Prof. Hilda Rayappan: Providing A Healing Touch For Those In Distress

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By Dr. Eugene DSouza, Moodubelle
Bellevision Media Network

Mangalore, 08 March 2012: On the occasion of the observance of the International Women’s Day on March 8, 2012 to celebrate women’s achievements throughout history and across nations, it is quite appropriate to look around us and pose a little to understand how far the women have travelled on the path of progress and empowerment. Women have been playing an important role in the family and in the society at large. However, their silent contribution has not been recognized adequately. Thus, Pope Benedict XVI in his General Intention for the month of March, 2012 says, "That the whole world may recognize the contribution of women to the development of society."


Though there has been perceptible change in the status of women, many still suffer due to various abuses and atrocities across the world. Discrimination, violence, trafficking, harassment, abuse and indifference still persist in different parts of the world, more so in India. The print and electronic media regularly flash out news about many crimes against women. Added to these, women belonging to the poorer and marginalized section suffer from lack of economic and social empowerment and live a life of drudgery and misery.


There have been efforts from the governments right from national, state to local level to improve the status of women through various schemes and programmes. However, these efforts are quite inadequate due to improper implementation and lack of seriousness on the part of the implementing agencies and lack of awareness among women. There are a number of Non Government Organizations (NGOs) who render service in various ways taking up the issues related to women and children and try to make a difference in their lives.

Prof. Hilda Rayappan

As the International Women’s Day is being observed throughout the world, it would be appropriate to highlight the service rendered by Prof. Hilda Rayappan, Founder Director of the Prajna Counseling Center at Kankanady, Mangalore. Incidentally, the center will be celebrating Silver Jubilee of its foundation in the month of April 2012.


In spite of advancing age, Prof. Hilda Rayappan exudes energy and fortitude in the work of empowering women and children especially belonging to the marginalized section of the society in the district of Dakshina Kannada. Broad smile and simplicity have been the hallmarks of Prof. Rayappan with ample teaching experience in social work and managing an organization with multifarious activities aimed at improving the status of women and children and creating confidence and self respect among them.


Coming from a humble migrant family from Kodivery, a small village near Coimbatore in Tamilnadu, Hilda Rayappan was born on May 15, 1945 at Mangalore as the third child of Muthappa and Mariamma. As her father Muthappa worked for the railways in Mangalore, the city became their home and Hilda, as she grew up became one with the city learning the local languages including Konkani and Kannada which she can speak fluently.


Hilda had her education in St. Anne’s Convent School from where she completed the SSLC. As she had a strong desire to study further, her parents whole heartedly supported her endeavours which enabled her to acquired B.Sc. degree in 1966 from the Government College, Mangalore and Master of Social Work in 1970 from Roshni Nilaya.


Starting in a small way as a counselor at a center associated with the Mangalore University, Hilda proved her ability as a resourceful counselor by helping a number of alcoholics to kick their harmful habit and rehabilitating a number of child labourers.


Having recognized the service of Hilda as a counselor, the United Nations awarded her the Fellowship under which she visited a number of European countries. She also took this opportunity to go to Philippines where she acquired ATSW degree in 1974 from the Philippines School of Social Work and in the same year she also did Masters in Counseling from the Ateneo de Manila University. Eventually, in 1996, Helen acquired M.Phil. Degree from the Mangalore University.


With a strong will and determination, Prof. Hilda Rayappan wanted to utilize her abilities and knowledge to be independent and work for the betterment of the deprived and marginalized section of the society, especially women and children. As she served as a lecturer of social work and counselor in Roshni Nilya, Mangalore for a long period of 29 years, Prof. Rayappan realized the need to rebuild the lives of thousands of women who were suffering silently due to various family and emotional related problems.


Children’s Fest

Community De-addiction Camp

Prajna De-addiction Center at Gorigudda, Kankanady

Children of the Labour Special School

Children and Staff of the Foster Home

Children of the Prajna Transit Home

Cultural Programme by the Self-help Groups

Prof. Rayappan with Mrs. Tilaka-Accountant and German Volunteers-Lea Diehl and Octavia


Prof. Rayappan and Co-founders of Prajna-Mrs. Celine Pereira and Mrs. Phyllis M. D’Costa

Inmates of Prajna Destitute Cottage

Girls from the Fit Institution

Legal Awareness Camp

Prajna Counseling Center

Prajna Family Counseling Center

Santwana Women Helpline State level Training Camp

School-based adolescent Reproductive and Sexual Health Awareness Programme

School based  HIV/AIDS  Awareness Programme

Some Children from the Transit Institution

Training on HIV/AIDS for Community Based Organizations

Trustees with Children from Foster Homes


The mission of social service was initiated by Prof. Hilda Rayappan along with two of her friends Mrs. Celine Pereira and Mrs. Phyllis Maria D’Costa in the form of Prajna Counseling Centre which was registered as a Trust in 1987 at Falnir Road, Kankanady, Mangalore and has grown over the years with multifarious activities centered around the empowerment of women and children.


