In 1995, Teresa Savel met Pulliyah, an energetic 8-year-old orphan boy staying at a boarding-school hostel in the Indian state of Telangana. Pulliyah was sharing the 16-foot-by-16-foot cement-floor room with 50 other boys in grades 1 through 10.
This school and hostel had been founded and administered by Father Guilbert, a South Indian Carmelite priest, part of a Carmelite monastery.
Teresa had connected with Father Guilbert through a Kansas-based foundation for children and the aging, and had enlisted as a volunteer. She lived at the school and worked as a kindergarten teacher and teacher trainer.
Teresa’s friendship with Father Guilbert then continued over the years, and she returned 21 years later.
When Father Guilbert, by then in his 70s, picked her up from the airport, she asked him what had become of Pulliyah and the other children with whom she had formed close friendships during her original stay.
When she showed him a photograph of Pulliyah, it took some minutes before he recognized that he was looking at a photo of the child who was now the adult monastic he knew as Father Emmanuel!
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Father Emmanuel was as energetic as ever, with a hearty laugh that echoed through the corridors. Now, as two adults with a shared history that had been life-changing for both of them, he and Teresa began their friendship anew.
He told Teresa that after Pulliyah’s father died, his mother raised him and his two siblings on her own. They lived in a little hut in the village of Sarapaka, the same village where the school was located. Their mother slept at night in the hut while Pulliyah and his siblings, all under the age of 9, slept outside on a cot next to the hut.
One night, the children awoke suddenly to the sound of their mother screaming. Looking up, they saw their hut engulfed in flames.
A deranged neighbor had trapped their mother in the hut after dowsing it with kerosene and setting it afire.
The horrified children managed to pull their mother out of the flames, place her charred body on a bullock cart, and wheel her to the hospital. It was too late. She died soon after.
After this horrific tragedy, Pulliyah and his siblings went to live with an elderly grandfather, who found it difficult to care for them.
The grandfather discovered, however, that Father Guilbert was encouraging the villagers to send their children to the school. Although schooling was not yet a common practice in these rural areas, the grandfather approached Father Guilbert and applied.
Eight-year-old Pulliyah was accepted into the Sarapaka boarding school, while his siblings went to live at the neighboring boarding school hostels run by the Carmelites.
In recounting this story to Teresa, Father Emmanuel openly shared the intense anger he had felt toward his mother’s murderer; for many years, he had harbored a deep desire to kill the perpetrator.
It took years of diligent work under the patient guidance of Father Guilbert and the other monastics for this deep-seated anger to be transformed. In the end, he was able to find forgiveness for this man, along with the deepest gratitude for his mother.
He now believes she sacrificed her life so that he could become the man he is: a priest, a boarding school hostel administrator, and an active supporter of community efforts to address its multiple pressing human needs.
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Three years later, Teresa began to consider returning to India once more, and phoned Father Emmanuel to hear his thoughts.
“I would be delighted to have my friend back in India,” he said, “but what exactly would you like to do?”
This question rekindled a specific hope for Teresa, one she had harbored from childhood.
“I want to work with orphans,” she told Father Emmanuel, inquiring whether such an opportunity existed.
Father Emmanuel mentioned a defunct clinic at the nearby village of Hemachandrapuram, which also had been founded in the 1970s by Father Guilbert and other Carmelite monastics in an effort to cure residents of leprosy.
Teresa jumped at the possibility of renewing and expanding programmatic efforts in that village. This time, Elia Gilbert joined her.
Working collaboratively with their monastic friends, they established what has come to be known as Marygold Village. Creative and visionary efforts with active community involvement began in earnest.
The results have been extraordinary and far-reaching.
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Marygold Village is now an inclusive non-profit initiative that honors the rich and diverse cultures of southern India and takes action in partnership with local residents and the local community of Carmelite monastics.
They focus on the primary needs of families in the region, supporting physical health and well-being through organic and biodynamic food production, clean water, play-based education for young children, educational sponsorship for school-aged children, family support services, vocational training, and care of the elderly through multigenerational community life.
With a long-term goal of sustainability, each of their initiatives aims for self-sufficiency.
Marygold Village is home to the 250 villagers whose grandparents were among the five families affected with leprosy.
In the 1970s, the monastics took on the task of curing the residents’ leprosy with vaccines and regular medical treatment. The young families who are there right now do not have leprosy; only 11 villagers are still undergoing treatment for the disease.
Members of the community are integrating into the wider community in spite of continued social stigma — three generations later, residents find it difficult to obtain employment.
They are repairing and renovating buildings that will serve as boarding-school hostels and volunteer headquarters. Funds are being directed toward:
• The Organic/Biodynamic Farming Project: transitioning wasteland into productive food crops for surrounding communities.
• The Clean Water Project: ensuring access to clean drinking water.
• Education/family support services: home visits, parent-child groups, play-based early childhood education, educational sponsorship.
• Vocational training: cultivating the next generation of organic farmers, providing employment for women through cottage industries and professional training.
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And this initiative is now also finding a home in the Brattleboro area!
First, Brattleboro is looking forward to welcoming Father Thomas Reddy, one of the Carmelite monastics who helped inspire the mission of Marygold Village, when he visits this month.
On Saturday, July 27, from 2 to 4:30 p.m. at the Putney Community Center, a “cultural feast for the senses” will support the Marygold Village work in India, with Father Thomas as their special guest.
The afternoon will include classical Indian dancers from Boston, traditional Indian refreshments by Dosa Kitchen of Brattleboro and Royal Spice of Keene, Bollywood dancing by the Keene India Association, henna tattooing, up-cycled bags made by the women living at the village, and sacred art by the South Indian Carmelite cloistered nuns.
Admission is by donation. Let’s enjoy this inspiring cultural event and do global good at the same time!