Accessible Medical Care at Kovanur

The rural poor in India face many obstacles to their development, including the challenge of accessing health care. In addition to the lack of health care facilities, equipment, supplies, and drugs in rural areas, there is also a shortage of medical experts and staff. Many organizations avoid investing in rural health infrastructure because of low returns and few highly trained medical personnel wish to provide services in such remote areas because of low wages. Medical camps have been demonstrated as a model to surmount these obstacles to health access.

People arrive at the Medical Camp in Kovanur

Kovanur is a remote village near Kumbakonam in Tamil Nadu in the south of India. The people lack transportation facilities and their economic condition prevents them from travelling to the city to visit a doctor or buy medicine. When the SPED III Program was started in their village, the community selected the issue of health and hygiene and organized a medical camp in collaboration with a hospital in Kumbakonam. It was a great blessing to the people who were suffering from various diseases, especially the old and the underprivileged. All villagers, including the infants and the aged men and women, participated and benefited in the medical camp.

Villagers receiving health check Two doctors and the team of Nurses and lab technicians performed health checks and diagnosed patients. Common conditions such as skin diseases, orthopedics, and simple diseases like fever and headache were treated. The lab technicians also conducted blood tests and urine tests for the adults to identify diseases such as diabetes and blood pressure problems, and the doctors prescribed medicine for the people and gave them instructions on how to take care in the future.

Checking healthy weight This medical camp brought awareness that there are many in the villages who are diabetic and also several infected by skin diseases. Health committees were established by the SPED III Animator in the village and the committee played a major role in the follow up by taking these individuals to hospitals in the city.
The Medical camp was ably supported by Village Action Team, the local field staff, and the Health Committee. In addition, the youth of the village and the self-help groups pitched in to help. They raised awareness about the event by distributing pamphlets and informing the people ahead of time about the Medical Camp. On the day of the camp, they also took care to prepare the site, to bring the people to the camp, and to organize those who attended. In all a total of 180 men and women, young and old benefited from the medical camp.

Providing medicine for patients

A big thanks to our partner, the Kumbakonam Multi Purpose Social Service Society for providing us with this story and for all their efforts in making the SPED III Program a success!


Partnering with the Khasi people in Meghalaya, India

Visiting School Children in Meghalaya
The 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 a reflection on his experiences in Meghalaya.

The year was 2009 when my wife, Julia, and I had the good fortune to travel to India in a group of 20 with our parish priest, Father Richard Saldanha, who was born, raised and spent the bulk of his life there. He had started several small missions in India and he raised funds for them by taking small groups there annually. Though excited, my fear was that I would witness abject poverty and not be able to turn away from it and put it out of my mind. In other words carry on my cozy life as if nothing had happened, like nothing had affected me. But I couldn’t and it did.
Women handwash their clothing at a nearby water source
There began some serious soul searching because I couldn’t turn away. My fears had become my reality, a reality that stayed with me each waking hour. I had to act. So in 2011, I returned alone to the one place that had affected me the most, the small state of Meghalaya in the northeast of the country. This area is inhabited by mostly tribal peoples and in this particular area the Khasi tribe. Missionaries of different Christian faiths had started arriving here in the nineteenth century and a strong Christian belief was present.
Children attend school with support from Madonna Missions
I had the good fortune to connect with some of the Visitation Sisters of Don Bosco and from here was able to visit their far flung missions where they administer to their own people. In each mission centre, four or five sisters who are trained as nurses, teachers, evangelists and social workers live in small convents. There they teach school and run a dispensary with medications for malaria, diarrhea, etc., for many of the local people still succumb to these treatable diseases. If ever there could be “angels” among us, I felt it certainly would be these little nuns. They are totally committed to their calling of service to others, while themselves enduring the ravages of malaria, homesickness, loneliness and extremely primitive conditions with a sweet smile.
The dispensary run by the Sisters is an integral part of the community
I returned home with a new zeal, determined that I would do all in my power to continue to provide funds for their mission. What started as an apprehension has now become one of the greatest joys of my life. We are extremely grateful to Save A Family Plan for partnering with our Madonna Missions Committee. In the meantime, I have fallen in love with the Khasi people! Their warmth and welcoming spirit has touched me deeply and I have come to the realization that the poor are the true heroes of this world. In the quest to help them, I feel it is I who has received the greatest blessing.

