Sister Shobka Rani Talari smiles when she gets on her new moped. She is not daunted by the poor roads that she often has to take into the jungle as she carries out her work for the mission in Chhaygaon, which is located in the Archdiocese of Guwahati in the impoverished north-eastern part of India. She is always on the go because she is a “touring sister”, a religious sister who, day after day, visits people living in remote villages. Her help is urgently needed. In these villages, many of which are located in the jungle, there is no medical care, no electricity, and virtually no one can read and write. Poverty abounds, sanitary and hygienic conditions are poor, and families have a lot of problems to deal with. Teenage marriages are common, and the children are left to fend for themselves while the parents try to scrape together enough to feed the family. The crops on their small fields frequently fall prey to wild elephants or other animals.
Sister Shobka Rani Talari visits these families and checks to see if any of the sick require treatment – such as 10-year-old Benedict Rabha, who fell out of a tree and had to be taken to hospital. She talks with people and gives them valuable advice to ensure that they remain healthy. She teaches them how to manage their money better and also convinces the parents to send their children to school – their only hope to be able to develop further and improve their living conditions. Her fellow religious of the Congregation of the Daughters of Divine Providence run a small boarding school to enable even those children living in remote villages go to school. She herself runs a village school with 100 pupils. This often involves a great deal of persuasion because many of the parents find it difficult to understand why education is necessary. The religious sister also works with 80 women to guide them in helping other women – by providing care during pregnancy and birth, supporting them in raising their children, and educating them in the dangers of alcohol abuse and tobacco use.
This assistance has become all the more necessary in the times of the Corona pandemic. Sister Lilly Urakadan, the Mother Superior, reports, “We were able to help 320 families who were in dire need.” In addition, the religious sisters have set up a quarantine centre in their school, where they provide shelter to people who have to isolate themselves because of a COVID-19 infection but are not able to do so because they live in small houses in close quarters with a large number of their family members. India is ranked third among the countries that were hit hardest by the pandemic.
Sister Shobka Rani sometimes pays visits to the local authorities to “move things along”. She arranged solar-powered lighting for a village after elephants had invaded it several times at night. Since then, the elephants have stayed away. In addition, one of the roads that is in poor condition will finally be improved in 2021. All of these represent great progress in an underdeveloped and neglected region.
However, pastoral care is most important of all. The religious work closely with the priest. In this region, the Church is still young and its members, who belong to various indigenous ethnic groups, have converted to Christianity from traditional tribal religions. They are full of religious fervour and enthusiastically take part in Church life, but need someone to stand by them and encourage them along the way. It is not possible to celebrate the Eucharist every Sunday in the remote villages, and so the faithful meet to pray the rosary or for other prayers and devotions. Catechists play an important role in proclaiming and strengthening the faith. The religious are also responsible for their education and further training.
Without a vehicle, the work of a “touring sister” is quite arduous. Thanks to the support of the pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), which donated 930 euros for this purpose, the order was finally able to purchase a moped. “Since Sister Shobka Rani has the moped, she has been able to double the number of visits she makes to the villages,” her Mother Superior is pleased to report. She writes, “We are extremely grateful for your generous help. You and all of the benefactors can be assured of our prayers. Please pray for us that we may always eagerly proclaim the kingdom of God through our words and deeds.”
Over the course of the last year, ACN was able to provide religious, priests and catechists with a total of 266 motor vehicles, 119 motorcycles, 266 bicycles and 12 boats to help them in the provision of pastoral care.