Catholic priest and social worker, Fr George Kannanthanam was conferred the Fr Jose Alex Award for Excellence in Social Work in a colourful function at the Rajagiri College of Social Science on the 10th of January. The biannual Fr Jose Alex Award instituted in 1997, was conferred on Fr George for his 30 years of service for ‘empowerment of people in the peripheries’.
Rev Dr Jose Kuriedath, Provincial, CMI and Manager of the the Rajagiri Educational Institutions, presented the award to Fr George, who dedicated his life for the work with those affected by leprosy, HIV/AIDS, disabilities, disasters, prisoners, alcoholics and drug addicts since 1988.
Fr Jose Alex award that constitute a cash award of Rs.100,000.00, a memento and a certificate was conferred on Fr Kannanthanam who lived with about 100 leprosy affected persons in the Sumanahalli leprosy centre in Bangalore for 12 years. Fr George was instrumental in setting up various rehabilitation program for the leprosy affected persons in Sumanahalli and wrote the book ‘Empty Nest’ on the rehabilitation strategies for leprosy.
Fr George, a Claretian priest based in Bangalore, was given the award on the occasion of the National Conference on Migration and Social Inclusion in the Rajagiri campus, for his extensive social work programs covering Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and also in neighbouring countries like Nepal. His contribution for various disasters like tsunami in Tamil Nadu, earthquake in Nepal and floods in Kerala has been commendable.
Fr Kannnathanam established a de addiction centre called Hope Recovery Centre in Belgaum for alcoholics and drug addicts. He set up two centres for the HIV affected persons in Bangalore and Belgaum called Support. He established a school and a garments manufacturing unit for the leprosy patients. His latest social program is called Project Vision which was started in 2013 for the visually challenged persons. It has a rural eye care campus near Gauribidanur for the eye care facilities for rural poor.
Fr George donated the prize amount of Rs. 100,000 during the award receiving function itself to Mr Rajesh who is a paralysed person from Calicut, struggling to complete his house construction. Building houses has been one of the most effective programs undertaken by the awardee, completing about 1500 houses for those affected by leprosy, HIV and disasters.
Fr George has received various awards for his work covering Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and various other countries like Nepal, China, US, Srilanka and Philippines, including the Social Work Award from Government of India received from President Abdul Kalam.
Fr. George Kannanthanam is an example of living successful catholic priesthood being a professional social worker.
Details of Fr George’s work:
Since thirty years Fr George has dedicated his life for the people in the peripheries of the society, those affected by leprosy, HIV/AIDS, disabilities, disasters, prisoners, alcoholics and drug addicts, practicing all possible social work methods and strategies. He founded the HOPE Society in 1988 for alcoholics and drug addicts. He lived with the leprosy affected persons at Sumanahalli, Bangalore for 12 years. He initiated SUPPORT centres in Bengaluru and Belgaum for HIV affected persons. His disaster management initiatives for people affected by tsunami in Tamil Nadu, earthquake in Nepal and floods in Kerala, has been very extensive, building 1500 houses. Fr George started the Project Vision in 2013 for the visually challenged people which is now a global eye donation movement and he dreams of a world where everybody can see.
With a Masters in Social Work and Doctorate in Sociology, Fr George has written the book titled, THE EMPTY NEST, on the rehabilitation model for leprosy-affected people. Trainer, motivational speaker and founder of various organisations and institutions, Fr George has received various awards for his work covering Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and various other countries like Nepal, China, US, Srilanka and Philippines.
FOUNDER - HOPE SOCIETY : Having completed my Masters in Social Work, founded Hope Society in 1988 as a theology student, as student’s movement against alcoholism and drug addiction. Registered Hope Anti Addiction Action Group as a society in 1990. Conducted survey on status of addiction in Kerala(1988), Maharashtra(1989) and Tamil Nadu (1990). Conducted National Conference on Youth and Addiction in 1990 in Bangalore. Conducted International Conference on Treatment of Addiction in Bangalore in 1991.
ANTI ALCOHOL INITIATIVES : Becoming a Catholic priest in 1992, worked in my first appointment in South Canara in Karnataka with two villages by organising the community in an year long battle against the alcohol lobby and succeeded in closing down two liquor shops in Shirady and Addahole villages, 80 kilometres from Mangalore. Built forty houses for people who had given up drinking. First experience of successful social action (1992-94).
