Origins and History
Inspired by the life and work of the Australian couple, Drs. John and Evelyn Billings, Dr. Sr. Catherine Bernard, the founder of SERFAC, who trained under them, desired to carry their mission forward. Several years of working with Natural Family Planning (NFP) in Southern India, especially among low-income couples, gave her an insight into the stress placed on spousal relationships by decisions on planning or avoiding a pregnancy.
Her experiences in Australia, and later in India, and still later in the United States of America and Africa, confirmed that NFP, in particular the Billings Ovulation Method, is a key entry point for implementing programs on empowerment of women and human development. Her participation in and presenting scientific papers on her fieldwork experience at different international fora added to her confidence, zeal and dedication to the cause.
On April 1, 1976, Dr. Catherine Bernard was appointed by the Regional Bishops’ Council in Tamil Nadu as the first Director of The Family Life Development Centre at Tiruchirappalli, South India which was later renamed as Society for Family Integrity and Development – the first Family Life Centre to be established in India/Asia.
After about seven years experience, having trained over 120 full-time workers in NFP, and teaching over 3000 couples to use the method successfully for postponing pregnancy, she felt the need of offering an global platform for leadership groups, non government organizations and civil society, to share experiences/insights and disseminate their findings on NFP at Asia’s first International Conference on ‘Family at the Service of Human Life’.from January 26 to February 2, 1983.in Chennai, India. This conference brought together some 400 participants including representatives from the Government of India, United Nations for Population Activities and Vatican,Drs. John and Evelyn Billings and a host of outstanding professionals and field workers from 46 countries. The conference concluded with the request from the participants “We hope this sharing of concerns, successes and failures that took place builds stronger bonds of fruitful solidarity and ever closer collaboration may arise and flourish, leading to a steady overall growth of families. To facilitate this, it is desirable to have an informal Asian Family Service Centre which will function as a clearing house and make available literature and aids in this field. We recommend that the organizers of this conference ensure a follow-up to this event which we cherish”. The statement went on to say: “We want an organization that is Asia-based, Asia-focused and looks at the problems and opportunities in Asia with Asian eyes”. (Concluding statement :No.5.2.)
Setting up of the Informal Asian Service Centre:
From February 1983,the Family Service Centre started functioning in Chennai and as a branch unit of the Tamil Nadu Family Development Centre (TNFDC) in Tiruchirappalli. Within a year of establishment, requests for information, training and services increased from several Asian countries which indicated a growing sensitivity to the Family being profoundly affected by the rapid social and technological changes in society. This analysis signaled a need for another international event and from December 4 to December 8,1984 the research workshop, “The Family in a Technological Society,” was held in Chennai, India.
- Industrial technology and Family
- Communications Technology and Family
- Technology and Fertility Regulation
- Technology in Health Services
- Domestic Technologies.
The concluding statement made several recommendations, many of which had a direct bearing on family, women, youth, society and the technology revolution. An important recommendation was all-out promotion of the Billings Method of Natural Family Planning, as research findings offered it as an alternative method to contraception and as an effective tool for population control.
Inauguration of Service and Research Foundation of Asia on Family and Culture(renamed in 2010 as Service and Research Institute on Family and Children-SERFAC)
In keeping with the requests from the Asian participants and experience of ten years the timely and relevant holding of the First World Congress ‘Family and Culture’ from November 1 to 7, 1986, at Chennai, India and the setting up of Service and Research Foundation on Family and Culture. Inaugurated by Mr. George Walmsley, Resident Representative of the United Nations Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA), New Delhi, India. It was attended by 263 participants from 47 countries.
SERFAC was registered as a Society on August 17, 1987 and in 1989, Dr. Catherine Bernard relinquished office at TNFDC and moved to Chennai to continue her cherished mission with families.
- Dr. Catherine Bernard (Founder)
- Dr. D.S Amalorpavadass
- Dr. Olga Nazareth
- Dr. Radha Paul
- Mr. Noel D’silva
- Dr. Mary Braganza
- Dr. C.M. Francis
Study of ground realities as prelude to the development of SERFAC
An initial task of SERFAC was to take cognizance of the elements and forces that constitute modern culture and their bearing on society in general and the family in particular in the Asian Countries. Hence Dr. Catherine Bernard went on a fact -finding mission in India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong, Thailand, Macau, Indonesia, Philippines Taiwan, South Korea, Nepal and Pakistan. The findings were consolidated and a plan of action was put in place, giving priority to training of coordinators for Family Life Programs in the countries visited.
Inauguration and Dedicating SERFAC’s Campus to the United Nations International Year of the Family(IYF)
With financial assistance from Missio Aachen, Missio Munich, Archdiocese of Munich and Misereor, from Germany, AMA from Holland and Propaganda Fide in Rome, SERFAC purchased a two-and-a-half acre site and constructed within 4 years a unique campus was constructed. This campus was inaugurated and dedication of the Campus took place on March 7, 1995.7, 1995.
|Left First||Jyothi Agat||Source of Illumination||Office / Library||Missio Munich Germany|
|Left Second||Arunodaya||Dawn of Awareness||Community Centre||Misereor Germany|
|Right Third||Swastik||Strength/Power||Residence||of Munich, Germany|
|Right Second||Sakthi Sala||Place of inner Strength/Power||Audio-Visual / Publications||Missio – Aachen|
|Right First||Ayam Lokha Mandapam||Sharing as co-pilgrims Seminars||Conferences||Germany|
|Centre||Purnam Mandir||Fullness of experience||Interreligious meditation Centre||AMA, Holland|
SERFAC was awarded the title ‘Patron of IYF’ for its outstanding contribution to the International Year of the Family, 1994. The United Nations presented these awards at its World Congresses held in Malta and Vienna in 1994 and 1995.
