Origins of Save A Family Plan
Save A Family Plan (SAFP) is a Canadian international development organization and a registered charity in Canada and the United States. SAFP encourages those from developed countries to work for justice and social change by assisting poor families and communities in India through a myriad of developmental activities under two main programs: (1) Family Development and (2)Community Development. SAFP also works in partnership with various government agencies and local institutions in Canada and India.
SAFP began with inspiration received from Pope Paul VI at the International Eucharistic Congress in Bombay (now Mumbai), India in December 1964. Monsignor Augustine John Kandathil (Father Gus), a priest from the Archdiocese of Ernakulam, South India, heard the appeal by Pope Paul VI to the world to join him in a non-violent battle against poverty and hunger in countries like India. SAFP was born in 1965, assisting five poor families in the southwestern state of Kerala, India.
100% of all donations received by SAFP reaches the poor. This consistently has been accomplished since 1965. It is achieved by keeping administrative costs to a minimum. The operational costs are met by interest earned on short and long-term investments.
SAFP’s volunteer base is one of its greatest strengths. It allows costs to remain low on both sides of the globe. SAFP is headquarters is at St. Peter’s Seminary in London, ON, Canada, which provides office space for a nominal fee. Volunteer work by students of the seminary, along with community members, enables every cent donated to be sent overseas, directly reaching the poor. In India alone, more than 10,000 volunteers, working in 68 units in nine states, provide a committed network to ensure that aid reaches those who most need it at the grassroots level.
Father Gus - founder of SAFP
Monsignor Augustine John Kandathil (Father Gus as he liked to be called), founder of SAFP, was born in Vaikom, Kerala, South India on May 5, 1920. He studied locally and was exceptionally bright in his studies. He received his Bachelor of Physics and Bachelor of Theology degrees, and then taught school for a time. He soon felt the call to a vocation in the Church and was ordained a Catholic priest in 1947. He served in a small parish in Angamaly, Kerala, India.
Later he received his Bachelor of Science and Master of Science degrees at the University of Madras, Tamil Nadu, India. He qualified for a Fulbright Scholarship which allowed him to attend the University of Notre Dame, South Bend, Indiana, where he obtained a Doctorate in Chemistry. He began teaching chemistry at St. Thomas University in Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada, in 1962.
In December 1964, at the International Eucharistic Congress in Bombay (now Mumbai) Pope Paul VI made an impassioned appeal for the world to join him in a non-violent battle against hunger and poverty. Father Gus heard this appeal. In 1965, SAFP was born with assistance going to five families in the southern part of India.
The aim of SAFP was to meet basic needs of poor families and to encourage them to move toward self-reliance in order to become full, contributing members of their local community. Over the years, SAFP has grown and today, more than 14,400 families receive monthly assistance. An equal number benefit through the Community Development Program which includes housing, livelihood initiatives, water and environment, job training, etc. The system set up by Father Gus continues to this day. The simplicity of Father Gus' vision established a solid foundation and the plan has continued to serve an ever-growing number of families and communities.
Father Gus retired as Executive Director of SAFP Canada in 1989 and returned to India to become President of SAFP India. He remained firmly at the helm until he retired from his beloved SAFP in 1999. He moved to a priest retirement home where he lived out his last years in prayer and contemplation. He died on July 18, 2001. He is sorely missed in the organization he began.
On Father Gus' tombstone in his home parish in Vaikom, Kerala, India are carved the words, ’The Poor Deserve the Best’.
The following was written by Father Michael Ryan in SAFP’s 2000-2001 Annual Report. Father Ryan was the President of SAFP Canada for 30 years and is a parish priest in the Diocese of London, ON, Canada:
"It was in September 1959 that I first met Father Gus. We were both graduate students at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana, he in chemistry and I in philosophy. Nearly all the priests in the graduate school lived in the same residence and so we saw a lot of one another. There was only one telephone, at the end of our residence hall, and whenever Father Gus spoke on it, with his very distinctive voice, we could all hear him. We used to accuse him of making sure he could be heard in Calcutta! He had a battered old automobile to help out at parishes in the area. More than once I threatened to pray over it before he set out, especially in the winter season.
"In 1962, I began teaching at St. Peter's Seminary in London, ON and Father Gus became a faculty member at St. Thomas University in Fredericton, NB. In 1965 Father Gus started SAFP. In July 1966 he drove through parts of Canada and the United States promoting SAFP, and on that occasion stayed with us at the seminary for several days. In 1967 I adopted my first family and began regular correspondence with Father Gus. When he suffered a heart attack in 1972 he was afraid that SAFP would collapse when he died, and so he enlisted my help in finding a permanent home for SAFP. He was invited to live with us at St. Peter's Seminary and in 1973, became a member of our community.
"Though he started out with one small office at St. Peter's Seminary, Father Gus' operation was soon expanding into other rooms and hallways. We used to joke about keeping out of his way! He soon became a great friend of everyone at the Seminary, a source of sound advice and dogged adversary in theological discussions. He was also a great example, a man of prayer and simplicity of life, who owned no more than the clothes on his back.
"In 1989 when Father Gus moved back to India, we all thought he would return to us one day, but it was not to be. He and I maintained a regular correspondence, but we were not destined to meet again in this life.
"When he died in July (2001), his friends looked in his room for a good cassock in which to bury him. They discovered he possessed only the worn garment in which he had died. It was a wonderful final lesson from the man who had always identified with the poor and devoted his life to them."
SAFP grew out of one man’s prayerful response to an appeal by his Pontiff. It has grown into a thriving, responsive organization that continues to listen to the voice of the poor.