Tag Archive: development


Why We should Help

AMDG

When chatting to people about the experiences of the last year, a depressingly common response is Why should we help? We have our own problems?  This I call the ‘Little Englander’ response but on the surface also it seems very reasonable.  The UK has the 6th biggest economy in the world according to the World Bank, India the 9th.  Surely this will change soon.  There have been criticism from both countries about the UK sending Aid to India.  Some Indians saying it is an insult, some British saying we should concentrate closer to home. Both are completely wrong in my opinion.  The British International Development Secretary, sensitive to such criticisms has said recently. “India itself has got 60 million children into school in recent years with its own money but more than 30 per cent of the world’s poorest people live there. There are states the size of Britain where half of all children suffer from malnutrition. We will not be in India for ever but now is not the time to end the programme.”  That is an incredible fact….. Of India’s 28 states, 10 have populations greater than 60 million.

The church punches above its weight in India particularly in its education initiatives and healthcare provision. However at times there can also be a siege mentality with the inter-religious balance so delicate. Catholics are regularly attacked and killed a terrible crime which is not well reported. Hostility, often due to forces of nationalism and fundamentalism, present warped representations of the church. Protestant fundamentalists do not help at times – with all Christians often viewed as the same by the Hindu majority.   Many communities may also be jealous because of the funding that comes from Catholics abroad.  The Indian Bishops at a recent conference released a statement on ‘The Church’s Role for a Better India’.However in this delicate climate – the church has already accomplished a lot, running 788 hospitals, many of them caring for HIV patients, a vast network of over 15,000 schools and colleges of which 54% of students are girls and 71%  are non-Catholics. It is clear that the Church’s network is doing a lot of good and unsung work for the people India. Catholic schools are the most prestigious regularly filling out the list of top performing schools. Because education is still a business in many places people are setting up schools to imitate Catholic schools. I heard  of schools called St Christs and St Jesus’s, of directors of schools insisting that all the female teachers wear habits like nuns. You regularly see in the matchmaking column of the newspapers, boasting of a girls credentials under the proud title of Convent Educated, or the prospective husbands having been Jesuit educated.  However theses works only thrive because of a woeful lack of quality and consistent provision by the state.

Philanthropy and giving by wealthy people is undergoing a bit of a revolution, courtesy of billionaires such as Warren Buffet and Bill Gates (left). Warren Buffet has designed the ‘giving pledge‘ in an attempt to get billionaires to commit to giving the majority of their wealth away to charitable efforts. So far 81 have signed it including, laudably, the youngest Mark Zuckerberg and the great Elon Musk. Sadly, a wise and experienced Indian told me that philanthropy does not have the same status in Hindu thinking, echoed by this report in the Hindustan Times.  The philosophy of reincarnation dictates that your status in life, rich or poor  is deserved and there is little you should do to change it. In fact this meanness is reportedly also evident in Chinese billionaires who recently ducked a meal with Buffet in case they were asked to sign up to the giving pledge.   In my experience the happiest people I meet are the most generous, whether it be with their money or their time. The new generation of philanthropist lead by Buffet, Gates and Musk should be copied!

Success against the odds

AMDG

Yesterday was a day of celebration here in Manvi as the school received the first set of exam results.  The SSLC exams are the equivalent of GCSE‘s (public exams for 16 year olds).  Taken at the state level. The school achieved a remarkable 100% pass rate, making it top out of more than 60 schools in Manvi District.  Fr Rohan Almeida S.J. the Director of the school has written today about what this achievement means and putting it into perspective.  

Fr Rohan :  Yet again our students who appeared for the SSLC examinations have come out with flying colours. All who sat the examination from our school have passed with good marks. It gives me immense joy to tell you that some of them were grazing cows and sheep few years ago. For them to come to school and achieve this, especially in English medium is a great thing. According to me it is mainly because of the high motivation of these children that come from the remote villages and are mainly Dalits have. They have a great desire to prove that they too can achieve great things in their lives.  I thank all the teaching and non–teaching staff for motivating and encouraging these children and helping them achieve this great feat. This is a message from one of our boys, (Manesh).

 I am very delighted that I have got good marks in board exams. I am thankful to Loyola school, all the fathers and teachers who have given me an opportunity to study and encouraged me to write the exams. I want to continue my studies here in this institution and want to be an Engineer. Few years ago I was grazing cows in my village and now because of Loyola school I can dream of becoming an engineer.

