ACCESS was set up by Mr. Thomas Swaroop and five friends – Noelenli Marshal, Francis Kumar, Julie Swapna, Navaneethamma, Padmini Hastings -back in 1992. It was born in response to the neglect and exploitation of children in the stone quarries of Bangalore.
Born and brought up in Bangalore, Mr. Thomas Swaroop grew up in a lower-middle class family. His father used to work with the army, which is what brought this originally Andhra Pradesh-based family to Bangalore. Of his 4 siblings, Thomas was the only child who was sent to the English-speaking Church of St. John’s; his siblings used to go to his family’s church – St. Peter’s Church. “My father had foresight. He sent me to the Church of St. John’s because the Pastor at that Church was well-versed in English. He believed that interacting with the Pastor there would help hone my English skills. And he was right.”
But as Thomas recalls, it wasn’t his English skills alone that Rev. Joe Mullins honed. Mr. Thomas Saroop was greatly influenced by him and considers him his father-figure. Rev. Joe Mullins used to help underprivileged children in the vicinity of the church with their basic needs and education. In fact, taking Thomas into his fold was partially an act of charity too since Thomas’s father’s army salary could not give a family of six too comfortable a lifestyle. While Rev. Joe Mullins is well over 90 today and has retired in Australia, it was his wish that more underprivileged children continue to be helped.
ACCESS was born while Thomas was trying to keep his father figure’s wish alive. Back in 1992, while working with the Delhi-based National Relief Organisation, Thomas used to pass through the Matanahalli Bande (Bande is the Kannada word for rock) area, 20 kilometers away from his home. At that time, this area lied on the outskirts of the city of Bangalore, and builders were working out of here to develop the main city. Thus migrant communities from Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh had set up small huts, converting part of the area into a slum. While drinking tea at a lone tea stall in the area, Thomas learnt of the stone quarries and rampant child labour in the area. He decided to ride his bike to the quarries to witness the condition of the children himself. He saw some children transporting bricks/stones and others helping break stones – both manually taxing tasks.
Hurt by the fact that these children were missing out on their childhood, Thomas decided to do something about it. Along with 3 of his colleagues from the National Relief Organisation (the same 3 colleagues are Board members of ACCESS today), they started weekend-based activities for these children – buying sweets and toys for them, spending time reading stories to them, to giving them a basic education. With time, the scale of these activities plus the number of children increased; and thus the needs for more funds too.
In order to facilitate better and more transparent fundraising, ACCESS was registered. Through the orgnaisation, these children now had ACCESS to education, health, social and spiritual growth; an idea he got from a Mastercard credit card that he held back in the day that had the word “access” printed at the top implying access that the card now gives to buy goods/services that one wants. Thus the name ACCESS. It is also an acronym for “Association for Community Care, Education and Social Services.” Help also came from the Chennai-based Caruna Bal Vikas Trust, for the sponsorship of 27 children. And it was only a matter of time till the organisation was able to reach out to more donors, thus being able to expand their activities.
“It’s always been need that has lead to the development of activities at ACCESS,” says Mr. Thomas. He recalls, back in 1999, a labourer brought his five-year old daughter to their center. His wife had passed away and his labour-profession took him to different sites across the country, very few months. He was thus finding it very difficult to take care of his daughter, Sundari. So it was for 5-year old Sundari that their foster care programme started. Sundari today is all grown up today and in her second year PUC at Goodwill Pre-University College in Bangalore’s Frazer Town.
Like Sundari, the organisation has helped 700 children till day (at their 3 centers in Langarajapuram and Chellikere in Bangalore) extending beyond Matanahalli Bande to Hosur Bande, Kadagara Bande and Hennur Bande. From Peter and Muniraj who is work at IBM to Nagaraj who will soon begin work at one of GiveIndia’s other NGOs – Diya Foundation. Thomas and his team have given themselves a target of helping 1,000 children by 2016.
What’s worth noting is that Thomas and his team have achieved this feat by working part time at ACCESS. They keep regular jobs to keep the home fires burning. Till 1997, Mr. Thomas worked with the National Relief Organisation, whose focus is to respond to natural disasters; till they decided to shut their Bangalore-based office and shift all activities to Delhi. He worked with victims of the 1993 Latur Earthquake as well as those of the 1970 Andhra Pradesh cyclone, while here. Since 2000, after three years of trying to juggle multiple roles, he came onto the payroll of the Caruna Bal Vikas Trust; and has been overseeing the activities at ACCESS too (since inception).