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!


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.

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!

Towards Equality

“Men and women ought to recognize their intrinsic unity and should be able to cherish a life of mutual love, service and respect, togetherness, cooperation, and reciprocity rooted in human dignity and based on equal partnership. Only then will true progress, peace and development be brought about.” – Kerala Catholic Bishops Council of India (gender policy, 2009)

“Men and women ought to recognize their intrinsic unity and should be able to cherish a life of mutual love, service and respect, togetherness, cooperation, and reciprocity rooted in human dignity and based on equal partnership. Only then will true progress, peace and development be brought about.”
– Kerala Catholic Bishops Council of India (gender policy, 2009)

“A woman is now raped in India every 20 minutes…” A statistic from the National Crime Records Bureau of India, which made international news this year with relation to the horrific cases of rape and violence towards women in India. Sources show that rape cases in India have doubled between 1990 and 2008 and that 24,206 rape cases were registered in India in 2011. The real situation in India is that the number of cases of gender-based violence is much higher, it just goes unreported.

The issues around why this culture of abuse and violence towards women exists are extremely complex. This is not a recent trend but one that stems from a deeply rooted and inherent preference for boy children and an undervaluing and lack of appreciation of girls and women. These statistics are more than just numbers to Save A Family Plan (SAFP), as the women and girls within our programs face this discrimination on a daily basis. We have seen the faces and heard the stories of those who have very real experiences with acts of emotional, physical and sexual violence.

SAFP is committed to the empowerment of the poor and marginalized people of India, and to promoting a society where women, men, boys and girls are valued equally. We recognize the important role that women play within their families and communities. Our programs encourage and support them to become decision makers within the social, political and economic spheres of their lives. As women gain confidence to fully and meaningfully participate within their families and communities, they can no longer be seen as objects of burden.

Women participants of the Family Development Program in Hyderabad, Andra Pradesh celebrate their strengths and success through song and dance at an Annual Family Gathering.

Women participants of the Family Development Program in Hyderabad, Andra Pradesh celebrate their strengths and success through song and dance at an Annual Family Gathering.

Our programs also show that women are more likely to give back to their families and communities once they feel they are contributing members. Statistics show that when women can make an independent income they will give 90% of it back to their families and communities. The story of Kavitha shows the personal change and growth that is possible through SAFP’s Family Development Program.

When Kavitha was born, she became the youngest of four girls in her family. Her parents were faced with the burden of paying a dowry for all of their daughters. At the age of eighteen Kavitha’s marriage was arranged, but after three months they had to separate. If she stayed in the marriage her life would have been in danger. Her husband was an alcoholic who physically and mentally abused and tortured her. After her separation, she became depressed, her community ignored her, and as a result she did not have the confidence to leave her parents’ house. She was traumatized by her experience and could not work or speak to anyone.

One day a social worker came to the village and gave an awareness training on the economic and social program available to the community. From this, she was motivated to join her local self-help group where she heard about SAFP. She became excited by being a part of this community of women and attended the meetings regularly. After some time, she was selected by the group to become a participant of SAFP’s Family Development Program. Through financial support she received from SAFP, she was able to begin her own clothing sales business, where she went door-to-door in the village to sell clothes. Kavitha explains how these small successes began to motivate her: “From this business I received a good income, which boosted my confidence. I received training in tailoring, and with all of these skills I planned to start up a tailoring unit.” Slowly her business grew. Initially, she used her home for a shop but eventually she had saved enough money to rent a store front nearby and purchase two more tailoring machines. She is now running her own small business, continuing to sell clothes within the community, and earning approximately $140.00 a month.

A participant of the Family Development Program from Marthandom, Tamil Nadu co-owns a tailoring business with her husband, which they named after their daughter.

A participant of the Family Development Program from Marthandom, Tamil Nadu co-owns a tailoring business with her husband, which they named after their daughter.

Kavita expresses the change in attitude and confidence she has experienced and how she hopes to help others in the community do the same: “I am proud to say that through my small business I’m able to employ another girl from my village from a very poor family background. I am now able to help people who are also in difficult situations. Through my experience, I wish to teach tailoring to other widows and abandoned women in our community, so that they feel the same confidence and pride that I do.”

