Faith in Action: Our current missions

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SSSMile Village in Kerala India

The DE PAUL SSSMILE VILLAGE, was established in Vettikkuzhy in the year 2000.

Vettikkuzhy is a small, but beautiful village in the Block Panchayath of Chalakkudy in the district of Trichur, Kerala, South India. Vettikkuzhy is twenty kilometers away from Chalakkudy railway station and forty five kilometers away from Kochi-International airport in Nedumbassery.

What is the SSSMILE Village?

SSSMILE is the acronym of Sacred Scriptures’ Social Message into Living Experience.

The village was the brain child of Fr Antony Plackal, a member of the Vincentian Congregation. The Congregation draws its spirit and distinctive character from the life and works, and the Common Rules of St Vincent de Paul who was chosen as the father and patron of the Vincentian Congregation.

The Congregation has taken as its motto ‘He has sent me to proclaim the Good News to the poor’ (Luke 4:18), which inspired St Vincent de Paul.

In this spirit Fr Antony founded the SSSMILE Village to follow Jesus’s guidance in Matthew 25:40 ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’ The pressure of responsibility, having started to build the Village and take in destitute and abandoned residents, must sit very heavy on his shoulders.

The village is designed to have twenty homes for four hundred people who will come from the streets to reside in the village. There will be twenty people in each house. The people from the streets will include children, young people, elderly men and women, people that are physically handicapped, mentally handicapped, blind, lepers, wandering families, unwed mothers with their children, drug addicts and people that have been abandoned. They are all welcomed to the village where they find shelter, food, medication, love and care and a life of human dignity and decency. Children capable of learning are sent to school outside the village. Residents are also given opportunities to learn skills to be able to help themselves to become independent.

In the longer term Fr Antony has an achievable dream of complete self-sufficiency. He hopes to be able to buy some land on which to grow rubber trees. Those residents capable will be trained to tap rubber and care for these trees. The rubber will be sold and the Village will become self supporting. But in the mean time the effort must be in maintaining what is there now.

One of the aims of St Joseph’s Epsom: Faith in Action is to help Father Antony and the volunteers that work in the village with the courage and determination to keep going. Knowing that we are all here helping them gives them great emotional support and we must continue to do it.

At present the Congregation is led by Very Rev Fr Varghese Puthussery; he was elected Superior General in 2005. Father Varghese was a priest here at St Joseph’s in Epsom between 1992 and 1994 and is not only a colleague but a friend to Canon Bill, who was last in Kerala in 2007.

Fr Ed O’Connell in Lima Purufor

Fr Ed O’Connell is a Columban Father, born in Somerset and educated by the Salesians in Battersea.

He has been working as a missionary priest in Lima, Peru for 38 years. Fr Ed is the parish priest of ‘Our Lady of the Missions’, a parish of over 50,000 people, in the district of San Martin de Porres in north Lima.

Fr Ed founded a small NGO called ‘Warmi Huasi’ (meaning ‘Women´s House’ in the Indian language of quechua) that works in the township of San Benito, on the northern outskirts of Lima.

Over 10,000 people live here in extreme poverty

Over recent years the economic prosperity of Peru has improved but the associated increase in wealth has not reached 60% of the population. The people in Fr Ed´s parish live in poverty, just able to make ends meet. The people in San Benito are amongst the 30% of Peru living in extreme poverty, suffering many economic, social and health problems. Despite their problems the people have strong faith and a desire to succeed, but are in great need of help.

Within his parish of Our Lady of the Missions, Fr Ed has initiated pastoral programs to improve the lives of the parishioners. Each of these programs depends on charitable funds to function. Among these programs are:

  • A Women and Family program promoting the self esteem of women and training volunteers for educational work in becoming health promoters and in preventing domestic violence.
  • A Youth program, promoting the self esteem of the youth and training them to be catechists of the sacramental programs and a specialised team of young professionals (teachers, psychologists and engineers) who volunteer to give talks in local secondary schools trying to reduce the number of youngsters involved in gangs, or being exposed to drugs and sexually transmitted diseases.
  • A parish scheme to accompany youth, who are involved in the parish and are from very poor families, encouraging them to go to university, using charitable funds to help them with some of their fees, books and travel costs.

