Long ago, Kulandei Francis had cast aside his priestly robes to become an agent of change in rural Tamil Nadu. His efforts bore fruit gradually and, on Wednesday, the world took note when he was chosen as one of the six winners of the Magsaysay Award.
While a portion of the money would go to his grandson, eight-month-old Henry Abeeshan, the rest would probably be spent on his social cause, Sunitha Nanthini Nesther, daughter of Francis, said over the phone from Krishnagiri.
Valli Kannu, the office manager, was the first to learn from an e-mail that Francis, director of the Integrated Village Development Programme (IVDP), had been chosen for his work in the field of rural development. Kannu rushed to inform Francis, and a phone call from Manila confirmed the news that evening.
Nobody could have even imagined such an honour coming his way. Francis, in fact, was not even aware of the Ramon Magsaysay Foundation. "We work without expectation," he told HT over the phone.
Born in Karipatti near Salem, Francis was educated in theology at the Holy Cross Society in Bangalore, followed by the De Nobili College in Pune. By establishing over 1,800 self-help groups, he empowered as many as 1,53,000 women in the backward districts of Krishnagiri and Dharmapuri and uplifted their families.
While wife, Mary, is a "silent supporter", Nesther and her husband, Joshua Simon, actively work for his cause.