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Father Ryan’s Visit to India

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Years ago I read that when Pope John Paul II visited India his reaction was, “So many people!”  I understand exactly what he meant.  The state of Kerala, for example, is the size of Nova Scotia and has a population the size of Canada. India is truly rich in the resource that counts most in any country: people.  In many other respects, however, it is very poor.

I have been associated with Save A Family Plan (SAFP) for almost 45 years and served as its President for 30 years. I was involved in bringing it to St. Peter’s Seminary, getting it incorporated, and setting policy and planning projects.  Yet I had never been to India.  Finally, in what was a dream come true, I visited India from January 5th to 26th, 2011.  What I discovered was a beautiful country filled with warm and hospitable people.  It was a truly wonderful experience!

I spent time at the Head Office and training centre in Parappuram, a suburb of Kochi (population two million), about 10 kilometres from the international airport.  I travelled by car to various parts of Kerala and of the neighbouring state of Tamil Nadu.  I went by air to Nagpur, Maharashtra State, which is almost in the centre of India and to Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh State, which is the IT centre of India.  In all these places my priority was to meet the poor, especially families who were beneficiaries of SAFP and to visit projects in which SAFP has been involved, along with the Canadian government (CIDA) and other organizations.  What are my reactions?  Briefly, the following.

First, the family assistance program, which is the heart of SAFP, is successful in a way that far surpasses my expectations.  I found a very careful procedure in place for identifying the poorest of the poor, a network of trained animators, mostly poor women, who visit these families at least once a month and guide their efforts to become self-reliant through an income-generating project, a great spirit of co-operation among the Christians, Hindus and Moslems involved, and most of all, an atmosphere of hope.

Second, the sanghams, or neighbourhood self-help groups that SAFP helped to get started everywhere, composed mostly of poor women, Christian, Hindu and Moslem, are heart-warming.  These women have a sense of their dignity and have learned how to work together effectively to bring about needed change in their communities.

Third, projects in which SAFP is involved as a partner are awesome:  watershed projects that bring water to the homes of the poor; a school for tribal girls that is giving them a first-class education; the Sakhi Centre that, among other things, gives abused women a new start; a new hospital for people with HIV/AIDS that SAFP will soon assist.

We hear in the media about India’s booming economy and the growth of its middle class. The reality however is that the vast majority of people in this wonderful country are terribly poor, often living in one or two room, dirt-floor dwellings. SAFP is a source of light and hope to millions of these people. It is a compassionate, extremely well-run organization that can still guarantee 100% of what people donate does reach the poor.  It has identified hundreds of very poor families that are looking for a sponsor. It is eminently deserving of our support.

By Rev. Michael Ryan, former President of SAFP Canada