Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Most Memorable News at the Year-End

There has been so much being talked about at the end of the year.... The economic meltdown, the attack on Mumbai, the election of a Black-American as the President of United States, the attempts being made towards containing Global Warming, etc. Among all the melee of events and the shows that the T.V. screens and the other media will spurn out, the most touching, most sublime events of human heart will be lost in the wilderness of this noisy world. However, it is nice to end this year with an incident from this year that touched me the most :

On 23 Sept 2008, a most touching event took place place in a far off corner of Tamilnadu, a southern State of India. Hithendran, 16, had been declared "brain dead" by the doctors days before, after the young boy had met with a road accident. His parents Mr. Ashokan and Mrs. Pushpanjali, doctors by profession, decided to do something more humane and profound with their son who was now living a vegetative life. They heard of a little girl in Chennai whose heart had been seriously damaged and the doctors had put the girl on artificial systems of survival. The parents of Hithendran thought of the unthinkable. They asked the doctors to donate their son's heart to that little girl so that the girl can live with the heart of their son! With a massive operation done by an expert team of doctors, today, the girl is still alive, to celebrate the first day of 2009, and the boy had been laid to rest eternally, with a heart that continues to tick in another person's body.  

Humanity does not live on great economies, nor on soil acquired by war and violence, nor by threat and evil.... but by the Hearts that Love beyond all telling!

HAVE A VERY HAPPY NEW YEAR 2009 !

Struggle against Poverty

The nineteen hours long journey by road from Bhubaneshwar to Raiganj did not stop the Director Puthumai A. Nazarene from rushing to Balia, a village on the Bangladesh border of India, closer to a little town called Bindole, about 20 kilometers from Raiganj to be with a group of villagers, people, some Government officials and my Staff to distribute a machine that can press leaves that have been stitched together into plates! As part of the anti-human trafficking program, SWI gave away a Pressing Machine that uses a dais to press leaves into plates, which can become a regular source of income for a widow whose son left her in search of job six years ago, never to return. Fr. Herman Kindo, Sr. Naveena, Ms. Barnali Roy and Ms. Sushmita Sarkar from Social Welfare Institute, along with few field volunteers took part in the program. The program is being supported by Manos Unidas, through Association of Bengal Collaborators for Development (ABCD). The village has formed an Adolescent Girls' Group to monitor the movement of adolescent girls and women so that women do not fall prey victim to human trafficking.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Visit to Orissa

I traveled to Bhubaneshwar, in the State of Orissa, India for a meeting on Skill Development Programs for Drop Out students. The meetings were on 16-18, Dec. at New Marrion.  The discussions were a lot boring with so much of presentations in a large group of over 160 people, with only two speeches each day that were of worth mentioning. On 19th, I spent the morning with a relative mine who stays in Bhubaneshwar, and the afternoon with the family of Mr. Mishra, a friend of mine. At 5.00 p.m. I left along with three German students-friends for Raiganj, and reach Raiganj on 20th noon.

During the stay in Orissa, I also had the opportunity to speak with several persons including the Archbishop Raphael Cheenath, and Sr. Suma, the Regional Superior of the Missionaries of Charity, on the atrocities against Christians. Fr. Sarto and Sr. Christine who also were in Orissa at that time traveled to Kandhamal and few other places to meet the refugees, which I could not do due to the meeting that tied me down to the city. However, I am sharing with you a brief set of photographs that are being shown on the left side of this blog.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Thinking Critically

I believe we need to think a lot more critically on some of the issues that have come to the forefront since the Mumbai attacks. Someone had mailed a critique of how we Indians behave or must behave. I have it down below.
Do not worry about those who have come thru boats... Our forces can easily defeat them. WORRY about those who have come thru votes.... They could REALLY BE DANGEROUS. What a shame and disgrace to every citizen of India that the elite NSG Force was transported into 
ordinary BEST (Bombay city) buses, whereas our cricketers are transported into state of the art luxury buses, these Jawans (Soldiers) lay down their lives to protect every Indian and these cricketers get paid even if they lose a match, we worship these cricketers and forget the martyrdom of these brave Jawans. The Jawans should be paid the salaries of the cricketers and the cricketers should be paid the salaries of the Jawans. An ace shooter shoots and gets gold medal, Government gives one crore, (10 million); another shooter dies while shooting terrorists, Government gives 5 lakh (half a million). WHO DESERVES MORE? This is our India.... You called it "Incredible India", is it?

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The Mumbai Blame...

Whereas the whole international media and the Governments are condemning the attack on Mumbai, as a humanitarian organization, we strongly condemn such violence against any human person. It looks like, a lot of planning seem to have taken place across the border, in Pakistan, specifically. Pakistan on the other hand is "crying like a kid, shouting that Pakistan itself is a vickim of terrorism." Whatever be, it is a monster that Pakistan has created. As Madeline Albright has mentioned, Pakistan has become an "international migrane"! No country can dissolve itself of its responsibility for an act of its citizens on foreign soil.

The event and the way we have been looking at the whole episode also raises more questions for ourselves.

Is it possible to look critically at what has happened in Mumbai?
 
Who were focused? Who were not focused? Who were denied any focus?
Who will never be focused?
 
The state of our news reporters! Have we ever compared our news reporters  with other International ones? their critical analysis of the issue and the way they appear? Who are news reporters of our country? Their mind set? Their commitment to Human Rights! To the poor?
 
Was the issue properly handled : by the media? by the politicians? by the governments?
 
Was the issue of Taj and Oberoi more focused than the loss of people?
Why not much was shown nor discussed on the death of so many people in the Railway station?
Which politician went to meet them?
 
Who are the terrorists? Which terrorists were not caught? Which terrorists will never be caught?
 
Many politicians at the centre and states are thrown away for their inactivity.
Why this did not happen when....
  • thousands of farmers committed suicide?
  • thousands of innocents chased away from their homes and hundreds tortured in Orissa?
  • thousands tortured everyday due to discrimination, domestic  violence etc.
Every life is precious and everyone has a righ to live.  But Mumbai experience seems to be giving us new lessons to learn... 
 
On the one side, politicians are playing their game of blaming each other! Media has taken a centre stage. They were more important than the news itself. We have learnt the shalowness of our media. There were familar with Taj and Oberoi but not with the Railway stations. That is where they frequented for many press meets! They were more interested in creating sensational news and centering on themselves ( We are the first ones to reach here, ours is the exclusive report). 

Lastly, shall we spend a minute in silence .... praying for peace, reconciliation and forgiveness.
(With inputs from Fr. Nithya)

Hotel Taj : Icon of Whose India?

Dear all, the whole of the Indian continent is mourning the death of many innocent lives in the Mumbai attacks. We need to ask some specific questions at the same time.... as the media, the international attention and the most powerful in politics are all speaking about the siege of the Hotel Taj and the Oberoi. Well, the media and the rich are declaring Hotel Taj as an Icon of India. So, I have something more to read for you... and make your opinion. The article was written by Gnani Sankaran.

Watching at least four English news channels surfing from one another during the last 60 hours of terror strike made me feel a terror of another kind. The terror of assaulting one's mind and sensitivity with cameras, sound bites and non-stop blabbers. All these channels have been trying to manufacture my consent for a big lie called - Hotel Taj the icon of India. Whose India, Whose Icon ?

It is a matter of great shame that these channels simply did not bother about the other icon that faced the first attack from terrorists - the Chatrapathi Shivaji Terminus (CST) railway station. CST is the true icon of Mumbai. It is through this railway station hundreds of Indians from Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan, West Bengal and Tamilnadu have poured into Mumbai over the years, transforming themselves into Mumbaikars and built the Mumbai of today along with the Marathis and Kolis

But the channels would not recognise this. Nor would they recognise the thirty odd dead bodies strewn all over the platform of CST. No Barkha Dutt went there to tell us who they were. But she was at Taj to show us the damaged furniture and reception lobby braving the guards. And the TV cameras did not go to the government run JJ hospital to find out who those 26 unidentified bodies were. Instead they were again invading the battered Taj to try in vain for a scoop shot of the dead bodies of the page 3 celebrities.

In all probability, the unidentified bodies could be those of workers from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh migrating to Mumbai, arriving by train at CST without cell phones and pan cards to identify them. Even after 60 hours after the CST massacre, no channel has bothered to cover in detail what transpired there.

