27 March 2012
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.
9 March 2012
Tags: India Kerala Homes/housing Dalits
In this photo, taken in 2010, a girl named Sandhya, dances at the home for disabled children run by the Preshitharam Sisters. The sisters ensured that Sandhya received a prosthesis — an artificial leg that fits perfectly below her knee. (photo: Gabriel Delmonaco)
Day 11, 9 March 2012
I am presently in Bangalore, India, on my way home to New York. However, I have another 30 hours before I will arrive there because of two long layovers. I wanted to share with you details of the final pastoral visit I made this morning before departing directly for the airport.
This final visit was a clincher, the best possible way to conclude what has been a most rewarding and fulfilling experience. This visit had all the ingredients that make this India sojourn so humanly and spiritually satisfying.
The place is the St. Anthony’s Dayssadan, a home for children with physical disabilities run by the Preshitharam Sisters. The director of the facility is Sister Tessy, and she is accompanied by six other caring and loving sisters.
The drama began the instant we arrived, when we were welcomed by all the children gathered at the front entrance to greet me with singing and clapping. Now, what I did not know was that about 80 percent of these beautiful children are not able to walk. They assembled there under their own incredible efforts. When the welcome ended they proceeded to crawl inside the building, down a long corridor (with the marble floor immaculately clean), then up a flight of stairs. I had tears watching them, as they demonstrated how they have overcome their disabilities. As I would easily discern, it is the result of the loving patience of the sisters, their devotion to teach these little ones how to overcome and to share with them the love of God for each of them. Let me tell you about three of these youngsters who typify the miracles taking place at this institution which is supported by CNEWA.
One boy of about 15-whose arms, hands, legs and feet are horribly contorted-demonstrated mobility by rolling himself down the long corridor, then amazingly up a long flight of stairs, all the while with a smile from ear to ear. I was choked up by his display of determination. His climbing up the staircase defied gravity, but not his human spirit.
Another special child was a 12-year-old boy, the only one presently confined to bed. He is recovering from surgeries that, hopefully, will reverse the ravages of a disease that form birth has eaten away at the bone structure in his joints. And because he is immobile, his condition is also complicated by bedsores. But do you know how this beautiful child welcomed me? He sang the most beautiful rendition, in perfect English, of “When the Saints Go Marching In.” The three of us had tears.
One other resident was a 16-year-old girl, dressed in a bright red sari, who joined five other girls in performing a dance for us. But three of the them either had limbs missing or were unable to walk. Two of them crawled up onto a little stage; the one in the bright red sari with a radiant smile also bounded onto the stage. The sisters told me she has an artificial limb and loves to dance. And that was an understatement. Now the beauty of the dance was that three were able to stand and dance (including the one with the prosthetic limb) with amazing vigor and precision, while the other three sat on the floor and used their hands in dance moves. There are really no disabilities with these lovely children — just challenges.
When I walked around to give each of them some candy — as has been the custom during all of our pastoral visits with children — I became very much aware of their physical challenges, as some of them could not put out their hands to accept the candy. Their joy in welcoming me prompted one of them to ask me to pray for all of them. Their response to my blessing was to sing together a lovely hymn, alluding to how God watches over us all. What a powerful life lesson for me.
The sisters here are saints, completely devoted to the care of these special children. I feel that this visit with the sisters and His little ones, was the perfect way to put it all into perspective. God loves everyone: the poor, the disadvantaged, those with special challenges. And we are privileged and have the honor of reaching out to the needs of so many in India. As much as we might do in helping them, we receive infinitely more as we experience their courage, their kindness, their patience, and especially their FAITH. Yes, above all they are filled with faith. Their trust in God watching over them, with a little help from our CNEWA family, is the great equalizer. It not only keeps them going, but it also brings joy and happiness to their lives.
I take this opportunity to thank all of you for joining me as we have walked in the missionary footsteps of St. Thomas. Everywhere his footprints are evident. We are all blessed by the legacy of St.Thomas and for having visited with the poorest of the poor.
I would like to acknowledge our regional director, M.L. Thomas, for his exceptional work in coordinating all our CNEWA efforts in India. He, along with his very devoted staff, serves as the conduit for our charity. It is a huge operation: 349 institutions helped, 22,000 children under sponsorship, thousands of seminarians as adopted spiritual sons, 700 women novices being sponsored and countless projects and programs. M.L. — along with Thomas Varghese from our office in New York, who accompanied me — did a yeoman’s job in making the long list of preparations for my visit.
