Monday, March 30, 2009

Learninig From the Neighbours

A seven member team of Inter-Agency Group partners from West Bengal, India, led by Fr. Sarto of ABCD visited Cox Bazar and Chittagong districts of Bangladesh for a cross-learning program on Community Based Disaster Preparedness (CBDP) program in the country. The team visited the disaster prone country between 18 – 23 March 2009, in collaboration with Caritas Bangladesh which hosted the visit of the team.


Caritas Bangladesh works in all the six regions of the country on various developmental works and disaster mitigation and preparedness measures with support from various national and international agencies and governments, with an annual budget of over two million dollars. “The way the lay people have built and manage the Caritas Bangladesh with minimum support from the Church is a great pride of lay leadership”, commented Fr. Reginald Fernandez, a member of the team and Director of Seva Kendra, Kolkata.


In Pekua and Chakaria the team attended two programs each on School level preparedness and on community level preparedness, besides various interactions with the people, government officials, and meetings with local, regional and national staff of Caritas Bangladesh. The disaster preparedness program has been a great gender leveler in my community, said Mrs. Hamima Begum. “I have passed through the days when people would through stones and cow-dung at me for going to work, or shouting expletives at me saying that I have become a Christian. Today, the community has accepted me. People respect me. And I continue to live as a good Muslim, because of Caritas”, she said.


The Disaster Preparedness programs have both soft skills and hardware support from Caritas and from the Government, which is quite different from the CBDP programs in India. Caritas and Government have supported several multi-storey cyclone shelters which are also being used as schools. Villagers in Bara Beaula commented that the best part of Caritas shelters are just this : the multi-usability of the cyclone shelter vis-à-vis the government built shelters.


Caritas Bangladesh is the fifth largest non-governmental organization in Bangladesh, and it can boast of the most diverse types of activities handled by any NGO with over 64 different projects in the running.


“My own very outlook on Bangladesh has changed after the visit”, said Mr. Job Thekkedath, a member of the team and Development Consultant to Caritas India, on how the people of Bangladesh have worked together to eradicate poverty and build resilience to disasters in many parts of the country. Fr. Soosaiappan of  Palli Unnayan Samity of Baruipur pointed out how the coping mechanisms differ between the people of the Sundarbans in India and in the coastlands of Bangladesh with regard to cyclone and flood management. “It is truly a joint effort with all stakeholders participating in it here”, he said.


“One of the most positive innovative approaches I found in the CBDP program in Bangladesh is the way Caritas and community have developed the methodology for following-up Plan of Action in a country where local governance systems (Panchayati Raj systems) are weak. Here the local Ward Disaster Management Committee meets quarterly and follows up the plan with government, Caritas and other NGOs working in the area, who may be of help to fine-tune and achieve the plan.” Observed Fr. Puthumai A. Nazarene who had trained the national and regional staff of Caritas Bangladesh in 2006 on CBDP.


While speaking to the team, Archbishop Paulinus Costa of Dhaka mentioned that it is good that the Caritas is managed by the lay persons as it creates ample space between religion and developmental action. “Although the key is with the Church, it is the whole lot of lay persons of all regions who manage and sustain the development of poor in this country with high level of coordination with the Government which continues to closely monitor the activities of NGOs,” the septuagenarian Archbishop quipped. 

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

RPP Downloadable Materials

All materials relating to the Regional Perspective Plan, held at Raiganj from 16 - 17, March 2009 are available for download at this site from the Public Library, at the folder "RPP 2009".

Bengal Plans for 2020

Lay social Activitists, priests, religious and Bishops of Bengal jointly spent time to reflect on the socio- economic, political situation of the region and formulated a Vision for the Church in West Bengal under the theme "Church in 2020", on March 16-17, 2009 at Raiganj. "A sustainable and just Society where Gospel Values of Love, Truth, Equality and Peace are nurtured and lived at all levels" is the vision for the region of West Bengal and Sikkim.
More than 100 participants from all over West Bengal and Sikkim had long sessions at Raiganj, about 400 kms north of Calcutta to plan for Church in 2020.

