23 January 2012
Sister Leema Rose makes her evening home visits to the sick and those struggling to make ends meet in Dharavi, a slum in the center of Mumbai. (photo: Peter Lemieux)
Yesterday, Al Jazeera reported that the Indian government is pushing forward with a plan to re-develop Mumbai’s largest slum, Dharavi. The plan could compromise the livelihoods of millions. In the July 2011 issue of ONE, Slumdog Sisters profiled the work of the Nirmala Dasi Sisters in Dharavi.
Already, local authorities, under pressure from powerful developers, are planning a large–scale development project for the area. Ironically, Dharavi’s now international notoriety as India’s worst slum has only intensified efforts to reclaim and gentrify the squatted government land.
In response, Father Pinto and other leaders have begun mobilizing the community, informing its members of their rights and advocating on their behalf. Though Father Pinto senses he faces an uphill battle, he refuses to stand by quietly and watch his parishioners, friends and neighbors forcibly displaced from or priced out of their homes.
“In 25 years,” the priest sighs despondently, “you’ll find a different face on Dharavi.”
Whatever the future holds for Dharavi and its residents, one thing remains certain: the Nirmala Dasi Sisters will continue to serve Mumbai’s destitute, abandoned and marginalized.
For more from the Al Jazeera story, check out the clip below.
9 January 2012
Tags: India Sisters Poor/Poverty
Mr. and Mrs. Mathew prepare dinner while Jiya plays with her grandmother.
(photo: Peter Lemieux)
Emigration occurs in many of the countries CNEWA serves. Families generally choose to migrate from their country of origin in order to make a better life for themselves. In Kerala, it is common for a family member to migrate to another country and send home money or ”remittances.“ But those not benefitting from emigration face the harsh realities of poverty and lack of opportunity in Kerala:
About a mile or so from the Peters family’s new home — in a neighborhood where residents claim ”Gulf money“ has built 90 percent of all the houses — huddles the rundown shack that Jeji and Priya Mathew and their 1-year-old daughter, Jiya, call home. A ratty, blue plastic tarp tacked crudely over the entrance collects leaves. Water stains splotch the interior walls of this cramped, makeshift dwelling. Toothbrushes and other toiletries fill the shallow crevices of an exterior brick wall around back. With no running water, the dirt landing adjoining the shack’s rear is where Mr. Mathew shaves, his wife brushes her hair and Jiya plays — mud puddles at their feet.
Unlike the Peters family, the Mathews do not receive any remittances from overseas. The family struggles just to secure the basics.
For more, read Kerala’s Bittersweet Phenomenon from the September 2008 issue. Also, take a look at the accompanying multimedia feature, Meaning and Measure of Kerala Emigration.
29 December 2011
Tags: India Kerala Poor/Poverty Emigration Employment
Sister Leema Rose and volunteer Jancy Kuthoor visit the homes of needy residents in Dharavi, Mumbai’s most infamous slum. (photo:Peter Lemieux)
In the July issue of ONE, Peter Lemieux reported on the work of the Nirmala Dasi Sisters with Mumbai’s poor. Many of the people the sisters serve live in Dharavi, Mumbai’s most infamous slum. Today’s front page of The New York Times featured an article on Dharavi and it’s residents’ unwavering hope in spite of the many odds they face.
The computer sits on a small table beside the bed, protected, purchased for $354 from savings, even though the family has no Internet connection. The oldest son stores his work on a pen drive and prints it somewhere else. Ms. Baskar, a seamstress, spends five months’ worth of her income, almost $400, to send three of her children to private schools. Her daughter wants to be a flight attendant. Her youngest son, a mechanical engineer.
“My daughter is getting a better education, and she will get a better job,” Ms. Baskar said. “The children’s lives should be better. Whatever hardships we face are fine.”
Education is hope in Dharavi. On a recent afternoon outside St. Anthony’s, a parochial school in the slum, Hindu mothers in saris waited for their children beside Muslim mothers in burqas. The parents were not concerned about the crucifix on the wall; they wanted their children to learn English, the language considered to be a ticket out of the slums in India.
For more, read In One Slum, Misery, Work, Politics and Hope.