The channels conveniently failed to acknowledge that the Aam Aadmis (general public) of India surviving in Mumbai were not affected by Taj, Oberoi and Trident closing down for a couple of weeks or months. What mattered to them was the stoppage of BEST buses and suburban trains even for one hour. But the channels were not covering that aspect of the terror attack. Such information at best merited a scroll line, while the cameras have to be dedicated for real time thriller unfolding at Taj or Nariman bhavan.

The so called justification for the hype the channels built around heritage site Taj falling down (CST is also a heritage site), is that Hotel Taj is where the rich and the powerful of India and the globe congregate. It is a symbol or icon of power of money and politics, not India. It is the icon of the financiers and swindlers of India. The Mumbai and India were built by the Aam Aadmis who passed through CST, and Taj was the oasis of peace and privacy for those who wielded power over these mass of labouring classes. Leopold club and Taj were the haunts of rich spoilt kids who would drive their vehicles over sleeping Aam Aadmis on the pavement, the Mafiosi of Mumbai forever financing the glitterati of Bollywood (and also the terrorists) , Political brokers and industrialists.

It is precisely because Taj is the icon of power and not people, that the terrorists chose to strike. The terrorists have understood after several efforts that the Aam Aadmi will never break down even if you bomb her markets and trains. He/she was resilient because that is the only way he/she can even survive.

Resilience was another word that annoyed the pundits of news channels and their patrons this time. What resilience, enough is enough, said Pranoy Roy's channel on the left side of the channel spectrum. Same sentiments were echoed by Arnab Goswami representing the right wing of the broadcast media whose time is now. Can Rajdeep Sardesai be far behind in this game of one upmanship over TRPs ? They all attacked resilience this time. They wanted firm action from the government in tackling terror.

The same channels celebrated resilience when bombs went off in trains and markets killing and maiming the Aam Aadmis. The resilience of the ordinary worker suited the rich business class of Mumbai since work or manufacture or film shooting did not stop. When it came to them, the rich shamelessly exhibited their lack of nerves and refused to be resilient themselves. They cry for government intervention now to protect their private spas and swimming pools and bars and restaurants, similar to the way in which Citibank, General Motors and the ilk cry for government money when their coffers are emptied by their own ideologies.

The terrorists have learnt that the ordinary Indian is unperturbed by terror. For one whose daily existence itself is a terror of government sponsored inflation and market sponsored exclusion, pain is something he has learnt to live with. The rich of Mumbai and India Inc are facing the pain for the first time and learning about it just as the middle classes of India learnt about violation of human rights only during emergency, a cool 28 years after independence.

And human rights were another favourite issue for the channels to whip at times of terrorism.

Arnab Goswami in an animated voice wondered where were those champions of human rights now, not to be seen applauding the brave and selfless police officers who gave up their life in fighting terorism. Well, the counter question would be where were you when such officers were violating the human rights of Aam Aadmis. Has there ever been any 24 hour non stop coverage of violence against dalits and adivasis of this country?

This definitely was not the time to manufacture consent for the extra legal and third degree methods of interrogation of police and army but Arnabs don't miss a single opportunity to serve their class masters, this time the jingoistic patriotism came in handy to whitewash the entire uniformed services. The sacrifice of the commandos or the police officers who went down dying at the hands of ruthless terrorists is no doubt heart rending but in vain in a situation which needed not just bran but also brain. Israel has a point when it says the operations were misplanned resulting in the death of its nationals here.

Khakares and Salaskars would not be dead if they did not commit the mistake of traveling by the same vehicle. It is a basic lesson in management that the top brass should never travel together in crisis. The terrorists, if only they had watched the channels, would have laughed their hearts out when the Chief of the Marine commandos, an elite force, masking his face so unprofessionally in a see-through cloth, told the media that the commandos had no idea about the structure of the Hotel Taj which they were trying to liberate. But the terrorists knew the place thoroughly, he acknowledged.

Is it so difficult to obtain a ground plan of Hotel Taj and discuss operation strategy thoroughly for at least one hour before entering? This is something even an event manager would first ask for, if he had to fix 25 audio systems and 50 CCtvs for a cultural event in a hotel. Would not Ratan Tata have provided a plan of his ancestral hotel to the commandos within one hour considering the mighty apparatus at his and government's disposal? Are satelite pictures only available for terrorists and not the government agencies ? In an operation known to consume time, one more hour for preparation would have only improved the efficiency of execution.

Sacrifices become doubly tragic in unprofessional circumstances. But the Aam Aadmis always believe that terror-shooters do better planning than terrorists. And the gullible media in a jingoistic mood would not raise any question about any of these issues. They after all have their favourite whipping boy - the politician the eternal entertainer for the non-voting rich classes of India.

Arnabs and Rajdeeps would wax eloquent on Manmohan Singh and Advani visiting Mumbai separately and not together showing solidarity even at this hour of national crisis. What a farce? Why can't these channels pool together all their camera crew and reporters at this time of national calamity and share the sound and visual bites which could mean a wider and deeper coverage of events with such a huge human resource to command? Why should Arnab and Rajdeep and Barkha keep harping every five minutes that this piece of information was exclusive to their channel, at the time of such a national crisis? Is this the time to promote the channel? If that is valid, the politician promoting his own political constituency is equally valid. And the duty of the politican is to do politics, his politics. It is for the people to evaluate that politics.

And terrorism is not above politics. It is politics by other means--a wrongful means.

To come to grips with it and to eventually eliminate it, the practice of politics by proper means needs constant fine tuning and improvement. Decrying all politics and politicians, only helps terrorists and dictators who are the two sides of the same coin. And the rich and powerful always prefer terrorists and dictators to do business with.

Those caught in this crossfire are always the Aam Aadmis whose deaths are not even mourned - the taxi driver who lost the entire family at CST firing, the numerous waiters and stewards who lost their lives working in Taj for a monthly salary that would be one time bill for their masters.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Child Centric Disaster Preparedness