Detailed social analysis of the region was done by Mr. Roshan Rai, a social activist from Darjeeling. He highlighted the concerns of environmental issues, political domination and land alienation. Mr. Lukose, P.J. From Caritas India Delhi helped the participants to make SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) analysis. The participants from all the eight dioceses of west Bengal had open discussion on the shortcomings in the church and the domination of clergy and religious. Looking into the weaknesses and how we could transform the same into strengths is our strategy, said Mr. Lukose.
The youth exhorted the participants to plan for the church which is participatory, cordial and reconciling one.

They developed the mission as : "To build a vibrant and Eco friendly society by promoting human dignity through collaboration, empowerment and Rights Based Approach for the poor and the marginalized in West Bengal and Sikkim."
Archbishop Lucas Sirkar of Calcutta, Ms. Kasturi Sengupta, State Representative of Catholic Relief Services, Ms. Maria Fernandes, an educationist and Coordinator of Kakatiya University from Calcutta, Fr. Jyothi, SJ from Jesuit Social Action Forum Calcutta and Mr. Prabir Mallick a staff from Catholic Charities of Krishnagar shared their vision for Church in 2020.

It was a joy to hear them share their experiences and longings for the Church. The interaction of the participants made the programme very success. The Bengal Regional Forum orgnanised the programme along with Raiganj Social Service Society known as Social Welfare Institute.
Mr. Eugene Gonslaves, President of the Catholic Association of Bengal, Bishop Stephen Lepcha of Darjeeling, Loreto Sister Sabrina Edwards of Darjeeling, Bishop Clement Trikey of Jalpaiguri and Dr. Prabir Chatterjee, Consultant to UNICEF shared the longings of the poor rural people, tribals, youth and women. They provoked the audience to think loudly how they could work for the welfare of the marginalized.
The Church has a vision of Christ. He wants us to be liberators, said Bishop Salvadore Lobo of Baruipur who is the chairperson of the Bengal Developmental apostolate. The formulation of the Perspective plan for Church in 2020 is a good family experience, said Bishop Lobo while concluding the session. Very often our residences are not proportionate to the dwellings of the people with whom we live and work, he reminded all.
Fr. Gerry Machado from Asansol invited the bishops, priests and religious present to use their property, resources and skills for the welfare of the vulnerable population.

Mr. Sanjay Rozario
, regional Manger of Caritas India , Fr. Sarto, the Director of the Regional Forum, and Fr. Puthumai Nazarene Director of Social Welfare Institute, Raiganj facilitated the sessions to help the participants to identify the strategic choices and focus groups who need our special interventions for their self empowerment.
The participation of the diocesan directors of Social works and their staff made the sharing a fruitful and enriching one. The Staff of Association of Bengal Collaborators for Development (ABCD) and the Staff of Social Welfare Institute took all pains to ensure that the meetings and deliberations went on well.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Raiganj Church Desecrated

5 March, 2009, Raiganj

Some unidentified miscreants broke open the St. Joseph’s Cathedral at Chotparua, near Raiganj, 400 kms north of Kolkata in India on the night of 4 Mar, Wednesday. They broke open the Tabernacle and have taken away the Holy Communion along with the ciborium, desecrating the Church.

The miscreants have also taken away several other ciborium, chalices, monstrance, and flower vases. “It is a terrible tragedy to the Christian Community here that exactly after two months of the robbery in St. Xavier’s School in Raiganj this incident has taken place.”, said Puthumai A. Nazarene of Social Welfare Institute, Raiganj. 

The front gate of the Church had been broken open by the thieves to get access to the church and then they had opened every room, almirah and cup-board to take away the sacred articles. The church authorities believe that it is a theft which has turned into a sacrilege because of the nature of the theft. The Christians believe in the true presence of Jesus in the Holy Communion. A police inquiry has been initiated.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The Color Moves On

Social Welfare Institute will miss the smiles and the energetic, experienced skills of Ms. Barnali Roy, who has left the organization with effective from 01 March 2009, due to personal reasons. She joined SWI in August 2005 as Project Coordinator of the Community Managed Disaster Preparedness project supported by Catholic Relief Services (CRS) in Kumarganj Block of South Dinajpur district. Later, she took care of the project on Pediatric Intervention for Reduction in HIV / AIDS, funded by CRS and Clinton Foundation. At the time of departure, she was Documentation Officer with additional responsibility for promotion of Micro-Insurance. SWI warmly thanks Ms. Barnali for her commitment and zeal. May she be blessed abundantly !