Shantipuri Friends Foundation is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit public charity established in 2009 to support the charitable works of Swami Nirvanananda Saraswati in and around the holy city of Puri, Odisha, India. Situated on the shore of the Bay of Bengal, Puri has long been a major pilgrimage destination for India's devout Hindus. It was in Puri that Swami Nirvanananda — an Italian by birth — took his final vows of renunciation and joined the ancient swami order of monks. Since that time, he has dedicated his life to serving the poor, focusing especially on helping the children of the Mercy Village Leper Colony in Puri. To that end, he has created several projects and around Puri to profoundly impact the lives of those most in need.
All donations to Shantipuri Friends Foundation are tax-deductible in the United States, and directly benefit our various projects in and around Puri.
Please contact us for more information.
Most people get involved with Shantipuri Friends Foundation through school sponsorships of one or more children at the schools in Puri. Your annual contribution of $120 allows a child from one of our Shantipuri Friends Foundation educational programs to study for one year. Your donation provides school supplies, daily meals, a school uniform, play clothes, and medical care. You will receive a photo of your sponsored child along with brief biographical information: age, grade, birthday, and family situation. Each year at Christmas, we will send you a card from your child written in (or translated into) English, as well as a new photo to show you how they have grown!
Shantipuri Friends Foundation also supports many other children in the State of Orissa. Swami Nirvanananda directs the funds to the projects in the most need. All General Fund donations will be used to support these projects.
Mercy Village Leper Colony
Following World War II, Father Marian Zelazek, a Polish priest, eagerly accepted the call to conduct missionary work in India. Near the City of Puri, in Orissa, he watched the inhumane treatment of people afflicted with leprosy. It reminded him of the conditions he lived through as a prisoner of Dachau Concentration Camp. With the help of Sister Amelia Sbrissa of the Italian congregation of the Sisters of Charity, Father Marian created a home for the lepers: the Mercy Village Leper Colony. Today, more than 500 families inhabit the colony and live full, productive lives. In the Mercy Village the lepers lead a fairly normal life where they can work inside the community and raise a family. Everyone is provided continual care by a doctor and has access to all the medicine they need from the village dispensary. The children are also treated periodically as a preventative measure. They all go to school much to their own great benefit and the benefit of the whole community.
One Cup of Milk a Day
More than ten years ago, Father Marian, the founder of the Mercy Village Leper Colony and Beatrix School in Puri, started a project to give at least one cup of milk every day to all of the children living in the leper colony and/or attending the school. This project costs only 70 cents per child for one month which gives these children the chance to become stronger and healthier.
The prejudice and stigma of leprosy continues. The children of parents afflicted by leprosy are barred from attending school even though they are healthy. In 1983, Father Marian built a school for them: a straw-thatched hut with a dirt floor. This humble beginning has now grown into a school that has a reputation of being one of the best schools in the area with high academic standards and rich extracurricular programs such as traditional dance and music, hatha yoga, computer skills, and tae kwan do. Each child receives a uniform, play clothes, daily meals, school supplies, and regular medical care, all free of charge. Their education allows them to pursue productive vocations and start their own families––ending the cycle of hopelessness and poverty.
Father Marian Memorial High School
Father Marian’s dream was to expand the Beatrix School through high school. In order for the children to complete their studies beyond grade 7, they must travel to different schools in the surrounding areas and pay uniform and school fees; thus many do not continue.
In April 2011, thanks to the diligent efforts of Swami Nirvananandaji and others, the new Father Marian Memorial Beatrix School broke ground. In 2012, the school accommodated students from kindergarten–7th grade. Now, with your support, it includes students up to 10th grade and in April 2014 it will be complete with students attending through 12th grade! The school has a total student body of 650. More than 300 students come from families outside of the leper community who formerly feared contact with the children of the afflicted. The Beatrix School, begun because of segregation, has truly become a center of integration.
Because it is run as a private school, it has the freedom to incorporate spirituality and human values into the standard academic curriculum. It operates solely on donations. Each donation sustains this work and helps to uplift the community one child at a time. Thank you for your kind support!
Your donations to the Shantipuri Friends Foundation will help complete the construction of the new three-story building and support its maintenance and operation.
