Monday, 21 March 2016 00:00

SARPI : A Witness of a Prophetic Minority

HONAVAR, India.
SARPI is a project of the Teresian Association in Honavar, India. Nancy Fernandes speaks in first person about the challenges and hopes of a task of transformation, person to person and community to community, thanks to the shared vision of a prophetic minority.

0321-1Standing by the main road of Honavar are two buildings that call attention as they are far from the ordinary architectural configuration found in this quiet, hardly known part of the subcontinent of India. Within these two buildings,  livelihood  activities, education programs, dedicated staff can be found, witnesses of a vision carried in action in  the belief that everything is worth  investing so that persons can be given their dignity, persons who otherwise would remain voiceless and forgotten, trapped in poverty and in a culture  fenced by its own caste system still very strongly  practiced, if not legally  acquiesced  to,  preventing many from acquiring the rights that humanly speaking are inherently theirs.

On the second floor of the SARPI building (the acronym stands for Society for the Advancement of Rural Peoples of India), one would find several women, mostly Hindu,  provided  with a livelihood and training for the stitching of Kurtas, the traditional blouse or outfit in India and has now filled the fashion culture in many parts of the world.  There are women who while working in the center find themselves as contributing human beings not only to support their families but especially in affirming their worth through skills that they have honed in this livelihood. When they enter the SARPI doors, they are affirmed as women with a dignity of their own ... women who otherwise would be "invisible" in their communities among the men folk of their villages. They stitch, they design, they stretch themselves to reach a quality control that would make their products competitive in the market of the kurta business.  

Pedro Poveda Special School

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Within the grounds is a Kindergarten school with 36 children of the neighborhood many whom are subsidized by the project. Three kilometers away, reached by tricycle or riksha, or by riding a motorcycle, is the Pedro Poveda Special School with 29 special needs children who by the fact that they can get  a piece of thread enter through a spool elicit in each one a smile of satisfaction for the accomplishment that is worth days or even weeks of patience from their teachers and determination to make it on their part. The children are picked up by the SARPI van from their houses and taken back after a day's school or an organized field trip.

Public Library

On the second floor of the SARPI Public library, open to the public as a place to study, to browse a newspaper or to access books that are not in hand for lack of public libraries in Honavar.  In addition, a mobile library serves 16 public schools. SARPI staff operating the library offer tutoring in reading and in monitoring educational games. The mobile library and the community self-help and advocacy program organize an annual general knowledge quiz competition among the schools that serve in memory of Ms. Mary Careaga whose dream of offering education to the children of Honavar brought forth the SARPI project. This year 200 children competed for a recognition not for themselves as individuals but for their schools.

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Women's leadership

SARPI also has programs that promote women leaders in the communities, the self-help program, and a recent and challenging one, the advocacy program among the women themselves. Where the women are not even considered as individuals, the efforts to unite them in a common cause, as explained by one of them, changed radically how they saw themselves and as such, also changed the communities in the way women roles are seen. In a meeting to organize the International Day of Women, a young, vibrant woman representing her community, forcefully expressed the need for water in their village. The government seems to have a deaf ear with their needs even after bringing this up to the local politicians. They feel trapped between an inadequate, non -responsive government and the attitude of their own men against any change in tradition perpetuating the subsidiary role of their women-folk graphically portrayed in the expectation that it is the role of women to carry water from a source kilometer away back to their villages. But with SARPI staff behind them, they will not give up. One of the women herself said, it is only through education that their community can improve.  It would not take much too realize that many obstacles are systemic in nature and are culturally rooted, it will take more than one generation to effect the change, change that will never happen if seeds of reform are not planted and watered at some point.  SARPI has started to plant the seeds of reform in these communities. Slowly society is transformed in parts of Honavar, community by community, person by person, through its passionately dedicated staff and a vision of a small prophetic community in the members of the Teresian Association in Honavar.

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Nancy Fernandes, Honnavar, India

 

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