Sucheta Dalal :SNEHA: helping mothers for child care
Sucheta Dalal

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SNEHA: helping mothers for child care  

March 18, 2010


From their experience of saving the lives of newborn babies…


From healing the physical wounds of battered women…


And wondering what happened to them once they went back to the environment from which they came… was born an organisation which offers friendship and support.


Every Wednesday, a group of doctors would meet in Dharavi (one of Asia’s biggest slums) and discuss how to help mothers and reduce infant mortality and malnutrition. They included Dr Armida Fernandez, a neonatologist and former dean of Lokmanya Tilak Municipal General Hospital and Medical College, Mumbai and Dr Soans. While Dr Fernandez wanted to set up a structure to offer help, Dr Soans offered to finance it. The sudden demise of Dr Soans may have been a setback, but his wife Patricia decided to fulfil her husband's wish and provided the seed capital to start SNEHA.


SNEHA was born in the Mumbai slum of Dharavi on 27 November 1999—the perfect destination to help address the special needs of nutrition, health and education of women and children, especially newborns, but offering quality and standardised healthcare. The need for Sneha is evident in the statistics.


One out of two children in India is malnourished; 54% of Mumbaikars live in slums and 450 mothers out of every 100,000 die during childbirth. Dr Fernandez was to change these numbers. SNEHA works with poor women to help them understand basics of personal hygiene, importance of breastfeeding, nutrition for expectant mothers and babies. The work begins with adolescent girls, who are told about the ill-effects of early marriage and motherhood. Expectant mothers are also contacted through house visits and group counselling, given lessons in first aid and taught how to help out during childbirth. These activities are conducted under a programme called ‘City Initiative for Newborn Health’.


SNEHA encourages women to work within their ecosystem by using Appreciative Inquiry, a process that explores the power of sharing success stories and positivism. It encourages individuals to look for possible solutions and facilitates behavioural change in a process that has positively changed many lives. Such counselling is offered across its 30 facilities.


In the area of child health and nutrition, SNEHA has initiatives like ‘Aahar’ and ‘Nutrition Day Care Centres’ to deal with child nutrition. Mothers are made aware of nutrition and dietary changes which don’t deviate drastically from the family’s food habits. There is also regular screening to identify children with congenital heart disease and to provide medical assistance. 


SNEHA also offers counselling and rehabilitation to victims of domestic violence. Even today, 66% of women face physical & mental harassment in their own homes. These women are encouraged to share their trauma through counselling and group therapy. In most cases, the first step is to get all the parties involved together and interact. If communication doesn’t help, then SNEHA’s volunteers help the woman file a police complaint and take the matter forward.


SNEHA also provides regular health services through OPDs, and also offers holistic healthcare to senior citizens. It encourages senior citizens and young girls to attend activities held at its centres, which also conduct social, recreational and skills-oriented activities and vocational training. These life skills are aimed at helping them earn higher incomes to support themselves and their families.


SNEHA's activities are funded through donations, corporate sponsorship and fund-raising events. Like most NGOs, it requires monetary support as well as volunteers in order to expand its work, especially in the areas of preventing transmission of HIV/AIDS from mother to child, and sexual harassment at work, for women living in slums.


SNEHA is registered as a voluntary organisation, under the Bombay Public Trust Act, 1950. Contributions are eligible for exemption under the Income Tax Act and the Foreign Contributions Regulation Act for overseas donations.
Aparna Ramchandra

You can help SNEHA by contacting it at the address below:



Urban Health Centre, 4th floor,

60 Feet Road, Dharavi,

Mumbai 400017

Telephone: 24042627/24086011


-- Sucheta Dalal