DCWA: A Proud Journey from its Simple Beginnings

Their largest annual fundraising event, the DCWA International Bazaar, is being held on 3rd February 2024 at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, New Delhi. The women behind the Delhi Commonwealth Women’s Association – DCWA, have been passionately resolute towards their goals to heal, empower, educate, support and better the lives of the lesser privileged in society for 70 years now. It is heartwarming to see the joy and keenness with which the members work, as well as the joy on the faces of the many they support, giving them a better life. DCWA’s pride of place is its Medical Centre, with a dedicated team of doctors across several specialities, in New Delhi, treating an average 70,000 patients each year. It also has a dedicated learning centre for about 120 children who are less-privileged as well as the differently-abled. They also conduct several skill development courses and community outreach programmes.

The story began in 1952, when Lady Garner, wife of the Deputy Commissioner of Great Britain, formed an international association of women as a forum for social and cultural exchange. The Association started with 36 members, who initially met in private homes for talks and presentations, to which were added fun events as diverse as lessons in Hindi to Scottish dancing.

The DCWA’s membership represented a group of women who were both educated and privileged. These women recognized early on, that there were social needs they could address and DCWA’s activities expanded to include several welfare projects. These projects were funded from subscription fees, fund-raising dinners, proceeds from handicraft/ thrift sales and books on cooking and gardening published by the members, motor rallies, art auctions, film premieres, stage plays, costume pageants, and international bazaars.

Over time, the Association took on a formal shape as a registered society. The membership to the DCWA was so sought after that there was a waiting list of women who were keen to join; today the membership stands at a little over 300 dedicated members.

At the Medical Centre, a hub of activity; an everyday affair for numerous needs

As early as the 1960s, the DCWA decided to have its own Medical Centre to provide basic medical services to the underprivileged. But it was not until the 1980s that a 1300sq yd. plot of land was acquired at Zamrudpur, New Delhi.

Today, as one enters the gates of this impressive building it is hard to imagine that the same was funded through a “Buy-a-brick” scheme under which each brick for the construction was bought by the members for `2. Thirty-four years after its conception, the foundation stone of the building was formally inaugurated by the Duchess of Kent, in 1986.

In the parking lot, there is a mobile van of the DCWA parked and ready to take a team of doctors and nurses to ‘jhuggi’ clusters in Mehrauli and Sangam Vihar to provide medical treatment to those who are unable to come to the Centre.

Closer to the building, there is a line of patients at the registration desk, where at a nominal registration fee of `40, patients are registered and then examined by empanelled doctors. Inside the building, a typical scene that confronts you, once you pass the X-ray department and the lab, you could be greeted by the wail of a toddler who has just had his vaccinations, further down there’s a young boy getting his leg bandaged after a fall from his bicycle, only too happy to have missed a day of school.

On the first landing, there is a group of expectant mothers waiting outside the Gynaecology Department. The mood here is quite cheerful as the women seem to be busy catching up on the local gossip. Outside the well-equipped physiotherapy and neuro rehabilitation department is a water filter donated by a grateful patient who came to the Medical Centre for physiotherapy on a wheelchair and after only a few months of therapy walked out of the Centre without aid. In a room close by, there is a talk in progress on breast cancer awareness. Here, a group of women are being made to understand the importance of women’s health. Behind closed doors, a counsellor speaks to a patient while the out-patient departments of ENT, Cardiology and Dermatology have their own queues of patients.

In an adjacent room, children with cerebral palsy, autism, and speech and hearing impairment are receiving therapy. Four-year old Priyansh who was diagnosed with autism and delayed speech impairment, is in there practising new words.

On the floor above, the Dental department is well equipped with a row of dental chairs and modern equipment. There are also three small operation theatres on this floor where minor surgeries are undertaken. Moving towards the back of the building, a sewing class is in progress. Rows of girls behind sewing machines are busy tailoring aprons. In a separate room, a beautician’s course is underway.

Under a tie-up with NIIT, young teens are being trained in basic and advanced computer skills in the computer room. There is also a hospital assistants’ training programme (HATP) in session in an adjacent room.

Going down the stairs at the back of the building we hear children reciting the alphabet. In cheerful classrooms painted in primary colours, these children in smart school uniform are taught the basics of language, colours, numbers and alphabets so that they have a head start in the school admission process.

The stairs leading down to the basement take you to the ophthalmology department where Shroff Eye Centre’s team of doctors treat eye related issues and provide free cornea and cataract surgeries.

Walking back to the front of the building there is a large room with over 80 school going children sitting in groups waiting for their tutorial classes to begin. For these students, the DCWA has a scholarship program that provides tutorials and scholarships to fund their education. There is a board displaying pictures of the recent Diwali celebration where these students performed choreographed dances and had a small get-together that was sponsored by the members. A notice on the board invites students to attend a talk at the Medical Centre, given by a career counsellor in the coming week.

