and the people around you. Whether it's studying in Fr. Terry’s haven, chilling in our little ‘office’ or looking forward to an 11 day long, cellphone-free camp, I feel happy and proud to be associated with the SSL!

- Kshiti Gala.
Project Secretary, Workshops.

The Bicycle Project

SSLite for life

   As I begun to write this a host of brilliant and the most amazing memories rushed past me. It really does feel like it was just yesterday. The SSL was always special for me. I knew about it heard about it even before I joined college. When you’re coming from a family like mine where almost everyone from your parents to your uncles and aunts who have been a part of the SSL as either General Secretary or well Project Secretary it gives you a complex instantly because you’re expected to live up to that and I had pretty big shoes to fill.

   I wasn’t instantly drawn towards the SSL. It was more like a direct order. So I did. Initially never really hung out there much. Then Rural Camp happened, and something magical took place. The reason I say magical is because I suddenly found myself doing things I would never thought I could. But I will get back to that a little later.

   What is the SSL in a nutshell? Well the answer is quite simple. Fr. Terrence Quadros S.J. The heart and soul of one of the longest running institutions on campus. Although now he considers himself old I would say he could still give any teenager a run for his money. What I think he’s been able to do with the SSL is quite amazing. The SSL is not, I repeat, not an organisation that does work and tries to change the world and make a huge difference. I believe it changes the people we are and in fact empowers us to take on and change the world. It has also introduced me to some really amazing people who I would otherwise have never met, people who have definitely made an impression on me.

   Rural Camp that’s where it all began for me actually. I went without knowing anyone. I was the only JC, that too in my FY, so it was kind of scary actually. But I came back a changed person. People always ask you how Camp changes you, what it’s all about. My own brother who will be going for Rural Camp this year asked me the same thing. I refused to tell him. Well it’s also kind of hard to explain. The best way to understand is to go for one yourself.

   Being Rural Camp secretary in my year was amazing, a lot of hard work I might add, but immense fun. The afternoon river sessions to the work in the pit and of course, the bogs (for those who don’t know what the bogs are have a word with this years General Secretary of the SSL Aadi Rungta who was Bogs Secretary in my year.). Then of course there are the Quotable Qoutes (QQs) which form a very integral part of Rural Camp. An example (Terry to another girl while working in the pit), “I will get behind you and give it to you from the back.” I don’t think he’ll be too happy I wrote that.
The simple food, those entertainment sessions and so may other things. Rural Camp somehow is a reminder of the way the rest of the world lives and an eye opener to all. It’s something I always looked forward to every year of college.

   As I wind up I remember Terry narrating another story to us all about a dream he once had. In that dream an angel appeared to him and granted him a single wish which was that hence forth he would meet only the most beautiful people. Well I honestly think that dream came true; through the SSL. I have to say that in my years as a student in college and a member of the SSL I have come across only the most beautiful people. The friends I have made I know will last for years to come.

                                                                - Keegan Crasto.
                                                                  Assistant General Secretary, 2009 - 2010.

November 3, 2010

Had I known how to save a life

“A child’s mind is like wet cement, whatever falls on it, leaves an impression.”

   Influencing the mind of a young child is perhaps one of the million things that most of us take for granted. Unfortunately it is also one that has the most far reaching consequences. Even more daunting is the thin line of balance that one treads while interacting with children who are less privileged than we were. Children who have experienced more adversity than most adults can afford to ignore throughout their lives, children who may have been robbed of their innocence due to fate, but are vulnerable to the repercussions of our callous actions all the same.

   Is over protectiveness the answer, or a superficial sense of normalcy?  Would these children be eager for our attention or resentful of our assumed role as caretakers and self-righteous preservers? In our quest to answer these complex questions the SSL held a workshop on ‘Caring for Children’ on 11th August, as a prelude to the Project Care visit on 14th August to Dolours School, Marine Lines. The session was conducted by Ms. Raheen Jummani, a clinical psychologist and child counselor who has had tremendous experience in therapy for underprivileged children across diverse sections of society.

   The workshop did not deal with jargon or psychological concepts and theories. We were instead called upon to consider our childhoods, to consciously remember each injury – mental or physical – that someone had unintentionally caused and every warm gesture that lightened our days. This simple but effective exercise drove home the point of being able to throw our preconceived notions and prejudices aside, and establishing a relationship that is based on our own experiences as children.

   Ms. Raheen stressed on the importance of honesty while working with a child. Children have a tendency to become attached to any person who gives them the requisite care, love and affection needed to win their hearts, however short the time period. In such a circumstance, it becomes vital to explain to the child the sudden absence of a volunteer or replacement with a new, unknown person.
She warned us of over enthusiasm, encouraging us instead, to listen more than talk and observe not just the obvious, verbal clues to a child’s personality but also the more subtle ones. A refreshing point that was brought to our notice was the necessity of knowing when to give up in case a certain child seemed unable to respond or take to your personality. As frustrating as it may seem, children may harbour extreme likes and dislikes, leaving a volunteer with no choice but accept the situation as beyond remedy and move on.

   However the essence of the workshop could be summarised in the inherent need to trust your instinct. As we learned that day, taking care of a younger person, being sensitive to a person’s needs and background cannot be taught in the four walls of a classroom, it must be acquired through experience, through a keen sense of observation and through an earnest desire to be able to help. Working with a child implies an immense responsibility, the responsibility that you undertake with the power to shape a life, the power to influence a budding mind, the power to bring a little light into a life that has probably seen more than its share of miseries. You could be careless with this responsibility, decide that it doesn’t amount to much and let the consequences follow or you could make a conscious decision to care for the child, respect the trust placed in you and to honour the duty you have committed to.

“Children are great imitators, so give them something great to imitate”

                                                                                     - Nikita Saxena (SYBMM).
                                                                                        Project Secretary, Workshops.