Jon James ‘64 knows firsthand that an ordinary person can make a difference. Seventy orphans in southern India have a roof over their head, nutritious food to eat and educational opportunities, largely because of his efforts. The associate professor of English at Hawaii’s Chaminade University has raised much of the funds needed to construct and maintain the Premananda Orphanage Centre in Ongole, India.
Most of the money has come from the sale of Christmas cards made from hand-painted Pipul tree leaves mounted on card stock. (According to Buddhist belief, the Buddha received enlightenment while sitting beneath the tropical broad-leafed tree.) James has sold “tens of thousands” himself and has enlisted countless friends worldwide to join him in the effort. “The word kind of spread and then people started to offer me money for this project. My friends at Notre Dame, both undergraduate and graduate, helped me out by sending donations. People just saw a need and wanted to help.” More than $250,000 has been raised for the orphanage.
The English professor’s involvement in India goes back more than a dozen years when he attended a conference in Madras on the plight of India’s poor. Horrified by the poverty he saw, James came away convinced he had to do something. “You have to experience poverty with all your senses, seeing and smelling poverty, to believe its overwhelming immensity,” he says.
At the conference, James met an Indian seminarian named Choparapu Jojaiah, who gave direction to his desire to help. The two men forged a collaboration that continues today. James underwrote Father Jojaiah’s last year of seminary studies and paid for his ordination. Then, when the young priest was named pastor of a parish with a small orphanage, the English professor raised money to equip it with needed bathroom facilities.
When James visited India again in 1994, Father Jojaiah asked if he could help build a larger orphanage in a neighboring town, about 100 miles away. James embraced the challenge. Thousands of leaf cards later, The Premananda Orphanage Centre became reality; it was dedicated on June 28, 1998. The orphanage continues to expand, recently adding 10 acres for a garden to help it become self-sufficient. As an outreach effort it has opened a small school in one of the worst slums of the city of Ongole.