Alms-giving and Lent: Bishop Brian shares his experience in India.

Central to Lent is God’s call for us to open up to Him and other people, especially the vulnerable. The Church urges us to open up to God through prayer, penance, and almsgiving. This weekend, the Fourth Sunday of Lent, we have a Second Collection throughout our diocese to help the world’s poor. This Collection, like your Lenten Boxes, goes to support SCIAF’s work abroad.

Yet what does SCIAF do? Is your money well spent? What about corruption in these countries? Shouldn’t we just spend the money on needy causes here at home? On top of these questions, charities have also recently received a lot of negative news attention. This is understandable, as clearly some terrible situations have come to light when those most vulnerable have been taken advantage of those who were trusted to take care of them. Perhaps your own faith in charities has been shaken. During January I visited India with SCIAF and I would like to share a few of my thoughts with you.

During the course of a week, I travelled to see five projects that SCIAF was funding. SCIAF doesn’t tend to actually run projects itself but rather gives grants to trusted charities to run the projects that the locals need. SCIAF works with two Indian partners namely, Caritas India and Indo-Global Social Security Services (IGSSS) and I met them both.
So how does it work? A trusted charity approaches SCIAF with a proposed project. SCIAF, if initially impressed with the proposal, would dialogue with the partner in great detail. ‘What do you want to achieve? How will you achieve it? What are your targets? How will the benefits spread to others? Will development continue after the project is finished? How much will it cost? How can we support you?’
So, for example, SCIAF has worked with Caritas India (the official Catholic Charity of India) for many years. Caritas approached SCIAF for funding to help rural communities in Jharkhand, an extremely poor Province in the North East of India, whose tribal peoples had been completely ignored by the Government. So SCIAF looked into the project and discussed potential aims and targets. Once this was agreed a three-year grant was given. The point of my visit was to investigate how the project was progressing. Were people being helped, how many, in what ways, what were the successes, what were the challenges/failures and how could be partners be supported? I was very, very impressed.

I first visited the village of Kurum. Due to the tribe’s suspicion of strangers, the Caritas workers had to persevere for a whole year before being accepted. Nor were their travels without danger, terrorism is rife and one of the three workers has been kidnapped (who was subsequently released). However, I could see that their work had greatly enhanced the quality of people’s lives. After a colourful welcoming ceremony and some curry I saw around. Famers, including the homeless and disabled, have been educated in farming techniques. They now produce a greater variety of vegetables that better nourish their families but they also grow enough to be able to sell their surplus. They are no longer hungry and instead of falling prey to money lenders, they can actually plan a future. Another improvement was establishing of Self-Support Groups for Women and informing the people of their legal rights which no-one had explained to them before. I also visited another three villages in Jharkhand – one project which was also run by Caritas and the other two by IGSSS. I was equally impressed by these too.

I am glad to be able to share with you these positive stories. It is one of partnership. You generously donate to SCIAF and they ensure that your money is well spent by giving grants to trusted and hardworking local partners, who in turn help the poor to change their lives for the better. On behalf of the world’s poor – a big thank you!!
My final visit was to a project run by Caritas to stop the trafficking of children on the Indo-Nepalese border but I will share this experience with you another time.