Unification News for March 2001

The Substance of Peace: India’s Interfaith Orphanage

by Dr. David Earle—Birmingham, UK

From December 5th -16th, 2000, Dr. David Earle, project coordinator of the Religious Youth Service (RYS) traveled to Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh (South India) to visit an Interfaith Children's Home which has been established there with a large measure of help and support from the people of Birmingham. Currently, 23 orphaned and semi-orphaned children, all from the Dalit or so-called 'Untouchable' community and from Hindu, Muslim and Christian backgrounds, are being cared for and provided with an educational opportunity which would otherwise be denied them. The project is a pioneering cooperative venture between people of different faiths and castes, and is attempting to make a contribution to the search for true 'Communal Harmony' in India.

Background. The origins of the Children's Home lie in Birmingham, where interfaith dialogue and action have been developed by a number of organizations and individuals in recent years. The RYS carried out two very successful service projects in the inner-city districts of Saltley, Nechells and Small Heath in August/September 1996 and September 1997, working in cooperation with CSV Environment, Urban Renewal and Focus Housing Association. Also, committed women from many national, religious and cultural backgrounds have been meeting, discussing and sharing together every month during the past seven years at meetings organized by the Women's Federation for World Peace (WFWP).

This work was discovered by a Rev Wilson Singham, himself an 'untouchable' from Andhra Pradesh while on a study visit to United College of the Ascension in the Selly Oak Colleges. He invited David and Patricia Earle to visit rural communities of the untouchables in remote parts of Andhra Pradesh in February of 1998, and out of that visit the idea of this project for Communal Harmony was born.

Development. During the last two and a half years, a wide variety of individuals and organizations have donated money to fund the project. Donations have come from Hindu temples, Christian churches, a Jewish synagogue, Muslim and Buddhist families, from Sikh men and women in the business community—fusing together the collective goodness of so many people. The building work began in December 1998, when a Religious Youth Service project brought 36 young people together, 18 from India and 18 from ten other countries to begin digging the foundations—quite literally—for the Children's Home. It was a sight to behold! Since that time, the building work has gone on steadily to the point where, in June 2000, children began to arrive from the slum and village areas, and started a new life at the Home and in the local government-recognized school.

Ministerial visit. The project has been able to develop, overcoming many difficulties along the way, because of strong support from certain key people in Hyderabad. In particular, Ms Della Godfrey MLA, a member of the Legislative Assembly who represents the Anglo-Indian community in Andhra Pradesh, and Mr. C Dautunga, State Commissioner for Juvenile Homes, have given invaluable support from the outset. More recently, on David's latest visit in December, one of the ruling party's (Telegu Desam) seven cabinet ministers, Hon Vijaya Rama Rao, Minister for Roads, Buildings and Ports paid a one hour visit to the Children's Home to officially open it, present gifts to all the children and address the 100 members of the local community who had gathered for the occasion. This was no small thing from the minister's side, as there had been a car bomb assassination of one high-level government official one week earlier, and all VIP's are currently considered targets by a Marxist-oriented group (Naxalites) who are trying to use violence to pursue their political aims. It was wonderful to see the top and bottom of Indian society coming together as the children came forward one-by-one to receive a gift from Mr. Rama Rao, for some of the children the first time in their life to have such an experience.

Future. In addition to maintaining the progress of the Home and children, during the next year we hope to take the project to another level by raising the money to build some simple guest accommodation which will provide an opportunity for young people to go to Hyderabad, spend several weeks with the children, help at the local school, visit other local institutions, do some sight-seeing, etc, and generally experience life in another culture. Perhaps this building work could be the focus for another RYS project there.

If you know of anyone who would like to be involved in this kind of activity, please let David Earle know!

Dr. David Earle, RYS Project Coordinator, 123 Bournbrook Road, Selly Park, Great Britain B29 7BY. E-mail : David@rysbham.fsnet.co.uk

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