Vijayalakshmi Vemuri on Center for Social Service (CSS)

A winding road through a quiet neighborhood on the outskirts of Hyderabad leads the way to the Center for Social Services (CSS); the home of more than 80 girls who live under the care of the founder, Viyajalakshmi Vemuri. From CSS’s humble beginnings in Vijayalakshmi’s house with just four young girls, the organization has grown to build the futures of more than 100 girls. A sex severely disadvantaged in India, girls with low socioeconomic standing are less likely to pursue higher education and more likely to be married early. Changing the environment in which these girls grew up directly improves their outlook on their futures. Vijayalakshmi works tirelessly to create such an environment and bring opportunities of every kind to these girls so that they have the chance to grow and learn without stressors.

In 2004, Vijayalakshmi found herself caring for five young girls in her home while working in the Healthcare and Government sector. News quickly spread of her efforts and she took more girls under her wing. As numbers grew, she realized that her house would not be big enough for all 40 girls staying there at the time. She collaborated with a friend to fundraise; and after four years was able to build what is currently CSS. Vijayalakshmi built more than just an organization; she built and brought together a community in which the girls could flourish.

Realizing that most girls who come to CSS come from unstable or broken homes,  Vijayalakshmi reached out to women in crisis to serve as house mothers. This simultaneously provided the girls with a motherly presence and a stable home for struggling women. Involving the house mothers in vocational training helps them to not only share their skills and experiences but also creates a environment built on collaboration and mutual support.

Vijayalakshmi sees education as an integral part of providing opportunities for the girls and established a school nearby for the girls but also opened it up to children from the neighborhood. Cultivating that culture around education is important to the girls as well. They enthusiastically shared their dreams of becoming teachers, police officers, and dancers in the future. On the flipside, CSS also offers vocational training for girls interested in the arts, cosmetology, and other careers. Businesses, such as a marriage bureau and catering, established and run by CSS house mothers and resident girls further extend CSS’s reach by raising awareness while providing young girls with the opportunity to build experience in their respective field of interest. Prasanna, a CSS graduate currently pursuing her Master’s at Eastern Illinois University, created art installations and displays with the help of the other girls. The installations featured key monuments from all over India and gave the girls as chance to indulge in the arts while also sharing their creations with the surrounding community. 

CSS’s mission is very specific in encouraging girls to plan for the future and concentrate on working towards a career. In the same vein, Vijayalakshmi finds that it is imperative to provide housing and support for girls past 10th grade, and age at which government funded orphanages turn away girls. Rajitha came to CSS through such a government welfare hostel after 10th grade. She was a star student from the start, fighting against the odds to get herself and her sister higher education, and is now finishing up her Master’s at Wilmington University in Delaware. Vijayalakshmi hopes for CSS to establish itself in a niche to pick up where other orphanages and organizations leave off. Looking to the future, She wishes to focus not on expanding but providing the best possible care, education, and opportunities for up to 100 girls at a time. Even though Vijayalakshmi puts hours of work and effort into keeping CSS running she finds everything worth it when she sees the girls. The best part of her work, she says, is the contagious liveliness of the girls and a fulfillment and happiness that cannot be put into words. She believes that  “if one girl settles in her life, it means one entire generation is settled.”