The SSLC is a public examination, formulated by the regional board of education that the school is affiliated with ( i.e not an internal exam set by members of the faculty of the school).  The performance of a student in the SSLC examination is one of the factors in admission to Pre University Courses in India. Therefore, the SSLC is often regarded as the first important examination that a student undertakes. After successful completion of SSLC, a student wishing to pursue his education further would join a course based on the specialization he chooses and which gives him knowledge sufficient for him to enter an university which is sometimes called a Pre-University Course (PUC), for two years. After this a student may enter a university for undergraduate studies. Alternatively, after obtaining the SSLC, a student may choose to attend an industrial training institute where one can be trained in skills necessary for technical occupations. The other options include joining a polytechnic for a three year course of diploma in engineering and then further pursing degree in engineering after the completion of diploma. Many of our students want to do their PUC and go for the engineering and medical studies.

Many Dalit children are left to a life of illiteracy and looking after sheep or goats

Mustur Rayappa one of the parents says “Really you have brought the light to our children by starting Loyola school in Manvi. You have given us a ray of hope that even our Dalit children can study and stand equal to other children. I am grateful to Jesuit fathers who started this school and brought the best education to the poor and downtrodden in the society.”

I thank almighty God for giving us strength to carry out this Mission to educate the poorest of the poor and the marginalized in the society. I thank all the teaching and non–teaching staff for motivating and encouraging these children and helping them achieve this great feat. I thank all the benefactors and the well wishers without whose support these children would have been still grazing cows and sheep or might be working as child labourers in their villages.

New website of the school – just launched – click here www.xaviermanvi.in

To support these children – click here www.supportingdalitchildren.com

AMDG

In my opinion the transformative power of hope is not given enough credit . The population of India is an incredible 1.2billion and growing by 17 million a year.  The majority of Indians (70%) live in rural villages.  The recent census showed that majority of these rural dwellers survive on less than 35 rupees a day (or 40pence / 60cents).    Talking to some of the families in the villages here, and students and teachers it is very clear that an absence of optimism is one of the most debilitating factors in peoples lives.  Of course it understandable – rates of malnutriton, illiteracy, infant mortality and a lack of clean water are all at shameful levels in rural India. The biggest ministry in India’s Government is that for Rural Development, and to their credit they have instigated important schemes such as subsidised grain and a guaranteed programme of 100 days paid work a year for unskilled labour.

Both schemes, well meant, are crippled by corruption.  Many of the grain is pocketed by middle men, and much of the Public Works Scheme money is siphoned off by ‘ghost workers’ – invented by corrupt local officials in order to pocket their wages. This is the biggest flaw in India’s politics – that so many see it as legitimate to exploit the state in order to redistribute patronage to their kin.  Plundering the state is terrible for development.  So those worst effected, at the bottom of the pile,  feel hopeless and helpless. When you have no mental space to see beyond day-to day-survival it can lead to a certain listlessness, lack of motivation and depression. This also manifests itself in a kind of chronic conservatism, often culturally expressed, and jealousy of anyone who dares to be too successful from your village.

However there is hope…. just the witness of our children when they go back to their villages, speaking English, clean, confident, well fed seems to be having a big impact on changing this mindset.  This week many parents are bringing their children in to seek for admission for the next school year. The Jesuits are giving priority to those from the poorest families, the Dalits, the Devadasis.  At the early stages of the mission, much time and energy was put into forming womens groups in the villages, with the belief that they value education more, and more likely to ensure that the girls will not lose out.  The picture on the right shows the leaders from a womens group in a local village who brought in a large group of children to register for admission this year. Maybe they wouldn’t have come had it just been left to their families. The dynamic leaders of the women’s cooperative are ensuring that education is starting to be valued more. However this is on a macro level –  I believe change is also coming to India at a macro level.

The worlds biggest biometric database is being set up in India.  This is based on the realisation that the rural poor have no identity – no drivers licence, no passport,no bank account,  many live in villages shared by so many people with the same surname.  This makes it impossible for them to open a bank account.  If they want to migrate to work in another state, in the dead time between harvest and replanting,  they have to spend hours queuing in the sun, to pay bribes to get papers.

Things are changing: the UID (Universal Id) or Aadhar number is drastically improving rural welfare.  With iris, fingerprint and face scanners, their identity is robust, it means that they can open bank accounts, state support goes straight to them, cutting out the middleman and the loss of so much due to corruption.  Their medical and school records can become mobile. As a voluntary scheme it has been embraced enthusiastically by the poor with already 400 million enrolled into it. Observers have suggested the changes are already evident with more land coming under cultivation, dietary habits slowly changing. Sadly we have not seen this in Karnataka, when I ask the villages here they shrug and shake their heads. The sad truth is that the schemes spread is being blocked by powerful forces including the Home Minister. Why? some claim arguments that would be more familiar in the developed world, data protection, civil liberties, privacy – these all seem out of place when you share a one roomed hut with 10 others!! I suspect the real reason it is being blocked is because it is so effective at cutting out the middle man and reducing corruption.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,436 other followers