04/25/2018, 13.29
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Caritas India volunteers as God’s co-workers for the good of the last

by Frederick D'Souza*

The gift of oneself for the good of others is present in all religious traditions and cultures. Being in the image of God means being called upon to promote "justice, peace and integrity of creation.” Caritas's work and volunteers play a fundamental role in the field of cancer treatment, environmental disasters, and nutrition.

New Delhi (AsiaNews) – Volunteering, in general terms, is the time individuals commit to a cause based on their passion for it, without being paid for their activities performed through organisation or directly for others outside their own household (ILO). Free choice and doing the services in one’s own free will and volition is the greater value behind the motivation for volunteering. The process not just leads to external transformation but also changes and sensitises the volunteer towards larger realities. Many of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) call for long-term attitude and behaviour changes, and the UN recognises the indispensable role of volunteers in realising the SDGs.

Volunteering has strong roots and callings in every religious traditions and cultures. “Loka samastha sukhino bhavantu” is the mantra of the rich Indian tradition, which means; ‘May all beings everywhere be happy and free; and may the thoughts, words and actions of my own life contribute in some way to that happiness and to that freedom of all’. The Christian perspective of volunteering or giving our self in selfless service stems from Diakonia, one of the subtle expressions of life of Church in society. All humans are created in the image of God with the vocation to be God’s co-workers promoting justice, peace and the integrity of creation. By the very nature of this call everyone is duty bound to give unconditionally in service for the benefit of others and this is the Christian vocation to be a volunteer in service.

Volunteering Initiatives of Caritas India

Caritas India recognises the potential of volunteering as a powerful and practical way to reach out to the most marginalised.  At its core, volunteering is a powerful expression of a people-centred approach to empowerment and social transformation. Caritas India welcomes as volunteers all those who identify themselves with the causes and campaigns for people’s development and empowerment. Involvement of large number of volunteers has considerably enhanced the effectiveness of Caritas India’s interventions and increased local ownership. A good volunteer-base ensures that created capacities exist within communities well beyond the project period, thereby yielding long-term programme impacts. Some key initiatives involving volunteers include:

Ashakiranam Cancer Care Campaign was launched on March 8, 2014. Designed jointly by Caritas India, it is the flagship intervention in Kerala State operating with local hospitals and 32 Dioceses. Volunteers mobilised as part of the campaign are the ambassadors in spreading the massages of preventive and curative measures. With more than 16,000 volunteers already registered with the campaign, it is playing a major role in mobilising community, creating awareness, conducting befriending to the detected patients and family members, pain and palliative care, facilitating camps and treatments, mobilising resources and promoting family farming.  The support and cooperation of Church leaders, health institutions and other parties of goodwill contribute to the achievement of the desired campaign. Each DSSS has formed a Volunteer Resource Team (VRT) of 15 to 20 members which include lead volunteers who are influential in mobilising communities and people who are capable of conducting cancer awareness classes.

Poshan Mitr – Angels of good health and nutrition of SABAL programme: Korku communities in Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh have been grappling with severe forms of malnutrition for several decades. Caritas India is implementing SABAL for the food and nutrition security of Korkus with the active involvement of a large cohort of Poshan Mitr or friends of nutrition. These nutrition friends have fanned out in 118 villages situated in hilly areas spreading the message among community on food and nutrition security. The Poshan Mitr team is very diverse and consists of adolescent girls and boys, farmers, mothers and even traditional healers who have left superstitious ways of treating malnutrition. The 470-strong group of volunteers have become a force to reckon with in Korku areas and have become barefoot soldiers of nutrition and food security. Poshan Mitrs now engage with households and communities on the subjects of sanitation, hygiene, care of mother and child, sustainable agriculture, timely identification of malnourished children and their care and engaging with local government systems. With the initiatives of these Poshan-Mitr, who have been trained by Caritas India, communities have started over 2,500 kitchen gardens, planted 3,000 trees, including fruit trees, built 800 water harvesting structures and more importantly played an important role in reducing the gravity of food and nutrition insecurity in Korku areas.

Pani Mitr – Campaigners of water security: Caritas India launched Water and Agriculture Resilience Mission (WARM) in the drought-prone Bundelkhand region of Madhya Pradesh and Vidarbha and the Marathwara regions of Maharashtra to help the distressed communities of these regions in order to achieve water security. The mission, right from the beginning, was a people-led initiative to identify and implement local solutions to achieve water security in 30 villages. Pani Mitr or water friends have been working in these villages to increase awareness among communities of the need for water conservation and strengthening agriculture and making it more profitable. In each village, volunteers have come together to form a Jal Sena or water army to help convert this initiative of resilience-building into a massive people-led movement. Led by local Pani Mitr teams, communities have developed 1,800 water conservation structures, brought 300 acres for sustainable agriculture, started 1,600 kitchen gardens and revived 120 water structures. 

Under the Roshni programme for education of the most socially excluded communities in Bihar, Roshni ki Toli (a group of adolescent girls) plays a pivotal volunteering role to connect Dalit children and parents to school. They are engaged in providing regular support to children attending complementary education centres (CECs) and in ensuring their presence in school; spreading awareness about importance of education; escorting new students and parents to CECs and school destinations; guiding parents and motivating children towards schooling; creating awareness about health and hygiene; encouraging the community to participate in the Gram Sabha, articulate their concerns and realise their rights and entitlements, etc.

Under the SAKSHAM programme for Sustainable drought and climate change mitigation and enlargement of participatory possibilities with marginalised populations in Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Bihar, youth groups play a crucial role in community mobilisation and facilitating participation of the socially excluded community members’ participation in the Gram Sabha. They help group leaders identify community issues and assist them in getting social welfare benefits.

Likewise, in the Partners for Resilience Programme, the Task Force plays a crucial role in disaster risk reduction initiatives, making communities aware of disaster risks and preparedness measures as well as monitor the sea level rise during monsoons. In Tamil Nadu, under the Udhayam programme, volunteers have developed contingency and micro plans toward disaster preparedness and integrated development at the level of village panchayat. Task forces have been formed to help communities for disaster preparedness.

* Fr Frederick D'Souza just completed his term of office as Executive Director of Caritas India

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