Treading CarefullyPublish Date: Thu 30th Mar 2017
Doug Robertson of Bexhill-on-Sea and Nottingham Circles talks about a small Indian charity that is close to his heart . . .
Having stepped down from working in mainstream Catholic education in 2003, Doug was keen to raise funds for charity. After hearing Dr Sounder Raj, founder of the charity TREAD, speak at an Indian evening hosted by his local parish, Doug was determined to help. Peter said: “I was acutely aware of the disparity between the life chances of these Indian children and the ones I had taught for over 35 years. I was determined to enable these tribal children to have a fair start in life.”
TREAD was established in 2000 and aims to relieve poverty and advance education in the rural areas of Telegana and Odisha in South East India. The charity is targeted principally at children and young people and aims to feed, clothe, safeguard and provide a social setting for them.
Inspired by what he heard, Doug set off on a mission to visit and watch cricket at each one of the 18 first-class cricket grounds in England and Wales on 18 consecutive days; a feat never achieved before, according to the Guinness Book of Records.
“The 18 counties came onside, providing tickets and free parking at their grounds, a local garage sponsored a car and a friendly insurance company covered further outgoings,” says Doug. Supported by Catholic parishes and Catenians, Doug raised a substantial sum of money for the charity.
Four years later, as President of Bexhill-on-Sea Circle, Doug nominated the charity and the Circle raised a staggering £2,500 during his term of office.
Soon after the funds were sent out to India, Doug was invited by Friends of TREAD, the UK based publicity and funding arm of the charity, to accompany two of the trustees to India.
“If not already convinced of the need and effectiveness of this charity, I was touched by the joyful response of the children in our centres,” he recalls. “I say our, because before too long, I was persuaded to become a trustee.”
Since then he has visited India a further four times, taking his two daughters on one of the visits. “They observed the children receiving two nutritional meals per day, six days a week, two sets of clothes, and health and hygiene education,” he explains. “In one village, literacy has grown exponentially from single figures to 80%. The Indian government has been forced to expand and, in some cases, build further schools. In the setting of our day care centres the children are exposed to the example, way and words of Jesus Christ.”
The charity supports six projects including an orphans programme and a tailoring centre for older girls. For the last 15 years TREAD has been partnered by Compassion, an international Christian charity. Compassion has paid for the staffing and sponsorship of nearly 700 children in Odisha. However, during the last 12 months the Indian government has refused to renew the NGO status of this hugely influential charity or replace the lost funds, saying that it is interested in ‘trade not aid’.
“The pot of additional money has practically dried up and we realise that this level of support is not sustainable,” says Doug. “Although Friends of TREAD valiantly attempted to step in, we have been forced to say goodbye to nearly 500 children and focus on providing for the 200 most in need. As Catenians I ask for your prayers to end this tragic situation.”
For more information please visit www.friendsoftread.org
Tim Overton, fellow and Doug Robertson arriving at Hyderabad airport
A belated, practical (cooking utensils) Christmas present; given on the occasion of our Trustees visit in February 2016, for Ravi, one of our disabled orphans.