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India Tag

Australia’s recent experience of lockdowns, home schooling and economic downturn have been tough. How do these things play out in places where cases of COVID-19 continue to grow? We talked to one of our partners, Om Prakash (OP) in Amritsar, India, to find out.

UW: What’s the situation in India at the moment OP? We’ve been hearing that maybe the cases have peaked?

OP: Yes, we feel a little hopeful. We had up to 90,000 cases a day a few weeks ago but numbers have dropped in the last two weeks. The rate of testing is still not high enough though and we are very worried about winter coming.

UW: What’s happening with the lockdown? How much has opened back up?

OP: Pretty much all parts of society are open again except for colleges and schools. This is a big danger period for us with shops and malls operating again, but still many people don’t wear the masks, and it’s hard to enforce. But there has been such an economic impact, we can’t afford the lockdown. Many, many people have no work, no income, no food.

UW: What government services are available to help people survive and recover?

OP: Workers and other vulnerable people registered with the government have been allowed a small pension during the pandemic. Two payments of 3000 rupees ($A57.00) have come through. But the problem is that most people are not registered. There is very low awareness in the community of the social services that are available, and people don’t know how to go about getting registered.

UW: That’s a huge challenge! How has your team responded?

OP: Even before the pandemic, we were running education workshops with communities to help people get registered for support. We still do that but we have to be smart and careful about social distancing. We do more door-to-door than in groups, and we use posters and social media. Our main practical impact right now is in education. School is online, but most families don’t have a smart phone to use for their children – there might be only one in each family. Our study centres are allowed to open even though schools can’t and so our staff are helping children who wouldn’t otherwise have access online to keep up with their schooling. Government teachers are in contact with our staff to provide resources; we’re even helping students sit their exams this way. Without these centres, so many children would have lost almost a year of their education, maybe even more.

UW: It’s an incredible role to play – and the church has also been providing income generating opportunities for parents?

OP: Yes, we started with sewing masks and women were gaining skills and some cash to buy food. We have a huge order about to go out to a Motorcycle Rally we have planned for the city to raise awareness about COVID-19 safety protocols. But we have also been helping women make and sell paper bags – plastic bags were due to be made illegal last year right across India because of the environmental impact, but that didn’t end up happening. We’re still committed to providing an alternative and an income opportunity at the same time.

UW: OP, your team’s commitment and innovation is really inspiring! We’re praying for you all.

OP: Please pass on my love and thanks to UnitingWorld and to the people of the Uniting Church in Australia. We are very grateful for your prayers and your investment in our work.

 

The Church of North India Diocese of Durgapur have pivoted their ongoing community development work to supporting vulnerable households identified through the project.

Throughout May, 2,000 households in urban slums and rural communities were provided with food packs containing rice, pulses, potato, salt and oil, as well as hygiene supplies that included masks and soap. Our partners are also working on printing materials that promote government-authorised messages on COVID-19. In Amritsar, 4,000 masks have been made and provided to the community and service sectors (many people are working in very populated markets). 562 vulnerable families in have also been provided with emergency food packs that include soap for regular handwashing.

Summary:

  • 2,000 households provided with food and hygiene packs including masks and soap
  • 4,000 masks made and provided to the community and service sectors in Amritsar
  • 562 vulnerable families provided with emergency food and hygiene packs.

Thank you for your support!

Our partners will continue to serve their communities throughout this crisis and beyond.
Donate now to support their work: www.unitingworld.org.au/actnow

Jaya is a 13-year-old girl from a small village of 300 people in rural Punjab, India.

Her father died when she was four and her mother couldn’t afford to raise her, so she left Jaya with her grandmother. Jaya’s grandmother works as a cook, and over the years it became increasingly difficult for her to look after a growing child by herself.

Jaya began studying in a local government school, but the standard of education was poor and when she returned home there was no one who could help her with homework or give her care and attention. With the absence of proper health and hygiene conditions in the village, she often fell ill.

In 2017 our partner church connected Jaya with the girls’ hostel project we support, which was set up to help vulnerable girls access high quality education, accommodation and care during the school term.

