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‘Grihini is a family and in that family I am akka, the elder sister. All the women call me akka. It is important that we model the ideal that we are all equal members of a family.’

Dency Michael and a group of animators

Dency Michael and a group of animators

The words of Dency Michael highlight the character of Grihini as a family in which she is the akka or elder sister. In that family Fr Arokiam is appa, meaning father, Janice Orrell is amma, meaning mother, Norman Habel is thatha, meaning grandpa, the women animators also akka, older sister, while other Jesuits involved in the program as anan, meaning elder brother.

There are three groups of people that comprise the Grihini family. The first is that group of women who have been part of the program over the years and now identify themselves as ‘Grihini.’ An appreciation of this identity is evident in the following piece entitled ‘I am a Grihini.’

The second group is the animators, those women who have lived and worked with the Grihini women to stir their spirits and give them the confidence to face the challenges of their villages. The role of the animator is reflected in ‘The Art of Animation.’

The third group are the mentors, most of whom have been with Grihini from the very beginning. Their voices are heard in the context of their vision and role in the Grihini program.

These mentors include the current director, Dency Michael, formerly a member of staff at Kodaikanal International School. She is committed, because of her faith in Jesus Christ, to improving the lives of underprivileged women in her community.

Fr Arokiam is a Jesuit priest committed the lives of the poor. When his final vows were taken, he did not go to a big gathering in Chennai. Instead he invited several hundred poor women from the community to join in his celebration. Fr Arokiam was director of Grihini for several years and is now chair of the Grihini Community College Council.

Fr Kulandai is another Jesuit priest who has been director for some years and who worked with Jesuit social justice groups and Grihini to find ways of improving conditions in the local villages.

Dr Janice Orrell is one the founders of Grihini with a background in education, women’s community development and literacy. Her story is told as part of the history of the Grihini program. She lives in Australia but continues to provide guidance as an educator.

Prof. Norman Habel was principal of Kodaikanal International school and became aware of the conditions in the mountains around the school. He has been working with Janice Orrell to promote the Grhini program and find the funds necessary to continue its operation.

Ruth Alexander has been the finance officer for the Grihini program for many years. She was on the staff of Kodaikanal International School and provided careful guidance for Grihinis is many areas. She has recently resigned and Gilson, also on the staff of Kodaikanal International School has taken over as finance officer.

A number of other Jesuit priests have been involved with the program, including Fr. Amulraj who was involved at the very beginning of Grihini. Other Jesuits include Amalruj and members of teh PEAK team who have been working in the villages to improve conditions. Recently Fr. Joe Sephen, Director of Madurai Community College has been appointed to be the consultant to help develop the Grihini Community College extension.

‘I am a Grihini’


Elizabeth, a former coolie worker, who joined Grihini and is now on the staff of Inigo children’s home

I came to Grihini because I wanted to learn handicrafts, tailoring and health and not to be a burden to others. I no longer wanted to go on being a coolie worker.

Before Grihini I had a hard life in household work and coolie work where I would earn Rs 9 per day (about 40 cents). As such I was the main wage earner in my family. I was uneducated and knew very little about health.

After Grihini I now want to teach others in the village what I have learnt about women’s lives. I want to uplift my family. To do this I need to buy a sewing machine through a loan. I do not wish to do any more coolie work.

I like women’s liberation, tailoring, cleanliness and health. I am now a Grihini!

I want to make what I learned at Grihini useful in my village. I want to stand on my own feet. I do not wish to return to coolie work. I want to work my own land to grow my own vegetables.

‘Now we know we are equal’

Before coming to Grihini we were treated by our parents and others as slaves. They scold us. Instead of being human beings we may as well be sand. Every day we have to go to work as coolies. We are sent to collect firewood to sell. We are not allowed to go to school for education, only for boys. So we don’t know how to write our names. For any purpose we use our fingers to put the stamp. So we know only about the finger print.

After we attend the Grihini classes, we know how to dress cleanly and neatly. We know how to save money; we are helping others. Mostly we know about everything. We are girls but know we are equal to men. Before coming to Grihini we are living in darkness. In the house men are always scolding us. So we often fall into despair. But now we are walking in the bright light with the help of Grihini.

The Art of Animation
‘Stirring the spirit within!’

The staff of the Grihini program are called animators rather than teachers, a term often associated with heavy authority and rote learning. The task of an animator is to animate, to stir within young women a desire to develop their inner potential, regardless of their background.

According to Fr Amalraj, one of the early facilitators, the aim of an animator is to “usher in an integrated development of young Grihini women in three ways: clarity in the head, boldness in the heart and skills in the hand”.

Grihini is to be a family of equals and supporting sisters. In this family

  1. socially aware women are chosen from the target communities to be animators of the Grihini students;
  2. these animators are called ‘akka’, which means ‘elder sister;’
  3. these students are not to do any menial work for the animators or other Grihini staff;
  4. animators and students are to live together as equals;
  5. as elder sisters, these animators join the Grihini women when they work in the gardens or when they collect wood from the forest. Dency Michael, one of the original founders and current director of Grihini, is also addressed as akka!

The key men associated with the program have also sought to project a different image of a man from what these women had experienced in their villages. Fr Arokiam and Fr Amalraj actually worked in carrot fields and a Tribal settlement for two years to share the reality of hard labour experienced by the women in the remote villages.

Visual literacy, drama, dance and reflection are all techniques used by animators to animate the innate knowledge of the Gihini women. They alsoexplore the social realities behind posters depicting the ills of village life. Then the students are asked to play the role of one of those involved in the village situation, such as a landlord, a father, a policeman or a politician. The role plays continue through the evening meal and are later depicted in dance or drama. Through animators, Grihinis are stirred to ask ‘Who am I?’ ‘Who can I be?’ ‘What can I do to realise my potentials?’

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