Speaking about the circumstances that led to the establishment of Prajna which presently runs over 20 different projects aimed at the improvement of the condition of women and children, Prof. Hilda Rayappan said that she had the example of her own parents-Mariamma and Muthappa in social work. Before migrating to Mangalore, when cholera epidemic struck their  village in Coimbatore, both her parents  worked selflessly by taking care of the victims of the dreaded disease and  also making arrangements for the funerals of the dead victims.


Elaborating her mission, Prof. Rayappan continued that under the changing status of the society, the families have been exposed to many pressures due to economic recession, unemployment, alcoholism and breakdown of interpersonal relationships. With no means of opening up their feelings, women and children often end up as victims of psycho-social problems. Hence, with the sole purpose of helping such women and children in distress, the Prajna Counseling Centre was established.


Highlighting the service rendered by the Prajna Counseling Centre, Prof. Rayappan said that the centre provides counseling and supportive service for individuals and families suffering from emotional and various psychological problems. The chief objective of counseling is to prevent families from breaking up and to bring about reconciliation. Prajna renders free service through the help of competent and trained experts in the field of   psychiatry, medicine and law apart from professionally trained social workers and counselors.


Besides counseling, Prajna also carries out a wide range of community based, action oriented and people centered programmes and activities for the welfare, advancement and empowerment of the needy, poor deprived and socially marginalized sections in the community, irrespective of caste, creed, sex and status.


In 1988, Prof. Hilda Rayappan founded the Family Counseling Centre which has been aided by the Central Welfare Board, New Delhi. According to her so far over 6,000 cases of distressed women, girls and families were rendered assistance through this center.


Realizing the fact that alcoholism has been one of the chief causes of the suffering of women and children due to alcoholic abusive head of the family or other members, Prof. Rayappan started De-addiction cum Rehabilitation Center in 1992 with an emphasis to prevent violence against women and children. This programme has been sponsored by Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, Government of India. So far over 16,000 alcoholics have been treated at this center which is situated at Ujjodi, Gorigudda in Kankanady.


As there was encouraging response to the De-addiction programme, Prof. Rayappan initiated the Community Oriented De-addiction camps since 1995. The ten days camps in remote villages, slums and low income community areas have been conducting awareness programmes on ill-effects of substance abuse such as alcohol, drugs and tobacco.


With the aim of promoting economic and social empowerment of the women through savings and credit management groups, Prof. Rayappan initiated Self-Help Groups in 1995. Since then around 200 such Self-Help Groups have been established in different parts of Dakshina Kannada District. Nearly 2,500 women from poorer section of the society are the beneficiaries of this programme.


A number of other projects and programmes were established through the initiative taken by Prof. Hilda Rayappan which have been catering to the economic and social needs of women. These include ‘Santwana’ Women’s Helpline (2001) which has so far registered, handled and helped around 1,600 cases of women and girls facing violence, harassment, sexual abuse, etc; Short Stay Home For Women in Distress(2004) where women and girls who have been victims of trafficking, commercial sexual exploitation, rape and domestic violence have been provided shelter, protection, vocational training and rehabilitation;  ‘Swadhar’, a  Shelter Home for Women in Difficult Circumstances (2005) such as destitute, deserted, widows and victims of family violence are being provided shelter, care and vocational training; ‘Spoorthy’ Self-Help Groups (2007) for differently challenged persons in ten remote villages sponsored by the Department of Disabled  and Senior Citizens, Government of Karnataka.


Realizing the fact that besides women, children are the worst victims of family violence and poverty, Prof. Rayappan took initiative in undertaking a number of projects with the aim of providing security and education to the children. The first such project was Child Labour (Bridge Course) Project for working, street and school drop-out children founded in 1997. Through this project around 800 children including boys and girls have been brought into main stream of formal education and vocational training through a series of residential and motivational training. Presently, Prajna is running Transit Home for urban deprived children.


Through Group Foster Homes (1999) for abandoned, orphan, neglected, single parent and destitute children shelter, care and education are provided under the supervision of ‘House Mothers’. The Group Foster Homes have been a great success. At present there are five foster homes, four at Kateel and one at Jeppu. Destitute Cottage for destitute, orphan and neglected children (2002) and Fit Institution for orphan, destitute and neglected girls (2002) were two other shelters that have been working in the rehabilitation of such children.


In 2005, Prof. Rayappan started the Community Based HIV/AIDS Programme that worked with over 400 other organizations in preventing and management of HIV/AIDS through different stages such as mass awareness, group education, counseling, behaviour change and promotion of safe sex.


