Tuesday, 7 May 2019

Rest in Peace, ‘Father’

Father James with our children
At Easter this year, we all said farewell to our beloved Founder, Rev. James Stevens who went to his heavenly resting place early in the morning on Easter Sunday. His funeral was held on Saturday 27th April, 2019 and a memorial service was also held on Sunday 5th May, 2019, at St.Paul's Cathedral, Kolkata.  No words can express the sorrow that we all feel at Udayan on the passing of our Father James, however here are some extracts from a speech by Udayan Chairperson Emily Menon, who spoke at the Memorial Service on behalf of the Udayan Family:

“Yes Udayan is a place, an organization, bricks and mortar that over a lifetime James built from the ground up … From nothing. But it is what happens in that place that is the true testament to Father James.  When you look after 300 children, it is very easy to see them as a ‘group’ – as a mass – a lot of faces and smiles and noisy, laughing voices.

But the beauty of Father was in his attention to detail.  And his raw and pure love for the children. He knew every single child at that place. Year in and year out – as so many of the faces came and went and grew and changed. He knew them all. He cared about what they felt and what they thought and who they were then and who they might be in the future.

It’s difficult to imagine how all this started! One foreigner, 11 children … tackling all the odds and obstacles thrown at them …

I often stop and imagine 2 children, friends, born into Leprosy colonies … growing up together in difficult impoverished conditions. Yes there is poverty, but with Leprosy comes an even worse curse – the stigma – one that scars them for life as outcasts of society. So imagine 2 children there, and the course of their futures … one who is chosen to go to Udayan … and one who is not. After all, we only have place for 300 …

And this is the lasting legacy of Father … the way that the trajectory of these children’s lives is so radically changed – because of him! Yesterday I heard a couple of powerful stories, which for me, put into context the significance of his contribution here in Kolkata, to these children, to the issue of leprosy, to India, in fact.

The story of Dhan Singh Shit, the son of 2 rag pickers who had leprosy, who came to Udayan at the age of 7 and stayed till he finished his 12th Standard. Today he owns and operates his own fully fledged transport business, earns Rs.50,000 a month, has his own beautiful, healthy family – the cycle of leprosy was broken … and he is the first to admit that all this, is because of him, Father.

Or there is Arpita Mahato from Purulia, whose father earns Rs.800 per month as a daily labourer, who graduated from Udayan, studied Nursing and now earns more money each month than her entire family earned in a year! Now that is transformation!

But Father also took time to encourage his students to follow their passion. He had a love for music and the arts and ensured that children had a rich experience of both during their time at Udayan. We have one ex-student, Bapi Dey who was always very passionate about art. Father encouraged him to go to Art College and today he runs a very successful Art School! He has over 200 students and earns over Rs. 25,000 per month, following his dream. A dream made possible by Father James.

I know I speak on behalf of all at Udayan, and the thousands of children who have grown up there, when I say ‘It’s time to rest now Father … Rest in the assurance that your legacy will live on!"

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