When Jaya arrived, she was poor in health and lagging way behind in her studies. Spending time with other girls in the hostel encouraged her to stick to her studies until they started to improve. Each year, her grades have gone up, and she now loves having the time to be able to play outdoor games, dance, create art and participate in all the group activities at the hostel.

“Jaya is so loving and respectful towards others,” says the project manager Rev Samantaroy. “Her health has also improved due to the monthly medical check-ups and regular health education sessions at the hostel. She now dreams of becoming a policewoman when she grows up.”

Jaya’s story is an example of how, with proper care and nutrition, access to quality education and a loving environment, young girls can explore their true potential and work towards their dreams.

Thank you for supporting this life-changing project run by our partners in India.

 

UnitingWorld is the international aid and partnerships agency of the Uniting Church in Australia, collaborating for a world free from poverty and injustice. Click here to support our work.

In a letter to national and international partners, the Bishop of the Diocese of Amritsar, The Most Rev. P. K. Samantaroy has outlined the impacts of the national 21-day lockdown in India and how the Church of North India (CNI) is responding to the COVID-19 crisis.

 

Dear Friends,

As of the morning of 30 March 2020, over 700,000 people worldwide have been affected by the COVID-19 outbreak and 34,000 people have died due to the virus. The staggering numbers are rising every minute.

Not only has the pandemic brought illness and death for many, but preventive measures like curfews and lockdowns are posing other humanitarian concerns such as loss of livelihood, hunger and starvation.

“I fear that hunger may kill many like us before Coronavirus,” said a street vendor in Delhi. His fear and desperation are shared by the majority of the country’s poor who have been the most hit due to the current 21-day nationwide lockdown in India. Most people who work as daily wage labourers live hand-to-mouth and are therefore unable to afford buying food and medical supplies in advance. In Punjab, we are already receiving reports of riot-like situations in the villages.

Realising the urgency of the situation, the Diocese of Amritsar has already constituted a COVID-19 Relief Operation to reach out to the poor and needy. We are working closely with the local congregations and our project workers, as well as the district administration, to identify those in dire need. Food material is being mobilised through local grocery stores and distributed at key centres in Amritsar and the surrounding border villages.

The Church cannot see its people die either of Coronavirus or hunger. I urge you to support this relief effort generously through whatever means is available to you.”

Unless we act urgently and support the weaker sections of society, our world will collapse under the siege of this pandemic. Your help in this hour of need can save a family from hunger, starvation and illness.

May God bless you and keep you safe!

The Most Rev. P. K. Samantaroy
Bishop, Diocese of Amritsar, CNI

 

The Church of North India is running a domestic appeal for funds and in-kind donations of food supplies, and has also asked for international assistance. UnitingWorld has diverted India project funds for this quarter to support their emergency response and will continue to do this into the new financial year on an ongoing basis until the crisis is over.

Key activities for the COVID-19 relief effort:

  • Providing food packages to families connected to CNI’s community development projects, especially for daily wage laborers who are now unable to work.
  • Helping to amplify government messaging on COVID-19, including health and handwashing awareness, prevention measures and information on how and when to get tested.
  • Conducting door-to-door visits (while practicing spatial distancing) to families connected to the project, to ensure they have what they need during lock down.

Please pray for our church partners and support the relief effort as you are able.

Click here to donate.

UnitingWorld partners in India are cooking for vulnerable people during the COVID-19 lockdown

 

UnitingWorld is the international aid and partnerships agency of the Uniting Church in Australia, collaborating for a world free from poverty and injustice. Click here to support our work.

“But I still can’t get over how much God loves us, you know?” he says.

The distant softness in his eyes make me realise that the wonder of this truth has struck him before, but each time has the power to move him deeply.

I’m not in some exotic foreign land, connecting across cultures. I’m in the suburban Sydney home of an old friend, listening as he regales me with tales of his youth. In his twenties, he and his wife answered a call to practice medicine in a remote village in India, with two kids under two. A hospital raided by hyenas. They are now in their eighties, but the love of God burns brightly in them and they are faithful supporters of UnitingWorld.

