The Rev. Trevor Miranda's work with India's poor and illiterate has been rewarding — in more ways than one.
Last week, he was awarded $1 million at Marquette University in Milwaukee for his humanitarian work with women and children in Mumbai, also known as Bombay, India.
"It feels great — very overwhelming — something I could have never imagined that would come my way," Miranda said.
He is the founder of the Reach Education Action Programme. The award will be used to further REAP's mission of "empowering the underprivileged through literacy for a new world of freedom, justice, dignity and self-respect."
The Jesuit wraps up a week of speaking engagements in St. Cloud with a public appearance at a multicultural program from 1-4 p.m. today at the Whitney Senior Center, 1527 Northway Drive.
Miranda is the second recipient of the annual prize from The Opus Group, a $1.4 billion commercial real estate development company headquartered in a Minneapolis suburb.
"When it was announced, I just couldn't believe it. It took a lot of time to sink in, but it was an awesome feeling," Miranda said with a chuckle.
The nondenominational prize honors "faith in action, singling out the good works, fidelity, and exemplary character of recipients," such as Miranda, a native of Mumbai.
"Recognition like this is very energizing, especially with the kind of work that we do, with the very poor and marginalized in the streets and the slums and in the tribal areas that sometimes goes unrecognized," Miranda said.
REAP has opened more than 450 literacy centers since its inception in 1984.
It has brought books and teachers to the poor in the hopes of breaking the devastating cycle of poverty.
"Bombay has more than half of its population living in slums or shanties — for whom where their next meal is going to come from is more important than going to school — who live in survival mode and in insecurity," Miranda said.
The 52-year-old Roman Catholic plans to put the million-dollar award into a trust fund and to use the interest to open 175 more literacy centers.
"Children don't go to school because there is a high level of child labor in India. These children go to work because they need to supplement the family income," Miranda said.
Nominations for the prize are considered by a panel of members from select Catholic universities nationwide.
Marquette University, which administered this year's award, also conferred on Miranda an honorary doctorate of letters for his contribution to the field of education.
"We also work with people in tribal areas, rural areas, who have no lights, no electricity, no roads and no water sometimes, and for these people, education hardly exists," Miranda said. "In those situations, our function is to bring them hope, to tell them all is not lost."
Understanding the Need for Interfaith/Intercultural Togetherness & Education, or UNIITE, acted as Miranda's fiscal agent to bring him to St. Cloud to speak.
"The work that Father Trevor does in India is, in some sense, 'interfaith and intercultural,' which is what UNIITE is all about," said Malcolm Nazareth, executive director of UNIITE.
The part-time faculty member at St. Cloud State University's Department of Community Studies even went so far as to dub Miranda as a kind of "male Mother Teresa."
"Although Father Trevor is a Catholic and a Christian, he is working with primarily Hindus — also with Muslims, also with Buddhists and tribal cultures," Nazareth said.
India's government formally recognized education as a fundamental human right three years ago, in a country where almost half are illiterate, according to The Opus Prize Foundation.
"These are the times when you call on your faith. You have to believe in what you are doing. Otherwise you can get frustrated, call it quits and say, 'Forget it,'" Miranda said.
How to help
To make a donation or to learn more about Reach Education Action Programme, send an e-mail to email@example.com or visit www.reapchild.org.
Copyright 2005 St. Cloud Times