The Karunalaya Social Service Society is situated In the north of Chennai, near the fishing port. Karunalaya (Tamil for 'compassion') was founded by doctor Paul Sunder Singh a criminologist and lawyer. After studying Criminology he decided not to become a policeman but to work for street children. Meanwhile Sunder Singh has surrounded himself with large group of social workers and keeps himself busy with more than street children alone. Karunalaya also leads women's groups and ' pavement dwellers '.

Street children and working children

Street children, vagabonds, boys and girls who do work that should really be done by adults. In Chennai you find them in great numbers. Karunalaya takes the fate of these children to heart.

Karunalaya's office that also serves as a shelter for street children, is located near the fishing port of Chennai. That is one of the spots that Singh is concentrating on. There are many boys working in the harbor and on the fishing boats, whilst girls earn a meager income in the shrimp peeling. Also many street children just hang around. Karunalaya also has bureaus in various places in Chennai, and in particular train stations. The people who work there try to get the run-away children into the care centre.

Once they are in the centre, most of the children return to their parents as soon as possible. Some children  are unwilling or unable to return. Then they end up staying with Karunalaya longer. They receive non-formal education, classes that make it possible for them to go to a normal school eventually. Karunalaya also offers them a stable daily structure and gives them their own responsibilities, such as washing their own clothes for example. 

Amaidhi has linked this project for children to a youth project in Beuningen. The youth who are preparing for their confirmation in the Cornelius parish have been raising money since 2000. Each year about 600 schoolbags school bags with contents are purchased with the money. Additional goals are also supported, such as the purchase of school uniforms, clothing and footwear and an educational camp for street children. Two motorized rickshaws were also purchased, and toys and musical instruments. Karunalaya also built a animals shelter.

The Wilde Ganzen foundation has supported the Beuningen action from the beginning with a premium on the annual results.

Already two members of former confirmation classes have traveled to India after their final high school exams. Erik van Oosterhout and Juus van Haren have both lived and worked at Karunalaya’s for several months. Erik was in Chennai in 2010. Juul was there in 2012/2013. Now they are part of our board.

Film: A day in the life of a street child.

Women's Groups-Women Empowerment

Karunalya helps women and girls in the slums round the shelter for street children and round the fishing port to stand up for themselves. This is done via the project "Women Empowerment".

Karunalaya forms women-self-help groups and makes women aware of their rights in politics and in their family. Karunalaya also helps conducting lawsuits, preventing child marriages and setting up small cooperatives.

The project has received support for three years, from 2009 to 2011, from the Overal Foundation, thrift store in Nijmegen. Since 2011 a number of the educated women take part in the election of leader in their slum. Up to now, the men were always the self-appointed leaders. But they didn’t really fulfill their role. The women now have the tools to do so. Meanwhile, two women have been chosen in de district council.

Some women's groups from the fishing district have started a rice trade together. This way they get an income to form a financial buffer for the months that their men cannot out to sea to fish. They have also created their own source of income, independent of their husbands.

The project continues even after the support of Stichting Overal. The shelter for street children is also in use as a meeting place for the women's groups.

Pavement Dwellers – Living on the streets

Pavement dwellers are people who live in shacks or tents on the roadside. Sometimes they have been living there for several generations. In those cases they have made a tiny cottage from their tent. So tiny that only a few small children can sleep in it. The rest of the family sleeps on the street. That sometimes leads to accidents or robberies. 

Karunalaya assists the street people in forming associations, a kind of trade unions that are fight for real homes and more rights. Karunalaya has adopted 25 communities of street people. These are united in ten associations. So far, the Government has not made any commitments that are of any use to the street people. They are offered houses, but only in areas far from the city. Too far from the area where they work as day labourers (coolies).

The pavement dwellers fight for their rights via petitions, lawsuits and protest marches. Stichting Overal has supported this project since 2012 via Amaidhi.
Karunalaya stimulates the children of the pavement dwellers to go to school. They get school bags with educational resources, the same school backpacks as the street children from the shelter of Karunalya get. The money for this is accumulated each year by the children in Beuningen who do their confirmation in the Cornelius Church.


The working area of Karunalaya was the part of Chennai heaviest affected by the Tsunami at the end of 2004. Subsequently Karunalaya started a large number of emergency aid and reconstruction projects. Amaidhi helped to achieve this. You will find more about this in our archives.