Calcutta, Nov. 29, 2008 :
The disaster Preparedness and mitigation programme should be child centric, decided participants from nine South Asian countries during a workshop Nov. 26-28 in Calcutta.
Children can mobilise the parents and communities to understand the complex realities of disaster system, said Mr. Srdjan Stojanovic, Chief of Emergency Programme, UNICEF- India. Schools should  enable the children to find out creative ways of disaster mitigation and response, said Ms. Shivangi Chavda from SEEDS India basing on her experience.
Schools have strong institutionalised  system, schools have resources and upward and downward links. They can sustain efforts, added Ms. Chavda basing on her experience of working with the children in Gujarat after the Gujarat earthquake. Thus "School Disaster Management Plan" (SDMP) are important in every block, she added.  SDMP in Gujarat are linked with the Government line departments and blocks for better coordination and implementation.
This is a good method which other states can emulate, said Fr. Puhtumai Nazarene, Director of Diocesan Social service society in Raiganj of Northern West Bengal. We do have school sensitization programme for Disaster Preparedness. We shall now promote school disaster Preparedness management Plan, added Fr. Puthumai who is involved in disaster response programme for a decade.
More than 100 participants working in disaster response programme in South Asia and  Europe attended the Community Based Disaster Risk Reduction (CBDRR) Conference organised by UNICEF in Calcutta.
THE UNICEF Calcutta also made arrangements for the participants to visit four selected areas to understand the preparedness measures undertaken by the communities in the vulnerable villages of West Bengal. Ms. Parnasri Ray Chaudhury, Emergency Officer of UNICEF- Kolkata coordinated the exposure visits so that the participants can have a first hand knowledge of the  CBDRR programme implemented by UNICEF and the Civil Defense Department of Government of WB financed by DIPECHO. Two of the four sites chosen are the diocesan social service centre working areas of Krishanagar and Baruipur diocese in South Bengal which are often affected by cyclone and floods. Fr. Robin Mondal of Krishanagar and Holy Cross Sister Sampoornam of Baruipur respectively guided the visitors to elaborate the CBDRR programme implemented in their areas for the poor villagers who have been  capacitated to face the diasters.
The children demonstrated the importance of relief and rescue, swimming, knowledge about the village area and Early Warning signals during the exposure visit.
National School Safety programme has been taken up in 22 states, said Mr. Vinod Menon from National Disaster Management Authority, India. Out of the 1.13 billion population in India, 390 million are going to schools. Thus school safety is at the centre stage, added Mr. Menon who earlier worked with the UNICEF.
He elaborated the Disaster Management Act of 2005 where in Rupees 21,300 crore are allocated for relief works in India for five years.
 From COMMUNITY Based Disaster Preparedness, the concept has evolved into  Disaster mitigation, Management to Risk Reduction, said Mr. Menon quoting various examples.
Mr. Pieter Bult, Deputy Director of UNDP-India  also spoke on UN policy related to Disaster Risk Reduction. Ms. Ann Hasselbalch, Deputy Director of UNICEF in India exhorted the participants to learn from each other for emergency preparedness.
Ms. Indira Kulenovic, coordinator and ADvisor for South Asia, DIPECHO programme elaborated the importance of local ownership for sustainability.  DIPECHO created in 1996 is presently working in 166 countries. We need to make Hazard maps of vulnerable areas and make it available for the communities to use, added Ms. Indira.
WEst Bengal government has created  a syllabus  for schools in collaboration with UNICEF, said Dr. Srikumar Mukherjee, Minister for Civil Defense in WB. Soon the Government would bring out "Disaster Preparedness Plan", added Dr. Mukherjee while appreciating the efforts of the NGOs for Disaster Preparedness.
We need Psycho social counsellors for trauma counselling  the disaster victims, said Mr. Dovan Lowali, Project Officer of UNICEF, Nepal.
Poverty and global warming cause more disasters, said Mr. Stojanovic, chief of Emergency programme in UNICEF India, Delhi. We need to make CBDRR a social movement in our communities added Mr. Stojanovic who regularly visits villages to interact with the communities.
We need to mainstream CBDRR in all our response programmes, said Mr. Vikrant Mhajan, chief Operating Officer of SPHERE India.
176 districts in 17 states are working for sustainable disaster Risk reduction programme, said Mr. G. Padmanabhan, Emergency Officer of UNDP, India. We need to instiutionalise the CBDRR programme for its sustainability, added Mr. Padmanabhanile critically evaluating the programme. Eight states have introduced Disaster Management as syllabus in the schools, he added.
Strengthening networking is essential for CBDRR, said Ms. Eilia Jafar, REgional DRR Officer of DIPECHO and International Federation of Red Cross (IFRC). Sharing her experience of working with seven countries in Asia, she invited the participants to take up the risks of everyday life alluding to the Mumbai bombings happening then on Oct. 27.
Community also needs psycho social support in disaster, said Ms. Memoona Chaudry, Project Officer of UNDP, Pakistan. She narrated her experience of working with the earth quake victims.
Mr. Bikram Mohapatro, Disability Coordinator Handicap International, India exhorted the participants to mainstream disability in CBDRR. We need to train Task Forces to deal with people of various differently abled people, said Mr. Mohapatro narrating his examples.
Promoting traditional knowledge to face disaster is one of our main strategies, elaborated Ms. Parnasri Ray Chaudhury who coordinated the conference proceedings.

Friday, November 21, 2008

CBDRM Workshop by DIPECHO and Welthungerhilfe

The Disaster Management division of the European Commission Humanitarian Aid Office (ECHO), Welthungerhilfe of Germany and Ramakrishna Mission of West Bengal jointly organized a State Level Workshop on Community Based Disaster Risk Management on the theme : "Lessons Learned and the Road Ahead" on 19 - 20, Nov 2008 at Narendrapur. The program was inaugurated by Dr. Hoeper of Welthungerhilfe and Swami Asaktanananda. The entire program was coordinated by Dr. Joachim Schemerbeck and moderated by Puthumai A. Nazarene, with assistance from the staff of Ramakrishna Mission. The meeting was attended by over 60 scholars, research students, International organizations, NGO activists and village level leaders. It was also wonderful to note that representatives from UNICEF, UNDP and the World Bank too took time to make their presence felt. Some of the presentations given at the venue are available at the Public Library of this site. You may also avail of it by going directly into the folder : Climate and Disaster Management

Thursday, November 20, 2008

This Blog in German

This blog that has already been visited by over 11,500 visitors in the last two years, and has even become a good download point for many social workers through the Public Library that is available along with this site. Now this website is available in German (Deutsch) language too. Just as you have been visiting http://puthu.blogspot.com for the English version, you may also visit http://puthumair.blogspot.com for the German version of the same. This translation work has been done by a volunteer Ms. Alexandra Klages who has consented to translate it continuously. Enjoy the same excellence and visit again and again. We are thankful to Ms. Alexandra for accepting to do this wonderful task.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Animators take up Political Leadership

Raigunj, Nov. 15, 2008 Caritas, Raiganj motivated animators to take up village leadership. 23 animators of Social Welfare Institute, (SWI) popularly known as Caritas Raiganj have become Village Development council members during the recent selection. Out of the 25 animators working with the SWI on Community Based Disaster Preparedness (CBDP) programme, 23 of them have been selected by the village Panchayats to be the members of the Village Development Council (Gram Unnayan Samiti). These members have a role in planning village level Development, disaster management and health related programmes for the good of the villagers. They will also control the part of the finances given for development programmes by the Government in each Ward, said Fr. Puthumai Nazarene, the Director of SWI.We are very proud that our animators who have been trained by us have become VDC members in Harishchandrapur II Block of Malda District, said Miss. Bimala Baru, coordinator for CBDP programme supported by the UNICEF (United Nations Children's Education Fund). This is a great recognition for our organisation, said Fr. Puthumai who conducts monthly trainings for the animators.I am glad to learn that our animators have achieved this level of leadership, said Miss. Parnasri RayChowdhuri, Emergency officer of UNICEF, Calcutta. We are sure these animators will help the Panchayats to utilise the funds fully for the good of the vulnerable communities, said Bro.I.P.Sarto, Secretary of the Bengal Regional Forum. This is a good achievement on the part of the diocesan social service society in empowering people to take up political governance at the village level. We are sure these animators will help the people to get the Government facilities, said Sr. Naveena Tudu of the Sisters of Charity. SWI based in Raiganj works in three districts of North Bengal, viz, Malda, North Dinajpur and south Dinajpur since 1972. SWI was formerly involved in relief works for the Bangladesh refugees and later shifted to children's welfare, women's health and all round development of the vulnerable communities, said Fr. S. Santhappan, former director of SWI. Presently SWi works in collaboration with various Government departments. ## I.P.Sarto, Calcutta (from a Press Report sent to Christian magazines by Fr. I.P. Sarto)

Providence stands by the Poor

The Sisters of Divine Providence have joined with Social Welfare Institute in working in three villages near Patiram, 15 kms from Balurghat town, for the development of the poor, specially through service to the school drop-outs. Inaugurating a program on knitting and tailoring for 15 drop-out girls, Mr. Ashesh Chatterjee, the Assistant General Manager of NABARD, welcomed the initiative and said that we must ensure that every family in these three villages have a bank account. Puthumai A. Nazarene, in his special address, proposed that NABARD could join with Social Welfare Institute in the development of the poor in these three villages. He made special mention of the efforts taken by the Sisters of Providence, very specifically by Sr. Bindu, who did the entire survey in the three villages, and has plans for mainstreaming the children who can be placed back into schools, and other plans for the young boys and girls who need to be taught various other skills. He said that the target is to declare these three villages as “drop-out free” villages. This can function as a model.

