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Co-founder of Premananda: Jon James knows firsthand that an ordinary person can make a difference. As of January '07 118 orphans and needy children in southern India have a roof over their heads, nutritious food to eat, and educational opportunities, largely because of his efforts. The professor of English at Hawaii's Chaminade University raised much of the funds to start and to maintain Premananda Orphanage Centre in Ongole, India. Most of the money came from the sale of Christmas and all-purpose 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 America's Notre Dame University in Indiana, both undergraduate and graduate, helped me out by sending donations... People just saw a need and wanted to help."

The English professor's involvement in India goes back more than eighteen years when he first attended a Taize International Meeting at Loyola College in Madras (The Taize Community of Brothers in France organized this large Pilgrimage of Trust gathering in India). Horrified by the poverty and plight of so many people 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 l988 Taize meeting, James met an Indian seminarian named Chopparapu Jojaiah, who gave direction to his desire to help. The two men forged a collaboration that continues today. James underwrote some of Jojaiah's last year of seminary studies and paid for some of his ordination expenses. 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 in 1994, Father Jojaiah asked if he could help build a larger orphanage in the city of Ongole about 100 miles away. James embraced the challenge. Later on, with tens of thousands of leaf cards sold, Premananda Orphanage Centre became reality; it was dedicated on 28 June 1998. The orphanage continues to expand, a few years back adding 10 acres for a farm to help it become a little self-sufficient. As of 2007 the Pallepalem farm complex serves as home for all 73 boys while the original Ongole City Centre accommodates all 45 girls.

--Original article by Mary Calabrese Levins