It reminded me of the first time I went to India. I met Christians there who despite being less than one percent of the population and from the most socially marginalised castes, were extremely active in a range of social ministries. They ran schools, hospitals and fought human trafficking. And their leaders stood out for me. They felt a sense of urgency about their faith that I didn’t. Many of them came to faith in their teen years or young adulthood, and they still spoke with a sense of wonder of their discovery. They used phrases like “before I knew Christ” and “when I came to know Jesus” as if of a watershed moment of transition. When they spoke of the gospel, it sounded like this amazing, powerful, dangerous thing they couldn’t believe they’d discovered and couldn’t wait to share. They were not fresh converts, but seasoned leaders of the church.

The Christians I met in India assumed that people just didn’t know that God loved them, and that it was their job to fix that. They remembered how abruptly and miraculously God hijacks your life and sets you on a different path, and they just took it for granted this is what God wanted for everyone. Living in Australia, surrounded by people who live as if Christianity has been tried and found wanting, I have allowed myself to forget the truly radical and earth-shattering nature of the truth that I believe.

We belong to God. We are truly beloved just as we are, created in God’s image. We’re precious – of infinite value. There is grace enough to heal all our brokenness. Love enough to fill all our longing. This is what Jesus came for, lived for and died for – so that we could know this truth. And we don’t just believe it for ourselves but believe it for every other person near and far.

So we cannot rest while poverty, oppression and injustice keeps people from knowing God’s love for them. Because the love of God is not just a message to be heard, but a reality to be touched, tasted and lived; made tangible by the actions of God’s people.

At UnitingWorld, we often wonder how we can better share the life-changing stories we encounter, better inspire people to join in the global movement of transformation that is the story of God’s church at work. I’m convinced now that if I am to follow God’s call to act, I must again and again awaken the shocking recognition of who God has called me to be – a beloved child of God.

So, as I thank you for your faithful support, I also wish for you a moment of wonder and awe. That you can pause and say, “I still can’t get over how much God loves me” and let that incandescent truth set you on fire.

-Sureka

Dr Sureka Goringe
National Director
UnitingWorld

 

UnitingWorld is fundraising to support our transformative partnership with the church in India, where poverty holds so many people back from their God-given human dignity. We’re aiming to raise $115,000 to help our partners provide education, shelter, pastoral care and HOPE in some of the most difficult areas of rural India.

Your donation will make a huge difference in the lives of the resilient and determined people we work alongside. Click here to donate now.

(Top pic: Dr Sureka Goringe and Dr Deidre Palmer with delegates at the UnitingWorld Southeast Asia regional workshop on gender justice)

Dear friends,

Greetings! It’s with delight that I share a little about how the Diocese of Amritsar is ministering to communities in Northwest India through the valued support of UnitingWorld.

We work in a unique context, among communities which have been systematically deprived of standard education and healthcare, severely impacting their development and growth. Education in the region has become mostly privatised and institutional, accessible by only a few. Infrastructure is failing, and there are not enough adequate teachers or books. Girls are most affected, as they are considered a burden to the family. They risk abuse and harassment.

Our church ministry, as well as social empowerment programmes, are aimed at breaking systems that dehumanize people and keep them helpless and despairing. With your help, the Church is able to go beyond its boundaries and walk with people in times of need, working together to transform unjust social structures, and provide hope where there is none. As we work alongside our brothers and sisters in the villages, our aim is to help them develop their strengths and capabilities and give them back their sense of identity and self-confidence. Young girls and boys in villages located near the Pakistan border now have more access to quality education and healthcare and are on their way to becoming agents of change for their own communities.

In all these efforts, we see God’s design in bringing people into deep friendships, connecting individuals who have joined the journey along with UnitingWorld to enable the Diocese to carry out this life-transforming ministry. Thank you for partnering with us in this work. Please continue to keep the ministry of the Diocese of Amritsar in your thoughts and prayers.

May God bless you!

Most Rev. P. K. Samantaroy

Bishop, Diocese of Amritsar

 

Your gifts to our HOPE HAS MANY FACES Appeal support Bishop Samantaroy and the work of the church in India – providing training for church leaders and education opportunities, especially for girls.

Click here to donate today

Widespread flooding across India’s southern state of Kerala has left up to 400 people dead and close to a million displaced.

