by PETER GRACE
AUCKLAND — A Catholic missionary who became a Kiwi is now working with poor communities in India.
Tony Vijayraj told NZ Catholic on a visit to Auckland in April that he came to New Zealand in 1989 from India to work as a missionary for the Mt Tabor Trust — which exists to help the intellectually disabled.
He and his wife, Renuka, worked for the trust for three years, Mr Vijayraj said. “In those days I was mainly a voluntary worker, which was live-in. So, in order to improve the children’s prospects, we gave up with the Mt Tabor Trust and took up similar jobs, but paid jobs.”
For about the following eight years he worked with the Auckland Area Health Board, and as Manager New Beginnings with the Auckland City Mission. Renuka worked as a caregiver with the Little Sisters of the Poor, and with Spectrum Care.
He was also active in Justice, Peace and Development in Auckland diocese, Mr Vijayraj said.
The family then moved to Australia, until about 18 months ago he still felt the call to give back to the community. So Mr Vijayraj and his wife went back to India and formed an organisation — Aashirwad Eternity — to help poor families in Nilgiris (the Blue Mountains) in the southwest of the country.
The group he formed is working on sustainable development and coping with climate change for the villagers.
As well as himself, there is a Salesian priest, a Jesuit priest and the principal of a school of social work helping with the project.
“Where the villagers live in the mountains is beautiful, Mr Vijayraj said, “but, unfortunately, they are the most affected people with climate change, even though they never caused it.”
Each village has small groups. “They are their own trustees, their own leaders, and everything.
“We were only helping them to form themselves.” That included setting them up with integrated farming.
Each family has about two acres. But they hadn’t been able to use their land effectively, because they had no support. Now they have cattle, goats, pigs and poultry. “So the women and young people look after those, and the banana plantation is mainly operated by the men.”
The supporters get funding, they give them the equipment they need to farm sustainably, and some mentoring.
“There is also some microfinancing . . . with no interest, but compulsory repayments. So that money will then go to the next village, and then the next village.”
There is an emphasis on education. Some of the students boarding in the community colleges will also spend evenings with the children, playing games and teaching them. “And during Sunday they will come to our centre for organised sports, competitions, learning skills — people skills and IT skills and any other skills they would like.”
The villages are in a reserve, and about an 8km walk from public transport. Each village has about 30 families, with 5-7 people in each family, including grandparents.
“The morale has changed totally over the three villages,” Mr Vijayraj said. “Now they are totally happy.”