Fr Ed has also organised his parishioners of Our Lady of the Missions, especially the youth, to participate in the work of ‘Warmi Huasi’ in the township of San Benito, where the houses lack running water and mains sewerage. San Benito has been built alongside one of the main rubbish dumps of Lima, which takes domestic, industrial and hospital waste, so the area is heavily polluted. There are many local health issues including parasites, skin complaints and malnutrition. The health issues are made worse by the lack of running water and mains sewerage.

Fr Ed has a small team of women professionals, a social worker, an obstetrician, a nutritionist, a psychologist and an adult educationalist working in San Benito. Charitable funds go towards the salaries of these professionals. With the help of the health promoters of the parish of Our Lady of the Missions, this team educated the women of San Benito to be health promoters, getting them to visit the women in their township and talk about healthy lifestyles, such as safe use of water and hygiene in the home. Later, the nutrition and family non violence projects were started, training up local volunteers to monitor the nutrition of the under 5’s and visiting women’s groups to prevent family violence. These two projects, shining examples of what determination and charitable donations can achieve, have been very successful and have become mature enough to hand over to the local community to run.

In 2012 ‘Warmi Huasi’ starts a project that has been needed for a long time. A study shows that many children under 12’s in San Benito are left alone for most of the day while their mothers work. These children often look after younger siblings resulting in many lost school hours. The new project will work with the mothers and the children to maximise the quality time that the mothers can spend with the children, minimise the lost school hours and ensure the safety, in terms of health and physical security, of both groups. This project will involve schools, medical posts and police posts and will again be achieved along the lines of self help and sustainability.

The great work done by Fr Ed’s ‘Warmi Huasi’ relies completely on voluntary assistance from local people and charitable funds from people like our parishioners here at St Joseph’s in Epsom. Without these charitable funds the lives of the people of San Benito and the very poor in the parish of Our Lady of the Missions would be much harder.

Ursuline Sisters in Kitui Kenya

The Ursuline Sisters have been in Kenya for over 50 years and have been involved in basic health care and in education at various levels (pre-school, primary, polytechnic, secondary and teacher training) since then.

In 1983 a novitiate was established in Karen, a suburb of Nairobi, which continues today as a community of novices and student sisters of the Kenya region.

Currently there are Ursuline Sisters in the environmentally harsh Kitui and Turkana Districts, all Kenyan except for a single Irish nun, Sr Clare Tobin. Today, more than fifty years on, the Ursuline built institutions are run by Kenyans, with this lone Irish sister in a supporting role. In their ministries the Sisters target the marginalised: the poor, the orphaned, women, HIV/AIDS victims and people with other illnesses.

In Kitui, about 200 kilometres by road east of Nairobi, Ursuline Sisters continue to improve the lives of local people. They started St Angela’s school in 1958, today it has 600 pupils. Ursuline Nursing Sisters work in the District Hospital. St Columba’s Vocational Centre and polytechnic school, was set up 30 years ago by the Ursuline Sisters and continues to be run by them today.

Here the focus is on domestic economy, crafts and skills. The Centre, originally known as the Mutune Social Centre, depends on charitable donations for its continued existence. The original objectives were to help illiterate women of the area earn some extra income, and at the same time to help improve the living standards in the local homes. Over the years the emphasis has shifted to catering for young school-leaver girls whose strongest gifts lie in their manual and creative abilities, or whose parents cannot afford to pay the secondary school fees for four years.

The girls choose instead to do a one or two year course in our St Columba’s Vocational Centre. Seven teachers, a matron, a watchman and a cook are employed in the Centre which is not funded by the government. As a result it is totally dependent on school fees and charitable donations for its income. Even though the fees are as low as €250 per year, the students are often unable to pay them.