In 1997, the first International Advisory Board with professionals from Malaysia, S.Korea, Sri Lanka, Australia,Nigeria and USA was formed and held its first meeting in SERFAC from December 26 to 29, 1997.
In 1998 SERFAC Received ”SPECIAL Consultative Status to the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) of the United Nations”.
SERFAC’s activities consist in seminars, workshops and training programs for different groups of people and began to set up and outstanding library with books on Family and related issues.It also worked with Rural projects, research projects for the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), and impact of these activities led to the expansion of SERFAC’s work areas, creating new avenues and broader platforms for learning, sharing and networking.
SERFAC hosted an Asian Bishops Seminar – ‘Pastoral Care of the Family in Contemporary Society’ — from August 6 to 14,1999 and was attended by 18 Bishops (Chairpersons of the FABC Commission for the Family), including the President of the Pontifical Council for the Family – Vatican.
SERFAC’s thrust on family issues intensified to cover Family in politics and policy and the International Conference ‘Families facing Globalization: Building Stable Families and Caring Communities’ was held from August 7 to10, 2004 at SERFAC in Chennai,India.
The World Congress ‘Restoring Family Life and Sustaining World Peace’ was held from January 2 to 6, 2006, in Chennai, India. and was attended by 187 participants from 32 countries. This conference was multidimensional and inter-disciplinary in nature than earlier ones, and offered a more diversified platform for SERFAC to exercise its role as a unifier of the family and peace builder in society.
In 2007 SERFAC opened a branch office in New Delhi to serve as a liaison office and serve as an advocacy centre with representatives of governments and cooperates, sensitizing them to the need to include Family in their policies.
In keeping with this objective, a World Congress was planned and a Think Tank Task Force was brought together for a Meeting which was held in London UK in 2008 to plan for the Third World Congress on Family and Children.
It was at this meeting that SERFAC was re-envisioned.:
Members at this meeting were
Third World Congress ‘Giving Children a Voice: The Transforming Role of the Family in a Global Society’ –was held from January 3 to 8, 2009, at New Delhi, India. The congress included a simultaneous conference for children, in which 32 children between the ages of 11 and 16 years from 27 countries participated. A plenary session of the main congress was addressed by them on the subject of ‘Our Hopes, Our Dreams, Our Future’. This offered a unique experience to the participants of the conference. It was at this Congress that the name Service and Research Foundation of Asia on Family and Culture was changed to the present name – Service and Research Institute on Family and Children.
The concluding statements prepared by the children and adults were presented and unanimously accepted at the plenary session of the Congress.
The implementation of the re-envisioned mandate was enhanced by SERFAC’s team of world-renowned collaborators from diverse backgrounds from India and around the world,was chosen to address the moral, spiritual, institutional and technological crises of contemporary times that is affecting families, children, local communities, nations and global institutions with consequences that are irreversible and striking at the roots of what it is to be human.
This global initiative was immediately implemented by convening from June 11 to 16, 2011, a Global Conference “In Defence of The Family, Children and Culture,’ at Bangkok, Thailand.which also marked 25 years of SERFAC’s pioneering work and concluded with the Inauguration of the ‘Global Alliance of Families’. This unique event saw an extraordinary array of presentations of the latest research findings and scientific papers on contemporary issues. In-depth sessions for working groups and post-conference seminars added to the uniqueness of the Congress. A total of 198 participants from 32 countries attended, including representatives from governments,United Nations,Vatican, Corporates, Non-Governmental Organizations and Civil Society.
Developing into a global Research Centre for Family Policy:
Because of unprecedented developments of technology and globalization, the family as a social institution has been submerged and its role weakened. Its function to nurture members has been greatly diluted and reduced to that of a spectator, as a new culture that diminishes the dignity of the human being and debases the value of family takes over. This debasement spurred SERFAC to change its strategies and its approaches, develop ‘Family-centred’ ways for the restoration and repositioning of the Family in the web of human relationships, recognizing human dignity and working towards the recovery of culture.
SERFAC and the Millenium Development Goals of the United Nations:
This repositioning of the Family led to the holding of several consultations that resulted in ‘Global Initiatives on Cooperation for Human Development Goals – Rebuilding the Fabric of Society for Common Good: Options and Opportunities’. The first seminar in this series was ‘The Role of the Family in Poverty Eradication. As it offered an innovative approach and called for looking at ‘Family’ though a new prism and poverty through new lenses.
Having submitted written and oral statements to the United Nations Economic and Social Council for over a decade and shared its pioneering, vast and varied working experiences for almost three decades in Family Development, SERFAC is an invitee subscriber, and has contributed ‘Family-centred Approaches to Poverty Eradication’ in its 2014 publication – Family Futures, to mark the 20th anniversary of the United Nations International Year of the Family.
SERFAC: Contemporary, Contextual and Realistic:
The overall experiences of SERFAC place it in a unique position to understand the dynamics of change, pressures of economic deprivations, consequences of unemployment and risks of adolescence as they become more and more vulnerable to trends and technologies, the increasing abuse of women and children, insecurity of the elderly, causes and consequences of forced migration, the fragmentation and exploitation of families, increasing poverty, unabated breakdown of democratic structures, weakening and collapse of governance, dysfunctional families and many other things that are prevalent in contemporary society. It is also able to grasp what can/needs to be done to find a solution and create a new paradigm for human living.
With ever-receding horizons for the recovery of human dignity, elimination of poverty, gender equality and human existence which are embedded in contemporary globalized world orders and technologically dominated existence, SERFAC was challenged to re-envision its mission and role, which are embedded in all its activities.