I received more than I gave . . . SAFP supporter Noah Porter shares his experiences in India

Noah with kids

After being connected to the work of Save A Family Plan in India for the past eighteen years of my life, I finally had the opportunity this past year to take an incredible journey that has changed my life forever. Since I was a young boy, I have always supported a family through funds that I either worked for doing jobs on the farm that I lived, or from birthday or Christmas gifts. So it was a real dream of mine to meet some of these families in person and see for myself how they lived and experience their culture. Traveling on my own through the Middle East on the way to the head office of SAFP, located at Aiswaryagram in Kochi, Kerala, was an experience in itself. Nothing could have prepared me for the many new sights, sounds and smells of India! It was both a beautiful and sad country to visit…with extreme wealth and extreme poverty. I had many great and moving experiences such as arriving at the home of a family that I supported in Cochin for six years and walking into their small home and seeing a framed photo of myself on their table. To think that they cherished that photo and really did think about me all the way back in Canada brought tears to my eyes. It was amazing to see how well they were doing.

Noah with Family

Green Mango and Chili

Despite the simplicity of the homes that many of the families that I visited lived, they were always so hospitable with providing me with tea, biscuits and even a chance to try traditional foods such as green mangos with hot chilies. They invited all their family and neighbours to come and see me.

My travels took me further south to visit several other families in the Dioceses of Marthandam, Thuckalay and Kottar in the State of Tamil Nadu. Baby, a staff from SAFP India made my trip safe and he made sure that we had lots of tea breaks along the way.

I traveled north to Delhi to visit the SAFP Canadian Government supported program SPED III. We went to the Canadian High Commission and met with Dr. Sampath Kumar, who is responsible for monitoring this program. This took me to Faridabad, Haryana where I visited the Sanjoepuram Children’s Village (for physically and mentally challenged children); Daleelgarh Village, where they were doing many projects including:  legal awareness classes on domestic violence and dowry; special programs for drop-out girls; adult literacy program; first aid kit distribution and awareness on first aid measures; medical camps; model toilets; non-formal education; pesticide free kitchen gardens; awareness program on safe drinking water; spoken english course, tailoring & beautician course;  and youth clubs.

In Delhi

We visited the Village of Arua where SAFP was undertaking a non-formal education program for the local children who were not attending regular school. They were so happy to be learning!

I then traveled back to Kerala and had the privilege of visiting the tomb of SAFP’s founder, Monsignor Augustine Kandathil in Vaikom, who continues to inspire so many. After a long winding drive up through the mountains filled with tea plantations in Munnar (Western Ghats), we drove to a remote Muthuvan Tribal settlement to visit the Girijothy Lower Primary School and had a wonderful day interacting and sharing a simple lunch with the staff, students and parents. This project is done with SAFP in partnership with the Diocese of Idukki.

Another experience I will cherish was spending time at the Don Bosco – Sneha Bhavan – home for street boys & the Valsalya Bhavan – home for street girls located in Pallurathury, Kerala with Director, Fr. Joe Fernandez. While it was shocking to hear some of the stories of the children and their experiences of living on the streets, bus shelters and train stations, it was great to see what new opportunities they had through education, sports and a living in a family atmosphere with loving and supportive staff.

Noah at Girls Home

For the final part of my trip, I travelled to the northern part of India, starting first in Kolkata, West Bengal. There I had the opportunity to visit the Lawrence DeSouza Home for seniors; the Loreto Entaly Convent School with headmistress Sr. Marion Vase, staff and students; Missionaries of Charity – Mother House to see Mother Teresa’s tomb; the Calcutta Anglo-Indian Social Services (CAISS) and Night Shelter – with volunteers. Kolkata was a difficult place to be – with so many families living on the streets and so much congestion and garbage. Our simple accommodation at Seva Kendra, Diocese of Calcutta was a refuge at the end of the day.

My trip would not have been complete without the unique experience of being on a train! Travelling on an overnight train we arrived early in the morning at Gaya, Bihar on the way to the famous Buddhist pilgrim centre of Bodhgaya. Bihar is one of the most impoverished states in India and it did not take long to see the pathetic condition of the families. There we met a young physiotherapist named Dr. Sanjay Kumar of the Hope Charitable Trust who travelled to remote villages to provide treatment to children with polio. Out of thousands of worldwide nominees, he was being awarded with the prestigious Adeste gold medal.

