Father Valerian, the wandering social worker


The state of Assam is located in northeast India. The headquarters of the Jesuit Regional Administration of Kohima are in the main city of this state, Guhawati. It was a bit of luck to meet there Valerian Castelino, a Jesuit priest who covers a large territory as a social worker - some even describe him as a "social activist". Coordinator of the Social Apostolate of the Jesuit Region of Kohima, Father Valerian is almost always "on the road", travelling through the five states of North-East India which constitutes the Jesuit region of Kohima. No office, no staff, but a 4x4 that gives access to almost every corner of the territory. Initiative and imagination enable this itinerant social worker to offer the rural communities tools to take charge of their lives and their environment. Let him tell us about his work.

"The social apostolate here involves concrete actions at the social level, research, and legal interventions. From the beginning, my approach has been the promotion of local self-help groups. When I arrive in a village, I meet the people, the women first and foremost. I gather them and encourage them to form a self-help group. Depending on the size of the community, there may be 10 to 20 groups in the village. Basically, it's a savings and credit union. Women save a certain amount each month and we provide them with training to manage these funds. After six months, we have created a micro-financing program that people can use according to their needs, particularly to provide loans for children's education or to deal with health problems.


We give them a lot of freedom; people choose what is most important to them. In fact, in most cases, women choose to invest in the education of young people because they understand that their future depends on it. Typically, the self-help group lends 10,000 rupees to the family: 5,000 rupees are used for the education of a child and 5,000 for the purchase of animals, often small pigs. They have to repay the 10,000 rupees in one year with the profits from the sale of the animals. In one village, for example, 16 children benefited from the programme in the first year. All the loans have been reimbursed. The following year, 40 children were enrolled and all the loans were fully repaid. And this year we will be able to enrol more than 100 children in the program. Note that this is not only an opportunity to provide education for young people, but also to save them from the exploitation of child labour.

From the very beginning of my Jesuit life, I have been trained for rural work. At first I had thought of providing legal assistance, but circumstances directed me towards social work as such. Being the only one with this type of formation in the Region, I am convinced that this is our Jesuit way of helping the most vulnerable people. We offer them opportunities to express themselves before the authorities, the strength to put forward their points of view. And all of our interventions point to the importance of education - formal or non-formal - as the only path that will enable them to make the right decisions for their families and their communities. I am proud to say that after three and a half years of activity, the women in the communities we visited are becoming true leaders and contributing to the social and economic development of their communities."

Throughout the days when he travels through the countryside of Assam, Father Valerian feels close to Jesus who, all through his ministry, was an itinerant preacher in the villages of Galilee. Today's wandering social worker makes himself close, as Jesus did, to the poor and the forgotten of society. He opens perspectives for their future, he gives them courage, he brings them the joy of the Gospel.

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Posted by Communications Office - Editor in Curia Generalizia
Communications Office
The Communications Office of the General Curia publishes news of international scope on the central government of the Society of Jesus and on the commitments of the Jesuits and their partners. It also handles media relations.

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