By Laura Stinson
SAFP Canada Staff

“I alone cannot change the world…” Reflections from St. Edmund Campion Students

Visiting Aiswaryagram

Save A Family Plan was delighted to partner with staff and students of St. Edmund Campion CSS as they journeyed to India for their annual mission trip. They shared the following reflection with us on their experience and learning during their travels:

On March 1, 2013, our group of students and teachers from St. Edmund Campion Catholic Secondary School in Brampton, Ontario, Canada had the privilege of embarking on a life changing journey to India as a part of a social justice project. Our mission was to raise awareness of the plight of the poor of India, specifically the children, as it relates to their limited educational opportunities and socio economic situation. Funds were raised through various activities thanks to the kind support of our families, friends, school, the Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board, the Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association, feeder schools, community businesses and local parish.

We spent the first few days in Kerala where we stayed at Save a Family Plan’s inspiring headquarters. In Kerala, we got a chance to meet many great people, including Save a Family Plan’s staff and Bishop Sebastian. We felt honored to be welcomed into their home and to receive welcoming gifts from them.

Meeting with Bishop Sebastian

“Kochi was beautiful and the Save a Family Plan staff was so welcoming. I felt like I was surrounded by family.” – Karen

As a school, we took on the commitment of supporting two families for the next six years through the Family Development Program. Both families are located close to the SAFP office, so we were able to organize a day to visit with them. Finally, the day had come for us to meet the families, we couldn’t wait.

“Although we were not able to communicate in the same language, we were able to work and get to know each other through smiles, kind gestures and our willingness to learn from one another.” – Chelsea

Students and staff visit their partner family in Kanjirappally

They were family now and it was hard to know that they are in the situations that they explained. It was a very emotional experience and completely unforgettable.

“The thing that touched me the most was knowing that each day our families were praying for our well-being. They even had us write out names down on a sheet of paper and would pray for us everyday. I think this was the most touching moment of my experience.” – Zenaida

When we arrived in Kolkata, we encountered and saw the impact of poverty and inequality that many of us have never seen in our life. We were experiencing culture shock that was forcing us all of reflect on our own lives and privileges which we take for granted everyday back home. Every night of the trip we would all meet up as a group to reflect on our day. That night was a special reflection because we were learning a lot and our own thoughts and perspectives were expanding rapidly. It became evident to us that as shocking as it all was, it was and still is reality to the people living in Kolkata.

“I realized that we complain about minuscule things in comparison to what people in India endure. I appreciated for the first time in a long time, everything and everyone in my life.” – Tania

Kolkata is the very city where Mother Teresa started her Missionaries of Charity. We continued our mission in India by volunteering our days there, which was another whole new experience. At the Missionaries of Charity, we met many other volunteers from all over the world. We would have mass and breakfast with the volunteers and the sisters in the mornings and then split up to our assigned homes, where we helped the Sisters and other volunteers feed the children and women and do the laundry. The kids and women we met were great! They were such intelligent humble people. During one of our scheduled days some of us took the kids out and taught them how to handle money. By the end of our time volunteering at these homes, many of us formed bonds with the children and women we met.

“Everyday was action packed with children in schools who we enjoyed playing and talking with; the most energetic children I have ever met. It made me so happy to see the children’s excitement to see us.”
– Marlon

Colouring with children at the Home of Faith

Through every state we stayed in, we visited different homes, orphanages and schools. We donated a duffle bag full of school supplies at each location. What we learned very quickly was that there is common ritual at each school and orphanage held for visitors. We were always welcomed with a dance routine, sometimes followed by singing. Aside from the school supplies, we returned their act of kindness with a dance of our own. Despite our obvious lack of skills in comparison, it always ended with the entire room (including ourselves) in smiles. Many of the times the kids would teach us their dance as well.

“Something that I have taken home with me is how outgoing the kids were. They always put on a dance for us. Now when ever I feel shy I remind myself how fearless and proud the kids in India are.” – Kendal

Children Playing in Kanjirappally

Our final destination was one of SAFP’s partner’s, the St. Joseph’s Service Society – Sanjoepuram Children’s Village, in the Northern State of Haryana. Sanjoepuram is a village of schools and homes for children with disabilities. On our last day, the children shared their gifts with us. One girl read us a story in braille, another very young girl recited a bible story to us aloud and in sign language at the same time. We ended our stay there working on an educational improvement project. The Sanjoepram community and our group gathered together to clear a field. It was a great way to interact and make friends. The children continually impressed us by how much they accomplished despite having disabilities.

