Kerala Fashion Festival – KIDS is all astir says Mercy Thomas

Kerala Fashion Festival – KIDS is all astir says Mercy Thomas

Kerala Fashion Festival – a name as unique as a unique fashion presentation, says it all. KFF- the name was derived out of Fashion. And Fashion is not all about ramp walks or fashion shows and models. Narrating designers as artists, KFF understands and crafts Fashion in different way – by discovering and presenting amazing talent across the nation in the platform.

Kottapuram Integrated Development Society (KIDS) – the social service society of Kottapuram Diocese, Kerala is also the part of this international event as the artisans of KIDS presenting live creativity shows of their arts. Paintings will be exhibited as part of the Fashion Festival.

Mercy Thomas
The woman behind the genuine efforts on social reformation flagshiped by KIDS is all here to team Talismanian to open about her wonderful journey that has made her reach the poise of Kerala Fashion Festival.
  1. Sacrificing one’s life for society is very rare. You are one of those rare personalities. How do you feel about this?

I never thought about my life as specially “sacrificing”.  I believe that it is the normal way everyone is called to live, if one really wants to feel meaning in life. It is my conviction that every human being is an incarnation of God and the “Spirit” is imprinted in every soul. This is why being in touch with the soul is so important. Our incarnation is not accidental but a decision by the Almighty and we are called and sent with a mission, an “accomplishment” of life on this earth where we live for few years. This accomplishment varies from person to person, and there is no quantitative effect of it, all that matters is the quality. My perception of life is based on my “mindful consciousness” of my call.  As I already spent 58 years of my life, I realize more and more, how short a time it has been, and the remaining of course, is shorter. Hence, as far as I am concerned, no sacrifice is involved, rather I call it ‘living my  life in its “fullness”. Anyway, thanks for the compliment. 

  1. As an administrator at Kottapuram Integrated Development Society (KIDS), can you explain in brief about some of the main functions of KIDS?

The Kottapuram Integrated Development Society (KIDS) is the official social organ of the Diocese of Kottapuram that came to being in order to promote, conduct, facilitate and coordinate developmental and social welfare activities for the poor and needy, irrespective of caste, creed or community. Our main focus is on empowering people – men & women, young & old irrespective of religion, caste or creed. It was established in the year 1987 and registered under the Charitable Societies Act.  The organization began its effort to empower people successfully through the formation of Self Help Groups (SHGs).  The Self Help Groups perform as the link (agents) at the Village level for implementing projects and programmes of the Society. Along with the women groups KIDS is having SHG for Men, Children (Poomottukal), defferently-abled and for the Elderly (Sayam Prabha). There are 11 departments for KIDS : some of the important activities are Revival of Traditional trades and crafts, Development of Differently-abled  and their family, Education Development and Motivation, Community mobilization, Public health development, ‘Snehamritam’ Program to support cancer patients, Tribal Development, Employment and income generation, Organic Farming, Family farming, Children’ development, Fishermen development, Educational support to the children and  Youth, Cage fish culture,  Support for the Elderly. We also have an Education institution to form the youth for a better tomorrow. 

