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After the liturgy, Father Jose mingles with parishioners and participates in various social functions. St. George’s serves an affluent suburban community, whose many residents earn high salaries in the information technology sector. The brand-new cars parked in front of the church attest to the neighborhood’s increasing prosperity.

But not everyone is as fortunate; huge segments of Kerala’s population continue to live in abject poverty. Among the first to remember the many in need, Father Jose has made it a point to galvanize the good will of his parishioners by assisting needy families in the parish and beyond.

Under his guidance, the parish community founded and now operates Homes for the Homeless, which provides affordable, permanent housing to poor families. As property values in the area skyrocket, many poor families find it increasingly difficult to secure affordable rentals much less mortgages. Through grants and loan assistance, Homes for the Homeless now makes it possible for some of Kerala’s poorest families to build houses they can be proud to call home.

Undeniably Father Jose’s most notable achievement to date, Naipunya International responds appropriately and substantively to the principal problem confronting Keralites — unemployment. A staggering 20 percent (though some observers suggest it is as high as 36 percent) of Kerala’s population is unemployed, the highest in the nation. Unemployment and the sense of desperation it creates affect almost everyone in southwest India; Kerala’s suicide rate nears three times the national average.

With little work at home, many of Kerala’s brightest seek opportunities in other regions of India or further afield, such as the Gulf States or the West.

“The need of the hour is different,” Father Jose explained. “In a changing lifestyle, the source of income for urban parishioners also has changed. Now, Keralites earn income from their jobs elsewhere in India or abroad. Most families have at least one member working abroad.”

Indeed, foreign remittances now account for more than 20 percent of Kerala’s gross domestic product. Sending children to universities and finding them good-paying jobs rank as the chief goals not only for parents but humanitarians such as Father Jose.

Kerala has earned an international reputation for its vast pool of professionals in the fields of medicine, engineering and technology. Many of Kerala’s nurses and doctors now work in the United Kingdom, its information technology professionals in California’s Silicon Valley and its masons, carpenters and engineers in the Persian Gulf.

“What they need now is a credible agency to handle their migration as well as job matters,” Father Jose said. “There are many fraudulent agencies to exploit them.”

About eight years ago, with no such agency serving Kerala’s poor, Father Jose created one that, while under the auspices of the church, would reach out to all of Kerala’s young jobseekers irrespective of caste, creed and economic status. Since opening its doors in 2002, Naipunya International has connected thousands of talented young professionals with companies in need of skilled workers.

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Tags: India Kerala Village life Syro-Malabar Catholic Church Emigration