Making a difference for Dalit children in India

Charity to help children of agricultural laborers get an education in Andhra Pradesh
Making a difference for Dalit children in India

Children working in fields in Andhra  Pradesh, which is famous for production of curry leaves. (Photo supplied)

Dalit children in an Indian village will get a new school as a result of a British charity reaching its jubilee year.

The charity is to donate £31,000 ($41,000) to help build Divine Mercy School in Anumarlapudi village in Andhra Pradesh state. The Dalit are the lowest caste in Indian society and often suffer persecution and prejudice.

Anumarlapudi and seven neighboring villages have a Dalit population of about 3,300, most of them agricultural laborers, and the school will be exclusively for Dalit children.

Its 10 classrooms will accommodate 300 boys and girls aged 6-11. Tuition will be free and a free lunch will be provided by the local government, which is also giving a grant of 1,700 rupees ($26) per child per year and providing textbooks.

The school is the brainchild of Father Vunnam Kiran Kumar, parish priest of St Michael’s in Pedavadlapudi, a town of some 13,000 people in Guntur Diocese.

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"If the school can be constructed and the children educated for free, they will be the happiest people in the world," he told the U.K. charity SPICMA (Special Projects in Christian Missionary Areas).

SPICMA chose the school out of a list of 30 candidates  for its Jubilee Project because "it is ambitious in its scope and has the potential to affect generations of families for years to come," said the charity’s administrator, Cathy Forman.

SPICMA, an entirely voluntary charity with no paid staff, was founded 50 years ago to support the work of a newly ordained London missionary priest posted to a parish in northern Uganda.

It expanded hugely during the dictatorship of Idi Amin when Uganda had a dire need of medical supplies. It still operates mainly in Africa but has played a prominent role in assistance in major disasters in Asia.

After the Boxing Day tsunami in 2004, SPICMA was called on to provided emergency aid to Sri Lanka and contributed to a Jesuit project to rebuild homes there and in the Indian states of Kerala and Tamil Nadu

Also through Mill Hill Missionaries, SPICMA was the first NGO to receive news of serious flooding in Sindh province of Pakistan in 2006. It also helped MHM provide relief for refugees in the Swat Valley in 2009.

Not long afterwards it received reports from Mill Hill Missionaries in Kashmir of the disastrous earthquake which killed 73,000 people and made 3.5 million homeless in the area and were able to respond immediately with funds channeled though Caritas Pakistan.

Also through Mill Hill Missionaries, SPICMA was the first NGO to receive news of serious flooding in Sindh province of Pakistan in 2006. It also helped MHM provide relief for refugees in the Swat Valley in 2009.

In 2014 aid was provided in the wake of Typhoon Yolanda in the Philippines, providing building materials and helping to replace fishing boats lost in the storm, often the only source of livelihood for local people.

But it is not just major disasters that matter. The charity saved a Franciscan school in south India that was in such dire financial straits that the brother running it had resorted to money-lenders to obtain funds.

And in a Mill Hill parish in Pakistan it even provided funds to buy a winter coat for a local schoolgirl and to pay for medical treatment for a boy hit in the face with a cricket ball.

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