Return to School, Expanding Vaccination Programme and Care over Spiritual Work in Bangalore
Vinay Samuel reports
We began with in person classes for Standard 10 ( our final year of High School) at the beginning of February. By the middle of the month all the students have started to attend. Parents have paid fees as they could afford. Some students have been supported with full fee scholarships. Standards 6-9 started in person classes in the second week. By the end of the month attendance has improved to 75%. We encourage parents to send the children and talk to us about their financial difficulties. Standards 2-5 started 10 days ago and the numbers have quickly climbed to 90%. Almost 65% of the students in the school have returned to in- person classes. We expect this to reach close to 100% in March.
Seventy-five parents who were badly hit financially by the pandemic came to a meeting with eight of our staff who were all in tears after the meeting. They heard men who had worked for many years share how they could not find work even as unskilled daily labourers. Several contemplated suicide ( India has the highest rate of male suicide in the world). The women spoke of their despair when they went to a temple for help and found the gates locked. They shook the gate and shouted for help but no one responded. For several decades now we have not seen working men and women weep as they did this morning, sharing a deep sense of hopelessness about the future.
We are doing our best but the signs of a second wave of infections in spite of the vaccinations going on is a daunting challenge. We are assuring the parents that we will not let their children’s education suffer.
We appointed three new teachers and in God’s goodness they are not only very well trained and experienced but also committed Christians. We now have all the key teachers we need for the rest of the year and the new year starting in June. We are also more confident that we will survive financially. We continue to have a good relationship with the State Education Department. Four weeks ago we were despondent about the school but the Lord has encouraged us. We continue to take all the necessary safety measures to “sanitise” the children before they enter the school.
The residential homes have struggled with illness of staff taking them out of work for two weeks at a time. The baby home needed extra support and we now have a new staff member. With the ban on beef and its non-availability we cannot switch to lamb/mutton as that is very expensive. We are encouraged that Christians and people from other faiths are donating chicken once a week and we can provide fish for the children. We get more requests now from single parents to admit their children into the home and care for them. Many single parents feel unable to care for their children and are under pressure to take them out of school and send them to work. We need clear guidance from the Lord on whether we should increase the numbers. Finding the right staff will be a huge constraint.
This work continues to do well with the Vaccination Programme going smoothly. Our partnership with the Bangalore Municipal Corporation has been mutually very fruitful. After my second dose of the Oxford vaccine I was able to have a long conversation with the medical officer who is keen not only to continue but expand our relationship further. We will do joint health camps and be able to reach a larger number of people from low income backgrounds. We need a nurse who will stay on the campus but are finding it hard to get someone properly qualified and committed. The vaccination programme will soon be open to the public at large. We expect to be doing 150 -200 vaccinations a day for two days a week.
In times like these our pastoral work gets stretched. The pastoral team is working well together and does its best to meet the many needs of the church families. For the past two weeks we have been holding services following the guidelines and the number of people attending services has returned to pre-covid levels. There are many more bible study and prayer groups and most meet online. For our people who have to work long hours and even on Sundays, online worship has become a good option.
We have entered a situation in our country where Christian activity is more thoroughly monitored. Our people need more training so that their spiritual work does not communicate that they are denigrating the majority faith or attempting to convert people from other religions. One mistake and we could be shut down. Our work with the Municipal Corporation and with the police has earned us good friends among the authorities. Our transparency in giving free access to all our work to state officials has protected us.