Is Madurai an underdeveloped city

Education for the "untouchables"

Since their voluntary service in 2009/10, Mary and Turgay Erinc have been involved in projects in southern India and are in constant contact with the local Jesuits. At the turn of the year, the two of them visited ten project locations in Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh over a period of three weeks. Mary describes her impressions on site - and how Corona is delaying some of the construction projects.

The main reason for our trip was the planned construction of a boarding school for girls financed through our donation account at the school in Harur and the construction of a small administration building in Tindivanam, home of the Irular ethnic group. The highlight of the stay was undoubtedly the foundation of a new Jesuit province in the state of Tamil Nadu, at whose founding meeting on December 28/29, 2019 we were able to attend. The Jesuit Madurai Province, which originally stretched across the entire state, has now been finally separated due to its size.

The northern territory now forms the independent Chennai Province, which emerged from the Chennai Mission. Father Jebamalai Irudayaraj SJ, previously Mission Superior, was named first provincial. The southern part of the country continues the name Madurai Province.

“Tribal Mission” in 80 villages

In coordination with the Chennai Province, the donations from 2019 and receipts up to February 2020 were used exclusively for two investment projects, of which the girls' boarding school in Harur claimed the majority of the funds. Since 2014, the Jesuits of the Chennai Province have dedicated themselves to the main task “Tribal Mission”, the work with members of indigenous tribes on the fringes of society.

They organize actions and activities in the Irular villages in the Villupuram district. Since several campaigns had already been financed through our donation account, we thought it sensible to respond to the request for the construction of a small administrative building in this area and on the Jesuit-owned premises of the Father Cyrac Children's Home to comply in Tindivanam. Up to 60 Irular girls have lived in this children's home since 2013 and attend grades 6 to 12 in the surrounding public schools and in a nursing school.

Three local Jesuits look after the Irular in around 80 villages in the area. In addition to evening classes, this includes, for example, cultural programs, health advice, legal advice and support with dealing with authorities, purchasing land, etc. The old building, an administrative wing that also served to receive and occasionally accommodate visitors, was in a state of disrepair. Snakes had nested in the ramshackle framework, after whose bite one of the young Jesuits had to undergo hospital treatment.

Waiting for school to start

The school location Harur, located in the northwestern Dharmapuri district, with the St. Anne's Primary School and the St. Mary's Higher Secondary School up to the 12th grade, has been run by the Diocese of Dharmapuri for many years. The district mentioned is one of the most underdeveloped districts in the entire state of Tamil Nadu. Almost exclusively Dalits - "untouchables" within the Indian caste system - and members of indigenous tribes who are also stigmatized by the majority society live here. Jesuits have been employed in the school since 2013. At the beginning of 2019, both the school location and the parish were given to them by the diocese for further development.

A leap of faith for Jesuits

Since the Jesuits took over the school management, the number of students at the Higher Secondary School has increased from 389 to 611, 288 girls and 323 boys. The considerable increase in the number of pupils is due, among other things, to the fact that more and more families also entrust their daughters to the Jesuits, who enjoy an incredible reputation for excellent knowledge transfer, and also ensure discipline and security at their school locations. Inevitably, the call to expand the existing boarding school for girls from just 51 to 100 places quickly became loud. Due to the extraordinary donation amount on our account, this investment project could be realized. Here, too, we were there at the laying of the foundation stone and the consecration of the brick on December 24th, 2019.

Chennai Province financed the ten toilets in the girls' boarding school. Actually, this large building would have been completed by June 2020 at the latest for the upcoming new school year. But the corona virus brought construction activities to an abrupt end with the complete lockdown across India. Since July, in Tamil Nadu, as in other states in India, the general lockdown has been gradually relaxed and construction work and trade “on a small scale” allowed within the individual districts. This benefited the completion of the girls' boarding school in August 2020. Now the 100 boarding school places are waiting to be occupied by female students. The dedication plate is also made. It will be attached at the official inauguration of the hostel, as soon as such a large celebration and gathering is possible under the current Covid regulations.

Interim mode: online learning

The government in Tamil Nadu had promised to start school in mid-September, but placed full responsibility for a “healthy school life” on the school authorities (Jesuits). It was also at the parents' discretion to send their children to school. At the current time, classroom teaching has not started at any school location in Chennai Province. Occasionally and as far as possible, the students are sent videos and assignments via mobile phones. Since August 1st, 2020, classes have been held continuously and exclusively online at the colleges. The Jesuits are hopefully waiting for a school to start as soon as possible, especially since the Covid infection numbers in the rural regions of Tamil Nadu were rather low in contrast to the metropolitan centers such as Chennai or Madurai.

To go into the active help of the Jesuits on the occasion of the corona pandemic would lead too far at this point. We were informed through reports and many pictures about the distribution of food to the poorest in the villages and towns. The Jesuit campaign “We for Migrants” has alleviated the weeks of misery of the “stranded” migrant workers and their families throughout India, in particular by organizing food and providing accommodation in small parts.

Mary Erinc

Strengthen India's south

We are continuing with our commitment in Tamil Nadu. In the future, we would like to include the province of Andhra Pradesh as far as possible, where we have already been able to contribute to the realization of a beautiful solar project with diocesan funds.

We would be delighted if you would continue to support us with the many ideas, dreams and visions for a fairer world.

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