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“Also, people think we’re here to convert them. But once they realize that we’re not here to do that, but to genuinely help them, they welcome us.”

The Kanya Kumari Social Service Society also has plans to expand.

“We’re already making a positive difference in the health and well-being of people with life-limiting conditions,” Father Elambasseril says.

“We’ve been giving them care for the body, mind and spirit. We hope to extend this service to other areas, too.”

One way the society has made a positive impression among groups that might otherwise seem inaccessible has been through educational opportunities in towns throughout the southern reaches of Tamil Nadu.

Jenisha G.’s father is a rubber tapper. “But I don’t want to struggle the way my parents have,” she says. She is training to be a lab technician at a medical college in Vettuveni.

Gini P.’s story is similar. Her father taps rubber, too. “I’m studying to be a nurse in Bangalore,” she says. This is her first year as a nursing student.

“I know nursing will give me the chance to work in different places, even abroad,” she says. “That way I can earn some money and help my parents.”

Monisha A.J., Adlin Amadsiya and Anila Mol express the same ambition. The three young women, all from the Syro-Malabar Eparchy of Thuckalay, study at St. Alphonsa College of Arts and Science in Karungal.

“The eparchy helps with that,” says Father Elambasseril. “We provide financial aid as well as encourage them to go out there and be someone others can look up to.”

For Jenisha, the aspirations are wholly practical.

“I want to be successful and earn for myself,” Jenisha says simply. “That way I can help my family, too.”

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Anubha George is a former BBC editor and writes on Kerala culture. Based in Cochin, her work has been published in Scroll.in, The Good Men Project among others. She also teaches journalism at India’s leading media schools.



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