Birth and growth of a great man
When a child is born all smiles flowers around; life should be such when he/she dies all should mourn for him/her”
Adv. John and Theresa were living in the fear of God at Chembu in Vaikom Taluk, Kottayam District, Kerala, India. 5th May 1920 was one of the happiest days for this couple through the birth of Augustine. Augustine had his High school studies at Government High School Vaikom. Then he joined the minor Seminary and continued his intermediate at Maharajas College Ernakulam and secured high marks in the same. Then he continued his seminary studies at Canty. In the year 1947 on 24th August it was a day of joy; he was ordained a priest in the Archdiocese of Ernakulam-Angamaly. It was a call as his future life proves it. He served as assistant parish priest in Angamaly Forane Church and Professor in Chemistry department of Nirmala College Muvattupuza. Then, Fr. Augustine joined Notre Dam University in America for higher studies and completed his doctorate and Post graduate Fellowship. Fr. Augustine was employed at St. Thomas University Canada as Professor in Chemistry Department.
Pope Paul VI’s appeal “to join the peaceful battle against the sufferings of our less fortunate brethren” during Mumbai Eucharistic Congress in 1964 was Fr. Augustine Kandathil’s inspiration to really do something to resolve the vast problem of poverty. Father Gus as he wished to be called, together with a few students and staff of St. Thomas University, Fredricton started on a very small scale the Organization called Save A Family Plan in 1965. They began with five families. In the summer of 1966, Father Gus drove through some parts of Canada and the United States promoting his plan. Father Gus felt that a better central location is essential and so through the help of Father Ryan, a personal friend St. Peter’s Seminary in London, the location of SAFP was shifted to the Seminary in the fall of 1973.
Fr. Michael Ryan, friend and partner of Fr. Gus at SAFP remembers: Living with us at St. Peter’s Seminary, Father Gus was a valued and much-loved member of our community. All of us on the faculty had an easy and joyful relation with him. He accepted our invitation to speak to the student body several times, and he celebrated Mass in his own rite occasionally for the education of our students. He was an important pastoral presence to members of the Indian community in the London area. Most of all he was a constant source of edification to all of us at the seminary. Here was a man who not only talked about the poor, but who lived very simply himself. His example of simplicity of life, prayerfulness and genuine care for everyone was a great blessing for all of us.
Thousands of families, hundreds of institutions and healing homes are being helped by Save A Family Plan, which had a very humble beginning. Dr. Mary Litty writes: A simple and humble priest as he was, he was always dear and near to all. His deep faith in God and ardent love for the poor made him a man of prayer. When he spoke of the poor, he was sincere and just to the core. A man who embraces a life of poverty and detachment can only alleviate the pains of the miserable people. His credibility got wings to reach the last penny to the poor in need, avoiding all overhead expenses. He always reminded to respect the individuality and personality of the recipient however poor he may be. Helping people to be self sufficient, he taught us to recognize the identity of every family irrespective of caste, creed or community. Thus he proved that development is not mere financial support but it should focus on the integral growth of the whole person.
SAFP later began working in partnership with the Canadian International Development Agency, the Alberta Wild Rose Foundation, and other groups. Over the years it not only expanded its family-to-family plan, but developed many other programs to help empower the poor. Other organizations that work with Save A Family Plan are: Development and Peace, Canadian Council for International Cooperation (CCIC), Canadian Coalition for the Rights of Children (CCRC), South Asia Partnership (SAP), Call of the Poor (Manitoba) and others. All the programmes undertaken with these organizations have a ripple effect helping the core group but actually spreading to reach relatives, neighbours, friends and whole communities of the recipient families.
SAFP’S AREA OF FOCUS
Micro-Credit Co-operatives (MCC)
This is an innovative approach designed to empower the poor to become masters of their own destiny. Micro- credit co-operatives, known as MCC, is composed of 150 to 200 poor families who would organize themselves to mobilize the local resources particularly bank loans. SAFP in turn will make a fixed deposit which becomes leverage and security for the loan. The members of the MCC identify their needs and recommend ways to address those needs. The families borrow money and use tit to generate income. As a requirement, the borrower has to remit a small portion of this income to clear off the debt. Within a specified time, the family would have paid off the loan, freeing up more funds which could be given to other members. Once the loan is paid off a family can buy certain n umber of shares in the co-operatives.
There are several small scale projects that are subsidized by the Plan to enable the families to earn income and thus take care of their family needs. These include distribution of milk cows, goats, establishment of dairy co-operatives, rabbit, tailoring, horticulture, cultivation of medicinal plants, seri-culture, bee-keeping and retail grocery stores.
Over the years Save A Family Plan had constructed more than 6000 good low cost hygienic houses for the poor families. Some of these houses are built using fund from available bank loans and government subsidies. However, for $750.00, one can build a house for a homeless family without depending on bank loans. Under the integrated village development program for the year 1991 to1992, over 2900 houses will be constructed for the needy families in the target areas. In addition, with the financial assistance from housing and development financial corporation of India 1000 houses will be built this year for the homeless in the district of Ernakulam, Kerala.
The Integrated Village Development Programme (1991-1994)
This is a 3 year programme aims at empowering the families of the low income group belonging to about 300 villages in 4 states of India. It is a CIDA-Co-funded programme through which the villagers will be assisted: (1) To establish 300 micro-credit co-operatives, (2) creation of 15000 income generating activities, (3) construction of 23000 low-cost houses, (4) Establishment of 300 health and sanitation networks, (5) Implementation of 300 human resource development programmes. When the programme is fully implemented it is anticipated. A total of 75000 people would become direct beneficiaries and about 4 times that number would benefit indirectly from the programme.
The projects originate at the grass root level based on a pre project survey. The local welfare committees under the auspicious of SAFP facilitate public participation to ascertain the socio-economic circumstances of those families who most need help. The local committee identifies the needs of the villages and proposes solutions to address those needs through economically viable and developmentally sustainable projects.
Father Gus retired from active direction of SAFP in India in 1999 but remained the guiding spirit until his death on July 18, 2001. In his personal life he had always identified with the poor to whom he was so devoted. When he died he literally possessed nothing. However he left behind an organization that surely would have delighted Pope Paul VI, whose words first inspired it.