15 December 2011
Tags: India Sisters Poor/Poverty
St. Joseph’s girls perform a traditional Keralite dance. (photo: Cody Christopulos)
In the September 2005 issue of ONE we featured a story on St. Joseph’s Orphanage in Pulincunnoo, Kerala:
But for all its classes and study periods, St. Joseph’s Orphanage is hardly a brain-stuffing sweatshop. The girls have plenty occasions for fun, and even the classes are likely to be interrupted by a fit of giggles. On feast days, the girls choreograph elaborate dances, which they perform in their school uniforms and bare feet in the orphanage’s common room. There is also occasion to sing, play sports and gossip. The girls also tend to their pets — tiny turtles that have made their home in the orphanage’s garden.
“Nearly all the girls are scared when they first get here, which is only natural,” said Sister Flower Mary. “But they soon make friends. We try to make this transition period as easy as possible for them by making sure the new girls are well-attended to.
“In many cases, the friends they make here will be with them for the rest of their lives,” Sister Flower Mary continued. “And they will always be a part of my life. Just because they move away and get a job or get married doesn’t mean I don’t stay in touch with them. We are all one big family.”
For more from this story see, St. Joseph’s ‘Orphans’.
5 December 2011
Tags: India Kerala Orphans/Orphanages
Boys at Bhorathannoor Ambeaker Harigen Colony show off hats the village sells in larger towns. (photo: Cody Christopulos)
The work of priests in CNEWA’s world is often crucial to the communities they serve. In the November 2005 issue of ONE, writer Paul Wachter explored the sometimes challenging ministry of priests in rural India, work which can even include helping people learn new skills — such as how to weave hats like those pictured above:
Bhorathannoor Ambeaker Harigen Colony is home to 700 families, 100 of whom are Catholic and the remainder Hindu. Most of the Catholics entered the church about 10 years ago, the priests said.
The villagers live in small brick homes — they have one or two rooms each and the roofs are made of coconut leaves. There is a lone, tiny convenience store in the village, which sells a few staple goods and packets of candy that are popular with the children.
“There is a general lack of education in the area,” Father John said back at St. Mary’s. “There is a lot of unemployment and most people are small farmers who work only here and there throughout the year. That is why we try to introduce programs such as basket weaving or making other handicrafts.”
For more from this story see, Village Priests.
30 November 2011
Tags: India Kerala Village life
Boys watch at the shore as a boat of fishermen heads out to sea in Kerala, India.
(photo: Luke Golobitsch)
Today is the feast day of St. Andrew, the patron of fishermen. In this image from our archive, taken in 1990, fishermen in India head out to sea at sunset.
22 November 2011
Tags: India Kerala
A student band performs at a school and home for the deaf and blind run by the Assisi Sisters of Mary Immaculate in Thalayolaparambu, a village in the Kottayam district of Kerala, India.
(photo: Sister Christian Molidor, R.S.M.)
Today St. Cecilia, the patroness of musicians and church music, is venerated. She is said to have died singing to the Lord.
17 November 2011
Tags: India Sisters Kerala Disabilities
Sister Lisi Valloppally, a registered nurse, cares for H.I.V. infected adults at the Grace Home in Kerala. If patients need emergency care or hospitalization, they are sent to the Medical College of Trichur just a few kilometers away. (photo: Peter Lemieux)
In the November 2010 issue of ONE, Peter Lemieux reported on the work of the Nirmala Dasi sisters with children and adults living with H.I.V./AIDS in Kerala.
In addition to caring for H.I.V.-positive children, Grace Home offers temporary inpatient services to H.I.V.-positive adults. “We take in sick patients, patients recently diagnosed or patients who have nowhere to go,” says Sister Lisi. “We try to get them back on their feet and healthy so they can go back to the outside world. Grace Home is not set up for long-term stays.”
Msgr. Vilangadan, however, recognizes the precarious situation in which most of these adults live. “If nobody will accept them, where will they go? They’ll die at the home.”
Sister Lisi spends her afternoons checking in on the home’s 15 to 20 adult patients. She moves swiftly from bedside to bedside, asking questions, checking charts and I.V.’s.
For more about the Grace Home see Full of Grace.