 Methodologically, under the current program, the 15 girls will be made into a group, with a common bank account, and from the third month onwards, market linkages will be made for them so that they can sell their produce. The entire training will be for three months. Fr. Patras Bara, the Vicar General of the diocese, Fr. Lazarus Minj, the Parish Priest of Patiram, Fr. Herman Kindo, an Assistant Director of Social Welfare Institute, Sr. Manuela, the Superior of the Sisters of Providence, Mrs. Smritikanya Sarkar, the teacher and several other persons, children and self-help group members also attended the program. We thank Fr. Lazarus for offering the place for the training, the Sisters of Providence for their new partnership with Social Welfare Institute, and the team of staff of SWI (Mr. Shahnawaz and others), and Sr. Bindu for organizing the entire training. Part of the fund support will come from the FVTRS which has been supporting various skill development programs in Raiganj.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Loretos Redefine Development

Darjeeling, Oct. 29, 2008 :
Loreto sisters of Darjeeling Region in West Bengal decided to take up "Rights based Approach in their community development" programme. All the sisters of the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary (IBVM) in the Region attended a workshop on "Redefining Development", Oct. 26-29, 2008 to review their social apostolates in Darjeeling.
Education has been our greatest strength. Now we would like to take up a pioneering role in developmental work in the villages where we are working, said Sr. Monica Alfonso, Regional Superior based in Siliguri about 550 kms north of Calcutta. Presently they have seven centres in Darjeeling district of West Bengal, Sikkim state and Nepal.
Frs. Puthumai Nazarene, Social works Director of Raiganj diocese and Ignatius Philo Sarto, Secretary of the Bengal Regional Forum facilitated the workshop. They elaborated the developmental concepts and various models of development adopted by various NGOs and in the Church. The facilitators extensively quoted the Bible to elaborate the prophetic role of Church in today's world. Fr. Puthumai elaborated the story of Moses, the prophet in present day context with social analysis.
A sister each will be posted in every community to look after the developmental and pastoral works in the area, said Sr. Alfonso at the end of the workshop. The sisters unanimously decided to train more sisters on development and to identify suitable lay people to train on social apostolate.
The sisters also accepted "to work towards building a more just  world where the rights of every woman and child are protected and ensured" as their vision. Mary Ward Development Centre (MWDC), named after the founder of the Congregation, established in 2006 facilitates, supports and sustains the development and justice initiatives of the Loreto sisters working in the Himalayan Region.
The MWDC is involved in education, health, women's empowerment, anti trafficking and volunteers programme in the region during the last two years, said Sr. Sabrina Edwards, directress of the centre.
This workshop is an eye opener for me to understand development in the context of the Biblical perspective, said Sr. Teresa Mc Glinchey, Principal of Loreto school, Darjeeling.  All the sisters shared their expectations  and unanimously decided that the MWDC would coordinate the developmental works in the missions of the Loretos in the Himalayan region.
I am glad that the concepts of development and justice are clarified during this workshop and we are able to look at the future with a new thrust, said Sr. Carmella Coelho, former principal of Loreto College, Darjeeling.
We must work for local fund raising for our village out reach programmes, emphasised SR. Coelho who is presently in-charge of finances in the region. Mr. Roshan Rai, a development activist in Darjeeling elaborated the situation in the hills and made a social analysis inviting the religious to go out to the vulnerables who are still living in the forests far away from any development.
Besides the IBVM sisters, priests from the neighbouring diocese of Jalpaiguri and the staff of Darjeeling diocesan social service society attended the sessions on "Spirituality of Development". It is a great opportunity for us to sit along with the priests and senior religious to attend this workshop and benefit immensely, said Mr. Albert Lepcha, one of the staff of Darjeeling .
We need to do more serious analysis to understand the implications of poverty in our society, said Fr. Sushil Toppo of Jalpaiguri, one of the participants.  Social analysis is the basis for every development work, said Sr. Christine Gurung who had done pioneering works in Nepal.
The sisters decided to hold quarterly review of their developmental programmes and to have a biannual orientation programme on development for those who are directly involved in social developmental works.  They also unanimously decided to give legal identity to their MWDC by registering it as a social service society. MWDC staff Varsha, Priscilla and Rohini left no stone unturned to make the workshop a success and fruitful...
 
(As reported by I.P.Sarto, Oct. 29, Asansol)

Right to Food Workshop

A training on Right to food was organized by Social Welfare Institute on 11-12 Sept 2008. Sixty seven participants attended the programme from various parts of West Bengal. The programme was facilitated by Fr. Puthumai

 Nazarene, director of Social Welfare Society, Raiganj, Fr. I.P.Sarto, Secretary of ABCD, Regional forum, Calcutta, Mr. Aftab Alam, the North Dinajpur District Development Officer in-charge of NREGA Programme and Sr. Mariola, BS., National Coordinator for Right to Food, Delhi. A detailed report is available by clicking on : Right to Food Worshop at Raiganj

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Working through Illness in the Hills

Fr. Puthumai was in Tindharia, with 26 Sisters of the Missionaries of Charity (Mother Teresa), to share more knowledge with them on St. Paul's Letter to the Romans and also a brief input on the Eucharist. The training was from 22-25 Oct in the picturesque Tindharia on the Himalayas, closer to Kurseong, the beautiful hill town on the Darjeeling Hills. Then, from 26 - 29 Oct, he was in Darjeeling, in the Loreto Convent, to help the Sisters in the process of helping them refine their development works. The theme titled : "Redefining Development" was to help them plan in such a way that "faith does justice" in the whole process of working with and among the poor. 

The Darjeeling program was jointly done by Fr. I.P.Sarto and Puthumai A. Nazarene, with Sr. Sabrina and Sr. Monica of the Loreto organizing the training through the Mary Ward Development Centre. Mr. Roshan Rai, also supported part time as a resource person.

The Viral Attacks

Thousands of people all over West Bengal were affected by viral infections since the beginning of October. At least ten persons have died due to mysterious fever that has affected them. In Social Welfare Institute, Puthumai A. Nazarene, the Director himself was inflicted with the virus since 16 Oct, paralysing him for ten days from doing normal activitites. Now he is in better health and is able to take of most of the normal tasks. He wishes to thank all who supported him with prayers and wishes. 

Friday, October 17, 2008

In the South of India

I left Raiganj on 04th Oct evening and went to Madurai, and then to my village for the Festival of our Lady of Rosary. It was a wonderful opportunity to be among my own villagers, thousands of them gathered, spending over 500,000 rupees on the festival, with the massive video coverage of TV channels and the delicious Tamil food at every house....! Children have grown up. I could also meet most of my school day friends, as they all come once a year during the festival. It was all nostalgia. But with much less time in my hand I could not meet everyone personally. Even I missed some of my relatives.... I regret that.

However, I managed to visit my favourite other religious destinations : the Church of the Holy Cross at Manapad and the Our Lady of Sand near Periyathaalai. Back at Madurai, I spent some time in visiting my nieces and nephews, some sick persons in the Rajaji Government Hospital. It is something that I do everytime I visit Madurai. Hospital apostolate has not developed so much in North India in general, in West Bengal in particular. I could also enjoy kesari, idly, idiappam, keppai puttu, kudal curry... Oooh! The food was really too good. The most surprising part of the entire travels was, I could go to Pondicherry, to see Selvi, my niece, who is in the Novitiate of a religious congregation.  I returned on the mid-night of 13 Oct, after a long-delay on the railway tracks.... due to a derailment of a cargo train south of Malda town.


Spiritual Journey

The week from 27 Sept till 04 Oct was kept aside for the Spiritual Experience of all priests of the Diocese of Raiganj. All the priests of Social Welfare Institute, namely, Puthumai A. Nazarene, Markus Mardi and Herman Kindo joined the spiritual retreat held at the Bishop's House. The reflections were given by Fr. Bhyju, cmf, a priest from the Claretian Missionary Congregation. It was a profound experience to silence ourselves from within and to spend lot of time in reflection and prayer.... to rejuvenate the inner strength that needs to be the source of all human perfection.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Busting the Kidney Racket

Kidneys lost for better job - Impact of Social Welfare Institute's Activities in Raiganj on Anti Human Trafficking

Statesman News Service
RAIGANJ, Sept. 23: Chhatu Murmu (35) and Abdul Mannan (40) of Baliadangi in Bindol in North Dinajpur district had lost their kidneys to private nursing home in Kolkata about one and half years ago. They had lodged a complaint against Abdul Rejjak of Bindol whom police have recently arrested from Bindol Village against the charge of immoral trafficking.
The complainants told police that in 2007, Abdul Rejjak, with a promise to provide them better jobs, brought them to Kolkata. In Kolkata, Rejjak gave them some food eat
ing which they fell sick. Later, they were admitted to a private nursing home in Kolkata where their kidneys were stolen in the pretext of treatment, the complainants said.
They added that Rejjak gave them some money after they were released from the nursing home and told them to go back home. “He also threatened us and said not to disclose the matter. We underwent ultra sonography after returning home and discovered to our horror that the kidneys were gone,” they said.
When news of the incident spread, SUCI activists turned up a
t the Raiganj police station to demonstrate demanding severe punishment against Abdul Rejjak. They also demanded the arrest of other associates of Abdul Rejjak who were actively involved in North Dinajpur district.
A social worker from Bindol, Miss Susmita Sarkar, (of Social Welfare Institute- photo below) said: “Apart from Chhatu Murmu and Abdul Mannan, about 40 others
from different villages like Bindol, Baliadangi, Bajebindol, Jalipara have lost their kidneys while working in other states. As far as we know, both Bangru Jali (45) and Jatin Jali (44) lost their kidney during their stay in Delhi and are now suffering from several diseases.”
Chhatu Murmu said: “My kidney was stolen one-and-a-half years ago. I had not informed the police earlier as Rejjak had threatened me with dire consequences if I did.” The police superintendant of North Dinajpur, Mr Shankar Singha, said: “Investigation has begun against the Kolkata nursing home. Abdul Rejjak, the kingpin would be in custody till 29 September. We would pray to court to send him police remand for a few days.”

