Over the past week, SST in Padavedu hosted newly minted MBA graduates who were recently hired to work in the TVS Group’s Marketing and Human Resources departments. We joined them in their training and traveled with them throughout the plains and tribal areas. The purpose of the MBA graduates’ visit was to observe the initiatives facilitated by SST in Padavedu and the surrounding areas. The TVS group finds their social programs so worthwhile that they have invested their time and resources to expose people in the for-profit sector to SST’s work. As the development arm of TVS, SST’s hosting of TVS employees represents their strong commitment to corporate responsibility.
After the MBA graduates left, we went to Venugopal temple that Saturday via tractor. We went up a rocky mountain overlooking all of Padavedu. There we spent the day feeding monkeys, having a picnic, and singing under the shade with our friends from SST. Before the prayers began, I met with other temple goers. Going to temple is not only a religious experience, but a social one. I was taken by how many people were there who I had already spoken with in the SST office. SST is ever present in the community and maintains relationships with people who are involved in temple. Through these bonds, community members feel more comfortable to come to the SST office to discuss issues with animators and Community Development Officers (CDOs).
SST’s role in religious institutions emphasizes the importance of community engagement in social work practice. Animators are recruited because they are members of a community in the Padavedu region. Through collaboration with panchayats (communities) and village leadership, animators are chosen as the best available people to empower their own community. Unlike the American conception of a social work-client relationship, the animator-community relationship does not have a suggested power imbalance. Rather than visualizing a professional who provides a service, an animator is more appropriately seen as an individual whose career is to empower a community in which they have a vested interest. Animators have family, friends, and acquaintances that benefit from SST programs and their success is seen in the improved quality of their lives and the lives of those around them.
Later in the week, we went to the Adi Friday Festival in the Sri Renugambal Temple which illustrated how animators’ role in religious events engages communities and makes the social work profession more visible and appreciated. Virtually the entire office attended the Adi Friday Festival in one of the animator’s panchayat. Animators staffed the event by passing out food, flowers, and coconut milk used for prayers. They also organized spectators during a traditional dance. Because animators support one another by attending events in other panchayats, people in Padavedu and the surrounding areas are aware of the services SST provides and that staff members are involved and interested in the many facets- from physical to spiritual- that improve individual well-being.