Up to 100,000 buildings were destroyed and millions of hectares of crops were washed away in the worst floods to hit the region in more than a decade.

The rains have diminished over the past week, but a huge clean-up operation lies ahead as the floodwaters recede.

Our partners, the Church of South India (CSI) have been assisting people throughout the emergency, distributing relief kits and providing emergency shelter for thousands of people. In the early days of the crisis, the Kerala Diocese of CSI generously opened their schools, churches and parish halls to become flood relief centres.

CSI Moderator, Most Rev. Thomas K. Oommen praised the “fighting spirit” of the people of Kerala and their willingness to help one another through the disaster.

“The active involvement of the people, especially the fisherfolk from the coastal areas of Kerala, [government] rescue operations, and the support of the churches and other religious organisations for the relief work are helping millions of people in this time of grave disaster,” said Rev Oommen.

Amid the crisis, inspiring stories have emerged.

Over the past fortnight, hundreds of fishermen from Kerala and surrounding districts used their boats to rescue thousands of people from the rising floodwaters. They are now being celebrated as national heroes.

Youth have been using social media to share the locations of stranded people and to pass on details of landslides and places where supplies were urgently needed.

UnitingWorld has been in regular contact with our partners in CSI and they have asked for continued prayer.

“On behalf of the Church of South India, we express our deepest sincere thanks for your continued prayers of solidarity, for all those who suffered loss of life and livelihoods in the floods at the State of Kerala and in the district of Kodagu.  Although our words often failed to comfort and console them, we together with all our trusted partners like you, do our best to provide the help for those who are in need,” said Rev Dr Rathnakara Sadananda, General Secretary of CSI.

“Continue to pray for God’s unfailing compassion upon the flood victims and those who are affected by the land slides.  Your prayers of solidarity will be of great strength and consolation to those who are passing through the most difficult time.”

UnitingWorld has sent funds to support our partners as they respond to these devastating floods.

You can support our important partnership with the Church in India by donating here.

Uniting Church in Australia President Dr Deidre Palmer has called all UCA members to pray for the people of Kerala and our partner church, the Church of South India. Click here to read Deidre’s prayer.

In rural India, almost 30% of the people struggle to secure the minimum requirements of life—food, shelter, clothing—and many children are unable to attend school because of where they were born. Our local church partners are providing education and shelter for children, pastoral care and hope in remote India. We believe that to make sustainable change, strong leadership is key.

In the Eastern Himalayas, our partner set up a Church Leadership Project to equip pastors in some of the most remote and difficult areas of India. I recently received a letter from Aarav, one of our ministers who travels to remote communities for prayer, counselling and to do whatever he can to help struggling families thrive.

“Since 2016 I have been working with a small tribal community of 26 families, mostly daily wage earners living on the fringes of the forest land. During my visits, I could see their broken hand pump (only one in the village); a tube well that was contaminated; not enough blankets for winter; no mosquito nets during summer; and a river without a bridge (the main access to their village). With help I have organised a medical camp to provide check-ups and free medicine, distributed blankets and mosquito nets to all the families, repaired the broken hand pump and installed a new one.”

Pastor Aarav is such a great example of the way our global church leadership programs are equipping leaders to care for people in holistic ways – not only offering pastoral care and the good news of Christ, but helping people find life to the full.

He faces many challenges, including hostile religious fundamentalists who are suspicious that the church is attempting Christian conversions in the region. A father to three-year-old Palak, Aarav lives with the daily fear that negative reports about his activities could lead to his arrest.

Aarav told me that in the midst of these challenges, he holds on to God’s word and it encourages him to be hopeful when life is difficult. “I am also encouraged and hopeful because there are communities all over the world who are praying and supporting us,” he wrote.

“I am thankful to the people of UnitingWorld in Australia for their support to our leadership program as it has helped me be what I am today. It has expanded my vision and my commitment to the community in a way I never thought possible.”

Thank you so much for being part of Aarav’s hope.

Our goal is to equip more pastors with the skills they need to minister in remote areas like the Eastern Himalayas where the challenges are immense. Your gift today can provide much-needed training and practical resources for Aarav and others like him.