Unusual Dry Weather

Baring some very strong early rains, the service areas (three districts) of Social Welfare Institute have been hit by an unusual dry weather since the middle of July. This has left farmers who depend on rain water to fall back on the scarce and already over exploited ground water and expenditures in the process. I am told that even simple household grocery item like green chillies which used to cost 20 rupees (about half a dollar) a kilo just three months back, has now hit 60 rupees in some local markets ($ 1.5). SWI did a survey in six villages as a sample in the three districts, to see the extent of damage done to the poor due to price-rise and non-availability of essential goods. The reports are alarming.... ranging from malnutrition due to partial starvation, increasing dependence on money lenders, unsafe migration in search of jobs, and sheer socio-economic exploitation. The days are hard and dry. The winter is looking up. More expenditures for the poor as the festival season has drawn near.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Struggling for Food Security

Many reports have come out saying that several districts in West Bengal are on the verge of a food crisis. In order to discuss on this issue, 78 persons (priests, religious and NGO workers) from West Bengal gathered at Social Welfare Institute, Raiganj on 12 Sept 2008. Inaugurating the discussions, Fr. S. Santhappan said that our knowledge must also be moved to the level of action, so that our activities can benefit the poor. Fr. Sarto, the Director of Association of Bengal Collaborators for Development (ABCD), facilitated the sessions for proper planning at the West Bengal regional level for helping people to get access to food security related programs of the government. Sr. Mariola, the National Coordinator of the CBCI Commission for Justice, Peace and Development narrated on the various issues and reasons for the food crisis, and deliberated on some of the schemes that can assist the poor. Mr. Aftab Alam, the North Dinajpur District NREGA Coordinator, explained the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme of the Government in details, besides explaining the Annapurna Yojana, Antodaya Yojana and the Public Distribution Scheme of the Government. Fr. Puthumai A. Nazarene, Director of Social Welfare Institute, giving the key note address deeply analysed the socio-politico-economic reasons for the current crisis in West Bengal, and how the changing power structures have added to the crisis in rural Bengal. Fr. Patras Bara thanked all the participants and called for higher levels of motivation on the part of everyone.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Women Destroy Parthenium

Women of Self Help Groups supported by Social Welfare Institute in Patiram area destroyed hundreds of thousands of Parthenium plants that had grown wild along the State Highway that runs through their villages. Twenty eight women and two staff of Social Welfare Institute dressed in masks and gloves given as gift by the Issaqua family of Washington State, (brought by our own Andrea Smith during her last visit to Raiganj), spent the entire 07 September, 2008, a Sunday --from dawn to dusk--in cutting down, gathering and then destroying the Parthenium plants with boiling hot water. The team destroyed the weed for a distance of two-and-a-half kilometers on either side of the road. The parthenium, if comes in contact, creates respiratory malfunctioning in humans and cattle. The event was covered by many local print and electronic media. Congrats to the team of women and to Mr. Jayanta Das and Fr. Herman Kindo, who coordinated and motivated the women.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Fighting Tuberculosis

In May 2008, while speaking to a group of young German students studying Public Health in Limburg, Germany, I was amazed to see that they were all studying about Tuberculosis, a disease that kills over 1.5 million people annually, and yet they had not seen even a single patient with TB! Back home, almost every other person suffers from this disease that eats up your lungs, as if it is like a soft cake! Catholic Relief Services, Caritas India, Catholic Health Association of India and CBCI Commission for Health have joined together in fighting this disease, with support from Global Fund : to be called the First IMPACT Project. Social Welfare Institute will partner with them to minimize the spread of this disease as thousands are affected by tuberculosis in the three districts we serve. Sr. Anisha SDS, Mr. Bipul Roy, and Mr. Shyamapada Goswami have identified as contact persons for North Dinajpur, Malda and South Dinajpur districts, respectively.

The first workshop was held at Kolkata on 02 Sept 2008, and was attended by over 35 participants from various organizations. The Social Welfare Institute team was led by Puthumai A. Nazarene, the Director. He also functioned as the Master of Ceremonies for the entire program, besides taking care of a presentation on the Health network of Catholic Church in West Bengal. The West Bengal State Health Secretary, State Tuberculosis Officer, and many other persons from the health department and from various non-governmental and church-based organizations were present. Dr. Anasua Bagchi of CBCI-Health Commission had organized the meeting.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Attack on Christians in Orissa

Location Orissa, India : In the middle of August a group of about 50 naxalites (a group of extremists who use violent means against rich and the money lenders) attacked a Hindu ashram and gunned down five persons, including a Hindu priest. This priest had led some violent protests against Christians about an year ago. Catholic Church and other church leaders had condemned the murder of the Hindu priest and the other Hindus who died with him.

However, soon Hindu fundamentalist groups have begun attacking the Christian institutions, claiming that the "naxal groups" have joined the Christians! These same groups had vandalized churches, and killed many Christians on the Christmas eve of 2007. Attack on Christians in the state of Orissa has increased. Since 25 Aug, several churches, children's hostels and convents have been burned down, in various parts of this eastern coastel state of Orissa. Many priests and religious nuns, and hundreds of Christians have gone "missing". And at least 14 persons have been killed, including four Hindus. Ten are Christians, and they have been murdered with local weapons, sickles and swords-- still worse three of them are said to have been burnt live! (The four Hindus died in a police shoot-out to control the violent mob attacking Christians and Christian institutions.

To mark this tragedy, all Christian institutions in whole of India will remain shut on Friday 29 August 2008. You can download a slide-show on the Orissa atrocities by clicking on : Orissa Burning

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

NGOs Reflect on Girl Child Education

Social Welfare Institute, PRIA and several other NGOs working in North Dinajpur have come together to work on Girl Child Education in the District. It is important to note that according to the national census conducted in 2001, female literacy in rural North Dinajpur is at an abysmal 31.5%, which includes all the children who are enrolled in the primary school level and who had dropped out at the elementary level of education. Building a strong force since February 2008, all the NGOs came together on 25 August 2008 at the Multipurpose Hall of the Collectorate to discuss the relevant issues relating to girl child education. Dr. Jeta Sankritanya, a Professor from North Bengal University, and Ms. Sanchari B., a Professor of the same University and Head of the Department of Women Social Studies, were present at the occasion. Puthumai A Nazarene, Director, Social Welfare Institute, who has been one of the founder member of this forum gave the initial address explaining the objectives of the forum and the intended activities in future, such as a thorough scientific study on the status of femal literacy and reasons for illiteracy among the women.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Food Crisis Hits North Bengal

Global food insecurity, high food prices, inconsistent monsoon over the last five years, failure of agriculture, rampant poverty and illiteracy, and high migration in search of manual non-agricultural labour, has left all the three districts of Malda, North Dinajpur and South Dinajpur facing a severe food crisis. (In a recent report, eight districts in West Bengal have been declared food insecure districts.) This means, more than one million people out of over eight million people in these three districts alone go without two meals in a day, and out of this, over 100,000 people go without even a single meal!