Meeting some shy children
A big thanks to Jack for this reflection and to all those who support Madonna Missions and make this work possible.

Creating an Inclusive Society

Save A Family Plan’s founder, Father Gus, was strongly committed to building an inclusive society and continuously advocated for people with disabilities through his work in India. Today, SAFP aims to continue this important work and to promote the values that were so dear to him.

In Canada, SAFP is partnering with Community Living London, a local organization that is dedicated to supporting people with intellectual disabilities and their families. Michelle Palmer, the Executive Director of this wonderful organization, shares with us about the work undertaken by Community Living organizations.

There are many challenges people with intellectual disabilities face, but on a positive note there are many efforts to create an inclusive society where all people are included in all aspects of community life.

Community living organizations across the country advocate for and support people who have intellectual disabilities and their families. We believe that all people have the right to share in all elements of community life – to live, to work, to be educated, to participate in recreational activities, to receive health care, and to have connections with friends and family. And each person needs to belong and feel respected.

Supports that are offered to assist people to be successful in community life include but are not limited to:

• Residential supports – from a couple hours a day in their own home to 24 hours per day in a group living shared home

• Employment supports – supports businesses to employ people with intellectual disabilities. Adults are assisted with every aspect of finding meaningful employment, including job readiness, resume writing, job searches, development with potential employers and job coaching. Participating businesses gain a hard-working, dedicated employee and develop a greater understanding of people with intellectual disabilities. Training and education to assist a person to obtain competitive employment for a fair wage.

• Community Access – gets people involved in the neighbourhood where they live. We link adults who have an intellectual disability to meaningful leisure, recreation, practical learning and volunteer opportunities, creating a schedule of daily activities that is as unique as they are. The goal is to facilitate great life experiences. Whether it’s a night at the movies with new friends, Karate classes, learning to cook, or volunteering in the community, we connect people to valuable opportunities to learn and grow.

• Respite Services – offer a wonderful opportunity for children and adults to broaden their social circle and experience inclusive community activities.

Parents and caregivers benefit by taking time for themselves or spending time with other family members. Respite Services can provide the break you need to take a vacation, or to cover for times of emergency or crisis.

All of these supports facilitate opportunities for people to be engaged in their home community. They develop friendships, employment relationships, and also enhance the positive relationships they have with their own family. We have come a long way since the days of institutionalization and isolation of people with disabilities in our society. But we still have much work to do.

Did you know that Canadians who have a disability are one of the most underrepresented groups in the workforce? In 2006, 14.3% of Canadians identified that they have a disability. And only 45% of people who have a disability were in the labour force in 2001. Employers rate employees who have an intellectual disability as positive (93%), reliable (90%) dedicated (90%) and hardworking 93%. So why are so many people with disabilities still unemployed?

This is one of the many challenges we continue to advocate for. And that is why our work will only end when all citizens are equally valued, provided equal opportunities, and respected equally.

To learn more about the SAFP’s partnership with Community Living London, check out this article about SAFP’s volunteers.

India’s Scheduled Tribes

Indigenous people are among the most vulnerable and marginalized groups in India, facing disproportionately high levels of poverty, illiteracy, and poor health. These communities, referred to by the government as “Scheduled Tribes”, make up more than 8% of the country’s 1.2 billion inhabitants. Many have little contact with the outside world and continue to survive through hunting and gathering or farming with rudimentary agriculture techniques. It is estimated that more than half of these people live below the national poverty line.

As we work to combat poverty in India, special assistance must be provided to tribal communities to help them address their many needs in a way that respects their unique history and way of life. The Kothamangalam Social Service Society and the Highrange Development Society in Idukki have been working with tribal communities in the area of Marayoor, Kerala for nearly two decades. Prior to this, the communities had no interaction with the outside world and at first, they were cautious to have contact with people from the outside. Over time, staff members were able to establish a trusting relationship with the communities and were eventually welcomed in the tribal settlements. These staff members discovered a people with a nomadic culture, their own dialect, unique cultural arts and traditions, and a custom of nature worship. They also found high rates of infant mortality, insecure temporary shelters, many cases of early marriages, and extreme poverty.

