A visit to partners in India in October, 2004

A visit to partners in India in October, 2004

India Trip Report – October 19 -31, 2004

India Trip Report – October 19 -31, 2004
By Debra Frantz

As Program Associate for the Southern Asia Office of Global Ministries I traveled to India in of October 2004 to meet partners, observe mission efforts and generally witness the challenges which our Indian Partners are trying to address as Christians who believe that God intends justice and peace for all. I considered myself as prepared as one can be having been working in the Southern Asia Office for nearly one year and having been briefed by Rev. James Vijayakumar, the Area Executive for the Southern Asia Office. Nevertheless, the realities of witnessing the hovels in which millions live, the beggars everywhere, the filth, the lack of safe water and medical care, and the lack of opportunities for education or employment that would provide living wages was shocking. To many natives, who are used to the abject poverty, the poor seem invisible. It is too large a problem to resolve, therefore it is ignored. This attitude shocked me, but I realized we in the west are no better. We ignore it as well. We don’t have to witness it on a daily basis – so we can claim ignorance or distance prevent us from engaging with these destitute brothers and sisters. In reality our partners showed me there are many, many ways of engaging in creative faith-based efforts to introduce opportunity and hope to those who have been trapped in poverty. Let me share a little of what I witnessed with you.

ImageI visited Nagapada Neighborhood House in Mumbai (Bombay), which is a ministry of the Marathi Mission of the Church of North India. Nagapada House has several ministries. They run a school which serves two groups who would otherwise get no schooling: mentally retarded children and young adults and slum children. I was greeted by the children and each group had a program prepared with which to entertain me. Mr. Vilas Torne, the Director of Nagapada House explained to me that normally many slum children and mentally retarded children get no education or training. The mentally retarded live with their parents until the parents die, then if no family member is willing or able to take them in they live on the streets. Some of these young people are trained in craft-making skills and with the help of Nagapada House can help to support themselves. The slum children (pictured at left) are given a good basic education that included HIV/AIDS prevention and awareness training that is age appropriate. HIV/AIDS is a growing problem in India and much of the spread of the disease could be prevented by education. There is little knowledge of the disease in the poor and rural communities, but they do stigmatize those affected and their families. Victims are often driven out of their communities.

The staff of Nagapada House also showed me the library that they make available to the community (the community is mostly Muslim) and described the opportunity that it creates for dialogue between the diverse groups. They also showed me the health clinics that they run for the slum community.

Image The next day I had the opportunity to visit some remote villages near Fairbank James Friendship Memorial Hospital at Vadala, in Maharashtra. Dr. Ravi and Dr. Sandhya Prabhakar spent the day with me showing me the villages that have been devastated by the recent droughts (which are caused by climate change) and the work that Global Ministries has helped fund to support the villages in creating long term solutions to these problems. The devastation is clearly more than the lack of water. Health risks are at a high, the local economy is disrupted as crops fail and women have to haul water from long distances instead of working in the fields or making crafts to sell, children do not go to school as they are needed to haul water, young men leave and go to the cities to look for work and when they return bring HIV/AIDS. The solutions that the villagers chose and constructed with the support of the Synodical Board of Social Services of the Church of North India included cleaning wells that had become filled with silt and debris over many years of use, drilling tube wells to help fill wells and ponds, digging farm ponds to help hold water so it can seep into the ground rather than flow away in streams, etc. The solutions are working and the process of designing their own solutions has had a profoundly empowering affect on the village leaders who are now considering what other problems they might be able to solve themselves. I have never seen more gratitude than I saw in the faces of the women who gave up a day of working in the fields to be present to greet me. Their lives had been bleak and nearly hopeless and now the future looks much brighter.

I visited a Christian Hospital in Jalna, Maharashtra. It is thriving under the direction of Dr. Christopher Moses. They are serving the small city and reaching out to the villagers who would otherwise forgo healthcare. The Hospital also has a nursing school and offers certified training. They are expanding their OB/GYN services and are building a large new building for this purpose.

ImageBishop A.K. Pradhan, of the Marathwada Diocese (CNI), spent a day with me describing the challenges of serving the rural poor in the Aurangabad area. They too have faced severe drought and lack of medical care. They also face a desperate need for vocational training for their youth. The Synodical Board of Social Services is working with these villages to address the water development challenges and the Diocese is hoping to reopen an old abandoned clinic in one of the villages we visited. The women pictured were among a group that protested the local government’s inadequate response to the water shortage in their village. Their protest brought an improved response from the government. The challenges are far beyond what the Diocese have the finances to resolve in the short term, but the commitment and resolution of the Diocesan staff is unwavering.

