Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
December 8, 2008
Local charity helps the poor in India
Destitute children get a home and education
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER
As it is often said, “every child deserves a chance in life.” Unfortunately, many children in rural India are falling through the cracks because their parents can’t afford to take care of them.
That’s the reality in Kata Padu, a Catholic parish in the state of Andhra Pradesh in southern India. The parish is made up of about 7,000 people living in 12 villages far from social assistance agencies.
The vast majority live in small huts frequently destroyed by cyclones that plague the coastal and inland villages.
Many hire out as day labour — their incomes sporadic and subject to seasonal variations and economic vagaries. Even when everybody is working, families often only have the barest of necessities of life. The average wage in the area is $1.50 per day.
Under these conditions, families often shatter, leaving children vulnerable and exposed. Without assistance, many children end up working long hours to the detriment of their health and at the expense of their education.
But thanks to an emerging Edmonton charity known as Society for the Education and Assistance of Rural Indian Children (SEARIC), at least some children in the Kata Padu Parish are getting a chance of a better future.
For several years now SEARIC — a licensed Canadian charity — has been sending funds to the area to help destitute children.
SEARIC works with the Social Service and Welfare Society of the Guntur Diocese, which has been running St. Francis Xavier’s Home for Children in Kata Padu Parish for the past 17 years.
The home takes in not only orphans but also children with only one parent and from families so impoverished that their children simply could not survive at home.
Begun as a small shelter, today St. Francis Xavier’s Home for Children is both a home and school for 50 children. “These children need hope for the future; that’s why we are helping,” says SEARIC president Dr. Ram Mehta, an Edmonton scientist.
SEARIC has sent close to $20,000 to help feed, clothe and educate these children. It has also sent funds to improve water and sanitation in the area.
And in a few weeks it will send an additional $12,000 to the Guntur Diocese to help a group of young people enroll in university.
SEARIC is the brainchild of Leif Stolee, a 79-year-old former school principal and member of St. Agnes Parish.
He learned of the plight of the children at Kata Padu Parish through an Indian priest serving in Edmonton. But instead of giving the priest a donation Stolee decided to create an organization that could deliver help on a long-term sustainable basis.
Four others joined him and SEARIC got off the ground in December 2005.
“Our goal is to help children in India get the health, education and training they need for the betterment of their personal lives and the well-being of their communities,” Stolee says.
Today SEARIC has about 35 members of all religious persuasions, including Christians, Hindus and Sikhs.
Assisting the St. Francis Xavier Home for Children is the organization’s first project. It costs roughly $330 to take care of a child in the home for one year.
“The cost per child is amazingly low when compared to the yearly cost of supporting a child on some widely advertised sponsorship programs,” noted Stolee.
Mehta, who came to Canada in 1967, got involved because he knows what growing up poor is like. He grew up in northwest India and was the first person in his village to get higher education, mainly through scholarships. When he made it, he helped his brothers.
“I know how difficult is to get an education in India,” he says. “It’s important to help others improve their lives.”
SEARIC is currently seeking donations as well as volunteers willing to join the organization. Contact SEARIC, PO Box 76011, Southgate Post Office, Edmonton T6H 5Y7.
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