“I was born poor and wanted to become a priest so I could help poor people like me.” along the rope extending from his work shack deep in the forest. Mr. Kollamparabil has spent the entire early morning treating — with acid — latex tapped from the rubber trees on his land. This makes it possible to press the latex through a wringer, transforming it into rough, flat rectangles of rubber that he can sell on the market in Palakkayam, he says, for about a dollar a pound. Through the trees beyond, the figure of Nijo Jose, 14, rushes with the mix of trepidation and exasperation universal to children running late for class. Walking to his school in Palakkayam can take an hour; today he must cover that distance in a mere 35 minutes. The scene is bucolic, romantic and almost lyrical at times, but it belies a community struggling with addiction, poverty and migration, says Father Puthenpurayil. Kerala struggles with high rates of alcoholism. As of the 2011 census, Kerala held less than 3
percent of India’s total population, yet it accounted for 16 percent of the country’s alcohol sales, according to a 2011 report by the Associated Chambers of Commerce & Industry of India. Consumption rates are often higher in rural areas, such as that of Father Puthenpurayil’s parishes. This affliction has wrought destruction at various levels of community life, with repercussions at once familial, societal and economic. “In my Sunday homilies, I started to speak about the need for education, the need to avoid alcohol and the challenges we face because of alcohol — the broken families, the depression, the suicide attempts,” says Father Puthenpurayil. “I asked my parishioners to start the change at home, with prayer.” In line with his sermons, the parish priest has initiated proactive programs to address some of his parishioners’ problems with alcohol.
Parishioners receive the Eucharist at St. Thomas Church in the Kerala district of Palakkad.
He conducts retreats for those seeking treatment and support, inviting both recovering addicts and experts on addiction to speak. He also recognized that a potent way to reach and change the minds of adults was through their children. Sports clubs for the youth of the community, organized through the parish, have become vehicles for raising awareness through discussion. “Many of the children are aware of the negative effects of alcohol,” the priest says. But simply having a forum for frank discussion has already had impressive effects, he adds. “I have noticed a lot of changes. Some children are now saying to their parents: ‘If you continue to drink, then we will drink also.’ This has shocked parents into action.”
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