TRIP TO KERALA, SOUTH-INDIA, WITH BISHOP HANNA AYDIN AND Sister HATUNE, 28.09 - 12.10
India is from the beginning the center of the activities of the Hatune Foundation. Here, Sr. Hatune started the first project in 1991, and here the gratest amount of needy people are served right now. Sr. Hatune spends three months in India every year, to look after the projects and to start new ones.
At the end of September she takes off to India for a different purpose: along with Dr. Julius Hanna Aydin, the archbishop of the Syriac Orthodox Christians of Antiochia in Germany, she organizes a two week trip. Ten more participants are all memmbers of the parish of the bishop, and they want to see the projects of the Hatune Foundation in Kerala, South-West India. They all donated several times for the projects before, and now they collected donations in their church and among fiends as well, to spend them to the projects on the spot.
The group arrives at the Tur Abdin- Village, one of the foundation’s centers, near the provincial city Thiruvalla. The center is named after the area in South-East Turkey, that is the historic place of origin of the Syriac Orthodox Christians, that came in two periods to Kerala, to settle there and to proselytize the people.
Now, 19% Christians live in the district of Kerala. Tur Abdin is one of 52 centers of the Hatune Foundation in this district. There is a sewing school for girls and young women, together with a day school for children with Down syndrome, and an auditorium for speeches and congresses. The next phase of construction is aready visible, an orphanage for 200 children. In some time, there are supposed to live 2000 people – as the name says: Tur Abdin- Village.
The group will get to know six of such schools, and because it is the beginning of October, the diplomas will be presented. This is a day to celebrate for the young women: the ceremony for their degree. In the institutions of the Hatune Foundation, they got a professional education. Some are sewers for embroideries, they stich valuable cloths, some are sewers with a electric machine. Some schools train for computer experts, these women can work subsequently in a front office.
Each school trains 50 young women, the educations lasts for six months. So, every year 100 women graduate in each school, ready to start a live in self reliance. This happens in all the 23 institutions of the Hatune Foundation, that offer professional education The program is very succesful, that some of the schools had to move – there were not enough needy girls and women in the area anymore – to find new locations.
Many of the women now can feed themselves and their families. Once, these girls belonged to the poorest of the poor. They had been abandoned by their families, or their parents could not afford the school tuiton anymore. Now, they are even attractive in the marriage market, because they have a profession and an income.
The marriage of girls puts many families into hard distress. The dowri- system, that makes the bride’s family responsble for the dowry, and urges them to give a party for up to 500 people – often the whole village has to be invited – is established in all religions in India. Sister Hatune alone knows 300 Christian families, which became homeless by their daughter’s wedding – because they had to sell their home, after they took a loan from a bank for it.
For that reason, girls get aborted, abandoned, even killed short time after birth. By that, the birthrate of boys is up to 70% in some districts, and girls make only 30%. Social problems, that evolve from this are not less ugly – the number of rapes has steadily increased during the last decades.
The young women of Tur Abdin and the other schools show their happiness in their faces, as they know, what they left behind. Sister Hatune is handing over the diplomas and all of them are deeply thankful. To say thank You, they perform vivid dances and songs.
Bishop Hanna Aydin, Sister Hatune and Aleyas – the heart and the soul of the Foundation in this region, as well as the biggest donor – give speeches. Aleyas explains, that they did a kind of brain washing on the girls: they had to learn to leave some of the conventions and obstacles of their culture behind. They have been teached, to take their live into their own hands, and now they must bring all they learned to their societies, to be a role model in treating the needy. Every woman should recognize the misery of their surroundings and not look away, because exactly this caused their harm in the first place.
All these women had been abandoned by their families or husbands and slipped into social despair after that.
Therefore, the Foundation supports orphanages, altogether 18 houses for about 600 orphans. One of them is the St. Magdalena orphanage in Malankara. This is the very first project of Sr. Hatune. When she visited 25 of her church’s sisters in 1991, she was shocked how they lived: in a bamboo house covered with leaves, sleeping on the concrete floor, with an open fireplace in the ground for cooking and heating. Sr. Hatune instantly initiated a donation campaign among the group, and later in Germany among her friends as wll. In a period of six months she amounted 30.000 $. By that, a convent with an orphanage and a small kindergarten could be built.
