Little did we know at the beginning of the year, the strange twists and turns our path would take. Back in January, FOI was planning to close down with one last celebration party. By the end of March we were deep into COVID 19 lockdown, and all such thoughts were swept away. Instead we set about raising CHF10,000 to help victims of the pandemic in Tamil Nadu, south India. And you, our wonderful supporters, more than rose to the challenge.
This letter is really a celebration of you, and all you have done to help victims of COVID in India, who are far worse off than we are, and on a scale that we could never have imagined.
Help for Migrant Workers
It all started on 24 March, when President Modi ordered a comprehensive lockdown to try to limit the pandemic in India. But this lockdown had unintended and devastating effects. The press featured photos of thousands of poor migrant workers stranded on the outskirts of the country’s mega cities, unable to work, earn, or feed their families. Migrants walked hundreds of kilometres to get back to their villages, and were sometimes stopped or turned back at state borders, stranded without food or shelter.
We knew we had to try to help if only in a small way. After contacting our longstanding partners in Tamil Nadu, Victordass and the Brothers of the Sacred Heart, we launched an initial appeal on Facebook and email. Our aim then was to raise enough to provide 400 migrant workers and their families with a CHF25 food parcel to last for a month.
To our amazement, the response to our appeal was rapid and generous. We soon reached our goal – and more. The money was transferred to our partners, and food parcels were handed out to a thousand migrant families who had been identified in dire need. By 21 June, you had donated CHF25,000 – a far greater sum than we had hoped for.
Food Parcels for the School for the Blind
As many of you know, FOI has for many years supported the Richard Walsh Music School for the Blind in Arani. We contacted the school to find out how the students and their families were coping as the pandemic continued to spread. The school had been closed by the lockdown and the children sent home, but many families were confined at home, unable to work or earn money to feed their children. We knew we had to help. We wanted to provide a food parcel for each of the 122 children and their families in the school, and again your generosity allowed us to do this.
A Quiet Retirement?
By the end of August, two private foundations had also responded to our appeal, raising an extraordinary total of CHF 45,000. This has been spent on feeding and providing hygiene items for migrant workers and their families in Kolar, for the families of children attending the School for the Blind, and for other disabled people living in the Arani area.
With your help, we have supported thousands of families, some on the edge of destitution, others in extreme hardship and without any other safety net. This has been an extraordinary achievement in a year when FOI was looking forward to bowing out and a quiet retirement. And we are deeply grateful to all of you who recognised the urgent need and responded so generously.
Good News from the BCV School
We are relieved that the Holy Angels BCV School in Tirunelveli, which we founded in 2009, has been spared the worst of the pandemic. The school has been closed since the lockdown started in March but lessons have continued online. The whole school community has been hit financially by the lockdown, but staff have continued to be paid 50% of their usual salary. In June, we had the fantastic news that the school has been awarded CBSE accreditation, the highest level of government recognition – a tribute to the staff and managers who have worked so hard to achieve this high standard. And at last, after 7 months of lockdown, Class 9 and upwards will be back in school in person, starting mid November. The school continues to offer scholarships and part scholarships for some of the poorest children in the district, with your support via the Chris Powell Scholarship Fund (which will continue while FOI remains operational).
Once again our plans are on hold. The situation in India is very disturbing, with the second highest number of COVID19 cases in the world after the United States. We are extremely thankful that our partners and the establishments we support have so far been spared infection but the prospects over the coming months are worrying. We had hoped that we would be able to bow out gracefully, but while the current emergency lasts, we want to stand by to act as a conduit of support to COVID victims in south India. We are in discussion with partners in Switzerland so that we can work together to lend a helping hand where it is still needed. And we hope that in the not too distant future we will be able to join you, our friends and supporters, in a final retirement party – in person!
Meanwhile, we send our love, our deepest thanks and urge you to stay safe.
Pam Walsh OBE, FOI President, with the Board, Ted Talbot, Jan Powell, Clare Schenker and Diana Smith