Just back from visiting the FEAST project for the seventh time. The group that went this year was the biggest to date with 11 people from as far afield as Hove, Pagham, Fishbourne, London, Devon and of course Arundel. We spent a week meeting the people and seeing the work that the charity is doing in this very poor area of southern India.
The Indian economy is definitely improving and this is having a positive effect on the lives of many. Those who earn a daily wage such as carpenters, masons and agricultural workers, have seen their incomes rise from £1-£2 per day to £5-£6 in recent times. Sadly this improvement in living standards isn’t reaching the very poor, especially the fishing folk who have no regular fixed income but must rely on what they can catch to earn a living. What’s more with interest rates and inflation extremely high, the poor are squeezed between rising cost of basic needs and high borrowing, making it even more difficult to provide for the family.
The tsunami has had a profound effect on the fishing communities of this area and continues to do so. It altered the structure of the seabed, smoothing out the surface and filling in the troughs that are crucial breeding grounds for fish. We watched 48 fishermen pull in their net but the catch was so small, barely enough to go around let alone sell on to the waiting women.
Many of the traditional wooden boats were lost in the tsunami and have been replaced by new fibreglass boats. Unfortunately these are not as stable or robust and the number of men now lost at sea as a result is worrying.
The FEAST Project
The work of Fr Jeremias and his team is more important today than ever. It was fantastic to see how the project continues to grow and tries to meet the needs of these poor fishing communities.
It was a delight to meet our sponsor children again and spend time talking and playing games with them. It’s always an emotional time but so rewarding. The FEAST project is now 16 years old and the number of children going on to FE thanks to your support, is impressive.
For a few children and in fact our sponsor boy Alex aged 15, circumstances at home are just too difficult to carry on with education. Alex has no father but 3 sisters who all need a dowry if they are to get married. He came to say goodbye as he begins his new life as a fisherman and now the breadwinner for his family. Sad.
The womens groups and their leaders were as inspiring as ever. The groups are made up of mothers of sponsor children and are mainly widows. They work so hard to provide for their families. The micro credit schemes they run together are a sound way of funding the children’s FE, the loans being repaid as soon as they have jobs and are earning.
We were all moved by the passion and dedication of the leaders themselves. They too come from difficult situations and regard their job as an opportunity to pay back for the chances that they have been given by FEAST. We sat and listened to their stories – it was a most humbling experience.
One of the highlights of the visit for me was a visit to a Nursing College and meeting the 60 students, some of whom are sponsor children. Their enthusiasm was admirable. The day begins at 5.30am and study goes on until 10.30pm. The facilities, although 20 years behind our own, were good and their knowledge impressive. Nursing is an expensive course so many of the girls had used micro-credit to fund their studies. Nursing jobs are plentiful and so the loans are easily re- paid.
I still can’t believe that just £1 per week can make such a difference to someone’s life, but it does! 560 elderly people are helped through the project and it was a joy to take tea and cakes to a group of them one afternoon. Fr Jeremias is brilliant at chatting and joking with them and generally putting them at their ease. So many characters, so many stories but also so much appreciation for the help that they receive.
I’m often asked why the Indian people don’t help the poor themselves. We saw wonderful examples of just this – local people helping those even less fortunate than themselves.
• Mr Moothy – a man who works in the evenings to support his family but spends every day from 8.00am until 6.00pm helping the blind.
• A business man who was moved by the plight of mentally handicapped men and has set up a home for them so that they have a safe and clean environment and a chance of medical help.
• A group of young men – perhaps the most impressive of all. The group, some finishing school, at college or at work, were good friends who wanted to help the poor children in their village but didn’t have the money until they were all working. They came to ask Fr Jeremias for advice on what to do to help in the meantime.
All of these people had so little but wanted to help those less fortunate than themselves – a powerful final message.
The work of people like this together with that of Fr Jeremias and FEAST is making a considerable difference to the lives of the poor in this area.
Thank you for helping to make a difference.