They can also be forgiven if their thoughts have wandered beyond the 94941, specifically 7,800 miles to St. Xavier’s Gurap campus, the hub for post-primary education for children from the Santal tribe, a group that has a longstanding history of facing prejudice and generational poverty in Kolkata, India.
When Annette Venables has had a particularly tough day in the COVID-19 era, she’s been keen to think of those children’s at St. Xavier’s, to whom the Venables, and many Mill Valley residents, have established deep ties and dedicated their time, money and effort.
“They know how to do hard things,” Venables says of the children. “They do them every day.”
The allegiances between people in Mill Valley and at St. Xavier’s stem from Father Maria Joseph Savariappan’s impromptu visit to Our Lady of Mount Carmel to step in for a vacationing Pastor Pat Michaels in 2017. Savariappan educated parishioners about the plight of the Santal, and that education has had cascading impacts thousands of miles away ever since.
Tribe Rising India’s latest effort toward that end is its annual gala which, like all events amidst the COVID-19, will be virtual. It’s set for Thursday September 17, will feature Indian meals from San Rafael’s Delicious Catering delivered directly to the homes of “attendees,” as well as a Fund a Need campaign. But event tickets here. Sponsorships are also available.
The purpose of the gala is to raise funds to build a high school for the Santal students, a move that will provide a sense of place to children who have lacked it, as the existing Jesuit school only spans kindergarten through fourth grade. The Venables took two trips to the region in 2019, including for the groundbreaking of the very first girls dormitory, providing girls in fifth through tenth grade their own space.
“The Santal children have never had a school that is unique to them and their needs and offers them a safe place,” Venables says. “The kids that show the most promise are the most at risk of failing because the cultural norm and mainstream culture requires them to give up their education in favor of supporting their families.”
“The ones who don’t come back are the girls,” she adds. “They get married off or get caught up in chores. The dorm is there now, so that we can say to them, ‘the opportunity is still here for you.'”
“We thought we had some resources we could provide and we could build this environment we thought we wanted to exist,” she says. “But in spending time there and seeing the culture, it wasn’t about building up something that was already there – it was about creating something completely new. There has to be that basic, simple opportunity for education.”
Those opportunities build on themselves, she says, and the results are born out over years, if not decades. “That is just going to be a numbers game,” she says.
As research has shown throughout the COVID-19 crisis, the virus puts a disproportionate burden and effects of the resulting economic instability on poor and marginalized children, and those effects will continue far beyond the end of this crisis. Educational opportunities, especially for girls, are at great risk.
“We want to show our students that while they are hidden in their villages during COVID, far from the news headlines, they are not forgotten,” Venables says. “We can show them we still believe (that) hope is for everyone.”