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Home Is In Karamoodu

Bright futures are on the roster for a fortunate group of boys in Trivandrum.

text and photographs by Sean Sprague

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“I try to give meaning to poor people so they can give meaning to their fellow neighbors, as the Lord gives meaning to life,” explains 34-year-old Father Jose Kizhakkedath.

With the help of CNEWA, this Syro-Malankara Catholic priest put these words into action about three years ago with the establishment of Malankara Boy’ Home, located near Trivandrum, the capital of Kerala in southwestern India. Thirty-one boys ranging in age from 10 to 14 live there, selected by Father Jose from the poorest of backgrounds.

These boys come from the new “missions,” where the priest ministers to the Harijans, formerly low-caste Hindus. Embracing Christianity has given the Harijans a sense of dignity and a release from the drudgery of being forever “untouchable” in a society where the caste system, though officially illegal, persists in keeping them down. In addition, the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church provides opportunities for them to better themselves, particularly through schooling.

“Education is the basis of development,” explains Father Jose. “If boys do not get a proper education, the next generation will be in darkness.”

The boys’ home is located in Karamoodu, a quiet, leafy village tucked away from the impoverished neighborhoods from which most of the boys hail. They sleep in a large dormitory that sits atop a three-story building. Along one wall of the dormitory each boy keeps a small suitcase containing clothing and a few personal items. On the floor below are two classrooms, a library, a storage room for musical instruments and a guest room.

The boys attend local government schools during the day, a walk of a little less than a mile for the younger boys and about five miles away by bus for the older ones. They also receive extra tutoring during the mornings, evenings and weekends at the home.

The intense academic routine is geared to “prevent the boys from becoming dropouts,” explains Father Jose. It is very easy for boys with unstable backgrounds such as theirs to fall into trouble – begging, stealing, drugs, sleeping on the streets or falling prey to unscrupulous adults. Through the Malankara Boys’ Home, however, they are prepared for further education, such as high school, college or seminary, so most of them will end up with good jobs. Opportunities such as these are rare in their old neighborhoods.

Visualize the poverty of an undeveloped Indian village: hot, rank hovels; no latrines; open sewers; a shortage of safe drinking water; crime; a pervasive feeling of helplessness and, often, a lack of schools. You can imagine how hard life must be for even the most stable families. Now consider the broken families, with a father dead or absent and a mother of five trying to survive on a sweeper’s wage of $8 per month. Malnutrition is so common in this area that many children grow up stunted, both mentally and physically. Such desperate situations can be a living hell.

These are the places where Father Jose finds his boys: Forty percent are orphans while the others come from very difficult family backgrounds. Despite such dire beginnings, however, most of them shine with the nurturing provided by Father Jose.

Pratheesh is one of the stars at the home. Bright, serious and small for his age, the 13-year-old is an expert break-dancer who learned his skills watching television.

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Tags: India Children Education Poor/Poverty Syro-Malankara Catholic Church