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.


Supporting youth in accessing job opportunities in Gughwa Tolla

Students attending the coaching center
The village of Gughwa Tolla in Madhya Pradesh, one of the target areas of the SPED III program, is home to people belonging to scheduled tribes and scheduled castes. In the field of education, primary schools are present in the community, but students must travel to the city for higher education, which is very far from the village. As a result, most of the students discontinue their studies after completing plus two (Grade 12). There is no public transportation in this village and most of the private bus owners do not make concessions for students, so the youth are unable to continue their higher studies due to the economic situation of the families. Since communication facilities like radio, newspapers, television and the internet are not available in the villages, the students have no awareness of job vacancies that are published through the media after they complete their studies.

The local field staff, the Village Action Team, and other community members selected the issue of unemployment among youth as their prioritized issue. During micro-planning, the beneficiaries discussed possible activities to increase young people’s access to employment opportunities with the help of SPED III staff. They planned to start a three month special coaching center to prepare educated youth for competitive public exams. Before starting the coaching center, the students were forced to depend on resources and facilities from the city to build career opportunities. The special coaching center is focused on building the capacity of 20 educated youth to write public exams, like public service examinations, Vyapam (the official recruiting body of the Madhya Pradesh government for government-related jobs), and the centrally sponsored examination for the students from rural village. Since most of the beneficiaries belong to tribal communities, they have special considerations for examinations and job opportunities and their involvement in the center will help remove the barriers for them to access these positions.

The classes, which are being taught by the Director of Institute of Professional Skill
Academy from Sidhi, are provided to prepare students for arithmetic tests, IQ test, and general knowledge, and to develop students’ awareness of the procedures to apply for different vacancies. The local field staff has created a notice board at the coaching center to post job vacancy notices that are published by government and private sectors for new recruitment.

A notice board is used to provide information about job opportunities to youth.

A notice board is used to provide information about job opportunities to youth.

• Educated youth are developed confidence to attain jobs from community
• They are more aware of existing resources to increase sustainable income source to the families
• Through the establishment of notice board, the youth have reduced their dependency on travelling to the the city for collecting information which related with different vacancies

A big thanks to our partner organization, the Samaritan Social Service Society in Satna, Madhya Pradesh for sharing this story and to their committed staff members for their efforts in making the SPED III Program a success.

Change of mindset leads to new opportunities for families

Farah and her family

Farah, being a Muslim woman, was never allowed to go out for work and earn a living, but she always dreamed about owning her own business. Both her and her husband wanted to educate their four children, but due to their situation they could not afford to.

When she began participating in the Family Development Program, she attended all meetings and trainings regularly. She felt empowered through this new knowledge she gained, as well as through her participation and relationship with other women in her local Self- Help Group. Her husband, Hassan, also saw the value of her attending these meetings and saw a change in her attitude. Yet he still saw Farah as “useless” and unable to contribute to the family income. As well, he did not want her to leave the house for work.

To address this situation, SAFP local staff went to visit the family frequently, discussing with Hassan the importance of earning a second income so that the children could go to school. Slowly his attitude changed towards her as he saw her active participation in the community and with other women. He saw that she had new found skills and knowledge which she could use.

Farah in her shop
It was in November 2011 that she made her first withdrawal from SAFP and began a small shop and goat rearing unit. She started with 2 small goats and today that number has grown to 9. Originally her shop was in the house itself with some sweets and other snacks. She wanted to build a small room for shop and expand it with some more items. In November 2012, she withdrew a second amount of money and expanded it to a separate room in the house. Now Hassan sees the value Farah and what she can contribute to the family (she is earning more than him daily through her shop). Farah’s next goal is to buy their own land and build a new house for her family.

Working together to access safe drinking water in Tikratola village

Accessing water in Tikratola

Tikratola is a small part of Bhagdu village in Mandla District of Madhya Pradesh that is home to about 80 families. The majority of these families are scheduled tribe (ST) and agriculture is the only choice for livelihood in this area. The people of Tikratola face many challenges in their daily lives and have difficulty meeting their basic needs. Like so many communities in India, they have been unable to make much improvement in their standard of living, despite the many resources and programs available to them through the local government.

The people of Tikratola began partnering with SAFP through the SPED III Program and Jabalpur Social Service Society in 2011. The community actively participated in the process of gathering information about their village, analyzing the key issues they face, and planning for solutions. Through SPED III intervention, they also developed awareness about the importance of forming Self-Help Groups, accessing government schemes, and demanding their basic human rights.

As they progressed in their planning, the community identified drinking water as their most important issue. They were collecting water daily from Mandratola hamlet, which is about 2 kms away from the village, or digging a pit near the stream to get water for drinking. This water was unsafe for drinking, but the community continued this practice since they did not have any other water source available. Due to the consumption of unsafe water, they were victims of many health problems like diarrhea, vomiting, skin infection, typhoid, cholera, and stomach pain. The children and elderly people in the village were the most vulnerable groups for these diseases.

