Introduction

 

Introduccion1

The Loreto Sisters have traditionally been associated with establishing schools of great repute across the world. Besides their pastoral work and education initiatives, the Sisters have also engaged in a range of development activities. By early 2000, the Institute General Leadership had decided that a system was needed to support the provinces in advancing the life and mission of IBVM and developing its own resources as well. To address these critical needs, the Mary Ward International Office for Mission and Development was established in Sept 2001. Each province was encouraged to set up its own Mary Ward Office.

The Mary Ward International (MWI) Offices were entrusted with two key roles - (i) sharing information about the needs, goals and plans of the developmental work to a wider audience and, (ii) raise funds and provide other necessary support. The MWI Offices could thus help enhance linkages with members, co-workers, past pupils, friends and others. It could also support the provinces in situating their development work within the context of emerging concerns and issues at the global, national and local levels.

 

Mary Ward: A Continuing Source of Inspiration

Mary Ward (1585-1645), founder of Loreto Sisters, was a pioneer in many ways. She believed that women should play a greater role in society and the church as well. She wanted girls to study at a time when only boys from wealthy families could access quality education. She was even imprisoned for her beliefs. Yet, she worked tirelessly for the poor, particularly women and children. She set up schools which could provide educational opportunities to those who needed them the most. Her vision of education was inclusive and grounded in values like love, sincerity, justice, freedom and joy.

 

By 2005, discussions were on for initiating an MWI Office in India. A three member committee comprising Sr. Benedicta Gomes, Sr. Helen Borneo and Sr. Sabrina Edwards was constituted to take this process forward. Sr. Sabrina was transferred to Darjeeling for this purpose. Incidentally, most of Loreto Sisters' development initiatives were being run in Darjeeling, Sikkim and Nepal. Thus, it was decided to set up the Mary Ward Office in Darjeeling in West Bengal in Eastern India. By Aug 2006, the Loreto Sisters had acquired property for developing an office in Siliguri in the Darjeeling district. Siliguri was chosen because it provided an ideal base with its good communication and transport links to different parts of the Region.

Mary Ward Development Centre (MWDC) was formally launched with the inauguration of the office on Oct 18, 2006. Sr. Antoinette Rodrigues - Provincial of India, Right Rev Thomas D' Souza - Bishop of Bagdogra Diocese and a number of priests and religious men and women were present on the occasion.

In June 2007, MWDC provided support in setting up the Regional House in the same compound in Siliguri. Also, its geographical focus area was defined. It would support the Mission Centres in the Darjeeling  Region.

On April 9, 2009, it was registered as a Society. It is now called Darjeeling Mary Ward Social Centre (DMWSC). Meanwhile, it initiated a process of reflection by conducting a seminar titled 'Redefining Development'. This was followed by workshops on 'Programmatic Planning' in 2009. These workshops sought to build on the considerable work done by Sisters in the Region and develop reference frameworks for future initiatives. Several resource persons were involved in these workshops.

 

Looking Back, Looking Ahead

Introduccion2The seminar – Redefining Development – held during Oct 26-29, 2008, proved to be an important turning point in many ways. The participants included sisters and priests from Darjeeling, Kolkata and Jalpaiguri (West Bengal) and a team from Anugalaya (Darjeeling Social Service Society). The seminar, held at Loreto Convent in Darjeeling, provided a unique opportunity to situate the ongoing development initiatives in a larger context. Thus, participants explored the spiritual basis of their activities, the different approaches in social work and the socio-economic and political context in the Darjeeling hills.

The discussions led to a shared understanding and commitment to using a Community Based Development Approach in all future initiatives. Thus, the emphasis would be on helping local communities to lead key processes of change. The participants also agreed on helping communities to access government schemes and resources, initiating a regular system of reviews and working with lay people as animators. The roles and responsibilities of DMWSC (known at that point of time as MWDC) were endorsed (See Annexure 2 for details).

 

The subsequent chapters highlight DMWSC's journey - from its inception up to March 2010. The key development initiatives undertaken by the Mission Centres in the Region are outlined. DMWSC's future priorities have also been presented.