  1. Can you tell us about your journey to the administrator of KIDS?

As much as my life is a mystery for me, so much is the mystery of my reaching KIDS. I belong to a religious congregation called “The Daughters of the Heart of Mary”. We are placed in different mission of our Congregation according to the need of the place and time. I am a trained Social worker by degree and a social reformer by charisma. After finishing my Master’s degree in Social work from Nirmala Niketan, College of Social Work, Mumbai (belonging to my Congregation), I worked as program co-coordinator in our own Social Service Institute in Delhi for 7 years. This was just against my dream of coming back to Kerala and do some social work. My then transfer to Hungary was another mystery because I never wanted to go out of India. But when I reached Hungary, I realized the Lord has been preparing me for that mission. It was to support our mission in a University hostel, with 120 girls from different countries mainly from Eastern Europe. My days in Hungary turned my life 360 degrees, in every sense, whether it was a question of my personal awareness, faith, perception about people and the universe.  I soon realized that the misconception which we carry in us makes big gap in our own personalities, more than the gap between Nations. It was the period of my life when and where I recognized the powerful person in me and the call of me to use all those vital powers to liberate so many young souls who are left in my care but remain in darkness, just because they have not found the source of their potential within their own selves.  I always believe that a powerful hand is leading me, inspiring and giving me clear indication to what direction I should take and this is also His (The Almighty) decision. That is where I realized my duty, responsibility and loyalty which I owe towards the one who sent me to this Universe. I realized that I am not created or send without a “definite” purpose and my soul will not be in the right place, unless my body and mind work together with my soul and thus I maintain the harmony of my being. This was so essential for supporting the many girls in the hostel who were struggling to deal with their own personal problems.

I really needed to dig into myself and see the truth about my real self because, if the one opposite to me needs to be convinced of what I am saying, first, I need to be convinced of what I am believing, saying doing and communicating.

 My contemplative nature always put me in touch with nature. The village I was staying was one of the most beautiful places in Hungary and is believe to be the centre of cosmic energy. I can believe this because during my every day long walks (I do not call it routine)  by the forest, filled me with an extra energy which I was unconsciously transmitting the young girls.  During those walks, the greatest realization for me was my connectedness to the “Nature” just like all the other organs of nature and connected to each other and thus to the entire cosmos and ultimately to the Creator. Except human beings, all other elements in nature just allow themselves to follow a kind of rhythm that is running in Nature, whether it is winter, summer, autumn or spring. During autumn, it was marvellous to see how the trees let their leaves to fall and in winter they look bare and naked, and towards the end of winter it was an astonishing and positively shocking scene to see the trees becoming like women who are carrying and expecting their babies.  There came the spring and they were ready to sprout.  In a week or two they were full of leaves or flowers. The entire nature was like a bride adorned herself with jewels. Every year this was repeating and I began to realize, it is only the human who rebels again this rhythm of Nature (we too are just part of this same nature). As I entered more and more into my deeper self, I began to feel stronger the presence of  someone giving me directions each moment. It was there I made determination to let the Creator (the MASTER ) take IT’s own rhythm in me and I be directed rather than making my own plans.

Coming back to your question, how I landed in KIDS, for some reasons, we had to close our mission in Hungary, where I spent the most fruitful 11 years, and I requested to allow me to be in Kerala. I believe KIDS was waiting for me without my or KIDS’  knowledge. 

  1. What is your mission in KIDS as administrator?

“”Jack of all trades”” (and sometimes) master of none

My concept about a social worker is that he or she is the link, middle person who stretches his or her hands to both sides to connect the “have nots”  to the “haves”

As a social work institute, KIDS is a huge organization with 11 departments, dealing with the marginalized and having various activities which are not even inter connected. So, being in a position where I have to have an eye on everything which is going on (I am only referring to the social work part, not to the wing which is taking care of the education of the youth), I get involved in various activities from writing projects, submitting reports, keeping close contact with the staff members, clients and customers, organizing programmes, and many more thing as it comes. But what I am passionate about is my involvement in the natural fibre sector, as I naturally have some special inclination to feel the fibre and this keeps me close to it, whether design or colour combination or patterns, I contribute something.  It is  also my  personal interest in getting the customer to the product directly, so that they can see personally the people who are making it, the effort, time and energy they spent on it. I always observed that this personally seeing the situation brings a drastic change in the attitude of the buyer while bargaining about the price of the product.