The staff began to work with the community to illustrate the importance of formal education and eventually they worked together to create a school for the children of the area. It has been developed and expanded over time and now provides education up to Grade 4 for 200 local children. In addition to housing classes, the school also acts as a community centre where many gatherings take place, including community discussions on important issues, celebration of the local tribal festivals, medical camps, meetings with local government officials, and administration of the local Credit Union.

Save A Family Plan (SAFP) works in partnership with the Highrange Development Society to support the ongoing operation of the school and to continue addressing the needs of the children. In 2008, a midday meal program was started for the students after it was discovered many were missing class because they were hungry and spent the day searching for food in the forest instead. The following year, “an egg a week” program was started to provide additional nutrition to the children.

In early 2011, a survey of the community revealed that only 10% of the people in the tribal settlements had access to proper sanitation, while the rest were using open areas for their washroom. This practice leads to a variety of health issues and diseases that could be seen among the population. SAFP is now partnering with Highrange Development Society with a goal of building 60 latrines in the settlements this year. This will decrease the cases of endemic diseases, prevent the contamination of drinking water, decrease the infant mortality rate, and raise awareness of the importance of hygiene throughout the community.

SAFP is happy to support the work of the Highrange Development Society and the committed staff who spend their time working and teaching in these remote areas. In order to reduce poverty in India, it is essential that all people have the chance to take part in the country’s development and to benefit from the progress that is being made. Many marginalized groups, such as the Scheduled Tribes, require a helping hand to begin identifying and addressing the problems they face and to ensure their human rights are being met. We are pleased to work together with these communities as they engage in development with dignity and become active, participating citizens within their country.

By Cassandra Griffin
SAFP Canada Staff

Overcoming Obstacles to Education – Little Stars School

Although education in India is considered to be a right for all, schooling is still out of reach for many children from poor families throughout the country. This is the case for many children living in the slums in the city of Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, which is found in the north of India.

Poor families arrive in Varanasi from nearby villages and neighbouring states in search of work in the city. With no education, assets, or savings, they are often forced to settle in areas with poor infrastructure and lack of security, and to work low paying jobs driving cycle rickshaws, washing dishes, cleaning clothes, cooking or cleaning for others, selling vegetables or sweeping the street. With their small incomes, education for their children is out of reach. They are unable to afford the costs of uniforms, books, and supplies that are required for their children to study in free government schools. A large number of the children are also expected to work from a young age to help support the family, picking up trash in front of stores, begging, working at road side stalls selling tea or tobacco, pushing food carts, and working as domestic servants in wealthier homes. In this case, sending the children to school means a loss of income for the family.

Little Stars School, a partner of Save A Family Plan, is working to overcome the obstacles to education in the slums of Varanasi and give the children a chance at a better future. Along with providing tuition, uniforms, and supplies at no cost to the families, they have worked with parents to help them understand the importance of education. The school started by providing classes to a just few students, but now nearly 750 students are enrolled from preschool to grade 10.

Little Stars School aims to provide as much assistance as possible to these underprivileged children to address the variety of challenges they face. Class sizes are kept small to ensure that all the students get the help that they need and a wide range of skills are taught to accommodate their varying abilities and goals. Medical exams and daily nutrition supplements are also provided to keep the children healthy and deal with any problems. Support is provided to those who wish to continue their studies at college or university.

SAFP is happy to support organizations like Little Stars School that work to give disadvantaged children the chance to attend school. Their work is integral to making education for all in India a reality.

Photos and information courtesy of Little Stars School,

Responding when Disaster Strikes

In addition to our ongoing development activities, International Development Organizations like Save A Family Plan and its partners also need to be prepared to act when natural disasters strike. Extreme weather conditions and other destructive forces present a major risk to the poor, many of who are struggling for survival to begin with. It is essential that organizations are able to respond quickly in this type of crisis situation.

