History of Kalangarai

Kalangarai (which means “lighthouse” in English) is a non-governmental organization (ngo) established after the Indian Ocean Tsunami of 2004. Within days of the Tsunami, a group of Jesuits arrived to Nagapattinam on the southeast coast of India which was the area of India most devastated by the Tsunami. They conducted a needs assessment of the survivors in this region and found that the widowed or abandoned women were not receiving services due to their status of being without a husband.

Prior to the tsunami, as well as during and after the tsunami, widows were a totally neglected group both by society and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). Their presence in large numbers and their unfortunate plight in Nagapattinam district became vivid to the Kalangarai team while collecting family data prior to distribution of relief materials to the tsunami survivors in different villages. Closer interactions with the widows opened the eyes of the team regarding the cultural and social ostracism thrust upon them for hundreds of years. Their plight obviously demanded from Kalangarai a long-term commitment in their journey towards emancipation.

As part of the initial work, the volunteers and the staff of Kalangarai identified widows in each of the 87 villages and collected all the basic information: their names, age, caste, individual photographs, number of children, other facts needed to make a brief case history of each woman, etc. Gradually the staff and the volunteers managed to identify 1638 widows and deserted (abandoned) women in five (Vedaranyam, Nagapattinam, Tharangambadi, Seerkali & Keevalur) out of seven taluks in Nagapattinam district. Following this work, all the women were formed into as many as 87 micro-credit self-help groups. Two leaders were elected for each group and a bank account was opened (joint account) in the names of the two elected leaders. Later, financial help was extended to all the 87 groups consisting of 1638 individuals through a revolving fund system.

The widow self-help groups were organized with the help of sisters of St. Joseph of Lyons Congregation and 15 trained animators. Currently there are 20 staff members. These include 5 trained coordinators (program, field, overseeing clusters of self-help groups) and 10 trained animators. Animators are community members who assist with a variety of tasks related to the self-help groups (monthly meetings, training, banking, documentation, among other tasks). Five other staff members include an accountant, legal advisor, person in charge of documentation, employment officer, and driver.