Working in KIDS means to me “to be part of it”. My feeling of “commitment” is that unless and until you feel part of that place or occupation you undertake, we will not be able to contribute. This is because unless we are a part of something or even someone, we remain an outsider. The ice will remain ‘unbroken’ until we feel part of it. Once you are a part of it, then you are a contributor rather than an observer. Everything happening in the place or with the persons become part of  your experience and you feel the urge to find a solution for any problem, just as you feel in your home.  I had been to all the continents except America, met so many people with different culture, attitude, age and social back ground. Coming back to Kerala, after 25 years of exposure outside Kerala, with a heavy heart, I must say that majority of the people in our state do not have this feeling -“being part of the system”- where they work, or part of the people with whom they work. People count the time they enter the premises and wait for the clock to turn 5 p.m.  Twenty five years back it was not at all the scenario here. Filling the office hours brought down the quality of our organizations and institutions. But the greater danger is the dissatisfaction with which people live.  Every individual needs positive strokes for survival, and they search for it everywhere except the place where it really lies. The ‘not belonging’ attitude, instead of creating empathy which is the source of positive energy, brings apathy which create so much of negative energy trying to blame everyone else for their dissatisfaction in life.

My humble effort is to help the artisans and other people whom I come in contact with, to explore and extract, this treasure of positive energy, just lying in their own inner selves. When the artisan sees a beautiful article made by her, she already found the source of joy. As observers, we see this in her twinkling eyes. But this is not so simple at all. Many times it is like banking on a wall. Yet, small changes or changes in few people also is a matter of great joy, because that is the beginning of their journey from darkness to light.

  1. We are very eager to know about your family. Please tell about them.

I have my father and my seven siblings, five elder brothers, one elder sister and one younger sister who are all well settled. So I am the seventh in my family. Mother left for her eternal journey physically but I feel her Spirit all around me.

I hail from a family where both my parents were well educated. My father who is 92 years old was a High School headmaster for more than 30 years and is well respected and looked upon even today not only by the family members, but the people who live in our village and the 100s of students whom he had formed during his career. He is a mathematics genius and had helped many students who were weak in maths to get high marks. Though my mother was qualified to be a teacher, she chose to remain at home to look after her 8 children.  She left us in 2012, at the age of 81years and it was during her funeral, seeing the crowd who came to bid goodbye to her, that we realized, what she meant to for people around her. They all had a lot to say about her hospitality. Both of my parents were very much involved in the lives of people from our neighbourhood. 

  1. How far does our government support for the smooth functioning of KIDS?

If we say that we have sufficient Government support, then I will be betraying my “conscience”, which I always consider as my true “judge”.  The budget promises something but reality shows something else. To say the truth, we are an organization having not enough financial stability, but we try to give ourselves to the project and the beneficiaries. We also met so many good hearted, generous people who see our work and support us, especially our project with the differently abled people. Last  year, we had the great fortune to take 80 of our differently-abled people for an outing which was the first outing in their lives. All of them had the opportunity to see and travel by the Kochi metro which they never could dream. 90% of them had never travelled before  in Volvo bus, and none of them had entered a five star hotel. We could make all these to happen because of the contributions of those generous souls. On other occasions we had  friends who offered the entire expense  for the lunch of the 800 participants of the Women’s Day celebrations. We are really counting on the mercy of the Lord. 

7. What is your view about Kerala Fashion Festival 2018 and tell about your participation in such a big event?

I am glad to be associated with KERALA FASHION FESTIVAL which takes initiative to give new dimension to fashion. Its effort to bring different segments of art under the roof of fashion is not just an innovative idea, but the beginning of a revolutionary change in the area fashion. Congratulations to all the team members and a special thanks to Richie for inviting me to be a part of it. All the best.

Mercy Thomas with Richard, the founder of KFF

8. Through KIDS, what you want to do for this society?

No matter wherever I am, or whatever I am doing, my desire is to set people free – free them from fear, ignorance, inhibitions and the darkness in which their souls are locked which makes them suffer for no use and for no reason. Most of the problems in our society arise out of fear, jealousy and ignorance. The root cause of jealousy is one’s own feeling of useless, which is an after effect of not discovering the real worth of life. If we attach ourselves too much to the strokes that we receive from the outer world only, we will collapse in no time, because no outside world can tell us what we really are and what we are called for. Realization of this ‘call’ is the core of the success of one’s life and with that discovery begins one’s real life. All the rest is only a role play. Once the play is over, and once we remove the costume, then we are into a reality of emptiness which frightens us, making us feel insecure. And there begin all those above mentioned malice of jealousy that not only destroys the life of the one which is a threat, but one’s own self.  So my prime concern is to take people out of their darkness. This is only possible by making them realize their own worth, their potential and their capability to contribute in building others.