Noah 4

Back on the train we made our way to Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh where the Director, Fr. Gyan Prakash of the Diocese of Varanasi – Purvanchal Gramin Chetna Samati – Centre for Rural Development  met us. By jeep we then travelled on a rough road for approx. 5 hours to reach Raghopur, Ballia, where we attended the inauguration of the food ration program for the Nagar Block and representatives from 20 villages and government officials attended. Our next stop was the Village of Jetwar  where we saw a street play and learned of the other SAFP supported projects such as income generation; improvement of sanitation facilities, drainage, and roads.

The next day we travelled to the Village of Kaithi where women’s groups were doing income generation projects like a spice making unit and undertaking community activities including sanitation and drainage. The hospitality of these people was incredible and sincere.

While the majority of my time was spent seeing all of the incredible work that Save A Family Plan has been doing in some of the most impoverished areas of India, I did have the chance to see some historical sites such as Benares, Uttar Pradesh and attended an evening “Ganga Aarti” ceremony at the Dashashwamedh Ghat and travelled down the Ganges River in a small wooden boat to see the Manikarnika Ghat (Hindhu cremation site).

I will never forget the local animators and coordinators of the programs and the dedicated staff at the Save A Family Plan India office. More importantly, I will cherish my time that I had with some of the most courageous and hardworking families that I have ever met in my life. Despite their many challenges and issues, they were making a difference in their lives.  It truly was a once in a lifetime experience that I hope one day will be an inspiration for others.

Noah 2

Noah is presently in the Pre-Service Firefighter Program at Lambton College, Sarnia, Ontario


Madonna Missions – Creating Opportunities through Education

Jack in ShillongThe Madonna Missions is a committed group of people who partner with Save A Family Plan to carry on the work of the late Father Richard Saldanha. Their generous support is helping to promote education and infrastructure development in a rural area of Shillong in the north-east of India. Mr. Jack Geerts, Chair of the Madonna Missions Committee, shares his experience of meet with a young man who is benefitting from this support.

I first came to know of Anthony Lyngkhoi five years ago when a group of us travelled with Father Richard to the remote village of Kynrut in the West Khasi Hills of the state of Meghalaya. He attended the school there, built and run by the Visitation Sisters. He had already been singled out as being an exceedingly bright student who would relish the opportunity to somehow continue to further his education. Through the support of the Madonna Missions fundraising initiatives in Canada, Anthony’s dream is being realized. He is now in his second year at Shillong College taking commerce and doing very well.

In November 2013, he heard that I was visiting Shillong and came especially to see me. I found him to be a polite, sincere, soft-spoken young man who had now mastered the English language remarkably well as we sat and talked on a warm Sunday afternoon. He calmly spoke about his parents, the recent loss of one of his younger siblings and the affect it had on them. He also told me that during the school holiday, to make extra money to support his family, he worked in the coal mines. They are known as “rat holes” because they are very shallow in height, 10 feet or so deep, and highly prone to collapse. All the labour is manual with pick and shovel. He told of up to 300 people walking in two lines, one going in, one going out, a half an hour walk each way, carrying coal on their backs in large cone shaped baskets in pitch dark and dangerous coal dust with only small lights on their heads. A day’s pay was 300 rupees or about $5.00 Canadian. At first he said he was very frightened, reminded of news stories of people killed from collapses but he was able to eventually put it out of his mind.

Jack and AnthonyAs I sat and listened incredulously, I was taken by the way he quietly and matter-of-factly related this story to me, certainly not trying to evoke any pity on my part. I came away from our meeting incredibly impressed with this brave and determined young man. Also, there came a feeling of comfort and relief knowing that Anthony’s education will lead him to opportunities of a much better existence he would never have realized before. After one of the Madonna Convent Sisters had taken our picture, Anthony embraced me warmly saying how very much he appreciated our support and the gift of a better life.

A big thank you to Jack for sharing this story with us.

