Our mission is to provide education, healthcare and empowerment to women and children of all faiths and none and so motivate them to realise their full potential through individual and collective action and change. We bring together people with different challenges to be strong and work as one to secure their rights.
During the Bangladesh Liberation War of 1971, which led to East Pakistan becoming the independent state of Bangladesh, an estimated 10 million refugees fled from the conflict zone over the border into India. Most went to the nearest city – Calcutta.
The Reverend Canon Subir Biswas of St Paul’s Cathedral in Calcutta responded to the refugee crisis by founding the Cathedral Relief Service (CRS), which provided emergency aid, including food, clothing and mobile medical units.
After the war, an estimated 1.5 million refugees stayed in India, a great proportion in Calcutta. CRS shifted its emphasis to supporting these people who lived in great poverty in the city’s slums, providing education, skills training and healthcare.
More than forty years on, the work of CRS continues. It now operates as a development NGO with education, healthcare and empowerment programmes that support poor and disadvantaged communities in the slums of Calcutta (now Kolkata), and in rural villages in the states of West Bengal and Jharkhand.
The work of CRS is focused on city slums in metropolitan Kolkata and rural villages in the surrounding districts. Visit the Locations section to see maps and find out more.
CRS works in partnership with community-based organisations. These local committees decide what is needed, and CRS helps them to achieve it, so that it is the communities themselves which run the projects, albeit with some assistance. CRS also tries to ensure that local governing committees include women so that they can take part in local decision-making processes.
Activities are divided into three main programme areas: education, health and women’s empowerment. The overall purpose is to create an environment which will enable communities to develop into healthy and economically sustainable units. There are also special initiatives including support for young people with disabilities, sport and cultural activities for children, and Nari Dana, a new business venture for women. Visit the Activities section to find out more.
CRS focuses its activities on ‘the poorest of the poor’, namely those at the margins of society. Extreme poverty brings with it a host of social problems; alcoholism and domestic violence are a part of everyday life; prostitution and sexual abuse are common; child labour is wide-spread; some cultural attitudes encourage abusive relationships and a spiral of deprivation. Problems and challenges faced include low rates of literacy, inadequate educational and health facilities, low-paid employment and unemployment, and the low social status of women and girls.
Particular target groups are working children, children of sex workers, slum and street children, children with mental disabilities, young and adolescent girls, and women. However, it is recognised that the greatest benefit can be obtained if whole family units can be supported, rather than single individuals. So, for example, where a child is enrolled in a CRS education centre, his or her mother should be encouraged join a women’s empowerment group.
While CRS, by virtue of its link with St Paul’s Cathedral, is a faith-based NGO, it has no proselytising role. Beneficiaries of the organisation’s work are Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Christian, and people of no faith at all, and no discrimination is made on the basis of faith.
CRS has about twenty staff based at the CRS office in Kolkata responsible for management and administration. The team consists of trained specialist ‘leads’ for education, health and women’s empowerment and their deputies, as well as accountants, administrators, drivers and other back-office support.
There are between 40 and 50 field staff working at the rural and urban locations as teachers, doctors, health workers, and women’s empowerment instructors; field staff are paid an honorarium by CRS.
As with the beneficiaries of CRS, members of staff in both the office and the field come from different faith backgrounds, yet all work together towards a common goal of improving the lives of poor and marginalised people.
Legal status and governance
The Cathedral Relief Service is registered as a “Society” under the laws of West Bengal and has a written constitution. As a Society it has a membership limited to sixteen people of which three (the Bishop of Kolkata, the Presbyter of St Paul’s Cathedral in Kolkata, and the CRS Director) are ex officio members. The remaining members are either appointed or elected by the members of the Society in General Meeting.
The governing body is an Executive Committee, which is elected in General Meeting by members of the Society, and manages the affairs of the Society. The Executive Committee has power to appoint sub-committees and, at present, there is one such sub-committee to manage financial and staff issues. The CRS Director is appointed by, and accountable to, the Executive Committee which meets regularly. The Director is responsible for the overall management of CRS.
CRS receives financial support from within India and abroad. Supporters include individuals, groups, charitable agencies, and corporations. They provide a combination of planned giving, one-off donations, and special project funding. The organisation also receives donations in-kind. There are two ‘Friends’ groups – the UK Friends and Canadian Friends – whose sole aim is to spread awareness and raise funds for CRS. Visit the Supporters section to see a map and find out more.