FATHER JIJO KANDAMKULATHY, CO-FOUNDER OF “MOTHER’S MEAL” INITIATIVE “The people of Macau have always been generous in contributing to the cause of the poor”

Marco Carvalho

The “Mother’s Meal” initiative, which was launched last August in India, has expanded to Uganda  in late October. The ambitious programme, which aims to feed one million families worldwide over the course of a whole year, has reached the African continent on October 24, the day of the feast of Saint Anthony Mary Claret, the founder of the Claretian Missionaries. O Clarim spoke with Father Jijo Kandamkulathy, the Macau based missionary who co-founded the initiative. After Macau, India and Uganda, Nepal is the next target of the Sons of the Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Ever since it was launched in August, the Mother’s Meal initiative has already helped thousands of people in India and in Macau and now in Uganda. This project aims to feed people in distress during one entire year. How many people has the Mother’s Meal program helped so far?

In India we are already taking care of 3,000 families every month. The beneficiaries include poor families, bed-ridden and senior citizens that live in big cities, but also tribal families from remote parts of the country. New organizations are turning up now to support the project in different parts of India. The project now covers all the states of the country. If we calculate an average of 5 persons per family, the project covers 15,000 people every day. They are given basic food every month so that they can sustain themselves through the end of the month. The funds raised in India are equivalent to about MOP 3,000. The donors there offer their contributions on a monthly basis

How many people have joined this effort as contributors? Are people aware of the hardship that thousands of people are facing all over the world due to the Covid-19 pandemic?

The donors add up to about 600 people. Those who are aware of the magnitude of the crisis contribute more. Many people are not aware of the impact of this public health crisis. Others are not aware of the project. So, there is always the possibility of recruiting more contributors.

In October, this initiative was extended to Uganda, where it helps one hundred families. Macau was an important part of the process…

The initial contributions to Uganda came from Macau. When we requested donations to help the Ugandan population, the donors in Macau answered in a very generous way. We pledged Uganda that we would take care of 50 families. When we made that promise we did not have that sort of money with us. Then, people’s contributions increased and we sent enough money to help 50 people for one entire year even before the project was launched. That encouraged other contributors and they matched enough financial help to care for 50 families more. We are thankful and proud that our little island could reach out to Africa as it did.

The program also helps 60 people in Macau. Who are we talking about?

In Macau, we are taking care of overseas workers from Vietnam, Philippines, Indonesia and Nepal, as well as some poor people from Macau. Many of those who lost jobs have managed to return to their home countries, but some do not have the means or courage to return to their homes. Many of those overseas workers who lost their jobs remained in Macau and they are still hopeful they can get a job once again when the situation improves. There is great camaraderie among them; they take care of one another when they are in need. Some people who have no jobs have been taken care of by friends for more than a month. Many of them were quite well off, with some extra jobs, overtime jobs or a full-time job. Now, if they are working, they are not working full time, overtime jobs are not available and extra jobs are not even heard of. We still have many needy people who have not learned about the charitable network run by the Catholic Church through Caritas, Mother’s Meal or through Oxfam. One despicable thing that is happening now is the duty of the private security personnel. Some of them are forced to work 18-hour shifts with just 6 or 8 hour breaks in between. They are paid poorly, as well.  

We are entering Advent very soon. Christmas is very important both for Catholics and non-Catholics alike. Are there any plans to extend the program to other nations and territories before the end of the year?

We just started supporting Nepal. Nepal provides a good number of overseas security personnel and other workers to Macau. Currently, that is one more country that we are supporting. I would be very pleased if we could support South Sudan also, a country that has been very badly hit. But the Management Team did not discuss this possibility yet, so we have not decided this part yet.

How many people would you say the Mother’s Meal initiative currently helps? And how much money did the Claretians raise since the inception of the programme?

The amount raised in Macau is 238,495 Patacas. We have raised the equivalent of 300,000 Patacas in India. The amount raised in Uganda is not calculated here. Efforts are on to raise funds from Nepal as well. Claretian missionaries under the leadership of Fr Larry Miranda are doing commendable work to help the poor in the Philippines. The amount raised and spent there is not added to the Mother’s Meal Project. We are deeply thankful to the people of Macau, who have always been generous in contributing to the cause of the poor, irrespective of the place where such activities take place. Christian life gets its ultimate meaning in charity, not in the structures or infrastructures that we have. The final question that we are asked ourselves is: Have you given food to the hungry, water to the thirsty? In short, have you helped the needy? If we have a bold ‘YES’ to give to the Lord on this question, our other fears will vanish before the Lord. In Fratelli Tutti, the Pope reminds us to help the stranger fallen on the road. And on that count, Macau can stand up before the Lord and say:  “Though small we have become neighbors to people, even across the continent.” What more could a witness of faith be? What more could give joy to the Lord?