1 May 2012
In this photo taken in 2008, people attending a retreat in Purakkad, Kerala, pray at a shrine
devoted to Mary. (photo: Peter Lemieux)
May is the month Catholics devote to honoring the Virgin Mary. In the regions CNEWA serves, icons of Mary are not only found in churches but are common household items as well.
Above, we see one example from Kerala in India. For more, read Purakkad’s Natural Harmony. And, be sure to check out the accompanying slideshow featuring more of Peter Lemieux’s photos documenting life in the village.
25 April 2012
Tags: India Kerala Icons
In this photo taken in 2009, an Elephant is adorned and presented during a temple festival in Irinjalakuda, Kerala. (photo: Cody Christopulos)
The Asian Elephant is a major part of Kerala’s culture. Elephants often appear in folk songs, folklore and place names. Today, they are used in Hindu temple festivals and as a tourist attraction.
To read more about Kerala and India, check out Msgr. John Kozar’s blog posts ”In the Footsteps of St. Thomas.”
19 April 2012
Tags: India Cultural Identity Kerala
A mother and child visit the site where their new home will be built in the village of Podiyattuvila, Kerala. (photo: John E. Kozar)
Last month, CNEWA president Msgr. John Kozar visited with some of the people and projects that CNEWA supports in India. Among those he met were the people of the village of Podiyattuvila, who were on the path to home ownership for the first time. Msgr. Kozar writes about his experience in the most recent issue of ONE:
It is with a sense of gratitude that she invited me to see what was, block by block and bucket by bucket of cement, becoming her home. She, her husband and neighboring helpers and parishioners are the contractors and builders. A humble gift of $1,800 made all this possible. CNEWA is assisting in building five such houses.
Your charity as a donor allows CNEWA to bring such dignity to countless suffering poor in India and many other countries. And perhaps the greatest expression of gratitude from the poor, besides the smiles and the obvious quiet pride, is the promise of prayers.
Read more about Msgr. Kozar’s experiences in India in the magazine and on the blog.
12 April 2012
Tags: India CNEWA Kerala Homes/housing
Residents of Palai Girls’ Town in Kerala perform onstage. (photo: John E. Kozar)
During his trip to India last month, CNEWA president Msgr. John Kozar had the opportunity to visit CNEWA-supported institutions and projects, like Palai Girls’ Town in Kerala. Here’s what Msgr. Kozar experienced upon visiting the girls home:
Guess what kind of welcoming reception greeted us as we entered the rather large compound: A large, beautifully bedecked marching band made up of about 35 girls who live at this orphanage. They led us into a large and immaculately clean auditorium where we were given the ceremonial bouquet of flowers. A special treat of this visit was to meet the founder of the congregation, Father Abraham, and the sisters’ superior general, Mother Virmala. Father Abraham is 98 years old and is still sharp in mind, albeit limited in mobility. What an honor to be in his presence!
The girls also presented some absolutely professional-grade dancing entertainment. They were dressed in classical Indian garb, displaying intricate moves, and were well disciplined in their every move. The superior told me they have won a number of competitions. There are about 175 girls at this institution and CNEWA has been a major donor in support of the wonderful programs offered to the girls. In many of these “orphanages,” the girls are not necessarily orphans in the traditional sense, but are nonetheless in need of some type of support. Some have lost a parent; others have parents who cannot care for them. Some have been abandoned; others have parents too involved with caring for the ills of another family member.
For more of Msgr. Kozar’s impressions from his visit to India, check out all of his blog posts from his India visit.
27 March 2012
Tags: India CNEWA Kerala Msgr. John E. Kozar
Nirmala Dasi sisters walk with young patients on the grounds of Grace Home in Trichur, India. (photo: John E. Kozar)
We’ve profiled the amazing work of the Nirmala Dasi Sisters in ONE magazine numerous times over the years. Earlier this month, CNEWA President, Msgr. John Kozar, had the opportunity to meet with some of these women and see first-hand the “thankless” work they do on behalf of society’s destitute and unwanted, including single mothers, persons with Hansen’s disease and the mentally ill in Kerala. In the November 2010 issue of ONE, Peter Lemieux reported on the great work of these sisters on behalf of children and adults with H.I.V/AIDS at the Grace Home in Trichur, India:
With the school-age children gone, a quiet falls upon the grounds of Grace Home — that is until a 2-year-old boy noisily pushes his pintsize tricycle across the facility’s marble floor. The tricycle plays an electronic version of “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.” Energetic and healthy — in fact, rather pudgy — the boy first came to Grace Home in 2009 covered in scabies and looking lean, says Sister Lisi, who calls him simply Chakara, or “sweetie” in the local Malayalam language.