This crisis needs to be challenged and responded to. Few organizations met in the office of Catholic Relief Services in Kolkata on 21 August to discuss the situation, and have planned to prepare a working paper in the coming months. Puthumai A. Nazarene represented Social Welfare Institute at the meeting. Meanwhile the crisis is snow-balling into a humanitarian crisis. All generous people and organizations are requested to respond to this food crisis that has hit the poor.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Boats to Rescue

Uttar Bhakuria and several other villages in Harishchandrapur II Block of Malda district are inundated with the water from Fulahar river and the rains that have left more than 3,000 people stranded across the Fulahar river. These villages actually are situated in a river island between the Ganges and the Fulahar. After persistent effort by our Staff and the Task Force teams that are in place as a result of the efforts of the Community Based Disaster Preparedness (CBDP) program in the area, supported by UNICEF, the Block Development Officer has approved three boats for evacuation of people and animals from those villages into the main land with effective from 19 August evening. We thank Mr. Tschering, the B.D.O of Harishchandrapur II, and appreciate the efforts of the CBDP team led by Ms. Bimala Baru, Mr. Asit, Mr. Sarkar and Mr. Prabir. Wonderful job done!

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Another Milestone!

We are proud to announce that with the launch of the new Human Resource Policy of Social Welfare Institute, we have taken another huge step to protect our Staff from unexpected threats to lives and physical harm through initiating insurance for all the Staff. In this process, the first group to be insured are the senior staff and the field staff (total 17 persons) of the Integrated Community Development Project supported by Caritas India. Each of them has been insured for a sum of Rupees one hundred thousand, and the premium will be shared by SWI and the staff on a 50:50 basis. We hope to cover all the Staff of SWI by the end of September 2008. And we gladly thank the President of Social Welfare Institute, Rt. Rev. Alphonsus D'Souza, Bishop of Raiganj and all the Governing Body members for giving the approval and taking keen interest in the welfare of the Staff!

Monday, August 11, 2008

Agencies Meet in Delhi

In the year 2000 an Inter-Agency Group was formed as part of strategic linkage among partners for relief and rehabilitation in places that are affected by natural calamities. Since then, such bodies have come up in many other states in India. Representatives of these Inter-Agency Groups came together in New Delhi on 11-12 Aug 2008. The West Bengal IAG was represented by Fr. Sarto, the convener of the Bengal IAG and R. Puthumai A. Nazarene, Director of Social Welfare Institute, and a member of IAG. At the meeting, all the IAGs discussed on the role, Uniform Response Strategies, Partnership, relationship with the Government bodies etc. Each IAG also presented a brief presentation about themselves. The West Bengal Presentation was prepared by Puthumai A. Nazarene, with inputs from other IAG members, specially Ms. Parnasri Ray Chowdhury and Fr. I.P. Sarto, and was presented by him. The West Bengal Presentation was much appreciated. You may download the Presentation by Clicking on West Bengal IAG Presentation.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

People on the Go !

The last two weeks have been very heavy with travels all around the diocese, and a couple of meetings in Kolkata. On 30-31 July, a review meeting on the Community Based Disaster Preparedness programs supported by Caritas India and Catholic Relief Services was held at Kolkata. Fr. Herman Kinda, the Assistant Director of SWI, Ms. Rekha Soren, the Project Coordinator, and Fr. R. Puthumai A. Nazarene, the Director, attended the meeting. Puthumai was also made the coordinator for preparing clear indicators for Sustainability of the CBDP program. On 1 August, a meeting of all partners and prospective partners of FVTRS met at Kolkata for getting more clarity on the skill based programs supported by FVTRS.

On 30 July a team of officials from UNICEF led by the Program Officer (Emergency), Mr. Mukesh Puri and Ms. Parnasri (Emergency Officer, West Bengal - UNICEF) visited North Dinajpur and Malda districts. They had several meetings-- with the District Administrative officials, with the staff of SWI and few other private meetings with the Director of SWI, and few other NGO partners. For their visit to SWI, an elaborate preparation had been done by Ms. Bimala Baru and Ms. Rekha Soren and their staff. Puthumai A. Nazarene did some presentation for them at the meeting. A copy of it can be downloaded by clicking on : Emergency Preparedness Program Partnered by SWI.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Erosion Hit Malda to Get Relief

Social Welfare Institute in collaboration with Caritas India and Catholic Relief Services will undertake a small relief operation covering 150 families in Domahat and its neighboring villages by providing them free food worth Rs. 500 each and also build ten semi-permanent toilets for the people who have been affected by the erosion of the Ganges. The entire Operation New Life is scheduled to be completed by 10 August 2007, at a cost of Rupees 125,000 (approx. 3,100 US $/ 2,100 Euros). The children in these families will also get special baby-food. For more visuals, see the blog of 22 July 2008.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

When Newsmakers Become Part of News


The additional support given by Social Welfare Institute for the education of tribal children got on to the national news through the English National Daily "The Times of India", which also runs a TV channel in the name of Times Now. The accolade from the newspaper in its edition of 22 July 2008, page 3, was very encouraging to all of us. A copy of it can be viewed in the picture.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Preparing for Flood

There is a threat of heavy floods in the Districts of Malda, North Dinajpur and South Dinajpur. The District Administrations are gearing up to face any natural calamity. The Inter Agency Group, the umbrella organization of the INGOs working in West Bengal is scheduled to meet on 25 July 2008. At the request of ABCD Secretary and IAG Convenor, Fr. I.P. Sarto, Puthumai A. Nazarene, was asked to prepare a Presentation on current situation and a brief analysis for discussion among members. You click on the picture and download the entire presentation.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Erosion Threatens to Wipe Out Villages

I regret to inform you that the banks of the Ganges have given way to fresh erosion in Manickchowk Block of Malda district, leading to 150 families losing their homes and their land on which their home stood.(Population of 900). The erosion began from the morning of Sunday 20 July after the Ganges swelled up due to heavy rainfall in all its catchment areas. The river has changed its course by about 50 meters to its left, on the north / east in 24 hours. The worst affected areas are the Domahat and its surroundings within the Manickchowk G.P of the Manickchowk Block, in Malda district West Bengal. By the morning of 20 July, the erosion had slowed down. I visited the villages on 21 July afternoon (along with Fr. Prabodh Ekka). People have set up temporary shelters away from the river, although about 30 families are living within 20 meters from the river, as they do not have anywhere to go. According to media reports, at least 70 houses have been totally washed away. Even people whose houses are up to 75 meters from the current position of the river have already voluntarily destroyed their homes and have set themselves on temporary shelters made of tarpaulins (plastic sheets).

The people who had one or two trees at the courtyard have cut down the trees to sell cheaply in order to survive. We also saw women wailing over the situation of their houses as they were trying to still settle down within the tents made of tarpaulin sheets. All people had tarpaulin sheets, although it was not adequate. Importantly, the children were all playing in the dirty and muddy water that had gathered along the temporary shelters, exposing themselves to various ailments. Besides, there was absolutely no sign of any sanitary facility. It will be too dangerous and it is too steep for people to go down into the Ganges for anal cleansing. So, they may have to do with the water collected around their shelters due to the rain that has been mercilessly pouring each day. I also inquired if the children are going to school. And the people said "yes". There is a Government primary school close by.

Finally, there is a danger of further breach at a distance of 100 meters if the water continues to rise, as the river has dangerously got too close to the approach road. We saw that the Government has arranged for some boulders to be thrown into the river in order to contain erosion. But it is going to be a very long drawn battle, as the approach roads are in very bad shape after the rains and the erosion.

As for any relief measures : the families are dependent on daily labour as there is no cultivable land in the vicinity, and many of them work in the mango orchards that are away from the village. But, due to erosion, and the need for setting up temporary shelter, many men have not gone for work. However, they said that they will return to work soon, if there is not much rain. The dangers involved are in terms of people taking heavy loans to maintain families and fear of diarrheal outbreak. So, we would propose the following : Assistance in setting up of temporary toilets with basic facilities. To do some awareness on diarrhea and other water borne / vector borne diseases. Make ORS and bleaching powder available in sufficient quantity. To arrange for testing of the ground water quality in the affected area.

Stop Press : Reports of more erosion along the river Fulahar are coming from other parts of Malda district, specially from Bhaluka and Uttar Bhakuria. I shall visit these places with Ms. Bimala Baru (a Staff of SWI), and Ms. Meghan and Ms. Jamie, of Western Washington University.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Tribal Students get Scholarships for Higher Education

Social Welfare Institute has given away scholarships worth over 325,000 for 300 tribal students studying in colleges and higher secondary schools in the three districts of Malda, North Dinajpur and South Dinajpur. Speaking on the occasion at a function arranged at the organization the Raiganj Municipality Chairman Mayor Mr. Mohit Sengupta appreciated the NGO for doing wonderful service to the poor people specially in terms of health and education. The Director of the NGO, Puthumai A. Nazarene, pointed out that the service rendered, though is minuscule, can change the lives of many young boys and girls. The program was also attended by a group of five students from Western Washington University, Seattle, U.S.A. (In the picture : Mr. Mohit Sengupta giving away the Scholarship; Fr. Puthumai, making the announcement at the background.)