Raising Awareness through Street Plays

The city of Alappuzha in Kerala, South India, is widely known to outsiders for the beautiful backwaters and scenic houseboat tours. For many of those who call this area home, however, life is filled with many challenges to be overcome.

Near Alappuzha, the Women’s Initiative Network is partnering with SAFP and the Government of Canada to help 20 communities to solve their poverty related issues. This year, nine of these target villages identified ‘lack of proper health care’ as the problem to be addressed, since they did not have proper access to healthcare or information about health issues. It was found that pollution was contributing significantly to the health problems for the villagers. In order to raise awareness about this issue, it was decided to create a street play to perform in the target villages.

The idea of a street play was discussed during the meetings of the Village Action Teams in these communities. One difficulty they faced was finding someone who was willing to write the script and direct the play. The Program Animator discussed this in the villages and found that one of the VAT members in Veluthully village, Mr. Surendra, had experience directing plays. He agreed to take on this role and write the script and within a week, the script “Jagratha” was completed.

Another challenge was finding people to act in the play. The Animator and VAT members talked with many people in the nine villages, but the villagers were not available to participate. Since the people in these communities rely heavily on daily wage labour for their incomes, they could not take the time to rehearse the play and perform it at each of the villages. The Animator spoke with the VAT in one of the other villages that had selected a different issue and found that the community members were interested in participating. Five people were selected to perform and one man volunteered to play the drum. They rehearsed for a week and then they were ready to perform.

rehearsalThe group started by performing in just one village and eventually showed the play in all nine villages. It was presented in the crowded junctions of the villages, where the team was warmly welcomed and many people attended. Through the play, the team was able to create awareness among the people about pollution and the related health problems.

This initiative was unique and deeply meaningful, as the play was created and performed through the efforts, talents, and cooperation of the VAT members. The script writer, director, actors, and drummer were all members of a VAT. The banner for the play was even created by a VAT member. This activity required some time and creativity to complete, but they were able to generate awareness in an engaging and memorable way.

performing A big thanks to the staff and volunteers at the Women’s Initiative Network for sharing this wonderful story and for all you do to make the SPED III Program a success!

The Search for Eco-Friendly Alternatives Leads to Sustainable Livelihood in Quilon, Kerala

Star Making Group
The waste management campaign that was started by the SPED III team in Thrikkadavoor Panchayath, Quilon, Kerala, is aimed at promoting systematic waste management and reducing the use of plastic products. To sustain the campaign, the team realized that it was critical to introduce the manufacturing and marketing of various paper products into the community. They got the idea that if the production and sales of paper products became a part of people’s livelihoods, they would have more incentive to use paper and avoid plastic.

A large number of the women in the community were unemployed and eager to find a source of income, so they worked together with the SPED III team to find an alternative livelihood that would change the entire ambiance of the community. Mrs. Felsy in Pallivettachira village said that, “We were unaware about the possibilities and opportunities that are available in the community. Once we came to recognize it, we were filled with great confidence and immense enthusiasm”.

Exploring the options

SPED III team was eagerly searching for an alternative livelihood to support the group of women who are actively propagating the systematic waste management and anti-plastic campaign. The team felt strongly that the livelihood project should be sustainable and ecofriendly. The leader of opposition in Thrikkadavoor Panchayath stated that “the Panchayath committee and VAT committees in various villages suggested for paper bag, paper plate products, paper cups and other paper based product manufacturing. But when we think about its feasibility we realize that it needs huge investment and risk”.

Paper StarThe SPED III team identified some companies that are encouraging home-based production of paper stars. These stars are used in India to decorate homes and communities during celebrations, especially Christmas. The companies provide free training and supply raw material at a low cost, then purchase the finished products at a reasonable margin. After receiving the necessary training to make the stars, the SPED III team and the beneficiaries began to network with star making companies. They were also provided with training to market their product and negotiate and bargain with the companies. The training was a blessing and opened up new opportunities to the poor and unemployed women.

Building Confidence

Now it has becomes a sustainable and regular source of income to 400 women. Mrs. Moly Babu, Ward member, Venkekkara village shared that “when we came to experience the star making, we did not believe that it would becomes sure source of income, but now we realized that it is a less expensive and marketable product and it is providing a sustainable and remarkable income to us”. The entire community whole heartedly agreed that the star making training was lighting the lamps of change for many lives and families.