“He would cry all day and all night,” she says. “Maybe he was thinking about his mother — she lost her mind and lived with Chakara in the Kuttippuram Railway Station, taking him here and there. Or maybe he feared he was going to be given away.
“He’s in good condition right now,” boasts Sister Lisi, adding that Chakara’s CD4 count is high, at more than 800. “He doesn’t need ARTs.”
Chakara’s attachment to Sister Lisi is unmistakable. He clutches her habit at the knees. She picks him up and puts him back down. He pushes the tricycle around some more and then into her feet. Sister Lisi ignores him. Chakara gets fussy and she picks him up again.
“At his age, he needs a mother’s concern and love,” says Sister Lisi. “I feel like I’ve been appointed his mother. Now he’s getting so much love. I don’t know how much love I have to give, but whatever I have I give.”
Sister Lisi’s love and devotion are characteristic of the Nirmala Dasi Sisters. All 300 of its members, including 50 devoted to persons living with H.I.V./AIDS, “care for those who nobody else will care for,” says Msgr. Vilangadan.
The Nirmala Dasi Sisters care for society’s destitute and unwanted, including single mothers, persons with Hansen’s disease and the mentally ill in Kerala, Mumbai and as far away as Kenya. But no matter where they serve, says Msgr. Vilangadan, “they must be witnessing. We must show how Christ lived and show the kind of person he was — humble, poor, hardworking, striving to save the souls of the poor and sick. Our life must be an extension of Christ’s life.”
To learn how you can help CNEWA continue to support courageous sisters like the Nirmala Dasi Sisters, visit our “Celebrating Women” campaign on Causes. There is still time to give to our March matching challenge in honor of these women and others like them in the countries CNEWA serves.
22 March 2012
Tags: India Sisters Kerala HIV/AIDS
In this photo taken in 2010, a woman fetches water from a well in Kerala. (photo: Peter Lemieux)
Today is U.N. World Water Day and in many of the countries CNEWA serves, there is a water crisis of some sort to which we have responded. We recently wrote about CNEWA’s efforts in helping with Lebanon’s water supply crisis.
There are similar problems in India. In Kerala usually the women and girls of the family have to travel a mile or more on foot from their homes in order to retrieve gallons of clean drinking water. CNEWA has funded water tanks in many villages in Kerala, in order to eliminate such a burden. Just this month, CNEWA President Msgr. John Kozar was able to witness firsthand the positive impact these tanks have had on the people of Kerala:
Besides construction projects and renovations at the parish proper, CNEWA has been instrumental in helping the people of this parish to improve the quality of life by assisting in the building of substantial houses and water holding tanks. The area is very mountainous. Normally the rains come with great force and cause annual flooding, mudslides and loss of soil. With the water tanks, they now can break out of the cycle of being inundated by floods or suffering from drought.
After a most moving and loving visit with the parishioners at the church hall, we headed out with the pastor to a much more remote area of the parish. We saw firsthand the dynamic difference a new durable house can make for the poor and how having a controlled supply of water gives the cycle of life new meaning. We had some very steep climbs to arrive at these sites, but the recipients of our charity were beaming to show us their new homes and their water catchment systems. Thanks to you for giving them this new dignity through your kind donations over the years! CNEWA has funded over 40 such water tanks just in 2011 alone. Over the years, hundreds of families have benefitted from CNEWA’s water tanks in this part of India.
To learn more about Kerala’s water woes, read Rain Rich, Water Poor in the May 2010 issue of ONE.
19 March 2012
Tags: India Water Women in India
A resident of St. Joseph’s Orphanage in Pulincunnoo, Kerala studies for class.