Two years ago, SAFP was able to work together with the Shimoga Multipurpose Social Service Society and other NGO’s to respond when torrential rains devastated the district of Davanagere in Karnataka. The rain caused severe flooding that swamped millions of acres and many people lost their homes, belongings, crops, livestock, and even their lives in the flood. In the aftermath, villagers whose shelters had been destroyed stayed in schools, temples, churches and community centres. Daily activities were at a standstill and thousands of people were left jobless.

The government’s relief efforts were slow to reach many of the affected people in this area, but the Shimoga Multipurpose Social Service Society was able to take action. The staff was able to quickly assess the situation and ensure that relief was provided to those most in need. Relief packages were assembled by energetic youth from a nearby church and contained rice, oil, biscuits, tea, sugar, a bedsheet, soap, utensils, and other important items. In all, 530 families received relief packages.

The Shimoga Multipurpose Social Service Society had this to say about the experience: “Serving the flood affected people was an opportunity for our organization. We could stretch out our hands to the most affected people of our society. The survey that was conducted by volunteers helped us to select the poorest people and most affected by the rains. Every stakeholder played their role beyond their ability, with love and zeal. We thank every person for their mite in bringing some joy and peace in the lives of the affected poor.” They continue to engage with the affected communities to support livelihood initiatives and prepare the people to manage natural disasters in the future.

To learn more about SAFP’s role in disaster management, read about our Tsunami Family project.

By Cassandra Griffin
SAFP Staff

Business at Aiswaryagram

Save A Family Plan’s India office near Kochi, Kerala is housed at a site called “Aiswaryagram”. It is a piece of land in a small village called Parappuram, just 20 minutes from the Kochi airport.

The word ‘Aiswaryagram’ means ‘place of peace’. Aiswaryagram is a project of SAFP started by Father Gus back in 1988, which acts as a model farm and research centre for sustainable, environmentally friendly agriculture practices in Kerala. It also serves as a training centre for poor local farmers, as well as for coordinators and field staff of SAFP’s Family and Community Development Programs.

There are many ongoing projects at the farm, including cultivation of bananas, coconuts, jackfruit, pepper, nutmeg, and cinnamon, animal husbandry for cows, pigs, rabbits, and chickens, milk and egg production, a plant nursery, and biogas facilities. Many people from all over India come to Aiswaryagram to purchase plants, livestock, and agricultural products, or to find work. Others come to learn about good farming practices and to gain understanding about Aiswaryagram’s business model, which is rooted in SAFP’s commitment to partnering with the poor and protecting the environment.

Here, Mr. C.T. Rappai, a long-time Manager of Aiswaryagram provides a description of the dairy production project and outlines some ways in which it reflects SAFP’s values.

“On an average day, 300 liters of milk is produced. Pure cow milk is sold to families through 4 vendors at door steps early morning and immediately afternoon, giving preference and priority to the families having small kids below 5 years old as part of our public service. We serve to about 400 families in a radius of 5 km.
Cow dung is collected in a tank for use in the four bio-gas plants and the rest for manure.
Green grass variety for the requirement of cow live stock is cultivated by us. About 8 acres of land is completely utilized for the purpose. Seven women employees are engaged in grass cutting alone and one woman and one man employees are engaged in shed cleaning and other essential cow shed duties. Milking is done by 2 men and one man is managing the daily works. Share of profit system is prevailing in the Dairy. The profit is distributed to the employees as special festival gifts and other benefits. They also get all statutory perquisites like PF (retirement savings), Gratuity EDLI (life insurance) and Medical insurance.”

Women collecting grass for the cows at Aiswaryagram.

The dairy production project illustrates the business model adopted at Aiswaryagram, one that places emphasis on environmental sustainability, fair treatment for workers, and serving the needs of the community. As India’s economy is growing and changing rapidly, it is important to cultivate examples of successful small businesses that can be helpful to small-scale farmers, who make up a large portion of the population, as well as their communities and local eco-systems. Aiswaryagram provides a powerful example of the possibilities for India’s agriculture industry into the future. This is just another way that Save A Family Plan is working for a just world!

To learn more about Aiswaryagram, check out the story of long-time contributor Judy Cirillo’s visit to Kerala and our SAFP India office at Aiswaryagram.

By Cassandra Griffin
SAFP Canada Staff