We left the UK on the morning of Tuesday 7th hoping for the flights to be on time from Birmingham to Dubai and then Dubai to Hyderabad. However, both flights were heavily delayed which made the journey very tiring. On a positive note, this gave me an opportunity to get to know Fr David Gnosill from Coventry, who was travelling with Mary Skaag and I for the first time. We arrived in India on Wednesday morning and travelled South by road, stopping at the Salesian College in Kurnool for lunch and an overnight stay. Even though the college is half way between Hyderabad and Balamma, the work that Fr Sarves is doing is well known and widely respected. We also visited the Mother House of the Carmelite Sisters who help Fr Sarves. Once again, the positive comments about our worked filled us with pride. Here we had Holy Mass and prayed for everyone back at home and also for one of their young Sisters who had just died of cancer.
From Kurnool to Balamma Satram was a full days journey by car and when we arrived it was almost dark. There was a great welcome from the people and as normal there was no electricity. Fr Sarves had particularly wanted Fr David to experience first-hand what it was like without any power. However, just after our arrival the solar panels and the generator were switched on and the village was transformed. We still only have a bucket to wash in but at least there is hot water in all of our rooms. The money for the solar panels and the generator were paid for by contributions from the UK in 2013.
Over the next few days we have been able to show Fr David the poverty that Mary and I have come to share. We visited villages without water, only having one single water pump for over three hundred people. Travelling by car you notice that there are no ‘shops’ as such just simple stalls usually about ten miles apart. These rural village stalls sell mainly locally grown crops. Fruits like bananas and coconuts have a freshness and taste you don’t find at home.
Due to all the transport and teacher strikes during the months of October to December in the State, the children in our care were not allowed normal holidays during our stay. We had to visit them in their schools and also at Fr Sarves’ relative’s, where some of them had spent a few days to celebrate the harvest feast called Pungal. All of the children are doing very well at school and they have all grown since my last visit.
The village itself is still in excellent condition. Fr Sarves strives to keep the maintenance ongoing so as to ensure that none of the money that we have given is misused. There is a deep serenity about the place and this is seen by the attitude of all the people working together. It is a safe haven for all the elderly and sick who are here on a permanent basis, but also there is an ‘open door’ approach each day for any new arrivals. On Saturday, one lady was just dumped outside the gate, she had nothing, not even clothing to cover her. Within twenty-four hours she was a different person. She received a bed, food and all the medical help she needed.
One of our main outreach programmes that we are involved with is the care of vulnerable young girls aged between 16-20. This year we have taken in 20 girls and given them shelter, food, clothing and medical aid. The Carmelite Sisters working with Fr Sarves offer them skills in housekeeping and sewing which is something they have never had. Father and the Sisters are making the best use of the limited resources they have to help the young girls, but better accommodation and toilet facilities are needed. These girls are full of joy and appreciation towards us for taking them off the streets and giving them renewed hope for the future.
Coming to India makes me aware of the vast and varied blessings that we all receive from God through one another. What little we can offer another goes a long way in helping the real needy in our world of today. When we visited Fr Sarves’ Bishop, he was full of encouragement and thanked us for all we do. He highlighted just how much he held Fr Sarves as a living example of how we should all live. I take inspiration from St Augustine when he said, “What I am is God’s gift to me, what I become is my gift to God.”
Over the next few days Mary, Fr David and I prepare to leave the village that does such important work with the young, sick and the elderly. Your prayers and support back at home in the UK make all this work possible. It is a living example of Jesus’ call to love one another.
See you all soon with lots more to tell you! God bless. Fr Jeff