Wherever possible the Centre tries to be self sustaining. Surplus vegetables, milk and eggs produced as part of the Agri-Buisness course and not consumed by the students and staff are sold to generate money for the Centre. Products made in the Fashion and Design course are also sold. More classrooms are needed for the Centre as the demand for its services is growing. Tens of thousands of bricks are bought from local people. This helps to support the local community by giving them increased paid employment opportunities. This approach also has the additional and very welcome benefit of making the Centre and its work viewed as part of the local community.

In Kitale, about 300 kilometres north of Nairobi, Ursuline Sisters set up and run St Ursula’s Pre School and St Ursula’s Primary School, both very well regarded. St Ursula’s Dispensary, caters for the needs of the schools in the area, and of the local community. Ursuline Sisters work there. The dispensary runs health clinics for mothers and small children once a week. In addition, routine ailments, and endemic illnesses, like malaria, are dealt with. There is also counselling available for people with a diagnosis of HIV, and the medical personnel conduct school visits each term.

In the very harsh Turkana District 600km north of Nairobi, Ursuline Sisters run a very busy dispensary with outreach clinics as far away as 70 kilometres. The dispensary caters for about 100 patients each day and also has a laboratory where tests for Malaria, HIV etc. are carried out and treatment given immediately.

Ursuline Sisters run a 400 strong girls’ boarding school, Turkana Girls Secondary School. It is one of the top schools in the North Rift region of Kenya. Fr Tony Barrett was one of the founders and has given it great support over the years.

The Ursuline Sisters do wonderful work in Kenya. They rely on charitable donations to be able to continue the wonderful work that they do.

Kiltegans in Turkana Kenya

Our own Fr Tony Barret spent more than 30 years as a missionary priest in Turkana, Kenya. He is well-known by the people of Turkana as a man who has made a great difference for good in this area of Africa. He is a highly respected and well known anthropologist in the world beyond our parish.

Turkana is a district in the north west of Kenya and at 77,000 square kilometres – about 33% of the area of the UK – is the largest district in the country. It is in the Great Rift Valley and is one of the hottest and driest regions on the planet where famine is a constant threat. Some anthropologists believe that Turkana is the cradle of mankind.

The Turkana district includes Lake Turkana, with a surface area of roughly 6,400km2 (about 400 times the area of Lake Windermere), it is the world’s largest desert lake and the world’s largest alkaline lake.

Turkana has an estimated population of about 460,000 people and has borders with Uganda, Sudan and Ethiopia. Most of the people in Turkana (74%) are nomadic pastoralists. Livestock is an extremely important aspect of Turkana culture. Goats, camels, donkeys and zebu (oxen) are the primary herd stock utilised by the Turkana people. In this society, livestock functions not only as a milk and meat producer, but as a form of currency. Agriculture has been very erratic because of the lack of rainfall but recently a focus on improving water storage techniques and digging boreholes is slowly improving the water situation. The result is that agriculture is now on the increase which will help keep famine at bay. Not so long ago the Turkana people did not fish in Lake Turkana as they relied on their livestock for protein, fishing was even viewed as taboo at one time. However, with the increasing frequency of famine and the unreliability of agriculture, fishing is growing. There are now about 350 fishing boats on Lake Turkana. These boats have been built under the guidance of charities who have trained many local people, men and women, in the art of building fishing boats and making and mending nets.

The improvements in water storage techniques, improved agricultural techniques, the building of boats and the making of nets have been facilitated by charities who were encouraged to come into Turkana by Catholic missionary religious, mainly by the Kiltegan Fathers, the Ursuline Sisters and the Sisters of Medical Missionaries of Mary.

