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Trip to India – 2014

Balamma Satram at Holy Family Home for the Needy is a haven for the lost and forgotten people who are found on the streets around Kadapa, A.P. South India. They are mentally and physically challenged, they are elderly, frail and sometimes mentally ill, but they all have one thing in common; they were deserted and forgotten. The aim of our charity in action is to deliver compassionate care until they die.

Typically, when a person is rescued, their skin is caked with dirt, mud and grit from living on the streets: many are found living in their own excrement. They have open wounds and skin lesions and are covered with worms, maggots and lice: some are actual lepers. On their arrival at Balamma Satram, they are bathed and dressed in clean clothing. They receive medical care and they are given food and clean water. Some die quickly, but 70% go on to live in our Holy Family Home which gives them a safe, clean place to call “HOME” until they die with dignity, thanks to your on-going generous support.

Some of those who enjoy this safe haven are unable to walk, and shuffle on their hands and knees. Some are in wheelchairs and some need to use walkers. Numerous people are clearly suffering from mental illness and have lost control o both their physical and mental functions. For those who care for these people, it is a gritty, hands-on experience. They manage each person in a truly compassionate way in various stages of life and death. The seeds of Holy Family Home, known as Balamma Satram were sown in the hearts of two people in the year 2000, Fr Sarves from India and Mary from England. They began to build the village, now known as Balamma Satram, in 2004 and over the last ten years, Mary has been responsible for fundraising while Fr Sarves has served the people every day in a hands-on ministry. He is helped by the Carmelite sisters, several widows who were in desperate need of shelter and also a couple of very needy but active young people with children. There is also the support of two local doctors. Together, they each support one another to create a truly Holy Family.

The people of Holy Family are given three good meals each day. A typical day begins with tea and then breakfast of either rice or idli with a curry sauce. Sangati, a local dish, is served with vegetables and dahl for lunch and for supper they are offered chapatti, rice served with egg curry or an omelette and chutney. Balamma Satram has its own buffaloes, therefore there is plenty of milk for everyone. All the cooking is done either on a wood fire or by gas cylinders. There are also food grinders to meet the vast needs of the kitchen.

Clean water is critical and in short supply in the Kadapa region. This is due mainly to the lack of rainfall in this area. To go twelve months without rain is not uncommon. Fr Sarves has four bore wells on site and so Balamma Satram has its own clean water supply, unlike the surrounding area. Outside the compound, if water can be found at all, each family tries to use it. Children try to drink the dirty water, women wash up in the same puddle, they wash their clothes and even the animals compete to get their share! On the roads outside Balamma Satram, women can be seen carrying water from small hand pumps that have not run dry.

The people who live in the surrounding area of Balamma Satram make up the staggering 1.3 billion of the total population of India. This creates constant competition among families for natural resources like water. As a result, families, struggle each day without the basic needs, including water, sanitation and electricity. These people are marginalised in all areas of their lives. They comprise mostly from the lowest caste

in Indian society and lack adequate shelter, food, education and medical care. 70% of the people are illiterate and school attendance is low. Parents believe that the more children in the family, the greater the labour force they can create. School and education for these people is not a priority.

Child abandonment is an ever increasing problem throughout India and the Kadapa region is no exception. Babies and children have been found on the streets and have even been offered for sale. This is a heart rendering situation as there are many packs of feral dogs that also roam the streets and are able to prey on these vulnerable children. Disease is rife and many children die because they have no access to medical help. In Holy Family Home, children are cared for in the same way as the elderly with the added bonus of education. There is no school on site but Fr Sarves places each child in a school which will give them all the necessary skills and opportunity to reach their potential. Over the past few years we have seen girls become nurses and boys become pharmacists and engineers. The younger children grow each day, they know that they are in a safe place where they experience love and care and they know that they are wanted. So many more sponsors are needed to help these children.

Reaching out to young teenage girls desperate to escape extreme situations such as child labour, prostitution and arranged teenage marriages are the reality for over 12 million children throughout India. Every day countless children are stolen and sold, some by their own families, into slavery. Part of our work at Balamma Satram is to provide funds for social training for the young girls from the Kadapa area. The training is given by the Carmelite sisters who are working with us. Each girl is given shelter, food and clothing with the added opportunity to learn household skills and to use a sewing machine. At the end of the course, the girls are each given their own sewing machine to keep.

No matter where you go in India there is a great welcome and the friendliness is palpable, however, one can feely sense that the priests and sisters who serve the people live with an ever-present threat. It is not so long ago that the Catholic churches and the priests and sisters were attacked in the near city of Bangalore. Catholics were killed in a coordinated attack by fundamentalists, angry that conversions from Hindu to Catholicism were taking place. Although there were no prosecutions, the feeling is that it is the calm before the storm. In Balamma Satram, Fr Sarves had the for-sight of placing all three major symbols on the roof of the chapel and on the over-head water tank which can be seen from the road. These symbols represent Catholicism, Hindu and Muslim religions. This is an outward sign to everyone that Balamma Satram, Holy Family Home for the Needy is exactly what it says regardless of caste or religion. However, as a Catholic Priest, Fr Sarves celebrates Holy Mass each day and the rosary and prayers are offered for all our benefactors. To quote Fr Sarves, “It is not what we preach that changes hearts, it is what they experience from our doing”

There is a great disparity of wealth throughout India. Some of the cities nearest to Kadapa, for example, Bangalore and Hyderabad, are exploding with expensive, modern high-rise apartments, affluent middle-class suburbs and fashionable boutiques. These cities are home to new development outlets, Marks and Spencer and Costa Coffee. However, there is a darker side to all of this. On arrival at the airports, the smooth tarmac roads which are seen, give way to the red-rutted dirt tracks. It is where the great brand names, which we know so well here in the west, like Channel and Gucci, give way to dirt and grime. These rural areas are no less alive or colourful, but it is here that we meet the beggars on the streets, the feral dogs and the wild pigs; stray cows browsing in the rubbish. It is here that 70% of the people live in the poorest of conditions. They lack water and sanitation. Despite these conditions it is hard not to be moved when visiting these “Homes”, even in their poverty, they are extraordinarily polite, cheerful and caring to those who visit.

Christmas is a time when we all come together, we meet family and friends and offer gifts to each other, just as the Shepherds and the Three Wise Men brought gifts to Jesus in the stable at Bethlehem. The Three Wise Men gave Jesus expensive gifts but the Shepherds were poor and their gift was a lamb. We too can be wise men and shepherds to the poor people in India, especially to those people who are being looked after by Fr Sarves through our charity. Every little that is received goes a long way to restoring dignity and hope to people who are just waiting to be loved by us. Over the past year, we have changed the lives of so many but the challenge is ongoing, more people are waiting to be fed and clothed. Please share your love.


When I first visited India fifteen years ago I came face to face with the injustices of this world. Scenes in the media, although heart-rendering, did not prepare me for the reality of that personal contact that I made with those who were totally abandoned in the 21st century and who were just crying out to be accepted. This reality has never left me, because now fifteen years on, the people in rural India are still suffering the same injustices. As a charity we have created an oasis in a desert, we have given hope to desperate lives. My time spent in India over the years has never been a bed of roses, but having witnessed the desperation and the struggles of the people, I cannot abandon them.

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