From that time on, emanating from there, the activities of Sr. Hatune steadily grew, and this also against the resistence of some bishops in India. They demanded, that all help was organized by them, and that all money was chanelled to them. And they took offence in the fact, that all this was done by a woman. In bishop Hanna Aydin, who was the archbishop of Europe’s secretary at that time, Sr. Hatune found a big supporter. Hatune calls him “my boss”, her spiritual father an good brother. By that experience, it remains the principle of the Hatune Foundation, that all donations go directly to the projects and the needy, without any middlemen or official institutions.
During the trip, it gets clear, that all the projects of the Foundation address those people, who live at the lowest end of society, the truly needy, that do not get any support by governmental programs. Or because the Hindu majority culture sees them as unworthy for help – the untouchables, pariahs. Because of that, the homes for old people with mental problems came into being, of which the group visits two.
Once, these people lived literally in the garbage, before the Foundation took care of them. Some had to be locked inside a secured part of the house, because they lived like wild animals. And so they reacted very aggressively to the accommodation in a house and were a danger for others and themselves.
Now, 60 women and 30 men have found a modest but loving home. They are deeply thankful, that a group coming from Europe visits them and gives them their time and appreciation. Some of them recognize Sister Hatune, and she embraces all of them very long.
After that, the group decides to donate rice, oil and sugar to the projects of the foundation. At an wholesaler Siter Hatune is fixing the price. It will be a whole lorry full of groceries, that will be distributed to the different institutions. Furthermore, Sr. Hatune gives money in cash to the intitution’s leaders personally, donations that came to the Foundation before.
The group visits different housing projects of the Foundation. Since 2005, there have been built 3000 houses in 3 states. One village now is the home of a group of people, who formerly lived along a frequented railroad. They lived from that, what was thrown out of the train windows or was given to them by the travellers. Some were thieves, some had many children from different wives, alcoholism was epidemic. It was a wild bunch.
Now they live a decent live in a small houses, with electricity, a kitchen with gas stove and fresh water from a nearby well. The group is visiting those well projects too. 2800 wells the Hatune Foundation has already buil, and 500 new add to it every year in India. There are plates fixed to houses and wells, that note the name of the donator, with address and date, and some of the group members find their names on them.
On the way, the group makes a stop at a family in a slum house, self built from wooden leftovers and plastic sheets. The group gives money to the family spontaneously. Hatune knows this family, as she knows almost all families living in such poor circumstances.
The Foundation planned to built a house for this family, but it was not possible because the family didn’t own the land. Hatune tried to come to terms with with the local authorities, and now they found an alternative estate, where the foundation will soon be able to built a house for this family. There are only few of these slum houses left in this area, thanks also to the work of the Hatune Foundation. Generally, the district of Kerala is more rich and clean than the rest of India – there is a high portion of Christians in the population, 19%, ten times higher than the average in India.
But the number of Christians is in decline, as Islam is rising also here. Everywhere, there are signs of the Salafi- Mahjid mosques to be seen. That is a group close to Wahabism of Saudi Arabia, the money comes from there, too.
The group had the opportunity to meet one of the highst judges of Kerala, and one of the highest police officials. Both men are Christians and very fond of the Hatune Foundation. Both expressed their astonishment about the refugee crisis in Europe, especially about the behaviour of Ms. Merkel. Sr. Hatune and bishop Hanna Aydin gave a report about the actual situation in the civil war in Syria and Irak, and about the awful situation in the refugee camps, especially the Chjristian and Yezydi minorities. They warned both gentlemen, as officials of their state, to watch the expansion of islam tightly and to do everything, that India will remain a free country.
On the last day of the trip, all gather in Tur Abdin again. At a prayer summit in the afternoon, Aleyas delivers a passionate speech about the grace of charity. As every week, there are about 80 people attending. After that, the laying of a cornerstone takes place. In the garden of the premises, two buildings will arise, houses for abandonded people and people with mental problems.
Each building has three stories, one for 150 man and one for 100 women. Hatune and Elias express their good wishes, the bishop is leading a prayer. One Euro and one Rupee coin are cemented between two stones into the earth – for good success. There are already some building materials on the premises, iron beams and stones. Aleyas promises: when Hatune will come on her routine trip to India at the end of December, the buildings will already be erected.