Though I look sociable and active, left to myself I am a very passive person, an introvert, intruding into myself and extracting the real essence of my existence. This actually helps me to see myself transparently as much as I see the transparency of others. This disposition of mine actually brings a lot of tension in many others and I see many people are uncomfortable with me because they feel I am seeing them through. As time passes and interactions become frequent, then, at least some of them begin to realize that I have the best of intentions to bring the best out of them, and this normally is the beginning of their trusting in me. I am not bothered about how other people think about me, as much as, I think about myself. As I said earlier, my conscience is my judge and if I do have intentions which lacks purity, then I terribly suffer in my inner self. And so I do take care to purify my intentions and to give the best of my own self to the other who has come to me. Answering your question: what I want to do for society, I would rather modify the question as what I want to give this Society and my answer is that I want to give my own very self to this Society. When I do something, it is only an action, whereas if give something that belong to me, whether it is energy, time, talent or my very being, then it  is going and becoming part of someone else, giving life to that person.  In this process I am not losing anything though apparently it looks like that, in reality I am making room in my being to have more of everything that I have shared. Suppose, I have a few valuables in my hand and I hold it so tight, not letting someone  to open it and give more than what I have, can that happen unless I am ready to let first to go that is there .  We are like a tap connected to the real SOURCE through a pipe from which grace is flowing all through. If we keep the tap open and let the grace flow through us, to others, then fresh and powerful grace will continue to flow though the tpine into our being. 

9. What are the natural fibres used to make nature friendly products in KIDS?

The three main natural fibres which we use are Screw pine, Water hyacinth and jute. We also have Cora grass, Banana fibres blend with these fibres.  We  make various eco-friendly products like waste paper baskets, ladies bags, laundry bins, table mats, coaster, cushions, files, penholders, gift boxes, lamp shades etc.

Making of eco-friendly products in KIDS

10. We heard that Kottapuram Integrated Development Society especially care about protection of women. Can you explain the steps taken for women protection by KIDS?

The first and foremost step of KIDS from its very inception in 1988 has been empowering women, making them realize their self -worth, making them partners of the income generated  in their family. So, the first initiative was to strengthen them though forming Self Help Groups (SHGs) in neighbourhoods and then giving them training in various income generating programmes, entrepreneurship, leadership and communication skills etc. The experiences of the yesteryears proved that KIDS has taken the right step and it has achieved its goal to a great extent. For the past many years, KIDS organizes leadership training programme called “Sadbodhana”, training hundreds of women who, over the years have become our field animators, promoters, block members, panchayath members etc. In 2016, we honoured 12 women who have won either the panchayath or the block election. It is really a matter of pride for us.

11. What are the future developments of KIDS that you are planning to do?

We want to extend the marketing of our natural fibre products. This will help us to meet the expenses related to the artisans at least partially, especially the Differently-abled artisans, whom we need to support financially as they cannot make products in the normal speed. They do make beautiful products but they take double the time compared to the other artisans.  But they are our blessing and we will over look these  deficiencies to bring them to the main stream.

We do have a dream project to have a Facilitation Centre, conducive to the Differently-abled, where 50 Differently abled and their care takers can come and sit and make the products. We wait for the time to come for some generous souls to make it happen for us. We also would like to start a “ DIGITAL LITERACY FOR ALL” programme to bridge the widening gap between the old and new generations prevailing mostly in the lower income families. We are sure this literacy will boost the self-image of the older generation who shy away from encountering their children, even when they know that their children are misusing or being misused due to the improper usage of digital gadgets. 