Mr .Prasanth. B, the Grama Panchayath president also expressed that they were doubtful about the success of star making as a livelihood, but the community and the SPED III team proved that it could be a lucrative project for the women. “I would like to appreciate the SPED III team for their sincere efforts and innovative ideas.”

Celebrating Success

Star MakingNow the women are manufacturing two kinds of stars at different rates. The raw materials are purchased by the workers themselves and they sell the finished product to various star making companies in Kollam town. They were earning a reasonable income ranging from Rs. 1500 to Rs. 6500 ($30-$130) in a month.

According to Mrs. Jincy from Pallivaettachiara village, “The training was a blessing to me. Prior to the star making training, I was an unemployed house wife without income. But now I am very proud to be an earning member in my family and happy to be economically self-reliant. I am living in a rented house with my husband and two children. My husband is an alcoholic and completely ignored the family. Prior to the star making training I didn’t have any means of living. But now I am able to achieve nearly Rs.5000 ($100) as my monthly income and to ensure decent standards of living to my children.”

A big thanks to Quilon Social Service Society for providing us with this case study!

What difference does your $20 a month make?

Amaravathy 5
SAFP’s Family Development Program partners our contributors with impoverished families in India in a unique way to promote empowerment and sustainable development. The monthly $20 donation is deposited directly into a bank account that has been set up for the family, so that 100% of the donation reaches them. Our staff in the field support families in planning and budgeting to address the issues that are most important to them and to start a small business. Beneficiaries also receive training on a variety of topics designed to promote physically, mentally, and emotionally healthy families and to provide skills needed to improve their standard of living.

What does all of this mean for the families and what kind of changes can it make in their lives? We asked some beneficiaries to share their experience with us and here is what they had to share.

Jasmine from Kannur, Kerala says: “In the beginning did not have the confidence to go outside of my house, I was too frightened. After joining my self-help group, the Save A Family Plan staff motivated me in starting my own business. So I began selling clothes and making candles. My husband is now preparing to start fishing in his new boat which we bought ourselves with our own funds. Now I have become the secretary of my Parish Church. Now I can take classes with others and am able to go and train other people without hesitation or fear. I am able to motivate others as well.”

Meera from Amravati, Maharashtra shares with us the change she experienced in her life: “My family was deprived of even our most basic needs. With the intervention of SAFP I received a new life and self-confidence. Thank-you for coming into my life and for giving me my dignity.”

Fulma from Amravati, Maharashtra shares: “I am very happy about the life that I live now. There is alot of joy in my life and I have satisfaction. From this village, my daughter Permila is the only girl who did nursing and has good job with Rs. 7000 income. I am very proud of my family. Millions and millions thanks to the family who helped me to come out of the bad days. I have no words to express my thanks to SAFP, to the Coordinator and Animators of SAFP. You all have brought light into my life and family.”

Nagpur 5
Lilly from Mysore, Karnataka says: “I was poor and went through many difficulties. With the financial assistance from the benefactor, I started a petty shop at home. Now my family income is about Rs. 4500/ per month. Now we are not depending on others for our sustenance. We earn our livelihood from our petty shop and we are proud to have it. This shop is the remembrance of Family Development Program. In the meantime we also availed Government housing scheme to build a house with all basic facilities. We are leading a happy life and even making savings for the future. I am very grateful to the benefactor and SAFP for standing with me in my struggles and building up my family”.

Shantha from Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu shared with us the impact of FD program in her and her family: “I lost my husband and was left with two children. I was uneducated so I did not know anything of the outside world. Through this program I gained more confidence…I started a small snack shop, and took up tailoring and stitching clothing. I expanded my small shop by selling milk and tea. With this earning I was able to give a good education to my sons. My elder son is employed with a good company and my younger son is doing his Masters in Business Management. This was only possible through the income I gained through my shop. This program has given me the ability to lead my family.”