(photo: Cody Christopulos)
Today, many Roman Catholics celebrate the feast day of St. Joseph, the foster father of Jesus. There are numerous religious orders and charities that bear this saint’s name — including St. Joseph’s Orphanage, a home for girls run by the Congregation of the Mother of Carmel in Kerala. The girls’ parents are unable to support them financially, so St. Joseph’s affords them better opportunities and hope for their future. In the September 2005 issue of ONE, Paul Wachter wrote about this home named after the saint:
While it is true that nearly all the “orphans” at St. Joseph’s have parents, the opportunities available to them at the orphanage and affiliated schools offer the young women better lives, the sisters said. “Otherwise there would be even less opportunities for the girls,” said Sister Priscilla Anna. Through the schooling at the orphanage and the after-school program, the sisters believe they are breaking a cycle.
“Our goal is to see all our girls with a good job and/or a good husband,” Sister Priscilla Anna said. “That way, when they have children, they will be able to present them with better opportunities than their parents offered them.”
For more, read St. Joseph’s ‘Orphans’. To learn how you can support girls like the residents of St. Joseph’s Orphanage — and the work of religious sisters like that of the Congregation of the Mother of Carmel — join us as we “Celebrate Women” this month through a matching gift campaign that supports this admirable work. You can also join our community on Causes.com to share your appreciation for women and sisters!
16 March 2012
Tags: India Kerala Orphans/Orphanages
Children are seen at Vimala orphanage, run by the Daughters of Mary, in Kerala, India.
(photo: John E. Kozar)
As blog readers here know, CNEWA President Msgr. John E. Kozar just completed a pastoral visit to India. He discussed the trip and his impressions recently with Catholic News Service:
Vocations to the priesthood and religious life in India’s two Eastern Catholic communities are strong and a sign that the missionary spirit of St. Thomas the Apostle flourishes, said the president of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association.
At multiple locations in southern India — in seminaries and houses of formation for men and women religious — Msgr. John E. Kozar said he was “blown away” by the quality and quantity of the candidates for religious life in the Syro-Malabar and Syro-Malankara churches during his 12-day visit.
“The first impression when you walk into a huge seminary chapel or gathering hall is that you see 200, 300, 400 seminarians,” Msgr. Kozar told Catholic News Service March 14 from his office in New York. “That in itself is a culture shock when you compare it to what you know here (in the United States).
“You’re welcomed with big smiles. You’re welcomed with songs and a warmth that reaches out and grabs you,” he said…
…Msgr. Kozar also said he found collaboration among the Eastern and Latin rites — especially among their leaders, the bishops — to be strong, resulting in meaningful service to children, people with handicaps and poor families.
Most touching on the visit, he said, was seeing children, some with severe physical handicaps that affected their mobility, full of joy as they danced, sang and greeted the CNEWA team. Msgr. Kozar said he was impressed by the education standards upheld by the sisters, giving children a chance to move out of the dire poverty in which their families are rooted.
For that, he credited the sisters who oversee the institutions for creating an environment that upholds the dignity of each resident, without regard to physical ability, illness or family background.
Individual donors, through CNEWA, sponsor about 18,500 children in numerous educational and health and wellness programs.
“The children in many parts of the world of poor are really the jewel in their sincerity, their honesty, their simplicity. They are the reflection of the hope, the idealism, the love of that country, the best of that culture,” Msgr. Kozar said.
Read more of Msgr. Kozar’s interview here. And be sure to check out his blog posts from the field, describing more of his trip.
15 March 2012
Tags: India Msgr. John E. Kozar Thomas Christians Catholic Press
Sister Leema Rose, one of four Nirmala Dasi Sisters working in Dharavi, a slum in the center of Mumbai, makes her evening rounds to visit the sick and those struggling to make ends meet. (photo: Peter Lemieux)
Megan Knighton is a Major Gifts Officer for CNEWA.
When I was 21, I spent the summer working in India with a group of sisters and lay women. I had never traveled that far from home and I remember being petrified hovering over the Pacific Ocean on my 24-hour flight to Chennai. I was going to work for the Christian Council of Social Services, an ecumenical organization dedicated to eradicating poverty, improving healthcare and supporting workers’ and women’s rights. It has also partnered with CNEWA. Idealistic and young, I had big ideas about what people needed. I wanted to help implement various on-the-ground models for improving the lives and dignity of the poor, particularly women. But what I learned on that trip was far more than just practical and effective ways to deliver humanitarian care.
