Hope for the future

In rural India, tribal families are receiving vital assistance in education,
health and nutrition thanks to a 2023 Jesuit Mission Australia initiative.

 WALKING WITH THE EXCLUDED 

Four-year-old Anika, sitting on her mother’s lap, lives in a small village in Karnataka, southern India. Her mother, Leela, who has five other children, had serious concerns for the little girl’s health at one stage: “When Anika was three years old, she was malnourished and weighed only eight kilograms. She was fragile, but I refused to give up hope. I became determined to ensure her well-being and happiness.” Photo: Jesuit Mission Australia

By Zach Martorana, Communications Officer at Jesuit Mission Australia 

Marigolds, the scented orange blossoms that are synonymous with joy, faith and celebration in Indian culture, are Anika’s flower of choice today. The bright-eyed little girl is four years old and a fresh marigold adorns each of her two pigtails.   

On her lap is a book filled with squares. This is where, page after page, she practises – among other school tasks – writing letters of the English alphabet. In a way, these pages mark the first steps in a continuing path of education that will create better life prospects for her, just as it will for many other disadvantaged children born into hardship. 

Anika and her five siblings live in a small village in Karnataka, southern India. Her mother, Leela, had serious concerns for the little girl’s health at one stage. “When Anika was three years old,” says Leela, “she was malnourished and weighed only eight kilograms. She was fragile, but I refused to give up hope. I became determined to ensure her well-being and happiness.” 

But thanks to a Jesuit Mission Australia programme focusing on education, health and nutrition, Leela has seen a significant improvement in Anika’s wellbeing. “Now she weighs over ten kilograms and stands tall. It fills my heart with joy to see her thriving,” she says.  

Leela embodies the spirit of resilience in the face of adversity. Her husband works as a farmer and gardener in Goa, a coastal Indian state that was once Portuguese territory. Leela works as a casual labourer in their home village to make ends meet and is deeply committed to providing a better life for her children. 

That deep desire received a vital boost in 2023, when Jesuit Mission introduced a programme called Sustainable Development of Indigenous Tribal Populations. It offers support to more than 1,300 Indigenous tribal people in India, including Leela, encompassing crucial issues of education, malnutrition and empowering women through self-help groups to advocate for their rights.  

Through the programme, mothers receive vital information about nutrition and are working with a network of rural community childcare centres called Anganwadi (the word means “courtyard shelter”) to claim food from the government, including basic items such as milk and eggs.  

Run by North Karnataka Jesuit Educational and Charitable Society, and supported by Jesuit Mission, Leela’s local maternal health centre is providing transformative health-related assistance to her and her family.      

Leela’s story echoes the experiences of countless mothers around the world who face adversity with courage and resilience. Despite the challenges they encounter, they remain steadfast in their commitment to nurturing and protecting their children in order to redefine the lives and opportunities of the next generation. 

“Every child should have the right to a quality education,” she says. “I want Anika to study more, to be healthy and become independent.”  

Learn more about Jesuit Mission Australia’s Gifts For Change initiative 

Banner image by chotaniaman, Canva.