In the Surrounding Villages
The area around Puri is home to many remote villages, mostly made up of illiterate farmers, fishermen, and day laborers. Some are from tribes whose people are socially, economically, and educationally disadvantaged. Most do not own the land they farm. Many have no access to sanitation, electricity, or clean drinking water. Only a few villages have schools, so most children do not receive any education. While it is difficult for the people to educate their children, the girls are especially deprived of any kind of schooling. As they grow, girls work in the fields, look after younger children, graze cattle, fetch water, clean, and cook. Many girls have approached schools begging to receive some education and vocational training so they may have a chance for future employment.
Due to long and harsh traveling conditions very few are able to attend school at all. To assist with this situation, Shantipuri Friends Foundation is supporting several projects in conjunction with the Sisters of Charity.
The Sisters of Charity provide many services to the poorest of the poor in alignment with the ideals of Mother Theresa. It is their goal to respect the various traditions and religious beliefs of the tribal families with whom they work.
Save Children Project
For thousands of years Puri has been a major pilgrimage destination. There is a large temple and shrine dedicated to Lord Jagannath. In recent years, the international tourist traffic has also opened the doors to organized prostitution, which has exploited young girls who face so few options for a productive livelihood.
In 2002, the Sisters began to give shelter to these girls in the fishermen’s village of Penta Kotta near Puri. Thanks to generous donations, they have started construction on a new home for twenty girls. The girls receive schooling and learn tailoring and other simple jobs that can provide them with adequate income, thus giving them a chance for a better future.
Girls' Hostel in Birikote
The girls’ hostel in Birikote, Orissa provides housing for 68 girls. These girls come from various small villages and are attending school from 1st to 9th grade in Birikote. Since these girls are very behind in their studies, the Sisters have appointed a teacher for private tutoring. They also employ a caretaker and a cook to help care for the children. Your contributions help with food expenses, school supplies, and hostel maintenance.
The Girls of Sikermaha
The school of Sikermaha is situated in a remote village 100 miles away from the nearest railway station at Berhampur. The Sisters of Charity started a vocational program for twenty teenage girls to attend tailoring classes and receive non-formal education which will help them provide much needed income for their future families. They can also teach others in their villages these skills. These girls are dependent upon donations to provide for their food, clothing, and materials for their studies. Recently, the school has been expanded to include younger girls from age 6.
Home for Physically Challenged Girls
Services for the physically-challenged are scarce or non-existent in the mountainous Kanadamal District in Orissa. The small villages of the Kondhs and Dalit tribes are scattered in the forest unconnected by roads. The Sisters of Charity started a home for physically-challenged girls in the small village of Udayagiri. The local diocese donated the land for the building and provides a vehicle for transporting the children to school each day.
The Sisters’ goal is to provide rehabilitation services through corrective surgery, physical therapy, and formal education. Currently, there are now 27 girls living in the home and more are expected to come. This home for handicapped girls is a very new venture and has many needs including basic furnishings, funding for physical therapists and equipment, transportation to Bhubaneshwar or Berhampur hospitals for medical examinations, consultations, and surgeries, walking aids such as calipers, wheel chairs, crutches and special shoes, and funding for the daily expenses of food, clothing, and sanitation.
SFF in Bethlehem
In 2005, Swami Nirvanananda went on pilgrimage to the holy land of Israel, visiting many of the sacred sites in that ancient land.
He learned of the shocking and heart-rending plight of some Muslim girls. In the holy city of Bethlehem there is a large Muslim population. Under Islam, if a girl becomes pregnant outside of marriage, her punishment is usually death. These “honor killings” are still a part of that world. This death sentence is often carried out by male relatives and it makes no difference if the girl was abused or raped.
Swami has made arrangements to help these girls. An orphanage was established in an existing monastery where the girls go to deliver their babies in secret. The orphanage keeps the babies, raises and educates them. The girls return home without their families ever knowing they were pregnant. Because of the dangerous circumstances of their birth, the children are not issued birth certificates, and therefore from a legal standpoint, they do not exist. There are no papers or documentation of any kind so adoption is extremely difficult. Currently, there are approximately 70 children being cared for in the monastery.