In Southern India I visited other Christian Hospitals which serve the poor. The quality of the medical care given to the poor in these hospitals is no less than what the paying community receives. This fact is not true of many of the government hospitals. The Karakonam Mission Hospital at Trivandrum has been expanding in recent years and provides high quality diverse health services to all, regardless of faith or ability to pay. The Hospital has recently begun a medical school and is training doctors at a rate of 100 per class. There is much reason to hope that access of the poor to quality medical care will be improving in the future.

ImageI had the privilege of visiting three schools supported by the Church of South India that serve children who need special service. I visited a home and school for children stricken with Polio. I had heard that polio has been eradicated, but it isn’t true. The Polio Home staff informed me that they do get new cases every year although it is fewer each year. The Polio Home provides medical care and physical therapy as well as a standard education to these children. The children seem delighted to be there. The boy dancing in the photo (at right) is a victim of polio. The accommodations are modest – the children sleep on the concrete floor – but they clearly are blessed to have the opportunity to receive the services provided. I also visited a home and school for visually impaired children. These children appeared to be thriving. They had recently competed in an athletic competition and had won awards of which they were very proud. Finally, I visited a home and school for children who are hearing and speech impaired. Again, as for all the schools the accommodations were modest, but the children are receiving an education and services that are not widely available in India. This opportunity for an education and vocational training is life-changing.

Dr. Gnana Robinson showed me around the town of Kanyakumari and described in detail the ways that Peace Trust serves both the local community and the international community. Locals are served by craft training programs and education programs on issues that tend to divide communities. They address difficult subjects so that the local communities can understand the complexities of the issues and make their decisions based on knowledge rather than fear. Peace Trust has also been conducting interfaith dialogues around the nation in many different states. The model for these dialogues is that they will have roughly equal numbers of participants from all of the faith groups in a region. In a nation that has seen terrible incidents of violence between groups of different faiths it has been moving to see how these dialogues have changed attitudes. Dr. Robinson told me that the attendees tend to come out of the meetings amazed that the various faith groups really want the same things. Seeing the humanity beneath the issues makes it more possible for the faith leaders to want to work together in ways that will reduce violence.

ImageTamilnadu Theological Seminary, in Madurai, is training church leaders for the future through study and through immersion in the communities of the poor who need spiritual care as well as help out of poverty. Some of the ministries of the Seminary include youth training programs at the Unemployed Young Peoples Association; care for elderly who have no family which is able to care for them at Inba Ilam; and training of women who are destitute and are in desperate conditions at Arulagam so that they can prepare themselves for a stable future. There are four Christian Hospitals in the Madurai region, one of which they hope to turn into a center for the treatment and care of HIV/AIDS victims. The young boy pictured here had recently arrived with his mother at Arulagam and looked particularly glad to be there.

Lady Doak College, in Madurai, is a Christian College for young women that provides a first class education. The student population is only about one-third Christian, but all are treated equally regardless of religion or caste. Caste identity must be left at the gate. All the young women live together, dine together, attend class together, study together and work side by side. Some of the staff met with me for tea and conversation. They are exceptionally talented staff who are devoted to making the institution even better and invite guests to come spend a term sharing their talents.

In New Delhi, I visited the Church of North India headquarters which coordinates the programs of the wider church. Rev. Enos Das Pradhan, the General Secretary of CNI, and his staff brought me up to date on a number of their efforts. The staff of the Synodical Board of Health Services described for me their extensive efforts to educate the church and the public in HIV prevention and awareness. Sadly, it is often the church leaders who are most reluctant to engage in HIV education, because of cultural mores that you don’t talk about sex in public. I also heard about the Community Health Projects which are a wide variety of programs aimed at bringing health care knowledge and services to the very poor.

I also visited the offices of the Christian Medical Association of India and learned about the ways that the Christian Medical Institutions and medical professionals work together to keep creating the best possible health delivery system possible.

ImageAt the All India Association for Christian Higher Education, I learned about the women’s empowerment projects and programs and saw the training program for young women. AIACHE is committed to developing quality educational opportunities for women and minorities who are traditionally unable to access quality education.

The Churches Auxiliary for Social Action is the social work wing of the mainline Protestant denominations in India and is an agency born in the mission of disaster relief, but which has expanded in recent years into social development fields and now does both with equal expertise. They are often among the first at the scene of a disaster in India and remain longer than most aid groups as their work shifts from disaster relief to rebuilding communities for the long term.

This is just a brief glimpse at the visits I enjoyed while in India. I came home gratified to be part of all the work of Global Ministries around the world and personally enriched to have witnessed a small piece of God’s work towards creating opportunity for “fullness of life” for all God’s children.