The organization had done a scrutiny of applications based on the need element, such as orphan children and children from most backward families getting preference over others. Among the 300 students, 178 are girl children; and 75 students among the 300 study in Catholic Mission supported schools, and other beneficiaries come from Government colleges and schools. The Finance Support was contributed by Gruppo India, Italy and Social Welfare Institute, Raiganj

Friday, July 18, 2008

Ear-rings for Goats and Pigs !

Social Welfare Institute is creating history here, in Kumarganj Block of South Dinajpur District! Since the beginning of 2008 we have been working very closely on an experimental basis with 25 select Self Help Groups (besides the 2000 +) groups that we are linked to. We had also arranged for Rs. 100,000 to support these groups through Caritas India. A Working Committee was formed in Feb 2008 with various stakeholders put into it. In March and April the groups were assisted for preparing "economic development projects", along with a clear "Cost Benefit Analysis" and "Knowledge on Break-Even" (Capital Recovery), besides discussions on "Marketing". Seven groups were chosen finally for accessing finance. The Projects were purely based on the principles of Partnership : the group had to place at least 40% of the project, which came from their savings lying idle as "Bank Savings", and the rest of the money ranging between 40% - 60 % was provided by SWI / Caritas India. Bank and Nabard officials supported us in creating impeccable Deed Agreements and other relevant documents. On 16 May, the groups received money into their Bank Accounts through Bank Deposits, and SWI received back the money through "Advance Cheques" on terms and conditions agreed upon.

To be brief, one important thing took place : since livestock rearing is always considered a "risky" business in rural setting, we had insisted on the benefits of Insurance for the goats and pigs that the group members would own. National Insurance Corporation(NIC), cooperated with us. As soon the goats and pigs were purchased, they were checked by the NIC and were all given an ear-ring as a mark of that they are insured! It is so nice to see so many goats and pigs in the villages going around with these NIC provided ear-rings! Already a pig has died.... and the woman Angela Mardi is not worried about it. She has already asked for the claim : Rs. 3000 for the young one! Makes good business sense, indeed! Welcome all of you to see the Goats and Pigs with Ear-rings, and the small revolution that is set in motion!! We need your Support on this More in order to expand it further!!!

Saturday, July 12, 2008

UNICEF and Partners Visit Raiganj

Three Staff of Unicef led by Ms. Parnasri Ray Choudhury, (Emergency Officer at UNICEF Kolkata office), and 27 other partner staff of Unicef belonging to various organizations involved in Community Based Disaster Preparedness visited Raiganj for an exposure visit and a detailed planning session. On 23 June they arrived at Malda and then were taken to Harishchandrapur II Block for a field visit. Later, they were put up at our training centre from 23 evening till 25 evening. The discussions were in relation to understanding the concept of Disaster Preparedness, Participatory Learning and Action (PLA), preparing tools for PLA in the current context, strengthening Vulnerability & Capacity Analysis in a rural setting, besides other issues relating to the program of UNICEF. Social Welfare Institute, with support from UNICEF, DIP-ECHO and the Ministry of Civil Defense, Government of West Bengal works on Community Based Disaster Preparedness in 95 Gram Sansads covering about 140,000 population.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

The Nightless Night

12 June 2008: I woke up early, packed my things, had my breakfast with the Jesuits, and bid good bye to them. Then I reached my room, and kept reading, "How did they do it?", a book that I had brought from Erin's home. This book was destined to become my companion throughout my travel back home. Shannon picked me at 11.15 and and dropped me at the airport. That was when I forgot to handover the book to her. (It is better that I had this book!) The Lufthansa flight from Seattle was quite crowded, and left at 2.15 as scheduled. Flying over north of Canada, through Greenland, and north of Iceland, without ever seeing sunset, we landed at 9.30 a.m. on 13 June in Frankfurt. As my flight was at 10.30 at night, I had the whole day with me. I spent some time in traveling to the city centre.... but, as luck would have it, it started raining. And I rushed back to the airport, and I spent the rest of the day in reading the same book. The night travel from Seattle had left me tired. And leaving Frankfurt at 10.30, I reached Dubai at 7.30 a.m, after a 6.30 mts flight. I could feel, my body is aching. My next flight flight to Kolkata was in the afternoon. I walked several times through the corridors of Dubai Airport, and left Dubai at 2.30 p.m, to arrive in Kolkata late in the evening. Believe me, I could feel for the first time in a month, my body itching.... as the dust of Kolkata touched my body. I spent the night and next day in Kolkata, and left for Raiganj by the evening train so that I can arrive in Raiganj on 16th June morning.

Final Moments

The hours are coming to a close. I am getting ready to leave back home. On 11th June Shannon and I traveled to the Office of Senator Maria Campwell. The tall federal building at Seattle was strictly beyond the control of normal people and we had to prove our identities and reason before we went through the scanners. The Staff were very welcoming... although I was not so sure about their cooperation. But they guided us in such a way that we can proceed further on the issue of food support for the poor children here in India.

It was also my final evening in Seattle. Dinner was arranged at the family of Andrea. Her Mom, Dad and Brother along with Andrea had prepared some delicious dinner for us. It was so nice that Jeremiah and Devin joined us along with Scott, Erin, Steve, Sean and Shannon. We had a very long dinner and said farewell to one another. It was a moment of joy and pain at the same time. How much these people have done for me over the last ten days! Each of them went beyond their capacity to support me. Thank You Friends!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Going and Boeing!

On Monday morning, I worked with Shannon on some of the details that are required here to ensure that the children's educational support for the current academic year in India goes well. At noon, Erin came to take me to her home. She had driven from the north eastern part of Washington state (300 kms) through the cold and snowy weather there, to take me to her home which is roughly about 45 kms from here. I traveled with her. On the way we spoke about her family and friends. On the way she showed me the Boeing Field which is used by the Boeing company to test its planes. The Boeing has two large production houses to produce its planes here. And Erin's father handles the Personnel Department.
There house is very beautiful and is on the Lake Tapps. We spent sometime padalling on a paddle boat and then had snacks when Steve, Scott and Andrea arrived. We had dinner together. Erin's brother Adam is an excellent Chef. He, in fact, works at an Italian restaurant. Assisted by his Mom he had prepared Salmans in fantastic taste: one with strawberrys and another with juicy garlic sauce. Spelendidly prepared barbeque and onion-corn cakes, aspharagus and what not! All mouth-watering items. We had excellent cuisine to go by. When dinner was over it was 8.30. And the sun was still shining after the windly and drizzling evening. Why not go for a boat ride? Oh! Since Erin's family also owns a speed boat, we all hopped into it... and in a couple of minutes.... yes, you guessed it right! I took the captain's chair with steering in hand, and my right arm on the throttle, the motor-boat speeded up, occasionally assisted by Erin's father. I drove five miles circling the entire Tapps Island. Waaw. The funniest part was this is the only time the Captain did not know to swim, and all the passengers did.

