A Nun Who Banks on the Poor in India

Salesian Wins Award for Anti-poverty Initiatives

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ROME, MAR. 19, 2001 (Zenit.org).- In 1994, Salesian Sister Nancy Pereira initiated the Fides project in India, to offer education to families and financial support to the poor to improve their living standard.

Three years later, in 1997, Sister Nancy established the Bank for the Poor, with a system of micro-credits that allows borrowers to buy work tools to begin a small economic enterprise.

On Sunday, Sister Nancy, 74, received the Golden Mimosa award in San Giovanni la Punta, near Catania, Italy. In Italy, the mimosa flower is given to women on their feast day, March 8. The annual award is conferred on women distinguished for their sensitivity and social merits.

The nun minimized her life´s dedication. “I am in no way special; I didn´t expect this,” she said. “They called me and I came. Visiting Indian villages, I saw the infant mortality: At least two or three children die every week. Then, I saw the children on the streets, without any education, without anything.”

“I also saw that the poverty is so great that children are sent out to work,” she continued. “All this impelled me to devise a project, called Fides, for the integral education of the whole family.”

She added: “We have begun this educational program, which lasts six years: two years of education, two years to test their ability to earn something, and the last two years for professional formation. On the third year of the project, the municipality of Bolzano [in Italy] gave me a fund for the poor.”

–Q: It is a system that is managed entirely by mothers of families. Can you explain how it works?

–Sister Nancy: We approached women because it is not easy to establish contact with men. We formed self-sufficient groups of 15 to 20 women. Now we have close to 90 groups of women. Our first commitment is to give them education in nutrition; health; hygiene; and prenatal, pregnancy and birth care.

We also have two years of workshops to teach the women sewing and other tasks. In the fifth and sixth year, the women are involved in small projects to become self-supporting.

We have also taught them how to save and not misspend [their money]. As the banks do not accept their small amounts, we have elaborated a type of savings card in which the women [record the] deposit of their savings.

–Q: What do you request from a person who comes to ask for funding?

–Sister Nancy: She must be a member of these groups and participate at least 75% in the activities and classes. She must have savings [recorded] in our cards of at least 25% of the amount requested, and the poorest [must have] 10%.

They cannot deposit their savings one day and remove them the next. I want to make it clear that they have acquired the habit of saving something each week to be able to accumulate the amount.

The person who requests a loan must also be able to say in how much time she will be able to repay the loan. We establish the period together — a year, six months — according to their ability. We take a percentage of interest, but without insisting [on this], however. Whoever can pay, pays.

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