ISARA
MCC photo/Pabitra Paramanya

Maheshwar Pujari, pictured with his wife Shakuntala Pujari, of Sinisingi village in India’s Orissa region, has seen an increase in rice yields now that he follows the System of Rice Intensification method of rice cultivation, and after a Diversion Based Irrigation System (DBIS) was installed in his village in September 2013. MCC's partner Institute of Social Action and Research Activities (ISARA) works with villagers to identify perennial water sources and then to provide piping to bring the water to the villages for irrigation and household use.

This year, MCC is celebrating 75 years of relief, development and peace work in India – making it one of the oldest international aid organizations in the country.

MCC began work in India in 1942 in response to severe famine in Bengal province in which more than two million people died from starvation, malaria and other related diseases. 

Over the years, MCC has responded to many other disasters and, through local partners, addressed systemic issues including, poverty, conflict and gender inequity.

MCC supports a community school program at a girl's hostel run by Lee Memorial Mission in Kolkata, India. MCC provides funding to enhance the quality of education for students in need through better facilities, innovative teaching methods, and by addressing the health and wellbeing of students. Pictured are students Priya Biswas (left) and Srilekha Das. MCC photo/Dave Klassen

According to Gordon Zook, who works as an MCC representative in India alongside his wife Carol Zook, a well-attended anniversary celebration in February proved MCC’s presence in the country has touched many lives.

“One of the key highlights are the individual lives that are being changed through educational sponsorships, YAMEN (Young Anabaptist Mennonite Exchange Network), IVEP (International Volunteer Exchange Program) and people who are participants in projects. At the celebration, we had six people share their stories, and there are thousands more, people whose lives are being changed, people whose communities are being changed,” he said.

Dr. John Oommen speaks at the MCC India 75th anniversary celebration in Kolkata in February. MCC photo/Sanjib Khan

The keynote speaker for the two-day 75th anniversary celebration in February was Dr. John Oommen who has seen these changes first hand and is actively participating in bringing about these changes.

Dr. Oommen and his wife, Mercy, are administrators at Bissamcuttack Christian Hospital in Odisha where MCC partners to educate nursing students and midwives courses from low-income families. 

“Not only MCC, but all of us are part of a larger mission. Like a jigsaw puzzle. We all think we own the picture, rather than just fitting into the hole cut out for our piece and making the picture that much more beautiful,” Oommen said at the anniversary celebration in Kolkata.

He adds: “Our calling, our mission is to share the suffering and pain of people. This is the example of Jesus.”

Albert Lobe traveled to Kolkata to celebrate MCC’s 75 years in India. MCC photo/Sanjib Khan

Among the guests was one former MCC service worker whose connections to MCC in India dates back more than 50 years. He says his life was touched by serving in the country.

According to the Zooks, while much has been done to touch lives and build hope in India, there is still work to be done.

Children, ages three to five, attend a preschool in Andulgaria village, India, in a child-friendly environment to prepare them for primary school in the formal system of education. Development Action Society (DAS), funded by MCC, runs a preschool program for marginalized children in three villages near southeast Kolkata, so that they receive early childhood education and access to government services. MCC photo/Dave Klassen

“India will very soon be the most populous country in the world. While the headlines say India is one of the fastest growing economies in the world, the scale of the population here means that any problem affects a huge number of people,” Gordon says.

Carol says there is such a contrast between the wealthy and the poor. “While most people have cell phones in the cities, and even in the countryside, there are still rural villages without toilets and water.” 

The Zooks say they hope to approach MCC’s future work in India through a lens of conflict transformation. 

“For example, an irrigation project that brings water into communities also brings conflict into those communities because now there’s a resource to fight over. We want to focus on equipping people to resolve conflicts,” Gordon says.

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