PRISON MINISTRY INDIA : Placed in Bangalore as Parish Priest of Jalahalli St Thomas Church, started working with Prison Ministry India and led the efforts as its Coordinator for Karnataka for four years from 1994-98. Spread the Prison Ministry India’s work with the prisoners into every Diocese of Karnataka. Attended the first National Conference of Prison Ministry India in Delhi and had the opportunity to be with Mother Teresa.
FOUNDER, HOPE RECOVERY CENTRE : Becoming full time Director of Hope Society, established established a treatment and rehabilitation centre for Alcoholics and drug addicts in Belgaum in 1999, named Hope Recovery Centre. Having expanded it to an integrated 80 bedded centre for the whole of North Karnataka, the centre has treated over 12,500 people in 20 years. This was the first centre I built up, mobilising resources like land and building through own efforts in the heart of Belgaum city.
DIRECTOR, SUMANAHALLI SOCIETY FOR LEPROSY : LIVED 12 YEARS WITH LEPROSY PATIENTS at the Sumanahalli centre as its Director from 2001 in Bangalore. Developed Sumanahalli into a world class treatment and rehabilitation centre for leprosy with global collaborations. Led a social campaign for 15 years to get the 63 acres of land allotted for leprosy patients involving various social agents like students, NGOs, Social Activists and lawyers - a major advocacy intervention for the rights of the destitute people for land.
SUMANAHALLI DEVELOPED AS A SOCIAL HUB : SOCIAL HUB created at Sumanahalli campus converting it from being just a leprosy centre to a campus for all social segments who were made destitute. People with HIV, disabilities and orphans (ANUGRAHA/Montfort Fathers) street boys (BOSCO/Saletians) and juvenile delinquents (ECHO/Norbertines) were provided space in the campus and established centres for each of them. From a 40 persons campus, it was converted into a Social Hub with 400 persons in 12 years.
FOUNDER SUPPORT, BANGALORE : Established a 50 bedded HIV/AIDS Care Centre called SUPPORT in 2004 in Bangalore. With an innovative rehabilitation program developed for them, the centre has provided medical treatment and rehabilitation through skill training, job placement, housing and marriages for about 4600 patients so far. It was selected as a Community Care Centre under the Global Fund for AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (GFATM).
FOUNDER, ST JOSPEH’S SCHOOL : Started ST JOSEPH’S SCHOOL in Sumanahalli campus for providing free education for the children from the background of leprosy, HIV and disabilities in 2004. When education was denied for leprosy affected children in schools outside we started the school which now has attracted normal students from outside the campus. It has now 350 children upto the Xth Standard.
FOUNER , AHALLI : Conceptualised and set up the first Garments Unit in the country with workers only cured persons from the background of leprosy, HIV and disabilities in Sumanahalli Campus called ‘AHALLI FASHIONS’. It is providing training and job for 150 persons from the background of disabilities since 2005. The branded materials from Ahalli are exported to 40 countries. The workers have become self reliant, creating sustainable models of integration to society.
SOCIAL TOURISM : Developed the concept of SOCIAL TOURISM through which foreign nationals could visit India to study social realities of India creating linkages for developmental programs. Several programs conducted with groups from Singapore, Philippines and UK, giving them a glimpse of the social realities in India. Many of them became ambassadors of Sumanahalli across the world.
FOUNDER, SUPPORT, BELGAUM : Established SUPPORT, BELGAUM in 2009, a 15 bedded facility for HIV affected persons, providing care and rehabilitation for 2700 patients. North Karnataka districts of Belgaum, Bellary, Hubli with high infectious areas covered for free treatment typing up with the Government agencies.
FOUNDER CHILD TRUST : Established CHILD TRUST in 2010 to provide home based care to the children with disabilities providing 50 children with disabilities wholesome care and education. Bringing together like minded people from various walks of life, presently the centre is involved with providing aids and appliances for the children with disabilities. Twenty of them are admitted in various special schools covering all their expenses whereas the others are admitted in regular schools enabling social inclusion for the persons with disabilities.