A Helping hand, from one and all!

While most of the members volunteer with their time, resources and professional services, there are still medicines to be bought and staff salaries, maintenance charges of equipment and machinery, building repairs, taxes and utilities to be paid. The expenses of running the medical centre are met from the member’s subscriptions, donations and fundraising events. To this end the fundraising team organises a summer ball and other charity events at venues around the city through the year. An outsider can help by volunteering their services or by donating funds. These funds could be donated by individuals or through the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) route for a project like the treatment for patients with tuberculosis, diabetes or other medical conditions. There are also projects for training students, providing them scholarships for further education etc. The links at the end of the article provide more information on making donations and volunteering.

Onward to February 3, 2024, the community bazaar at J N Stadium

A few members are seen dropping off cartons that are being taken down to the basement of the building. These are all donations of almost new clothes, books, and household items which will be sold at the biggest and most awaited fundraiser of the DCWA: the DCWA and Diplomatic Community Bazaar on February 3, 2024 at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium. The centre is abuzz with the planning of this impressive event which has an anticipated footfall of a few thousands of visitors.

It is incredible to see what the DCWA has created: what started as a primary healthcare centre has now become a pillar of the community it serves. In its 71 years of operation, the DCWA has treated over two million patients and continues to better the lives and future of deserving and aspirational youth and countless others.

The big annual event; how it works and where do the proceeds go?

The biggest and most awaited fundraiser of the DCWA is the annual International Bazaar. In the early years, the Bazaar used to be held regularly at the British High Commission grounds. As the popularity of the bazaar and the footfall increased, the bazaar was moved to the lawns of the Ashoka Hotel. Due to the steep rise in hiring these lawns, the DCWA has to constantly find more affordable venues. During the two years of COVID, the Brazilian Embassy generously offered their premises for a series of fundraising boutique bazaars and events.

In this event, the Diplomatic community is given a stall and the proceeds from the stall are donated to the DCWA. The Diplomatic community also perform their traditional dances and serve their local cuisine. Stalls are also sold to the general public as well and the funds raised from the entire event i.e. from entrance fees, DCWA’s own handicrafts stalls etc. are used to fund the running of the centre.

Expansion plans going forward: Little scope as too much funding would be needed

At this moment, there are no plans of creating another medical centre. The centre at Zamrudpur which is adjacent to Greater Kailash-1 is a prime location and another centre in Delhi would be unaffordable. Secondly, the DCWA does not get any government grants and is financed by donations and fund raisers. The DCWA makes just about enough to run the Medical Centre, and it would require considerable funds to run another medical centre financed solely by donations and fundraisers. In addition, the services of the members, some of whom are doctors, counsellors, teachers, chartered accountants, lawyers and therapists are honorary. To get another full team of people to provide honorary services for another centre would take many years to create.

The British connect, how much of this is tied up with the Commonwealth?

There is no other direct British connect except for a few families of the older British members who continue to make donations to the DCWA. There is no restriction that only Commonwealth members can get involved in the DCWA. In fact, the Delhi Commonwealth Women’s Association is now more popularly known by its acronym: DCWA, to avoid any such confusion. Between thirty to forty countries take part in the annual DCWA and Diplomatic Community Bazaar.

Some past associations and honourable support for DCWA

Sir Sobha Singh Trust, Uttam Singh Duggal and Co., Raj Chawla Shani, Piari Chawla and Manorma Goel funded the construction of some rooms at the medical Centre while the school rooms were donated by the late Shirin Paul and Dr. N.P.S. Chawla. When the Medical Centre started in 1986, the contributors for the equipment and machines were the British, Canadian and Australian High Commissions, the Japanese Embassy and the African’s Women’s Association.

Over the years, the DCWA has also become a social hub for students. Festivals and seasons are celebrated with song and dance performances and get-togethers are sponsored by members and friends of the DCWA. Gifts, achievement certificates, prizes, uniforms, warm clothes books, stationery, shoes and school bags are regularly distributed. The highlight of this year were the dance performances of the pre-schoolers, children from the special needs’ classes and those from the tutorial group, at the International Bazaar at the Sunder Nursery.

The DCWA could not have come this far had it not been for the support of its patron, Fali Nariman, who has provided his legal services, pro bono and made regular donations to the DCWA.

So, onto February 3 this year and to another annual event; in the hope of more support to this robust NGO that has served the local community with gusto!

Website: www.dcwaindia.com
Facebook: www.facebook.com/dcwasocial
Instagram: www.instagram.com/dcwasocial


Pia Gupta has been an editor of the DCWA newsletter and is a lawyer by profession.



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