Volunteering at Sanjoepuram

“While visiting all of these places in India, they all taught me the same lesson. We must never stop smiling and always believe for a better future.” – Reuben

The final day volunteering came to an end too soon. It was sad to know our mission was coming to an end. Although the children and people we met were without a doubt the highlight of our experience, we did get to see amazing land marks and taste all kinds of great Indian dishes like Masala Dosa! We were blessed to visit Mother Teresa’s tomb, the Ganges River and even the Taj Mahal.

Although we came to India to help, we were blessed in return with new knowledge and experiences to pass on. We’ve obtained knowledge that we can apply every day as agents of change.

“This experience was a confirmation of what I want to do when I get older which is social work and I recommend it to anyone who is contemplating on going.” – Christine

Staff and Students visiting the Home of Faith

Now that we are home with our new perspectives our mission does not end. We know that we can’t keep this life changing experience to ourselves. We are focusing on giving presentations within our school and community and to share as much as we can about what we’ve learned and what we’ve opened our eyes to. It is our hope that we can shape the attitudes and inspire others who will lead the fight against social justice. Now we can truly apply our groups mission statement that we’ve carried on our backs through out the trip:

“I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.” – Mother Teresa

At the Don Bosco Shelter

Many thanks to Fatima Gomes this article and to all the staff and students for their open hearts and willingness to share.

Collaborators of Love

Michael and students
In December 2011, SAFP contributor, Michael Botermans, and six youth from the Northwest territories travelled to Kerala and Tamil Nadu with SAFP. The following is a reflection on their experience, as written by Michael.

India is as diverse, dynamic and different from the Canadian Arctic as summer is to winter, and vice versa. It was in December 2011, that a small band of Tlicho (Dene) youths and myself, their mentor from Behchoko, a small hamlet off the North Arm of Great Slave Lake in the Northwest Territories, traversed half the globe to begin our venture in partnership with Save A Family Plan.

Teresa Weyallon-Zoe, Jacqueline Gon, Mercedes Rabesca, Dene Daniels, and Shawn Gon (all Tlicho students) and I, the one who instigated this endeavor, left a snow-covered western arctic under temperatures as steep as -32 degrees Celsius. In two days we found ourselves in the southern-most states of India (Kerala and Tamil Nadu) in what felt like temperatures hovering around +32 degrees with no snow in sight. Greeted by waving palm leaves, exotic flowers and unparalleled hospitality by a host of local peoples, our story begins. It was here we experienced the fertile land, varied languages, scrumptious foods, and spirited communities of a country and a people beyond compare. We met our gracious host, Father Augustine Bharanakulangara and his “collaborators of love” and before long embarked on a mission unimaginable.

My task was simple: to offer the young Canadian adventurists firsthand knowledge of the “poorest of the poor” by experiencing and witnessing some of the family and community development projects that Save A Family Plan is involved in, and all of which help build the kingdom of God on earth. First things first, however, and we began by travelling through meandering roads and tropical rainforests of the south to reach some of the impoverished families I support through the Family Development Program. Most of these families live in far-off villages that would take us through the various landscapes of southern rural India. I felt as though it was like a family reunited for the first time after years of separation and the elation we felt and exchanged left us in heaven. It was a learning experience for our group to see first-hand how the poor are empowered to make such changes in their lives and how a whole team of volunteers and experts is involved in the enhancement of life for these families, to help restore their dignity and strengthen their faith. It was marvelous and miraculous to see the progress made by these families, the “before” and “after” effects from Gospel love in action!

We visited a remote tribal school in Marayoor and the hope and progress education offers the village children and their families. Adding to the inspiration of India, we also visited a leprosy hospital, of which scores of lepers had lived in much of their lives with the stigma of the disease, a home for street girls to shield them from human trafficking and danger, and an orphanage, to name a few. Finally, after spending Christmas among these instruments of peace, the poor and SAFP staff alike, I knew I just had to do more, and plan a return visit. So upon my arrival in Canada, I immediately decided to partner with another 10 families! Until we meet again…