FOUNDER, PROJECT VISION : Initiated PROJECT VISION in 2013 as global movement for eye donations. With branches in US, China, Srilanka, Nepal, Philippines and Canada, Project Vision has set its vision to eliminate corneal blindness in ten years. Inspired 550,000 persons to pledge eyes, 5000 people to be Vision Ambassadors and 150 persons to donate eyes through innovative public campaigns like World BlindWalk. Having conducted over 750 BlindWalks across five countries in five years, it was the largest eye donation campaign in the world with 100,000 participants in 2018.
PROJECT VISION RURAL EYE CARE CAMPUS : Established PROJECT VISION RURAL EYE CARE CAMPUS to reach out to the rural poor in Tumkur district at Kasapura, on the Karnataka Andhra Border. Started operations in 2016, the Eye Care program presently covers the three Taluks of Korategere, Madhugiri and Gauribidanur and Hindupur District in Andhra Pradesh More than 6000 cataract operations have been conducted so far.
BUILT 1400 HOUSES : BUILT 1400 HOUSES for persons affected by leprosy, HIV, disabilities and disasters across Kerala, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Nepal. Some were temporary houses for immediate disaster intervention, while most are permeant houses with various destitute groups in the society.
DISASTER MANAGEMENT : 2004 TSUNAMI: Worked in seven villages for relief and rehabilitation in 2004 -05 for tsunami affected in Cuddalore District of Tamil Nadu. Maduvapalam was the first village to go back to fishing in the entire Indian coastland - on the 23rd day with new boats. Built 100 houses and provided 100 boats rebuilding seven villages in our intervention lasting two years.
DISASTER MANAGEMENT - NORTH KARNATAKA FLOODS 2009 : When the North Karnataka districts were badly affected by floods in 2009, led the efforts to provide relief in Bellary district. We built 16 permanent houses to enable their rehabilitation. They were completed in a record six months time.
DISASTER MANAGEMENT : NEPAL EARTHQUAKE 2015 : Founded ‘BANGALORE CARES FOR NEPAL’ networking with various social and developments agencies and concerned individuals, reaching Kathmandu the day after the earthquake. Our main effort was housing and we built 600 temporary houses developing a low cost model. 65 permanent houses, two community halls and a school for earthquake victims were constructed over a period of two years. 40 students were brought to India for providing them hotel management and nursing education, making them self reliant and able to take care of their families devastated by earthquake.
DISASTER MANAGEMENT : KERALA FLOODS 2018 /2019 : Moved swiftly to Wayanad, one of the most affected area, focusing on the tribal community. 330 Temporary houses were built within three months time, mobilising large number of volunteers. Presently 25 permeant houses are built, with about ten of them handed over. Each one is a 500 sq ft, 500,000 rupees worth house and focus is to provide them to specially needed groups like persons with disabilities and widows. This is an ongoing program, tapping Government. CSR and global funding.
LEADERSHIP IN HEALTH CARE : Has been active in heath issues across the country on various areas like leprosy, HIV and disability. As Secretary to Catholic Health Association of India (CHAI), coordinates the heath programs of about 3000 health centres of the Catholic Church across India. As member of the Core Team dealing with disability issues under Engage Disability, he involves in training and advocacy of disability issues with all Christian denominations. As Secretary of the Commission for the differently abled, initiates various programs for the persons with disabilities in the Archdiocese of Bangalore- first of its kind initiative in any Diocese in India.
AUTHOR : EMPTY NEST : The Sumanahalli story of leprosy rehabilitation is a global model. This has been captured well in a book under the title Empty Nest. Various programs of rehabilitation are presented as a model that can be implemented anywhere in the world. Published by Claretian Publication, the book has been very helpful to the professionals and aspirants in the field of leprosy.
PROJECT VISION GLOBAL
Eye donation movement has been floated as a global movement. Project Vision is established in United Nations as a registered tax exempt charity. There are Project Vision groups in Canada, Srilanka, Macau, Nepal and Philippines. Regular programs like BlindWalk are conducted regularly in these countries by the Project Vision groups in those places.
Fr George Kannanthanam
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