Founded by the Mar Thoma Syrian Church of Malabar, India, in 1994, the Navjeevan Centre has pioneered a holistic approach to social transformation, in which development of children through education, healthcare, food and shelter plays a pivotal role. WCC central committee member, Bishop Dr Isaac Mar Philoxenos, describes the work of the centre as an expression of “God’s love in action, bringing light to the lives of many.”
“It is about empowering children to alleviate poverty and enable them to lead a life of dignity,” he explains.
It all began by reaching out to women and their children in the red-light district of Mumbai, where many were trapped and exploited in the commercial sex industry. By providing opportunities for women to give up their demeaning occupation and work towards integrating them into society as a family, the Navjeevan project has gradually brought meaning and dignity back to thousands of women. And at the same time saved their children from ending up in the same trade.
By providing programmes for both children and their mothers, as well as village outreach programmes aiming at achieving self-sufficiency through sustainable growth, a holistic approach to social transformation is taken.
“Poverty can only be alleviated by addressing its roots. First of all, children need shelter, food, care and compassion in order to develop, secondly, they need education. The community aspect is extremely important in order to convince women working in red-light areas to return to their villages – and in the long run to never leave their villages in the first place,” Philoxenos explains.
The main strength of these programmes, as he sees it, is that they are saving thousands of lives in the red-light areas and that they provide hope for a better life for underprivileged and commercially sexually exploited women and their children.
By targeting both the root of the problem and the misery it entails, the Navjeevan project has inspired churches around the globe to launch similar programmes.
Also, emanating from the Navjeevan project, is the Light to Life India, a project of the Malankara Mar Thoma Syrian Church, focusing on social transformation and development of communities through education of children.
“Although, there have been many hurdles to overcome, these programmes have served as models for social transformation. They have clearly had an impact and made a huge difference in many people’s lives. It is all about sharing God’s love, that we have received, through our actions by providing better opportunities for people in need. It is being a Christian witness by virtue,” Philoxenos concludes.
The moderator of this confessional meeting, Frederique Seidel, WCC senior programme executive and partnerships manager - Child Rights & Climate Solutions, agrees: “This is a very concrete example of Churches’ Commitments to Children, targeting several causes at the same time. Helping children out of the shadows and into the light, empowering them as actors in their communities, and transforming injustices is an approach which unites churches and partners towards a better future”, she says.