Born into a Catholic family in Falnir at Mangalore as the youngest of the three sisters, Rita Olinda Periera embraced the religious order of the Daughters of the Heart of Mary (DHM). Dr. Olinda Periera pioneered social work education in the state of Karnataka by setting up the School of Social Work "Roshini Nilaya" in 1960 under the auspices of the Institute of Social Service which offers BSW, MSW, and PhD besides other courses affiliated to the Mangalore University.
As its Founder-Principal, Dr.Periera was an outstanding mentor and a role model. She was not only a great social work teacher, but also a social work practitioner of eminence. She founded the Urban Community Development Centre, Home Science Institute, School for the Blind, Family Service Agency, and Working Women's Hostel. She is keen to promote education and empowerment of women. She has now been engaged in creating a Golden Age Eco Village for the comprehensive community-based care for the elderly as Director of Vishwas Trust. Dr.Periera says that "there should be a law which enables Right to Dignified Death on the lines of the Right to Education and Right to Information". Olinda Periera has been a tremendous source of inspiration to hundreds of young men and women. Olinda Periera is synonymous with selfless service to humanity, and has been a recipient of many awards in India and abroad. In her 90 th year, Olinda Periera's birthday falls on the Indian Independence Day : a befitting coincidence .
Tribute to Olinda Pereira
Henry J. D'Souza*
Set your heart on doing good. Do it over and over again, and you will be filled with joy."
If persons can be considered as musical instruments, then their contributions to society are the melodies that emerge. Dr. Olinda Pereira's life has been such a sweet melody that has brought joy and comfort not only to those around her but also to those who are touched by the organizations she founded and programmes she initiated.
I first met Dr. Pereira when I started my master's degree in social work at the Roshni Nilaya School of Social Work in Mangalur (also spelled as Mangalore in the anglicized phonetics and Roshni Nilaya means house of light) in 1975. Unlike typical nuns with distinctive garments as a mark of their congregational identity, the Daughters of the Heart of Mary (DHM), an international religious society that was founded in France in 1790 during the French Revolution, the religious society that Dr. Pereira belonged to, wore sarees that blended with the traditional attire of the women in India. My first impressions of her were, that she was kind, friendly, full of joy, and easy to approach. She, instantaneously made one feel at ease. Dr. Pereira was a professor and the principal of the Roshni Nilaya School of Social Work, affiliated to the University of Mysore at that time. I was a student in her classes where she taught Abnormal Psychology. Dr. Pereira was the first one to introduce me to various types of mental illnesses and the symptoms that accompanied each, occasionally pondering whether I had those psychopathic symptoms myself, during her lectures.
Born in Falnir, Mangalur, she turns 90 in 2015 on the day of India's independence. She made her First Profession, an expression for, becoming a DHM nun, in 1962 and was a pioneer to establish the DHM Society in India along with Paiva Couceiro. She is one of the founders of the Roshni Nilaya School of Social Work in 1960, one among the early schools of social work to be established in India. As a result of her tireless work—mobilizing the support of the helpful bureaucrats, academic and community leaders and her supporters in the DHM, she jumped through bureaucratic hurdles, raised funds, and set up a number of community outreach service agencies such as the Urban Community Development Centre, the Fibre Centre, School for the Blind, Home Science Institute, Family Service Agency, and Anganwadi Training Centre in and round Mangalur. Over the years, these agencies have served thousands of poor and needy people. Besides offering B.A. degrees in a number of disciplines, Roshni Nilaya offers Bachelor's in Social Work, Master's in Social Work, Counseling, Criminology and Forensic Science. The doctoral degree in social work was introduced in 1983. The National Assessment and Accreditation Council of India has accredited Roshni Nilaya with 'A' grade. The social workers who graduated from the School, are serving all over India and around the world.
After 20 years as a principal, Dr. Pereira retired in 1984, but she did not stop working. The plight of the elderly in Mangalur drew her attention. With the changing family structure—two-child families, erosion of the traditional way of taking care of the elderly by children who stayed in the parental home, has exacerbated the problems elderly face. Marriage and jobs result in children moving away leaving the elderly parents to tend for themselves without any social support or assisted living facilities as in many developed countries. Recognizing the plight of the elderly, Dr. Pereira founded the Vishwas Trust in 1998, to train caregivers for the elderly and setting up a 24-hour helpline and developing comprehensive care giving facilities. This, indeed is an indispensable service to the people of Mangalur, a city that was ranked 13th in elder abuse based on a survey by Help age, India in 2013.
The Mangalur community has expressed its appreciation to Dr. Pereira's long service, by conferring her the prestigious Abbakka award by the Veerarani Abbakka Utsava Samitiin January 2011. The International Institute for Public Policy (IIPP) recognized her as the Outstanding Community Leader for the 2013-1014 year. Dr. Pereira was alsohonoured with the privilege of inaugurating the International Day Against Drug Abuse on June 26, 2014.
I have admired Dr. Pereira's work from far; I wish I could have observed it up close. Dr. Pereira wasn't pleased about my leaving India after getting married to my classmate, Eliza, who had immigrated to the U.S., and to pursue my doctoral studies. One ends up where the random events in our lives, which the Indian culture recognizes as, 'Adrishta' the unseen, invisible, and fate, take us. When I was a student, Dr. Pereira helped me far more than I realized at that time. I joined the School of Social Work after leaving the St. Joseph's Seminary in Jeppu;'jumping the wall' as such acts are reproachfully labeled, gave much anguish to my mother who wanted me to be a Catholic priest. Changes like these are distressingand turbulent at that young age. Dr. Pereira was a strong support during those difficult years. I would not have completed my Master's degree in social work, if she had not secured me a scholarship from the Indo-German Social Service Society. She counseled and guided me through my youthful injudiciousness when I was a student and during my first jobs at the Mukka Welfare Society and the Madras School of Social Work in Chennai. As anindebted recipient of her generosity and grace, I am, and will always remain, grateful to Dr. Olinda Pereira. She is, indeed a blessing—Punya Athma—not only to me, but also to the community of Mangalur and has exemplified the Roshni Nilaya motto adopted from Tagore: "Love is made fruitful in service" in her life that keeps on giving ever so joyful melodies.
"Only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile."
- Albert Einstein
Dr Henry J. D'Souza
Professor Grace Abbot School of Social Work , University of Nebraska at Omaha , USA