When Rev. Dr. Lawrence Mascarenhas returned home to India last fall, he left something behind.
The retired Anglican priest and father of three grown children took his life savings to his hometown of Bangalore to create a fund that will educate two students who would otherwise not have the chance.
“Without education we have nothing so you continue in your poverty,” said Mascarenhas, who has created Dollars for U through Sada Sahaya Sangham, a registered charitable society in India which raises funds for the education of children attending St. Alphonsus High School in Bangalore, in the state of Karnataka in southern India.
“I’ve been thinking of it for awhile and I wanted to do something so I thought, how about an education fund,” said Mascarenhas, who moved to Vernon five years ago from Montreal, in search of a warmer climate. “I talked to my kids and they are very happy with it.
“They have all been to India and so now I’m also doing my will that whatever is left — the house and everything — will go to them and to the fund, so instead of dividing into three kids, it will divide into four, like another kid, and if they want to contribute, they can.”
The idea behind the fund is to provide financial assistance for the education of one or more boys or girls each year towards post-secondary school study. Students are selected by panel and are all either current or former students of St. Alphonsus High School, which is owned and managed by the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer known as Redemptorists.
Most students at the school come from extreme poverty, where simply existing is a struggle, let alone going to school. Education is a dream beyond the reach of most of their parents, most of whom come from economically poor and socially repressed areas.
Mascarenhas said for many parents, if the choice is between sending their children to school or to work, they will choose work to help support the family.
“They say, ‘well, you can do work for me, why should you go to school,’ and that is true, especially for girls. I put it that it should be one boy and one girl every year,” he said. “Things are changing in India, but although they may tell you that the caste system is no longer, when you see it in practice it’s very much alive and when you think of the country, the poverty is unbelievable, there is a lot of corruption so it’s not like India is not rich but like in so many places with so many people, there is corruption.
“So even though the middle class is expanding, you have a large majority who are poor and a minority who are rich and very poor, it’s heartbreaking. That’s the thing that’s often quoted, how can you have homelessness in Canada, but if you compare it to India you can’t compare it, so there’s no point in arguing with them. But in India you don’t get help — there may be a soup kitchen but by the time you get there it’s probably all over. If you have a job cutting lawns, you can bring that guy down to nothing because if he doesn’t want it, there are 15 others who want it, for less. The government gives little or nothing, so if you don’t have an education or a job you can be left to starve or die on the street.
“You do what you can do and what you think would probably help, that’s all you can do, this is where I had to make sure that I can trust where that money is going so in that way those things are very important.”
Growing up in Bangalore the youngest of 10 children, Mascarenhas was just nine years old when his father, a medical doctor, died.
Mascarenhas was ordained as a priest in the Roman Catholic Church in 1968, a position he held for 15 years before making the switch to the Anglican Church, where he served in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, just outside Montreal. In 2001, he retired from All Saints in Montreal, the city where his three grown children still live.
“The way I ended up in Vernon is unbelievable. I grew up in Bangalore and right up my street, if you walked seven minutes, was All Saints Anglican Church, which we were not allowed to enter because we were Roman Catholic, but directions were always given using All Saints Church, so that is all I knew.
“So to take it from that All Saints Church and then retire from All Saints in Montreal in 2000, and then to move to Vernon where I attend All Saints, it was obviously all meant to be.”
On what Mascarenhas said was his last trip to India, he set up Dollars for U with his entire life’s savings. While the initial funds can support one boy and one girl every year, donations to the fund would go a long way towards helping other students in need.
“This is all my savings, but basically I can live on my pension and I have a garden and five chickens so I’m all set,” he said, smiling.
Mascarenhas will give a presentation on Dollars for U on Sunday from 2 to 3 p.m. at All Saints Anglican Church, 3205-27th St., Vernon (parking is off 26th Street). Everyone is welcome to learn more. Meanwhile, donations to the fund can be made at RBC, Polson branch, to account number 07930-003-503-399-8. For more information, please call Mascarenhas at 250-542-7038.