ONE Magazine

The official publication of
Catholic Near East Welfare Association

Celebrating 50 years | God • World • Human Family • Church

Passing Through Kerala

A visit to some of CNEWA’s projects in Kerala.

I began my sixth field trip to India – the fourth to Kerala – last November. I visited 11 dioceses in Kerala and the Diocese of Kalyan in central state of Maharashtra. As always it took three days to reach Kerala from New York. The weather, by Indian standards, was unusually pleasant (between 85 and 90 degrees and an occasional drizzle). The monsoon season was just ending, rather late. This also meant the so-called roads had not yet been repaired after six months of heavy rains. Travel was difficult – once while I was travelling in an open jeep it took 45 minutes to cover five miles of hilly and rocky terrain!

I spent most of the time visiting and discussing potential projects with project holders, diocesan personnel and bishops. I also called on a few needy child institutes, superiors general and provincials of religious congregations.

The church projects I visited fell into two categories: construction of churches and reconstruction or rehabilitation of existing structures.

The 75 Catholic families in Balasaram in the Diocese of Palghat must walk at least five miles through hilly terrain to reach any of the neighboring parishes that have a church.

The same is true for the parishioners of Pullissery in the same poor diocese. The faithful here have the added inconvenience of having to cross a narrow river to reach the church. In summer the water is low enough for them to wade through it. But during the monsoon season, which can last for over five months with continuous rain, the river overflows and parishioners, young and old, walk more than 10 miles to avoid crossing it.

In parishes in the more established Archdiocese of Ernakulam, the situation is different. Here the need is for the reconstruction of churches. Many of these houses of worship, now more than 40 years old and damaged by years of harsh weather, are neither safe nor large enough for congregations that have since doubled in size. The parishioners will contribute major portion of the cost over a two- to three year period. However they still need a sizable contribution to complete construction.

In rehabilitating needy children the efforts of the Diocese of Trichur are to be commended. Only a small percentage of the children in institutions supported by our Association are true orphans. Most are from broken families who have no means to feed, clothe and educate their children.

In the institutions our benefactors sponsor, the children are at least five years of age. They are fed, clothed, educated and provided opportunities to cultivate or improve their skills in the fields of music, dance, drama and sports. They are taught discipline, morality and ethics. Most children go home at least once a year for about a month and leave the institution permanently after they finish high school at the age of 16.

In St. Christina’s Home, which is located in Trichur, all 77 babies have been either abandoned or orphaned. Father Vilangaden and the Nirmala Dasi sisters even take in pregnant mothers from very poor families, regardless of religion. Almost all of these women are outcasts – they are unwed and pregnant. Never mind that most were sexually abused by a member of the family. Thus the babies are born at St. Christina’s, or if they are abandoned, they are delivered by the hospital or civil authorities. The children remain there until they are five years old. The girls then go to St. Ann’s Home, the boys to St. Savio’s. These orphanages now have 211 girls and 146 boys respectively.

At St. Savio’s, the Rev. Chacko Parayil and the sisters, members of the Congregation of the Mother of Carmel, are trying to get away from the typical orphanage style of living – large dorm rooms and overcrowded eating facilities – to give the children an atmosphere more like home. The children are divided into groups of 20 or 25. Each group is assigned a “mother,” either a religious sister or a lay woman. They live in a cottage consisting of wooden walls, a thatched or tin roof and a cement floor. After school and a quick snack, there are a few hours of games and a bath. Then their mother oversees homework, teaches songs, listens to prayers and tucks them in for the night.

After the seventh grade the boys are moved to another diocesan institute, which is closer to the high school, where they may continue until graduation. Most return to St. Savio after high school – Father Chacko and the Carmelite sisters are their only family. The diocese has also started a program for the older boys. Some study carpentry, masonry, tailoring, or typing. Others find jobs at farms, restaurants or hotels, trucking companies and stores. Father Chacko starts a bank account in each of their names and helps them save. The diocese has bought 200 acres of land in the neighboring state of Tamil Nadu – land is cheaper. If a boy marries and saves a small sum, the diocese gives each new family a small parcel of land to build a modest two- or three-room house.

Similarly, at St. Ann’s the girls are educated, given vocational training, placed in jobs whenever possible and given a chance at a new life.

The Trivandrum Archdiocese believes in “teaching the man to fish,” not “giving the man a fish.” Unemployment among youth – especially the uneducated, the rural poor and seasonal agricultural workers – is very high. The unemployed also include those with high school or junior college diplomas.

The archdiocese operates a social service program that, under the able leadership of an enthusiastic priest, the Rev. Thomas Varghese, tries to keep the unemployed away from crime, alcoholism and other social evils.

Father Thomas proposes to start an agricultural training program that would include training in animal husbandry, duck and quail farming, double dig cultivation, beekeeping, rabbit rearing, mushroom cultivation, horticulture, water and soil conservation and fish rearing. With the assistance of our German funding partners, the archdiocese has completed construction of a training facility, including an agricultural nursery and demonstration center. The social service department has succeeded in producing a variety of hybrid disease-free seedlings to distribute among the rural poor at a subsidized rate. The model farm includes superior varieties of goats, rabbits and quail.

The center proposes to train annually 10 groups, each composed of 20 villagers, to go back to their villages and share their expertise in addition to starting their own units. Each group will attend 25 days of lectures and class work, spend five days in practical work and attend a variety of demonstrations from invited experts in the field.

Our Association has been asked to fund this program. The average budget for a one-month training program for 20 people, including administrative and programming costs, can run as high as $1,000 – a substantial amount by Indian standards.

These are just a few examples of the variety of projects I visited while passing through Kerala. Catholic Near East Welfare Association also supports programs in the central and northern states of Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra.

Preparing for my March visit to these areas, I wonder how we are going to find funds for all the needs. As I make funding recommendations from behind my desk in New York, I am forced to prioritize needs – what can we afford to fund? Increasing costs and needs, budgets and limited resources play a fundamental role. But when I look into the eyes of a baby at St. Christina’s, or listen to a tired but enthusiastic priest after he has visited six missions one Sunday, I can only think about what we cannot afford not to do – all of the above!

Kamini Desai Sanghvi is program administrator, responsible for programs in India.

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