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
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
--Original article by Mary Calabrese Levins