The Towering People

On Sunday, Scott and Andrea accompanied me to St. James' Cathedral for mass at 10.00 a.m. The church is well-established, with several groups actively involved in the liturgy and social life of the Church. Even the church has facility where one of its volunteers helps people to fill in the forms for Voter Enrollment! That's really marvelous. I was amazed to see that the Church was nearly full with men, women and lots of children, with good many youth as well. Yes, the church in United States is becoming more and more alive, active and strong. They are getting vocations too. The worship in the church was melodious, participatory and with lots of symbols used throughout the liturgy. Once the liturgy was over, we took some time off to go around a little and had our lunch, after which we drove to the home of Mr. J. Fleming.
The Flemings had arranged elaborately for discussions and dinner over the night. We arrived at 3.30 p.m. and the discussions on how to support the children in Raiganj began at 4.00 p.m. Everyone in the group participated, and everyone came up with an idea or voluntary service to support the program. Outcome: The number of children to be supported has been set at a modest target of one hundred children for the coming year.
I have come to like the Flemings so much. Everyone in the family is very active, dedicated and welcoming. Mr. J. Fleming, with trainings in U.S. army has a vast knowledge of things and people, and is sharp, focussed and questiones the basic so that everyone is on the right track. It is nice to meet many towering people like him.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Paradise, God Has Created

On Friday morning, I could get back to my desk and reply lot of E-mails pending. And then Scott and Andrea came to take me for my weekend! We traveled through the town, and had some fantastic food at a restaurant, after which we proceeded for Bellingham, to be with Scott's parents for the weekend. On the way, we detoured through thick forests, and along the peaceful Pacific coast, viewing the mountaineous islands in wonder... it was just like the paradise. We reached the Newman's Centre within Western Washington University, and were greeted by some volunteers who have either been to India or, are planning to go there. We had some presentations and lively discussions as the youngsters kept asking so many things about India. Outcome of the meeting: two students from Western Washington University will be in Raiganj as volunteers in mid July. It was time now for dinner. They took me to a Mexican restaurant on the marine shore of the Pacific. The place was quite spacious and in a sense weird with ancient Mexican articles spread around. Most importantly, the restaurant was so popular that lots of people visit it. (We stood for full one hour just to be seated!) Andrea made choices for my dinner. With ice laced Margarita and some excellent cuisine, it was one of the best dinners. For the night, I stayed with Scott at his home with his parents.

The Saturday morning was once again rainy, and we still decided to take a walk through the Whatcom Park, with creeks and dense forests all surrounding us. Our trekking through the forest gave me a creeping sensation of walking through the Jurassic Park! When we returned home, we found a deer with her little twins wandering the backyard of Scott's home! They took me also to see the Marine Life Center, where various forms of underwater marine life is preserved and we walked through the platforms into the Pacific. Oh, I was so happy to touch the waters of great Pacific, that spreads to 1/4 of the entire surface on earth! After a delicious lunch prepared by Scott's parents, we returned from God's own Paradise to Seattle.
The evening concert of the mediaeval religious songs, all in Latin, by the Tudor Choir at the Church of the Blessed Sacrement was quite interesting, and relaxing. Oh yes, for the dinner- we had some Hamburgers in one of the restaurants that provides best burgers.

The Red Light City

By this time I have traveled quite a bit within the Seattle city. It is a very beautiful town, they call it the "Evergreen State", because of the greenery that surrounds its rural and urbal areas. But I have also found it to the biggest "red-light" city (no pun intended). Almost after every fifty meeters you have traffic lights hanging over your heads, besides number of "CROSSWALK"s which allow free pedestrian movement. And since every traffic light also has facility for pedestrian crossing, the traffic is eternally slow at times, and moves at snail's pace on many occasions. It is really terrible to see after every fifty meter, the green light turning into red ! I call it the Red-Light City. Lord, teach me patience in this city, and save all the drivers from getting bored and fall asleep!

Some Serious Thoughts

It is Thursday, 5 June. In the morning after my prayers and breakfast I waited for Sean Bray, and we had the discussions on Assist a Child Project and the set up we will need in both ends. After that Sean took me to some shops to replace the coverter that Andrea had brought for me. It was so interesting to note that although we were in another shop, the shop owner freely replaced the old one with a new one, at no extra cost! I can not think of that in India. It was really a fair deal.
On return, we had simple lunch, and then Sean took me for a visit around the University Campus. It was very beautiful, extensive, with various facilities. The University Chapel was a beautiful one with simplicity and elegance spread all around. For the evening, a dinner had been planned with the parents of Sean and Shannon. We were at Augustine's on the Pacific Sea Coast, with a fantastic view of the downtown. My menu was chosen by Shannon. Shannon's parents are very active people, and her father is very sharp in thoughts, questioning the basics, and keeping the discussions alive. Her mother is a very affable woman. Sean's parents are little more aged. But I can never forget that Sean's mother was driving her car (81 years old), with a hip bone dislocation, with big metalic clips and belts inserted to keep her hip intact with her legs! What a power of self will these people have. Most of us would have just gone to bed, never to get up again!
The dinner was an wonderful opportunity to discuss about India and the children here. Shannon's mother offered to host a dinner on Sunday, so that we can have more discussions on that day. Sean and Shannon, dropped me at the Campion (the building where I stay within the University campus), and went to their homes.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Gathering Momentum

Scott, Erin, Andrea and Sean had carefully planned my visit, so that I am not too much occupied while at the same time ensuring that I am well taken care of with enough work and meetings to do. It was 4 June. I woke up too early (2.45 a.m) as I am yet to get adjusted to the time here. I spent my time lazily on the bed, and then I was ready by 6.00 a.m. I went for my prayers and breakfast. I spent some time in arranging some of my things and the gifts I had brought for all friends here. Erin came with her friend Pritta to take me for a sight seeing tour. We went through the sea-fronts, walked on the walk ways along the sea, saw the Sculpture park, had some Fish 'N Chips for lunch with sea gulls sitting next to us, visited the famous local City Market (which was almost like any other market in a town in India (with the difference being, little less noisy and cleaner), and also a visit to the Dominican Church. Pritta was an excellent driver with good knowledge of the roads and she smartly handled the trip. Thank you Erin ad Pritta! We reached back by 4.00 p.m. For the evening Scott and Andrea joined me and Sean. Oh, poor Scott! He left the key to his car inside and locked it from outside... in the excitement of coming to see me! Andrea was sharp enough (as usual) to call for Service and within 10 minutes we had a vehicle flashing with yellow lights on the parking lot, and they opened the door for him in no time. It was really fun to be together again. We went to an Italian restaurant for our dinner as we discussed our plans for the coming days. Andrea was so kind and sensitive enough to my needs. She brought a reverse converter (which would convert the 110 volt current into 220 volt electricity, and will enable me to use the different type of output plugs available here. We were quick with our dinner because we had a meeting scheduled with some members of "Calcutta Club" of the Seattle University at 8.00 p.m.
The meeting with the Calcutta Club which sends regularly volunteers from here to Calcutta went off very well, with the students showing lot of interest in working or learning the rural atmosphere of India, specially in West Bengal. Welcome Boys and Girls!

Friends Forever--First Experiences

Once I completed immigration, customs and baggage collection, I was received by Erin and Andrea at the Airport. Andrea was the driver, driving us through the Highway into the city. Once we were in, we went to a restaurant that offered "breakfast throughout the day" and had some soup, cool drinks and snacks for lunch. Then we reached Seattle University where we met Sean Bray, my very old friend, and all three of them reached me to a Guest Room of the University which will be my base for the rest of my days in U.S.A. I took some rest and then in the evening Sean took me for dinner to a family where all the Staff who do Campus Ministry were to have dinner with a small gathering, as this is the last week of working in the University before they close for the summer vacation. In the group one boy impressed me--named Sean (again). He has done business, and has traveled quite a bit and is very much interested in micro-finance, wants to study that and is interested in promoting it. He was clear in his thoughts, specific with his opinions and with lots of potency for leadership. I was deeply impressed by him.

Land of Snows

I traveled from Vienna to Frankfurt as scheduled and then I was to take the LH 490 flying directly from FRA to Seattle. I could understand the increased security system that is in place since the last month, about which I had read in newspapers in India. There were officials of the U.S. Customs and Border Control officers at the Frankfurt Airport, taking down all our details, including the place of visit of all the passengers. All these details are to be sent to the U.S. before the plane takes off... or else, the plane was not to leave the port of origin. It was very nice to notice that one of them was a Sinhalese Tamil working in the U.S. Customs and Border Control. To their credit, they were all very strict with the procedures.
Our plane was allotted the route : to fly over Dusseldorf, cross into the North Sea, fly beyond the north of England, over Iceland, and then Greenland, fly over the north of Canana, cross the Cascade ranges closer to Vancouver and reach Seattle. Once we crossed Dusseldorf, I dosed off. The entertainment system was repeatedly failing on the plane. By the time we reached Iceland I woke up to enjoy the ice clad lands, practically deserted, but for ice and the melting glaciers till we reached the Cascade ranges. It was very clear sky all along to enjoy the beauty of nature. I did not see any human inhabitation for over six and a half hours of our journey. Meanwhile, the entertainment system had been restored and I enjoyed watching "Jumper" and "The Golden Compass". The food was good, though not as savoury as the Emirates. It was raining as the plane touched down the Seattle International Airport at 12.30 noon local time, after 10.00 hours of travel.