The year was 1984. A group of young medical students led by R.Balasubramaniam at the Mysore Medical College (in Karnataka State, India) were starting to feel that the career in medicine they dreamt of pursuing was very different from the practice of medicine around them. They believed that they had in them to make a difference and make a positive impact on the lives of the poor and the marginalized. And so, they started the Swami Vivekananda Youth Movement (SVYM, for short), with initial assets of high ideals and all the positive benefits of inexperience.
Their initial intention was to provide rational, ethical and cost-effective medical care to the needy. They started small – collecting physician samples of medicines and distributing them to poor patients, organizing blood donation camps and weekly rural outreach clinics around Mysore. In 1987, destiny took them to Heggadadevanakote Taluk, the home of the displaced and dispossessed forest-based tribes. These indigenous people, belonging to five different clans – Jenukuruba, Kadukuruba, Yerava, Paniya and Bunde Soliga – had been displaced twice from their natural habitat by development projects of the Government, namely ‘Project Tiger’ and ‘Kabini Reservoir’, and were forced to live in penury on the fringes of the Bandipur National Park.
The medicos set up a clinic at a tribal hamlet named Brahmagiri, at a distance of about 80 km from Mysore city, with a little help from the Mysore District Administration. Realizing early that medicare by itself is not enough and hoping education to be a panacea to the gen-next, they opened an informal school for the tribal kids in a cow-shed in Brahmagiri. They were able to sail through the initial days of extreme uncertainty and struggle (and even ridicule!) by pluck, some luck and with help from unexpected quarters. As days passed, more people joined hands and the work took a definite shape. Socio economic empowerment activities were added to health and education, and the rural poor were also brought under the ambit - as the organization moved from the role of a ‘provider’ to a ‘facilitator’. A 10-bed hospital was started at Kenchanahalli, along with a host of community-based programs in Health and Education. As the medicos returned in batches after completing their post graduation, the multi-specialty Vivekananda Memorial Hospital took shape at Saragur, with generous help from donors, friends and well-wishers. The organization continued to grow and expand in the 90s, with a definite vision and strategic direction.