Published: 01st June 2017
Born and brought up in a slum in Chennai, this MCC lecturer now works for the upliftment of slum dwellers
Joshua Jayaseelan, a professor who continues to work in the slum he grew up in wants to make it an example for other slums to follow.
For those of you who’ve lived in Chennai, you’re probably accustomed to Harrington Road being one of the city’s poshest localities. Would you be taken aback if you heard that there is a slum in the area? I certainly was. Appasamy Street is unlike any other slum. It’s a happy place, where people have learnt the art of self-empowerment and depend on each other to survive. It was Joshua Jayaseelan, currently a professor at Madras Christian College (MCC), who initiated this method of living.
The 38-year-old was born and brought up in the same slum. “My parents were government servants, and so I was privileged to receive an education,” says Joshua, who went on to do his Bachelor’s in Botany at DG Vaishnav College. However, the people in his locality didn’t have the same opportunities. “As I continued my studies and research on human rights for slum dwellers, I realised that if I need to work further for the benefit of my community, I need to study further. So I joined the Department of Social Work at MCC. The training we received, the exposure we got, and the on-site practice, helped me explore myself and my abilities,” says Joshua. In 2007, he started working with the Madras Christian Council of Social Service.
I want this slum (Appasamy Street) to be an example to other slums in our country. I hope they can follow our models, which have worked very well for us
Joshua Jayaseelan, Social Work Lecturer, MCC
Joshua realised that slum dwellers don’t give much importance to education because they simply don’t have the money. He asked himself how they could fund their own education. “In social work, we have a term called appreciative enquiry. The four steps are to dream, discover, design and deliver. I wanted to have a design for this community. So in 2009, the members of the slum decided to contribute a small amount every month towards what we call the ‘education fund’. In the first year, we raised `66,000. This small initiative grew leaps and bounds, and today we support about 46 children,” says Joshua.
Appasamy Street is unlike any other slum. It’s a happy place, where people have learnt the art of self-empowerment and depend on each other to survive.
The only responsibility for the beneficiaries is that they have to pay back a small amount when they start earning. The money is again used for the education fund, thus ensuring that the system is sustainable. Joshua recalls a young boy who landed a job at MRF and contributed his entire first month salary towards the fund. Joshua and the other leaders then tried to discover their other assets. They realised that they have a lot of good cooks in the community. So they proposed to run the canteen at WCC and the authorities were very kind enough to accept their proposal.
In 2013, Joshua got a job at MCC. “Now as a teacher, I am able to teach social work and at the same time practise what I teach. My experiences help me constantly update my knowledge,” he says. In the month of April, the community members conduct career guidance classes, which Joshua leads, and they also have an achiever’s award every year to motivate all those who have passed their Board exams.
When asked if they’ve ever felt the irony of living so close to a rich locality, Joshua says that it has actually been a blessing in disguise because they procured a lot of daily labour opportunities. Like every other member, Joshua too gives back to his community. “If I don’t work for my people, who will come here and work?” he asks, and adds, “I had a lot of opportunities to do other things, but I believe this is what I should do and this is what I want to do. I have got a lot of support even from the college. They took interest in my work and have helped with funds for housing here.”