Q&A with Dr. John Fernandes, Director of MASARD

Tom Edwards, SOTE’s Development Officer, spoke with Dr. John Fernandes during his visit to Tamil Nadu in January 2017 to discuss MASARD and the new partnership with SOTE.

Tom: How did MASARD start?

John: MASARD started in 1983 after years of active involvement with the rural poor, and after training myself professionally in this field. I put together a team of like-minded friends and social work professionals and founded MASARD.

Tom: Can you tell me a bit more about your background and experience?

John: My early childhood was greatly influenced by the work of Christian missionaries. I studied in their school and actively participated in their charitable works with the poor. The great happiness I was experiencing from this work inspired me to train myself professionally with a Masters in Social Work (MSW) and then follow with a PhD in Social Work. For a few years I also taught Social Work to MSW students. I have also been on the Governing Board of several NGOs and been able to contribute positively to their effectiveness, which has given me great pleasure.

Tom: What was your motivation to start MASARD?

John: For several years I worked in the villages and volunteered my services to those in need.  All these experiences inspired me to set up an NGO through which we could reach out not only to individuals but to bring about change to entire families and communities. 

Tom: What is life like for those living in rural areas in Tamil Nadu?

John: There is poverty everywhere and there is an increasing anger at the lack of opportunities to improve their lives. Agriculture was the backbone of rural economies but is now becoming unsustainable and so as a result, the poor are becoming poorer and the gap between rural and urban areas increases.

Tom: Is life different for those living in rural villages compared to those in urban areas?

John: The majority of people in urban areas are migrants from rural villages who moved to the cities to have better access to opportunities for development e.g. better educational facilities, employment opportunities and access to credit. The greatest magnet that attracts the poor to the cities is that there is a reduction of caste based discrimination which still prevails in the villages.

Tom: SOTE is running a child sponsorship scheme with MASARD. What changes is this going to bring to the lives of children involved?

John: With sponsorship support provided by SOTE, children are able to dream and achieve a brighter future for themselves, their families and their community. A few years from now, due to SOTE’s interventions and existing community resources, every child in these communities will be in school and as a result there will be great improvement in their health conditions. Through capacity building, skills training and strategic planning, the vulnerable sections in these communities will be empowered and the poverty level in these villages will be substantially reduced.

If you would like to read more about MASARD's work, you can read more here

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School Children from MASARD, Tamil Nadu, India
Tom Edwards