Jancy from Ernakulam, Kerala says: “I have been receiving SAFP assistance since 2007. At the time of selection we were living in an old broken house. My husband was only the earning member of the family. We were struggling a lot to meet the educational expenses of the three children. Now our condition is totally changed through SAFP’s Family Development Program. After attending EDP training, I decided to get trained in the flower making craft, mostly from the eco waste materials. For that I did a certificate course under the Ministry of Textiles of Government of India. By using the Government grant and SAFP assistance, I could start an eco-shop near to my house. It was profitable. Moreover I got many chances to take classes of making flower craft. Now my position is raised from an ordinary housewife into a trainer. I am so proud to say that I am also an income earner of my family. It is achieved only by the great influence of SAFP programs and social workers. We could built a good house by the help of local Government’s housing scheme ,SAFP assistance, SHG loan and bank loan .My eldest son completed his engineering. Now he is working in a Private sector and an earner of the family. My second daughter is an engineering student. My youngest daughter has completed her Secondary School Leaving Certificate. My husband is also in good condition and continuing his works. By the grace of God Almighty and the great support of our benefactor, we are now in a good position in the society. For all our progress we are thankful to all who are helping a lot through the SAFP programs.”

Palakkad 1
We join the thousands of families and communities across India who are on path to improving their quality of life and becoming self-supporting to thank our wonderful contributors who are journeying in partnership with them.

An Inspiration to the Community – Overcoming Disabilities

The Salim FamilyIrfan Salim is from the Puthenjunnu village in Bathery, Kerala, South India. He is a shy but determined man who was born physically disabled and has no use of either of his legs. To help earn a living for the family, his wife Hafsa cleans houses. They have two children; an elder daughter, Tahseen, who is studying fifth grade and a younger daughter, Asifya who is studying second grade.

Both daughters suffer from tuberculosis and need expensive medicine and treatment, which the family cannot afford. The FDP staff members have worked with the family to find a suitable income generation project for Irfan that would give the family more financial stability.
Repairing Bicycles

Irfan was able to attend a bicycle repair workshop and was motivated to begin a small business using his new skill. As he gained momentum and excitement, he expressed his desire to start a small snack shop near their house as well, as there were none in the neighborhood. Now he is successfully operating both of his businesses and has accessed a government resource that provided him with a three wheeled motor bike, allowing him to complete his tasks more quickly.


He is not only an example of how this program can allow a family to become self-reliant, but he is a source of inspiration for others in his community. He does not allow his disability to limit him.

Three Wheel Motor Bike

Increasing girls’ access to education in Bhuj, Gujarat

Girls ride to school
Bhavana Bhugu, Shantha Kanji, and Kajal Rupa are three girls from the Ahir caste in the village of Dhrang in Gujarat. After completing 8th Standard, the three girls dropped out of school. In Dhrang village, no girls have gone on to study beyond 8th Standard and many do not have the chance to study at all. The mentality in this community is that girls with more education have more difficulty getting married, since it is harder to find a suitable match for them with equal qualifications.

This village is located in a desert area near the border of Pakistan and there are no facilities for higher secondary school available nearby. The closest high school is 6 kilometers away and there are no transportation facilities readily available. The parents are not ready to send them to this school, especially since female children are typically not allowed to leave the village.

In Dhrang village, it is a custom in the Ahir caste for girls to spend their time making traditional handicrafts, including wall hangings and dresses, to take with them to their husband’s house after marriage. This custom also discourages girls from attending school and contributes to the low literacy rate.
Traditional Handicrafts
The local animators approached the girls and their families, as well as the principal of the local elementary school, to discuss the possibility of the girls continuing their studies. They pointed out the exemplary lives led by women who had come forward to work for the betterment of the nation. However, the families did not agree, claiming that the girls would not get admission in the schools anyways as registration for the year was over.

The program coordinator met with the principal of the high school to discuss the possibility of the girls continuing their studies. Although the school admission was over, the girls were enrolled in 9th Standard with the recommendation of the staff of the local NGO. All three are now regularly attending Lodai High School, which is 6km away from the village. At first, they would walk to school each day, but eventually they were able to purchase bicycles to make the travel easier.

The girls are very happy to have the chance to continue their studies, especially Bhavana Bhugu, who wants to become a police officer and fight against domestic violence and dowry. They feel that by seeing them attend school, some other parents may also be motivated to send their children as well.