Origin of SERFAC
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 of scientific papers on her fieldwork experience at different international forums added to her confidence, zeal and dedication to the cause.
On April 1, 1976, Dr. Catherine Bernard was appointed by the Regional Bishop’s Council in Tamil Nadu as the first Director of The Family Life Development Centre at Tiruchirappalli, South India. This was the first Family Life Centre to be established in India. Since then she has been single-mindedly committed to the cause of the Family.
After seven years of field experience and having trained over 120 full-time workers in NFP, and with over 3000 couples following the method successfully for postponing pregnancy, she felt the need of bringing together leadership groups, professionals and field workers, to share their experiences and disseminate findings on NFP at Asia’s first International Conference on ‘Family at the Service of Human Life’.
This conference, held from January 26 to February 2, 1983, in Chennai, India, brought together some 400 participants and included representatives from the Government of India, United Nations for Population Activities and the Vatican, apart from the pioneer couple Drs. John and Evelyn Billings themselves and a host of outstanding professionals and field workers from 46 countries. At the conclusion of the conference the participants said: “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.)
From February 1983, the informal Asian Family Service Centre started functioning in Chennai and for six years served 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. An assessment of these requests 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 8 1984, an International 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 current research findings offered it as an alternative to contraception as well as an effective tool for population control.
A total of ten years of experience led to the timely and relevant holding of the First World Congress ‘Family and Culture’ from November 1 to 7, 1986, at Chennai, India. Another development was the setting up of “The Service and Research Foundation on Family and Culture” (renamed in 2010 as Service and Research Institute on Family and Children-SERFAC). It was inaugurated by Mr. George Walmsley, Resident Representative of the United Nations Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA), New Delhi, India. This Congress 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.
The founding members of SERFAC are:
- 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
An initial major 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. These insights needed to be validated in a variety of contexts in Asia. Hence Dr. Catherine Bernard went on a fact -finding mission in India and to 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 Asia, Indonesia, Philippines, Taiwan, South Korea, Nepal and Pakistan.
With financial assistance from Missio Aachen, Missio Munich, Archdiocese of Munich and Misereor, all agencies from Germany, AMA from Holland and Propaganda Fide in Rome, SERFAC purchased a two-and-a-half acre site and constructed a unique campus with a layout that embodies the spirituality of major eastern religions. This campus was inaugurated on March 7, 1995 and dedicated to the United Nations First International Year of The Family.
|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|
In 1994 and 1995 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 1998 SERFAC Received ”SPECIAL Consultative Status to the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) of the United Nations”.
SERFAC continued its services relentlessly. Its seminars, workshops and training programs for different groups of people has received attention. Rural projects and research projects for the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), were undertaken. The impact of these activities led to the expansion of SERFAC’s work areas, creating new avenues and broader platforms for learning, sharing and networking.
One major event during this time was the hosting of an Asian Bishops Seminar – ‘Pastoral Care of the Family in Contemporary Society’ — from August 6 to 14,1999. It was attended by 18 Bishops (Chairpersons of the FABC Commission for the Family), including the President of the Pontifical Council for the Family – Vatican.
At the International conference ‘Families facing Globalization: Building Stable Families and Caring Communities’ held from August 7 to10, 2004, SERFAC’s thrust on family issues intensified to cover Family in politics and policy.
The World Congress ‘Restoring Family Life and Sustaining World Peace’ was held from January 2 to 6, 2006, in Chennai, India. It was attended by 187 participants from 32 countries. This conference was more multidimensional and inter-disciplinary in nature than earlier ones, and offered a more diversified platform for SERFAC to exercise its role as a peace builder.
In 2007, an office was opened in New Delhi to serve as a liaison office for conference secretaries to lobby 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. However, it had to be postponed because of lack of funds. Instead, a Think Tank Task Force was brought together and the First Think Tank Meeting was held in London UK in 2008. It was at this meeting that SERFAC was re-envisioned.:
The members at this first meeting were
Third World Congress ‘Giving Children a Voice: The Transforming Role of the Family in a Global Society’ – being held from January 3 to 8, 2009, at New Delhi. The agenda 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 sharing offered a unique experience to the participants of the conference as a whole. The Congress concluded with the name Service and Research Foundation of Asia on Family and Culture being changed to the present name – Service and Research Institute on Family and Children. The concluding statements prepared by the children and adults were presented 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, 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, 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’ at Bangkok, Thailand. A total of 198 participants from 32 countries attended, including representatives from governments, the United Nations, the Vatican, Corporates, Non-Governmental Organizations and Civil Society.
This event saw an extraordinary presentation 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. It marked 25 years of SERFAC’s pioneering work and concluded with the Inauguration of ‘The Global Alliance of Families’. Since 2011, SERFAC has scaled up its activities and also functions as a Global Research Institute for Family and Child Policy.
Because of unprecedented developments of technology and the onslaughts of 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-centric’ ways for the restoration and repositioning of the Family in the web of human relationships, for recognizing human dignity and working towards the recovery of culture. 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.’ This was an innovative approach and called for looking at the Family though a new prism and poverty through new lenses. The theme was chosen in keeping with The United Nations Millennium Development Goals and Post MDGs.
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, contributing ’Family-centric Approaches to Poverty Eradication’ in its latest publication – Family Futures, to mark the 20th anniversary of the International Year of the Family by the United Nations.
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 ail 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.