Category Archives: Asia

Jul 14 2008

CFCA’s newest mothers group

In CFCAís Hyderabad Project in India, the mothers of sponsored children are encouraged to come together in small self-help groups where they share their concerns, help one another and make small loans to the members of the group.

The mothers typically use these loans to start a small business, pay for higher education or pay for a medical emergency. The loans start small and grow along with the size of the loan pool and the individual memberís ability to repay.

Tuesday I visited the newest sponsored mothers group. Each of these 15 women has a child who has recently been sponsored in the Hyderabad project, and the mothers were applying to start a mothers group.

Starting a mothers group means that the mothers commit to following CFCAís accounting standards and financial transparency procedures for all loans. The mothers must also save a small amount in their account each month, and CFCA matches each memberís savings. The mothersí savings and CFCA match create the loan pool for the small loans. Then, when a motherís child graduates or leaves the program, she is entitled to the portion she has contributed and the CFCA match.

A proud new members of a CFCA mothers group

A proud new member of a CFCA mothers group

The meeting began with Rosy and Sukshmana, two CFCA Hyderabad staff members, asking the mothers why they wanted to start a sponsored mothers group. The mothers explained that they had seen the benefits that the other sponsored mothers had gained from being in a small group. They wanted to be able to start or grow their own small businesses and eventually send their children to university.

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Jun 23 2008

Scholars rehearsing for concert in Zamboanga

Barclay, left and Xarina playing the kulintangan, a traditional Philippines instrument.

Xarina (foreground) and other CFCA scholar students learned and performed on traditional Filipino instruments for a concert in the jungle surrounding Zamboanga City, Philippines, in January 2008. The concert will be featured in ZAMBOANGA, a documentary film. Visit for more information.

Scholarship students from the Philippines formed a special bond while studying traditional Filipino instruments such as the kulintangan, the dabakan and the agong. The students rehearsed throughout the year for a CFCA concert on Jan. 30 in Zamboanga on the island of Mindanao.

The experience awakened an interest in composing and writing for scholar Xarina, 16. Xarina is featured in the Spring/Summer issue of The Scholar, a CFCA publication that highlights the accomplishments and challenges of students in the CFCA Scholarship Program.

ìI am used to composing in English and Tagalog,î Xarina said. ìNow I am writing in Chavacano [a Filipino dialect]. I am experimenting.î

Hours of rehearsal put a strain on Xarinaís studies, but the hard work paid off.

ìThey did brilliantly,î said Kansas City-based musician Barclay Martin. Martin arranged the concert music and wrote original songs combining traditional Filipino and modern music.

The day after the concert was bittersweet for the students, Martin said.

ìWe played music for each other as a gesture of thanks and to mark a significant life experience for all involved,î he said. ìAs it neared time to leave, members from all of the groups began to laugh, sing and cry out of gratitude for what we had shared.î

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Jun 19 2008

India mothers groups inspire Kenyans

Janet Tinsley, CFCA International programs – Africa project director, reflects on the many ways the India mothers groups have inspired sponsored mothers in Kenya.

The culture of creativity and courage that Fr. Francis (the late Father Francis Thumma), the Hyderabad team and the sponsored mothers set into motion extends far beyond the borders of India.

A spirit of cooperation and ingenuity has always been present on the African continent, but recently the CFCA community in Nairobi, Kenya, became inspired by Hyderabad’s example of the culture of creativity and courage.

Janet and CFCA-Nairobi project coordinator, Peter, in India.

The CFCA-Nairobi project coordinator, Peter Ndungo, and I immersed ourselves in the Hyderabad spirit in an inspirational visit and exchange of ideas at the Hyderabad project last November. Immediately upon Peter’s return to Kenya, the Nairobi project team began taking steps to put the sponsorship resources into the hands of the Nairobi mothers through sponsored mothers groups.

The Nairobi mothers had some setbacks as a result of post-election violence that broke out in Kenya just after the first of this year. The mothers, who primarily live in Nairobi’s sprawling slums, come from a mixture of backgrounds, and when the politically motivated violence took on an ethnic tone, it threatened to tear apart the communities they had only recently begun forming. Tapping into their own limitless creativity, the Nairobi mothers are now courageously putting their political and ethnic differences aside and are examples of peace in their communities through the sponsored mothers groups they are now re-forming.

Because of the inspiration set in motion by Fr. Francis, the Hyderabad sponsored mothers and the project team, the sponsored mothers in Nairobi have started reclaiming their own creativity and courage.

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Jun 18 2008

A culture of creativity and courage

Watch a video highlighting CFCA’s work in India and the beauty of the mothers groups.

Ilene Adams, CFCA International programs – Asia project director, reflects on the award given to Father Francis Thumma and the Hyderabad team, and the mothers group program established there.

The culture of creativity and courage which was established by Fr. Francis is alive in Hyderabad today. The culture can be witnessed in many different ways. It is witnessed through the proud faces of the mothers as they display the products they have produced and will sell at a profit, through the bounce in their step as they walk among 5,000 other sponsored mothers at the annual mothers conference, through the confidence in their faces as they explain that the blue vest they are wearing denotes them as a mothers group leader, and through the excitement in their voices as they introduce their child and explain that she will be graduating this year with a masters degree.