I hope you’ll help us reach our goal of raising $115,000 to support our transformative partnership with the church in India. This leadership project is just one of the ways we’re helping our partners transform their communities and I’m looking forward to sharing more stories of hope with you all in the coming weeks.

In love and hope,

Sureka

Dr Sureka Goringe
National Director
UnitingWorld

The first I knew of 16 million people inundated by floodwater were the photos from a friend on Facebook.

Outstretched hands, bare shoulders, muddy torrents: they were the first of what I expected to be a mainstream media deluge. Instead: silence. Families across Nepal, India and Bangladesh have been drowned, buried alive and starving for almost a month now, it turns out, and the media vacuum is profound.

This is South Asia’s annual monsoon nightmare – the natural disaster that no longer makes the news. Yes, we #prayfor the victims of terror attacks in Charlottesville and Barcelona, but at the same time a bus full of school children in Nepal is buried alive by a landslide. It’s the second in a week, and these families are just a handful of the sixteen million people in the last month who are losing everything to forces they can’t control. There are no hashtags; only the prayers of the families themselves, who sleep in the rain while their bellies growl for food and their hearts long for the dead.

I guess there are a few factors at play in the world’s collective shrug in the direction of the disaster. The numbers – so huge it’s hard to imagine. The inevitability – South Asia ‘always floods’. The media – it feeds the appetites we offer up, and we have little interest in floods. We don’t even know what we don’t know. We’re preoccupied with family, work stresses and the routines of every day life.

In the midst of it all, perhaps some pray for the less fortunate, a blanket offering for anyone doing it tough, and idly wonder at times why God doesn’t intervene more often in a crisis.

The fact is, God does. I think of my friend who is part of the Church of North India. I’ve not only visited her in the urban settlements where she works beside those who’ve fallen through the cracks in her society, but over the last few days I’ve watched on Facebook as she wades through flood waters to deliver dhal and black plastic to families who have seen their homes washed away. God is present in and through people like Nita, who act out what it means to be God’s light and love within the world.

Although we may not be able to gag Mother Nature, we have been given the means to prevent these disasters before they become sixteen-million-life tragedies. After all, we know that monsoon rains will reliably take the lives of men, women and children in India, Bangladesh and Nepal, year after year, simply because they live in low lying areas, in homes that are badly built, beside rivers that will swell and swallow them whole: they’re too poor to move elsewhere. It won’t be flooding that kills these people and their livelihoods. It will be the lack of evacuation plans, poor communication, homes built on the side of mountains where they shouldn’t be, and outbreaks of disease. In short, it’ll be poverty, and the lack of opportunity that comes with it.

You know what we need to save these lives? We need vision. And if it all looks too hard, too big, too far away and too hard, who better to take on all that but a community who passionately believe that life is possible from death? We can beat this giant. We already know that $1 invested to reduce risks and prepare communities for disaster saves $15 in recovery efforts after a cyclone, flood or earthquake hits. That’s not just lives saved, but good economic sense – an achievable, smart investment.

If there’s anything I believe as a follower of Christ, it’s that transformation is possible. Not just individual lives turned around, but whole systems shaken to their core. Institutionalised human slavery – ended. Children valued and universal education won, wrought from a world where babies where routinely discarded on mountainsides to die. Diseases eradicated. Women’s rights championed. In all of these cataclysmic wins, Christians have been at the forefront with a vision for things that must, at the time, have seemed impossible.

So it is with saving lives before natural disasters strike. As a changing climate increases the severity and frequency of extreme weather, especially in our own Asia/Pacific region, we’ll need to be smarter and more determined about the ways we protect ourselves – and especially our most vulnerable – from tragedy. Allowing sixteen million lives each year to sink beneath muddy waters simply isn’t an option.

When we’re tempted to ask why God doesn’t intervene more directly in natural disasters, perhaps the better question to ask is: why don’t we? Big change, bold vision: this is our call, this is our identity. And as droughts, floods, cyclones, and famines increasingly stalk our world, this is the challenge we’re called on to meet – before disasters become tragedies.

UnitingWorld has launched an appeal to support partner churches in the Pacific as they build critical resilience to disasters and climate change. Donate now: https://www.unitingworld.org.au/stop-disasters-becoming-tragedies/