Thomas was a great traveling companion, with a storehouse of knowledge and experience of the Indian church and the Indian people. As the former regional director here for seven years, he has a thorough knowledge of all the programs, institutions and projects. And everywhere we traveled, Thomas was warmly greeted as an old friend and face of CNEWA in India. Thanks, Thomas for all that you do for the poor!
Thanks to all the hierarchs who so warmly welcomed me; to all the priests, sisters and lay leaders who direct and administrate countless programs; to Ebby Joy, staff member in the Cochin office, who so dutifully and joyfully served as our driver — but especially my profound thanks to the poor, who continue to be my best teachers in being a good priest.
During my long flight home, you will be in my thoughts and especially my prayers, as will all of our family in India. God bless all of you!
8 March 2012
Tags: India CNEWA Sisters Msgr. John E. Kozar Disabilities
Sister Bincy Joseph assists girls with their homework at Mother Mary Home for Girls in Kerala. (photo: Sean Sprague)
Today through 31 March, CNEWA celebrates women. Throughout the month we will share stories about the women who are vital to the work of CNEWA. You can find items here on the blog, through our Facebook page, Twitter, and our newly-minted Causes page. On the Causes page, you can stop by to give toward our $20K matching campaign, share a story, or just show your support and spread the word.
Today’s story comes from the March 2008 edition of ONE. In A Place to Call Home, Sean Sprague reported on the work of a group of sisters at an orphanage for girls in Kerala:
Sister Jean Mary emphasized that Kerala, while largely rural, is densely populated, as much as three times the rest of India. And up to a third of the state’s population live below the poverty level.
Most of the parents of the girls at Mother Mary Home work as day laborers at local quarries, brick factories or large rubber estates. Wages are abysmally low, the work, seasonal and hunger, common. Parents often find it necessary, Sister Jean Mary said, to send their children out to work to supplement their meager incomes. The parents of these girls are so socially and economically marginalized that they never bothered to obtain birth certificates for their children.
As its stated mission, the orphanage offers the children the chance to lead a “fulfilling and self-reliant life in close relation with other people.” To this end, the sisters do their best to create a homey atmosphere, prepare healthy meals, nurture the girls’ spiritual growth and faith in God and encourage them in their academic work so they may find gainful employment as adults.
The girls attend local Catholic elementary schools, which are within walking distance from the orphanage. Classes for kindergartners and students through fourth grade are held at a school half a mile away. Junior high school classes are conducted at a Catholic school two miles away.
For more, read A Place to Call Home. Don't forget to join us on Causes and follow along with our updates throughout the month!
23 February 2012
Tags: India Sisters Orphans/Orphanages
Father Francis Eluvathingal performs a wedding ceremony at the Jyotis Care Center in Navi Mumbai. (photo: Peter Lemieux)
For the January 2012 edition of ONE, Peter Lemieux reported on how migrants from Kerala, India have built a church community in Mumbai. Father Francis Eluvathingal, a principal leader in this community, spoke with us about his vocation via Skype. Check it out below.
10 February 2012
Tags: India Kerala Syro-Malabar Catholic Church Priests
The Eparchy of Kalyan’s dance troupe rehearses a traditional Keralite routine during an annual celebration for mothers’ groups in Mumbai. (photo: Peter Lemieux)
In the January 2012 issue of ONE, Peter Lemieux tells the story of Keralite migrants in Mumbai and the strong community they’ve created with their common faith and traditions:
Many of the migrants were Christian. Known collectively as “Thomas Christians” after St. Thomas the Apostle — who, according to tradition, evangelized among Kerala’s coastal communities in the mid-first century — most Christian Keralites belong to one of several Eastern churches. By far the largest is the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church, with some 3.6 million faithful worldwide.
“Keralites who migrated to Mumbai had very deep faith,” says Father Eluvathingal. “Once they came here and found jobs — on the railways, in government or in banking — and were happy in terms of their stomach, with bread on the table, they immediately began searching to satisfy their spiritual needs.”
Without a church of their own, the first Thomas Christian migrants joined one of the many local Latin Catholic parishes. Since the 16th century, when Portuguese missionaries settled in Mumbai and the neighboring state of Goa, the Latin Catholic Church has been the predominant church in the region.
To learn more about this group of Keralite migrants, read A Church of Their Own. Check out the rest of the articles and multimedia features from the January 2012 issue online.
Tags: India Cultural Identity Kerala Syro-Malabar Catholic Church Emigration