Saturday, October 21, 2006

stamped Impressions
She raises funds for kids

Reeta Sharma

Lady Slynn is chairperson of Child in Need Institute, UK
Lady Slynn is chairperson of Child in Need Institute, UK

You cannot guess her age for she not only looks young but also talks and dreams like a youngster. Born in France but settled in the UK for the past 50 years, Lady Odile Slynn has beautifully reached out to the poorest of poor in the Third World besides devotedly working for SPANA (Society for Protection of Animals Abroad). She is also the chairperson of CINI (Child In Need Institute), UK, a branch of CINI in Kolkata.

Lady Slynn, wife of Lord Slynn, a judge in the Supreme Court of the UK, travels to India at least twice a year. "I fell in love with India the very first time I came here. People in the West have a drastically wrong impression of Kolkata. They think people there are dying on roads of hunger and poverty. I too had this dreadful impression till I visited the city, which is so full of warmth and richness of heritage. The enchanting architecture, handicrafts, art, literature and what not, Kolkata, in fact, is the true representative of India’s diversity."

Lady Slynn was a teacher for nearly 20 years before she became involved with a trust, which was dealing with prisoners. The members of this trust called Independent Monitoring Board are nominated by UK’s Home Secretary. This board acts as a watchdog. Lady Slynn has been working for the prisoners through this board for more than 20 years. When she learnt about the role of SPANA, she promptly joined it too.

"SPANA was founded by a mother (Frances Kate Hosali)-daughter (Nina). duo Incidentally, Frances was married to an Indian from Bombay who had deserted her under pressure from his parents. In 1920, when the mother and daughter were travelling to North Africa to escape the English weather, they were shocked to see the plight of working animals in Algeria. Sheer poverty and ignorance were the reasons for cruelty towards donkeys, horses and mules. Both of them were so haunted by the plight of the animals that on their return they founded a society for the protection of animals,"

In 1980 Lady Slynn was made chairperson of the society. She expanded SPANA’s work sphere by making it provide first-aid and mobile medical vans, hire veterinary doctors, and make children aware and sensitive about the plight of working animals around them. "If you educate children to be considerate towards animals, you make the future existence for these hapless beings a little more pleasant and humane. Donkeys, camels and horses are marvellous animals who work anyway on the command of human beings, so why whip them out of sheer habit or ignorance," says Lady Slynn. SPANA currently is very active in African and West Asian countries.

Apparently Lady Slynn gained repute as a devoted social activist. One day she received a call from Dr Samir Chaudhary, the founder of CINI in Kolkata. He approached her to open a chapter of CINI in the UK to which she responded immediately and enthusiastically. Thirty years ago Dr Chaudhary established a small clinic at Loreto Convent in Kolkata, where poor children received free treatment. Today CINI works to break down the cycle of poverty, malnutrition and ill health. It also provides basic education to the poor. The institute’s mother and child health programmes train health workers, who then make regular visits to slums and poor villages. These workers educate mothers, extend help during childbirth and ensure that babies receive primary immunisation and medical attention. According to CINI, one quarter of the world’s maternity-related deaths occur in India and one in every 10 babies in India dies before the age of 6 due to malnutrition.

CINI in the UK has a different role to play. "Dr Chaudhary wanted me to start a fund-raising branch of CINI in the UK. I readily accepted as I had seen its work in Kolkata. I launched CINI in the UK in 2002. In the current year, CINI UK’s priority areas are breaking the intergenerational cycle of poverty, malnutrition and ill health. We want to provide educational support to vulnerable children living in India’s slums and poor villages. Also, we are supporting the fight against the spread of HIV and AIDS in India."

Lady Slynn had come to India in the early 1970s and had taken interest in Project Tiger initiated by Indira Gandhi. In an interaction with her, she was frank enough to say the West had passed on many of its problems to India solely because it was cheaper to outsource from the Third World.

"I am totally opposed to imposing western definitions and ideas on the Third World," says this Catholic who loves collecting Lord Ganesha statues. Lady Slynn admits, "It might sound a bit pompous on my part yet I have to say that the rich are getting richer and poor poorer in India. The so-called eight per cent economic growth of India is not trickling down to the grassroots."