25 October 2011
Tags: India Sisters Kerala HIV/AIDS
A little girl at the nursery the Nirmala Dasi sisters run in Dharavi, a slum in the center of Mumbai. The children there are mainly from families that have working mothers. (photo: Peter Lemieux)
Saturday in Mumbai, 285 girls participated in a district renaming ceremony, which aims to “give the girls new dignity and help fight widespread gender discrimination that gives India a skewed gender ratio, with far more boys than girls.”
The girls — wearing their best outfits with barrettes, braids and bows in their hair — lined up to receive certificates with their new names along with small flower bouquets from Satara district officials in Maharashtra state.
In shedding names like “Nakusa” or “Nakushi,” which mean “unwanted” in Hindi, some girls chose to name themselves after Bollywood stars like “Aishwarya” or Hindu goddesses like “Savitri.” Some just wanted traditional names with happier meanings, such as “Vaishali” or “prosperous, beautiful and good.”
“Now in school, my classmates and friends will be calling me this new name, and that makes me very happy,” said a 15-year-old girl who had been named Nakusa by a grandfather disappointed by her birth. She chose the new name “Ashmita,” which means “very tough” or “rock hard” in Hindi.
We recently reported on life in Mumbai in the July issue of ONE. The Nirmala Dasi Sisters in Mumbai work with the poor, the marginalized and children. One priest explains:
“The sisters have been in Dharavi for over 20 years. Their commitment has never wavered. And from that, we as an eparchy have gained confidence and expanded our social services throughout Mumbai. It’s worked out well and has been an excellent boost to the eparchy. We never got enmity from anyone.
“And we’ve learned a lot of things from them — involvement in the community, simplicity, commitment. They get up and do it,” adds the priest.
Five days a week, the sisters operate a nursery school and day care center that enrolls more than 60 children with working parents. The center offers meals and a structured program of educational activities. It has earned a reputation as the best day care provider around; even Dharavi’s more affluent families clamor to register their children on its long waiting list.
For more from this story see, ‘Slumdog’ Sisters by Peter Lemieux and for more about the renaming ceremony in Mumbai see, Name changers: 285 Indian girls no longer 'unwanted' on MSNBC.com.
20 October 2011
Tags: India Children
Anna Valavanal (left) and her sister, Irin, visit the Deivadan sisters and residents in Thankamany. (photo: Peter Lemieux)
In the July 2010 issue of ONE Peter Lemieux reported on the fearless work of the Deivadan Sisters in Kerala, India and the community that stands with them:
Siji Valavanal and her two daughters visit the Deivadan Home in Thankamany, in the Idukki District, a few afternoons each week. Established four years ago, the home takes in abandoned elderly women. On those days, Mrs. Valavanal picks up her daughters, 5-year-old Anna and 12-year-old Irin, from school and takes them to the market, where they purchase sacks of rice, tapioca, vegetables and other staples. They then head over to the Deivadan Home, knock on the door and offer the groceries. But more important for Mrs. Valavanal, she and her daughters stay awhile and visit with some of the residents.
Anna, wearing a bright pink-checkered dress, and Irin, wearing a pretty green dress, approach the bedside of a reclining resident. The frail woman sits up, reaches her hands out and clutches Irin’s hands. Irin smiles. She then gently caresses Anna’s cheeks. Anna blushes. The elderly woman beams.
On any given day, visitors drop in unannounced. Some bring sacks of rice, while others offer financial support. Together, as a community, they keep afloat these homes for the abandoned elderly. Some, such as Mrs. Valavanal and her daughters, have adopted the residents as additional parents and grandparents and stop by regularly.
“We’re happy when we come here. We sit and enjoy their company, feel their pain and hear their problems,” explains Mrs. Valavanal.
“Nowadays, society is always looking at the top level, not the low levels. Most people want to make relations with those with status, not to serve those in need. I want to create in my daughters’ minds the desire to serve others,” she says, echoing the wisdom of Father Kaippenplackal’s mother. For that lesson, Mrs. Valavanal could not have found her daughters better teachers than the Deivadan Sisters.
For more from this story, see, Fearless Grace by Peter Lemieux.
Tags: India Sisters Caring for the Elderly