The community originally planned to solve this problem by cleaning and deepening the nearby pond with a contribution of Rs. 3000/- ($60 Cdn) from SAFP and CIDA. However, due to the severity of the drinking water problem, it was decided that a better solution was to repair the well in the village. The Rs. 3000/- was not sufficient for this project; the work was estimated at about 15 to 20 thousand rupees to make the necessary repairs to the well. It was discussed in a community meeting and villagers were motivated to put their need forward to the local government and ask for some help. The local government representative, called the Sarpanch, was aware of the seriousness of the problem and he agreed to support the community in completing the work.

The problem with the well was that the rain water was entering into it directly, which made the water unsafe for drinking. Therefore, the goal of the work was to stop the rain water from flowing into the well. The community contributed two days of labour towards the project and the Sarpanch contributed one trolley of sand and some of the labor charges. From SAFP’s contribution, cement and stone were purchased and the charges for a diesel pump were covered. The total contribution from the vernment was Rs. 6000.00 ($120 Cdn), with the community contributing Rs. 8000.00 ($160 Cdn) and SAFP contributing Rs 3000.00 as planned. Altogether, Rs. 17000.00 ($340 Cdn) was spent on the project and 25 families are now safely using water from the well for drinking.

A wall was constructed around the well with stone, cement and sand and hard soil was added around it to stop the rain water from entering inside.

A wall was constructed around the well with stone, cement and sand and hard soil was added around it to stop the rain water from entering inside.

Many thanks to Jabalpur Social Service Society for their committed work and for sharing this story of success!

We want to hear from you!

Save A Family Plan’s blog has been operating for 3 months now, bringing you a variety of stories about the work of SAFP and its partners, current poverty-related problems in India, development approaches, and the experiences of individuals who have seen our work in action. Now we want to hear from you! Let us know what kind of stories you’d like to see more of in the coming months as we strive to keep you informed about our work in India.

Please share your thoughts and comments with us below! Thanks for reading!

SAFP Canada Staff

Remembering Our Founder

A Sister lights incense in memory of Father Gus at our office in India.

Save A Family Plan was born out of the inspiration of a man with incredible love for the poor, a man named Monsignor Augustine Kandathil, but better known as Father Gus. Father Gus was born in Kerala, South India and ordained a priest in 1947. He was an incredibly intelligent man and eventually earned his PhD in Chemistry while studying at Notre Dame University in Indiana as a Fulbright Scholar. He went on to teach Chemistry at St. Thomas University in Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada, in 1962.

In 1964, during the International Eucharistic Congress in Bombay (now Mumbai), Father Gus was inspired by the words of Pope Paul VI as he asked the world to join him in a non-violent battle against hunger and poverty. Father Gus started in his home state of Kerala by matching five Indian families with five families in Canada to provide financial support and greater cultural understanding. From this very small beginning, Save A Family Plan has grown into an organization that reaches out to tens of thousands of impoverished families across India every year.

Father Gus passed away in India on July 18th, 2001. Today, on the 10th Anniversary of his death, we remember his love for the poor and marginalized and the incredible impact of his work with Save A Family Plan in creating a more just world. Our mission continues to be guided by his example. Bishop Sebastian Adayanthrath, President of Save A Family Plan India, had these words to share about his memories of Father Gus.

“Father Gus is one of the most ascetical men I have met in my life. When he left Canada, he had a small suitcase with him to travel back with two sets of dress. He wore a watch which he bought during his college days. The watch had constant problems, one of the major ones being that it never showed the right time!!! We often suggested to him that we should buy a watch for him. He told me, “You give that money and I will take care of it”. But I realized that the money went for someone who needed it badly either to pay a medical bill or to buy some food. He was poor so much so that they had to borrow a good cassock when he was laid in the coffin.

Father Gus inaugurates the Home of Hope in India back in 1991.

Father Gus is one of the rare people who knew where he should focus his energy. He was not interested in anything else except to assist people to regain their human dignity. He thought about it, he prayed about it and above all he worked hard for it. You could not divert him from where he wanted to go; he was highly focused in everything he did. When he worked, he worked hard; and when he had fun, he would do his utmost to enjoy the time.

One will be shocked to know that he was not a healthy man at all. He had quite a bit of Asthma and it troubled him throughout his life. Often he could not sleep but he never complained. He looked fresh in the morning. He was a genius for his times. He developed the structures so well for Save A Family Plan so much so that none of us who came after him could add much to it. It was well set.

We love him and love him deeply. May his memory guide us to stand for people who are voiceless in our society.”

Bishop Sebastian Adayanthrath
Auxiliary Bishop of Ernakulam
President of Save A Family Plan, India