12. Please share your valuable thoughts to this society (that you always wanted to tell)?

My first and best advice for all people of all generations is to develop the “Art of DISCERNMENT”. The dictionary meaning of DISCERNMENT is the ‘ability to judge well’. Yet, through my own life experiences, I have discovered more meaning in this art, because in my perception, this is the key to the inner joy of living. Ability to judge is too vague, but discernment for me is the narrowing down of what decision am I going to take in each moment, in each interaction, in each encounter. Our decision determines the direction of our lives.  We often hear people saying the reason for their misfortune is the wrong decision they have made. Why is this happening? Just because they have not discerned whether the decision taken was what they were really supposed to have taken. Here I want to make one thing clear, the discernment does not offer always success or achievement feeling in the worldly sense or even a life without pain. Discernment only will put you in the right state of mind, in the right disposal and you feel great inner peace and a joy with the feeling of confidence that I am in the right track, even when the whole world is telling you, you are not. I met many people, who did not even know the word discernment or did not even realized that they have been discerning rightly, telling me “My heart was telling me to act this way and so I acted and I am peaceful, though everybody was telling me not to do so”. This is discernment: listening to my heart and act according to its prompting. Our hearts know us much better than the whole world know us. It is the ‘dwelling of the Almighty’ within us, our heart is with us from the day we have been conceived in our mothers’ womb, it has been feeling our pain, joy, sadness, sorrow and everything all through our lives. It is the core of our being and then how can it deceive to us.  But in this we may encounter a big danger. If we do not develop the habit of having “pure intention”, then we can get into trouble with this discernment.

If you are going to base your lives on “trends”, you will feel applauded by the people around you but at the moment you are left alone, you face an emptiness that leaves you in insecurity and ambiguity. If you want to be happy and balanced, then discern what your ‘cup of tea’ is, what makes you feel dignified and whole.

I just dream of a world, where everyone realizes his or her call- that specific call for which one has been created and sent to this world, committing to that purpose and at the same time leaving space for the other to live his or her call in freedom and peace.

13. What are the main programmes that you are conducting for physically challenged people?

Special Emphasis is given to support the most vulnerable groups like the elderly and the differently abled.  One of the major departments of KIDS is the Natural fibre sector where 100s of women are given employment through giving training for value added products with screw pine and water hyacinth.  For the past many years, KIDS started training the differently abled in this craft which enable them to get a regular income out of that at the same time having chance to explore their talents and creativity. Mainly, they are trained in paper bag making,  natural fibre craft, star-making and flower making. We have bought an expensive star making machine with the intention to give them better job opportunity during the Christmas season. We will be training them in embroidery and decoupage etc.

The project is not just to  give them employment, rather it is the total up liftment of these vulnerable people, that we aim at. Before coming to KIDS, 4 years back, they did not even had the opportunity to get out of their homes.  They were a liability to their family members. So we are very conscious of the fact that our prime duty is to create a community for them, where they  feel ‘belong to’. This is what actually is happening in KIDS at present.  They are a community, having their own Self Help Group with president, secretary and treasurer from their own group, collecting their contribution and putting in the bank. So, in effect, we are empowering them to be on their own feet.   We are aware of the fact that, in order to be self -reliant, they need to be educated, so now we are focussing more on that. When they began to come in KIDS, only 2 out of the 22 persons were having school certificate. All others were illiterate in this so called ‘most literate State of Kerala’. So the first thing we had done was to prepare all of them for the examination and luckily all of them passed through the 4th standard level.  Last year some of them cleared 7th.  Now we are giving them Literacy classes during lunch break for appearing for the next level. They are very happy that they can read and write.

We want more and more people to come to see their talents and to appreciate them, because that means a lot to them. Since they are not able to go to outer world, the world needs to come to them to get the glimpse of their talent. 

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