We have still a lot to learn from our mistakes and experience before we can evolve a pattern of Social Service that would meet the needs of the Mauritian Community
We have just received the annual report on the Social Welfare Department for the year ending 31st December, 1954. It bears the signature of Mr K. Hazareesingh, the Social Welfare Commissioner and is dated 20th July, 1955. May we know why it is in June 1956 that we are given the facts and figures of a government department for the year 1954? Cannot the department reports be published with more celerity?
The Social Welfare Department is the youngest of all departments, having seen the light in July 1953. We gather from the report that the work of the Department falls into two divisions: Social Welfare proper and the administration of probation service.
In the introductory chapter we find under the heading of ‘Staff Movement’ that Mr G. Bunwaree returned from a study leave of three years in the UK on 23rd September, 1954. Mr Bunwaree studied Social Science at Oxford and completed his studies successfully. On his return he was posted in the Social Welfare Department. And where is he today? Outside the department, at the Secretariat! Isn’t it a sheer waste of talent? And the Welfare Commissioner, speaking about the training of staff has said: “It is only with trained staff that the work of the department can proceed with imagination and in a planned way.”
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After introducing his department and his staff the Welfare Commissioner goes on to describe the field of voluntary social work.
“The main instrument of the Department for stimulating voluntary work in the rural areas is the Social Welfare Centres,” says the report. At the end of 1954, there were ten centres in the island. Those centres are financed partly by the Sugar Industry Labour Welfare Fund Committee and partly by the Social Welfare Department. The activities of the centres are varied and numerous. Fourteen are listed under the title of ‘The Services at the Centres’, ranging from Baby Shows to Fundamental Education.
Apart from the Social Welfare Centres there were sixteen Community Centres at the end of the 1954. That number has not been increased since 1953. The report informs us that “these centres constitute meeting places for inhabitants of the village where they are built and they are therefore important agents of welfare.” Is a community centre very much different from a Village Council? If not, why increase the “agents of welfare”? Just to create confusion?
With the development of Village Councils in Mauritius we feel that more and more social works will be undertaken by them. What the Welfare Centre is doing today may be done tomorrow by the Village Council. Even today it is a bit hard to draw the line between the general activities of the Social Welfare Centres and those of the Village Council. A day may come when only ONE organisation will have to tackle welfare questions.
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It appears that a Committee was appointed by Government in 1952 under the chairmanship of the Social Welfare Commissioner to administer a Community Development Project in the Long Mountain area. The report mentions what the Committee had done by the end of 1953 and what matters received continued attention in 1954.
Instead of experimenting all the time in one locality the Welfare Department could, in our view, adopt some broad principles for its guidance and apply them throughout Mauritius. We have India in mind while saying this.
In India the basic aims of the community development projects are to: (1) increase the agricultural output by every possible means; (2) tackle the problem of unemployment in the rural areas; (3) improve Village Communications; (4) foster primary education, public health and recreation in the villages; (5) improve housing, and (6) promote indigenous handicrafts and small scale industries. Why not be guided by such objectives?
The Welfare Department is helping to form Women’s Associations to promote the welfare of women. There were thirty six such associations at the end of 1954. The Welfare Month, which was started at Bambous in 1953, was held at the Social Welfare Centres of Bel Air, St Pierre, Triolet and Grand Bois. Welfare Teams made up of Government officers working in particular areas have been formed to help solve problems of the local people. There were five such Teams at the end of the 1954. In October a conference of voluntary workers was organised at the Queen Elizabeth College. The aim was to provide an opportunity to voluntary workers in various fields to meet and exchange ideas.
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Before dealing with the activities of the Department in the field of probation, the Welfare Commissioner has outlined the co-operation that exists between his Department and the Sugar Industry Labour Welfare Fund Committee, Local Government Bodies and voluntary bodies.
Probation became a part of the Social Welfare Department on the 1st July, 1953. On the 20th May, 1954 a Probation Hostel was inaugurated at Curepipe by Sir Robert Scott. The building can accommodate 15 probationers. It is intended for the reformation of young delinquents whose home conditions are so unsatisfactory that they have no chance to reform themselves at home.
In conclusion the report says that the year 1954 has been a year of steady advance and innovation. The main objective of the Department vis “to educate the people into the frame of mind in which they will give their best in the effort to raise their standard of living” was kept constantly in view.
We can see that charity in our small island has not been completely nationalised yet. We are far from living in a really Welfare State. In England Social Welfare comprises: (1) State and voluntary services; (2) National Insurance and Assistance; (3) Health; (4) Education, and (5) Housing and Planning. The Social Welfare Department may not be the ideal thing. But the fact remains that, through trial and error, we are trying to ensure the security of every Mauritian from the cradle to the grave. We have still a lot to learn from our mistakes and experience before we can evolve a pattern of Social Service that would meet the particular needs of the Mauritian Community.
* Published in print edition on 27 April 2018