Workshop on HIV/AIDS for memebrs of Community Based Organizations


Prof. Hilda Rayappan has had brilliant academic and administrative career. Besides being the founder, president, managing trustee and director of Prajna Counseling Center, she was Dean of St. Aloysius Institute of Social Work and Professor in the Post Graduate Department, School of Social Work, Roshni Nilaya Mangalore. She was founder president of Dakshina Kannada District Council for Child Welfare, affiliated to Karnataka State Council for Child Welfare, Bangalore and Indian Council for Child Welfare, New Delhi. She was also Ex-Chairperson of Child Welfare Committee, Dakshina Kannada for two terms nominated by the Government of Karnataka under Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection) Act 2000.


Besides being social work educator, counselor and family therapist, facilitator, trainer, coordinator, resource person at various camps and seminars, Prof. Rayappan served as visiting faculty in different countries and taught in Schools of Social Work in Philippines, Korea, Japan, Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and Burma.


In order to learn more about the type of social work carried out by various agencies abroad, Prof. Rayappan visited  a number of European countries such as Switzerland,  Germany, Holland, Belgium, France, England and also countries of South East Asia.
With practical experience and deep knowledge in social work, Prof. Rayappan was nominated as NGO member on national, state and district committees at different times in which she gave useful inputs about the various problems faced by women and children especially belonging to marginalized section of the society and how they can be socially and economically empowered.


Prof. Hilda Rayappan did research work on various women related issues. Her important research projects include: “Psycho-sociological study on women alcoholics in Dakshina Kannada”, submitted for M.Phil. Degree to Mangalore University (1994); coauthored “Battle of the Bottle” (1994) and “Alcoholism and Family” (1995). She was the research director of the project “Impact of post literacy programme in South Kanara” (1995) and also coauthored “Violence against women in South Kanara” (1995). Prof. Hilda Rayappan also presented research papers in various national and international forums including “Post literacy and empowerment of women” at Delhi (1995), “Women and Organization” at Bangalore (1995)”, Poverty analysis of women (OXFAM Trust, Bangalore-1995) and “Gender Sensitization” at the Fourth Women’s Conference and NGO Forum, Beijing, China (1995).


Sandesha Social Recognition Award (1997)

Child Welfare Award (2000-2001)

Republic Day Award (2006)


Acknowledgement, accolade and awards came on the way of Prof. Hilda Rayappan which she accepted with all humility and grace. She had been carrying on her multifarious mission of empowering women and children from poorer and marginalized sections of the society without expecting any praise or rewards. Nevertheless, her work along with the team of counselors, trainers and social workers has been recognized by various organizations and institutions and showered her with citations and awards.


The prominent awards conferred on Prof. Hilda Rayappan include: ’Honour as an outstanding student’, a special recognition award on the occasion of 125th anniversary celebration of Mangalore University College (Old Government College) in 1996; ‘Honour for Unique service in the field of social work’, Kannada Sahitya Parishad Award at the Mangalore Taluk Kannada Sahitya Parishad Convention, Mangalore in 1996; Sandesha Special Recognition Award-1997 for ‘Outstanding, selfless social work in the field of battered women and alcoholics’; Community Service Banking Award 1998 from State Bank of India and Staff Training Center  for ‘Outstanding service in the field of social work’; St. Agnes Women’s College Award-2000 for ‘Contribution towards women’s cause and development work’; Appreciation Award-2004 in recognition of ‘Constant and selfless support to the social cause’; and Alumni Association Award-2007 from School of Social Work, Roshni Nilaya, Mangalore ‘Outstanding service in the field of social work.’


Prajna Counseling Center with various social activities has become an institution for learning and experience to those students who wish to make social work as a career. Students volunteers from different countries such as Italy, Netherlands, Sweden, Belgium, United States, Australia and Germany have been coming to Prajna Counseling Center for short term exposure experience ranging from three to eight months. Presently, two students from Germany, Lea Diehl and Octavia, who had completed their studies equivalent to PUC in Germany, have been rendering voluntary service at Prajna since September 2011. They are being sponsored by the German government and will be completing their six months course in March 2012. They will visit different parts of India before leaving back to Germany with rich experience of managing women’s and children’s issues at Prajna Counseling Center.


It may be said that Prof. Hilda Rayappan is wedded to the cause of women and children and has dedicated her entire life to promote their well-being and empowerment. She remained a spinster as she felt that her mission was to devote her full time and energy in looking after and managing Prajna Counseling Center with ever growing programmes and projects which require her full attention. However, she never feel that she has been deprived of family life, as she thinks that the large number of staff and inmates of various shelters  and homes that are being managed by Prajna Counseling Center  is her extended family.


For further information, Prajna Counseling Center can be contacted through the following numbers: 0824-2432682 or 9343567445.



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