In a society where women are oppressed, these opportunities are made available only by a culture of great creativity and great courage. A culture established by Fr. Francis and embraced by Suresh, Prakash, Rosy and by each and every member of the CFCA Hyderabad team. And, while it’s this culture which allows for such opportunities, Fr. Francis and the staff in Hyderabad would be quick to point out that it is the endless work of the mothers themselves which turns these opportunities into the glorious realities that we celebrate.

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Jun 13 2008

Priest who empowered women in India honored with award

This week, Father Francis Thumma, along with the Hyderabad, India mothers groups and staff, were honored with CFCA’s Pilgrimage of Faith Award. The award is given annually to honor those who exemplify CFCA’s core values—answering the Gospel call to serve the poor, serving with integrity and accountability, recognizing the dignity of every person and fostering respectful relationships.

The concept of mothers groups originated in CFCA’s projects in southern India in 2001, pioneered by Father Thumma. Now more than 240 mothers groups operate in and around Hyderabad.

The mothers organize into small self-advocacy and livelihood groups that offer members solidarity and support in life’s challenges, as well as low-cost loans to start family businesses. The women approve loans and oversee repayments. They also help administer program benefits for their families, including education, nutrition and medical assistance. The benefits are made possible by support from people in the U.S. who sponsor children through CFCA.

The mission of the mothers groups goes beyond financial needs, however. Meetings provide a forum for health-care education, for development of children and families, and for spiritual orientation seminars. Separate seminars are held for Catholic and Hindu members out of respect for the faith traditions of sponsored members.

The CFCA mothers groups are transforming lives all throughout India… giving mothers the opportunity to provide for their families and lift themselves out of poverty. And the movement is spreading to other CFCA countries. More on that next week…

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May 16 2008

What makes a home?

By Trisha Pitts

Trisha Pitts and Chris Shillito just returned from the Philippines, where they visited all five of the CFCA projects there. This description comes from a visit to the Manila East subproject.

The contrast between the homes of the wealthy and the homes of the poor is just as stark as in the U.S., maybe more so. On our recent trip to the Philippines, we saw a huge building that was modern, sleek and full of windows as we were driving down the street. I asked our project staff what the building was, and they said it was the home of one of the wealthiest families in the Philippines.

Having just visited so many of our sponsored families’ homes, I was struck by the contrast.

Some of our sponsored families live in single rooms they have built along a canal that are maybe 5 feet wide and 10 to 12 feet long. A family with 6 children may live in this “house.”

One such house we saw had a battered dresser for clothes at one end and a card table with some kitchen utensils at the other end. That was the extent of the house. I asked the project staff where the family slept, and she said they probably move the card table out at night and all sleep on the floor, packed in like sardines. This particular family was trying to build an additional room, meaning they were collecting scrap lumber and other possible materials they can find to tack another room on.

There are many “houses” like this along the canal. The side of the canal has a ledge that is about 12 inches wide. This is the “main street” of the community, with a number of “houses” that have sprung up along this busy thoroughfare. The children scamper up and down without looking. I watched every step, knowing that if I wasn’t careful, I would end up in the canal. In this picture, Chris is standing on the ledge, pretending to dive in.

I asked the project community worker how the family might spend its day, since there is no TV or computer games, no toys, no furniture to dust, etc. She said the mother spends her day with the children, watching them and making sure they are okay. She might take some clothes to the community water tap to wash, and of course, she has to fix food for the family, but during all this time, she has her children with her. In the evening, after the children have been put to bed, the mother and father might sit outside and talk about their day.

It seems nice. Although we look at these “houses’ and cringe or feel sad, it is clear that they are more than just houses. They are homes, no less than any of ours.

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Feb 22 2008

Indian traffic

A trip across the twin Indian cities of Hyderabad and Secunderabad is a little like an intergalactic space trip. You strap in (or don’t) and launch out into the great unknown. There is so much life here, and you never know what new experiences each trip will bring. The only certainty on every trip is diversity.

The dense traffic here flows like water, widening as vehicles jockey for position at intersections and squeezing back to the allowable space (some might call them lanes) once the intersection is crossed. Honking is considered a courtesy rather than a complaint in India. The trucks even have “Please Sound Horn” signs to invite the driver in the vehicle behind to give a warning when they pass. No encouragement is really needed, though. No one seems bashful about using their horn. When traffic is not bad, you can drive across Secunderabad and Hyderabad in about an hour. When the traffic is bad, the same trip may take two hours or more. The traffic is usually bad.

Different languages, cultures, religions, economic statuses and castes coexist everywhere you look.

In Hi Tec City, one of Hyderabad’s wealthy new suburbs, the small makeshift huts of the construction workers are sprinkled among the gleaming office buildings. A little further down the road the Muslim call to prayer spreads from loudspeakers atop a nearby mosque, blending with car horns and the Hindu chants that are coming from a TV in a repair shop by the road.

And throughout the city motorcycles carrying three, four, five people zip in and out between luxury automobiles, bullock carts and pedestrians.

At first I tried to pull apart India’s diversity so that I could make it easier to understand and more manageable.But India is neither manageable nor easy to understand. And trying to pull it all apart is as futile as trying to pull apart the flavors of a curry in order to make it easier to digest.

Maybe coming to grips with India can only be done through embracing its many paradoxes. While this country may look on a map like one country in the world, a drive across any of its cities reveals a deeper truth that this is a country that contains many worlds.

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