Turkana was amongst the last places in Africa to receive the Good News of the Christian gospel. In late 1961, two Saint Patrick’s Missionaries (Kiltegans) arrived to manage a famine camp to house the thousands of Turkana nomads who were already dying of hunger. They had been reduced to about 35,000 desperate hungry people. They had no health services and no schools, and their monotheistic religion had no real contact with Christianity.

Since those early days the Catholic missionary community hase done wonderful work in Turkana and has brought in many charitable organisations. Where there were no schools then, today there are 70,000 children in school, where there were no hospitals or medical centres then, there are now hundreds. Where there was no viable and sustainable agriculture there are agricultural projects springing up everywhere. Where access to water has always been problematic – and still is today – there are now water conservation projects and very successful well drilling projects right across Turkana. Where fishing was viewed as taboo there is now a lot of fishing, even to the point of becoming an industry. Where the women had few skills beyond basic survival skills they are now involved in boat building and net making, they also have a basket weaving industry that is growing.

A region that was literally dying is being turned around and this is thanks, in a very large part to the fantastic effort, dedication and self sacrifice of Catholic missionaries such as the Kiltegans, the Ursulines, the Medical Missionaries of Mary, the Mercy Sisters and other missionary groups. They depend entirely on the charity of others to be able to continue their work, without which the great work done by these missionary priests and sisters would not be possible.

Today, 2011, we have Fr Tony Barrett with us here in Epsom. His friend and fellow Kiltegan, Fr John O’Callaghan carries on the missionary work in Turkana.

Our Lady’s Hospice in Lusaka Zambia

Our Lady’s Hospice is a faith-based organisation situated in Kalingalinga, Lusaka, Zambia.

The hospice is under the patronage of His Grace the Archbishop of Lusaka.

Four Catholic Religious Congregations are involved in the administration of Our Lady’s Hospice:

Our Lady’s Hospice depends on charity and generosity to be able to function. There are about 70 members of staff and their salaries have to be found from charity.

The mission of Our Lady’s Hospice has several facets. It promotes and provides quality palliative care through a committed team in a conducive environment for patients who have HIV and AIDS, and cancer. It provides training to the carers of the sick and to the wider Zambian health care community. It provides training to prevent the spread of HIV and AIDS. It strives to be self supporting, for example growing its own food.

At Our Lady’s Hospice patients of all faiths are welcomed, without discrimination. Any patient who is in need is never turned away, day or night. Through faith, patients suffering from a life-threatening illness are helped to come to terms with their illness and to renew hope for living with a certain quality of life until death. The services at the hospice are available at minimum cost to all who need palliative care. However, those who cannot afford to pay are given priority.

Currently Our Lady’s Hospice is serving an area with a population of approximately 250,000. It is estimated that in such a group of people at least 50,000 may be infected with HIV. Each month, the hospice caters for an average of 60 in-patients, 1,600 out-patients and is registering about 20 deaths. In recent years the role of the hospice has changed from only end-of-life care, to offering a more comprehensive holistic approach to palliative care that includes antiretroviral treatment and paediatric care. However, the hospice still caters for patients at the end-of-life stage of their illness with the facility to admit up to 33 in-patients in five different wards/houses. High rates of morbidity and mortality in patients with HIV and AIDS are due largely to opportunistic infections related to immune-suppression. These conditions, with proper diagnosis and management can be treated, life expectancy can be increased and the quality of life enhanced.

Our Lady’s Hospice strives to be self supporting. Food is grown to feed staff and patients. There is a department to train primary care givers, especially family members of the sick. Students from local schools are trained in preventing the spread of HIV and AIDS and in caring for sick members of their families. There are partnerships with many local major health institutions and the hospice takes placements from students at regional and national universities and colleges, including the University of Zambia.

To continue the mission of love, care and training Our Lady’s Hospice faces many strategic and operational challenges. We can help with this wonderful work. Please remember the staff, patients and supporters of Our Lady’s Hospice in your prayers and support them generously with donations and support our fund raising events.

You can read a detailed report about this mission by clicking here.