Daijiworld Media Network - Mangaluru
Mangaluru, Aug 15 : Her short frame belies the tall personality she has grown up to be even as she is celebrating her 90th birthday which coincides with India’s Independence Day. As she steps into the privileged nonagenarian group the twinkle in her eyes and the unwavering determination to continue the service to the society which she has been doing all these years, is evident in Dr (Sr) Olinda Pereira body language. She truly personifies the popular cliché “age is only a number it is the feeling that matters”. It would be an insult to her if I say she is ‘active’ because she is more than mere active – she is still bubbling with lot of energy and the determination she exudes is sure to send strong vibes of admiration for her.
The fact that even at 90, she attends elderly who need care, attends and conducts meetings and goes out to participate in seminars or symposiums, amply demonstrates her dogged persistence to go on doing what she likes most – service with no strings attached.
When I went to meet Dr Olinda Pereira at Vishwas Trust for the elderly, in Valencia, she quickly finished her simple lunch and was ready in ten minutes for a long tete-a-tete. Dr Olinda is a multifaceted personality – an educationist, social service activist, a pioneer in the field of social work education in Karnataka, the one who has worked for the welfare of the elderly and continues to do so, in the process inspiring the younger lot to give something back to the society in their own little way. “I was very selfish as a child and never used to like when people used to come asking help. It was my mother who changed my perception”, Olinda reminisces.
Credit goes to her for being the first official Principal of the School of Social Work, Roshni Nilaya Mangalore, having taken over the responsibility of running the social work department from the founder Ahearn Arline, an American nun who had gone back to US on health grounds. When she could not come back due to some visa related issues Dr Olinda was asked to take over the responsibility. It is her persistent efforts that resulted in getting recognition to Roshni Nilaya in 1967 from Mysore University as the first social work college in the state culminating in her becoming the first Principal of School of Social Work, Roshni Nilaya.
The first thing that came to my mind in the process of talking to her is her dogged perseverance and Felcy Pinto, who has been working along with her for the last 15 years agrees with my observation. “Having worked with her for all these years I have been greatly gobsmacked by this amazing quality of her never-say-die spirit. She is not the one to give up even when the stakes are down. When Vishwas Trust failed to get grants despite trying for several years, she never gave up trying and finally succeeded. This quality of Dr Olinda is quite appealing to me and many others like me who have worked with her”, says Felcy who has high regards for Dr Olinda and her devotion and dedication in the service of humankind.
Olinda was born on August 15, 1925 as the youngest among the three daughters of Lilly and Bernard Pereira in Mangalore. The family had its house in Kankanady, the present premise that houses the Prajna Counselling Centre. “That my birthday comes on August 15, is just a coincidence”, she says with her usual candour. “I was born 22 years before India got Independence Day. But celebrations have been part of my birthday because Catholics celebrate August 15th as the day feast day of the Assumption of Mary” she recalls. I prod a little more and she muses over saying “I always used to question my mother when I was young why you take all the children to church on my birthday but not on my sister’s birthday. Then my mother explained to me the significance of the day”.
Olinda’s father was working as an accountant for a large firm in Mumbai and once Olinda was born her mother came back and settled in Mangalore. Naturally it was her grandfather Dr Simon Mascarenhas, who worked as a medical practitioner in Fr Mullers hospital for nearly decades, influenced and inspired her. “I learnt a lot from my grandfather because he was a very altruistic man who never discriminated between the rich and the poor. He was very caring and kind to others and service was his motto. I remember this incident which is clearly embedded in my mind. When a distant relative , a widow used to come home every month with her child asking for help, he used to say “voni ayli” to give a feeling that she is a family member and never disowned her just because she was poor”.
Her eldest sister Veeda (went on to become Sr Bernadette Pereira) became a nun and it had a profound impact on the young Olinda who felt a similar spiritual inclination. Her second sister Cynthia was married off and settled in Mumbai. As such, the responsibility of taking care of the aged parents fell on the shoulders of Olinda Pereira. Though she joined the congregation - “The Daughters of the Heart of Mary” in 1960, it was only after the death of her mother in 1975 did she join the convent as her superiors had given her permission to stay with her parents.
Olinda who obtained her MA, BT and Ph.D in Clinical Psychology from Mysore University excelled both as an academician and administrator and her talent was rightly recognised by her superiors. As a result even after her retirement she went on to execute some credible responsibilities assigned to her. She was given the responsibility of setting up a hostel for young working women “Prabhath Tara” on a plot that was bought by the congregation in R K Puram. It was a hostel for working women on self service basis to accommodate 130 working women. After three years she was sent to Nairobi to be in charge of the provincial house of the congregation. “It is always a challenge to successfully accomplish the task assigned to me and I always cherish that satisfaction”, she asserts.
She was once again given an opportunity to come back to Mangalore after her stint abroad. She faced a personal tragedy when her elder sister Veeda died following an accident in 1989. To surmount the pain and to keep herself active she started visiting some of the old people in the vicinity of Mangalore. It was then she got a peek into the plight of some of the old parents who were living alone with their children working abroad or in bigger cities in the country. “During my visit I felt that these people were feeling lonesome. So I gathered a group of about 10 people and started visiting elderly people on rotation basis” she explains. Then it was felt that the elders need to overcome their lonesomeness and some needed help to carry out their regular chores. “We catered to all sorts of elderly people in need of our help. Some were rich but needed help to do their errands including shopping of grocery and other items. There were many who were financially not strong and needed our help.
Our aim was to help them and as per a survey done by students of St Agnes we came to know that there are about 3000 elders in the city” Olinda recalls. Her efforts to work for the elderly resulted in establishing Vishaws Trust in 1999 and since then has been working relentlessly for their cause. She was instrumental in setting up the toll-free helpline -1090 for the elderly in association with the Mangalore police. Her own old age notwithstanding she continues working with the same zestfulness that has been her trademark for nearly 6 decades. Vishwas trust functions from Valencia from a home gifted to the Trust by Lawrence D Souza.
Simple, humble, workaholic with frugal needs and requirements Dr Olinda is the true personification of dedication and commitment in the service of humanity. When asked what gives her satisfaction without batting an eyelid she says “teaching was my first love and social service was just an extension of the work I loved. I feel happy when my students do well and excel in their chosen field. Vinaya Kumar Sorake was my student”.
Hilda Rayappan, founder of Prajna Counseling Centre, is Olinda’s student from the first batch 1967-69. Hilda who is a well-known name in the field of social service in Mangalore says “Olinda has not only built institutions she served but has built a band of dedicated people. She is an inspiration to me and I always remain indebted to her because today whatever little I have been able to achieve I owe it to her”.
In this age where greed has come to be accepted as normal it is gratifying to find people who find happiness in serving others. It is unfortunate that she was given the district Rajyotsava award in 2014 when she deserved it much earlier. While she has no unfulfilled dreams she wants to give a word of caution to the youngsters – “think of others and don’t be under the impression that whatever little you do is small. Even smallest of the service has its own value”.