It’s amazing how much of my life as a middle-class, American woman is embedded in privilege. I can wake up every morning and take a warm shower, go to my kitchen and have a cup of tea and an English muffin, take the subway to my 9-to-5 job and sit in my cubicle reaching out to donors and feeling good about my contribution to the world. I have acollege degree, in fact a graduate degree. I have insurance and access to quality healthcare whenever I need it. I can facebook and tweet all day if I want to from my office computer, my Blackberry, or my laptop at home. I can go to sleep at night assured that my neighborhood is, for the most part, safe and protected. I am, generally speaking, a very blessed woman.
What I experienced in India was a little different. The word that best captures the spirit of Chennai is contrast. Modern art museums next to shanty towns. Mercedes driving next to ox-carts. Educated, female business owners walkingnext to poor prostitutes. One woman I worked with summed it up rather succinctly: “In America, women wear mini-skirts, they go out on the town, they have choices. But it is here, in India, where we have some of the most educated women in the world, while the poor women suffer from one of the highest rates of H.I.V./AIDS in the world.” That is a chilling contrast.
The sisters and women I met and worked with in Chennai understand the reality of poverty, H.I.V., depression, addiction and domestic violence that afflicts their community. But this doesn’t stop them from using their incredible strength, creativity and energy to help. They labor every day to ensure that the rights and privileges they’ve worked so hard to obtain are protected. They devote their lives to ensuring that families are cared for and well fed, and that children are immunized. They teach women skills to work and support their families. Theyhelp men overcome alcoholism and depression through empowerment workshops and retreats. This is the power of women to change their communities for the better.
I left India with a deeper appreciation for what religious women and men have done to allow me to have the privileges and freedoms I now enjoy. I also came away with a deep reverence for the sacrifices of those women I worked with who truly understand the power of kindness and perseverance to change the world. Let’s celebrate these women!
To learn more about the sister pictured above, check out our interview below with photojournalist Peter Lemieux. He told us about his experience working with the Nirmala Dasi Sisters in Mumbai, while reporting the July 2011 story, ‘Slumdog’ Sisters for ONE.
14 March 2012
Tags: India Women Women in India
A woman stands in the window pane of her future home in the Eparchy of Trivandrum in Kerala, built with funds raised by CNEWA. (photo: John E. Kozar)
As a part of his pastoral visit to India, CNEWA President Msgr. John E. Kozar visited with families who are benefitting from the support of CNEWA donors in the construction of new homes. These homes are more sound and spacious structures than their former cramped “shanty” houses. Msgr. Kozar described these visits as a high point of his trip because he was able to see the tangible results of CNEWA’s best efforts:
Only a few kilometers away, but on an unmarked road, we were led by one of the priests to a mountainous area that has no community name, no zip code and no street address. In fact, our vehicle could only go so far and then we had to walk the rest of the way. Our purpose in this visit was to offer our solidarity and support to the poorest of the poor for whom we are helping in the construction of homes. By the way, these people are of the Dalit group, which means they are the so-called “untouchables” in India’s illegal but powerful caste system.
The project of building these homes is a combined effort of CNEWA, the Indian government and the parish outreach; in some instances, a very modest share is borne by the poor themselves. To understand the contrasts between the hovels in which these dalits live to the beauty and dignity as witnessed in the homes under construction is impossible. One mother showed us her one-room shanty — that housed five people — that was about the size of a small bathroom in Canada or the states. Even though her new home is still under construction, and very rough in appearance, she beamed with pride as she took us through the modest dwelling.
We had the good fortune to visit with two other families whose new homes are under construction. We were accompanied visit by two priests, who related very comfortably and beautifully with these, the poorest of the poor. On your behalf, I accepted the heartfelt and emotional expressions of gratitude for the generosity of CNEWA in giving these supposed “untouchables” dignity of life for the first time in their lives.
These visits were perhaps the high point in my visit so far as they reflected so well the best efforts of CNEWA in reaching out to the poor in this part of the world.
For more, read Msgr. Kozar’s 2 March blog post from the field, In the Footsteps of St. Thomas: Reaching Out to the ”Untouchables.“ To read all of Msgr. Kozar’s blog posts from his visit to India click here.
Tags: India Kerala Homes/housing Dalits