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Original post by Mill Valley Chamber | Aug 5, 2020

Santal children at St. Xavier in Kolkata, India. Courtesy image.
Santal children at St. Xavier in Kolkata, India. Courtesy image

Santal children at St. Xavier in Kolkata, India. Courtesy image

Just like all of us, the past five months for Mill Valley residents Annette and Paul Venables have been dominated by the day-to-day murk of the pandemic: health and safety, social distancing, wearing a mask, checking in on family and friends, finding and sticking with a routine and trying to avoid getting overwhelmed by the doom and gloom of a virus that has ravaged the globe.


They can also be forgiven if their thoughts have wandered beyond the 94941, specifically 7,800 miles to St. Xavier’s Gurap campus, the hub for post-primary education for children from the Santal tribe, a group that has a longstanding history of facing prejudice and generational poverty in Kolkata, India. 

When Annette Venables has had a particularly tough day in the COVID-19 era, she’s been keen to think of those children’s at St. Xavier’s, to whom the Venables, and many Mill Valley residents, have established deep ties and dedicated their time, money and effort.

“They know how to do hard things,” Venables says of the children. “They do them every day.”

The allegiances between people in Mill Valley and at St. Xavier’s stem from Father Maria Joseph Savariappan’s impromptu visit to Our Lady of Mount Carmel to step in for a vacationing Pastor Pat Michaels in 2017. Savariappan educated parishioners about the plight of the Santal, and that education has had cascading impacts thousands of miles away ever since.

Mt. Carmel parishioners acted quickly, launching an Advent sponsorship program to provide education, meals, boarding and uniforms for students. And in the two-plus years since, those efforts have gone into overdrive, with parishioners galvanizing around Tribe Rising India, the nonprofit organization created by the Venables that has raised tens of thousands of dollars and expanded dramatically into the construction of much-needed buildings that will create lasting positive change for the Santal.

Tribe Rising India’s latest effort toward that end is its annual gala which, like all events amidst the COVID-19, will be virtual. It’s set for Thursday September 17, will feature Indian meals from San Rafael’s Delicious Catering delivered directly to the homes of “attendees,” as well as a Fund a Need campaign. But event tickets hereSponsorships are also available.

The purpose of the gala is to raise funds to build a high school for the Santal students, a move that will provide a sense of place to children who have lacked it, as the existing Jesuit school only spans kindergarten through fourth grade. The Venables took two trips to the region in 2019, including for the groundbreaking of the very first girls dormitory, providing girls in fifth through tenth grade their own space.

“The Santal children have never had a school that is unique to them and their needs and offers them a safe place,” Venables says. “The kids that show the most promise are the most at risk of failing because the cultural norm and mainstream culture requires them to give up their education in favor of supporting their families.”

“The ones who don’t come back are the girls,” she adds. “They get married off or get caught up in chores. The dorm is there now, so that we can say to them, ‘the opportunity is still here for you.’”

An unintended benefit of the creation of those physical spaces, particularly outdoor play areas, was that it allowed the children to interact with other schools, Venables says, noting that they recently won a kho kho match against a nearby private school, with the celebratory moment shown at left.

“We thought we had some resources we could provide and we could build this environment we thought we wanted to exist,” she says. “But in spending time there and seeing the culture, it wasn’t about building up something that was already there – it was about creating something completely new. There has to be that basic, simple opportunity for education.”

Those opportunities build on themselves, she says, and the results are born out over years, if not decades. “That is just going to be a numbers game,” she says.

As research has shown throughout the COVID-19 crisis, the virus puts a disproportionate burden and effects of the resulting economic instability on poor and marginalized children, and those effects will continue far beyond the end of this crisis. Educational opportunities, especially for girls, are at great risk.

“We want to show our students that while they are hidden in their villages during COVID, far from the news headlines, they are not forgotten,” Venables says. “We can show them we still believe (that) hope is for everyone.”

Please join us for the 2022 Gala!

Thursday, August 25th
5:30 – 8:30 PM

Corinthian Yacht Club
43 Main Street
Tiburon, CA

Seated Dinner

Indian Dance 

Henna Artists

Exciting Live Auction


to complete – yes complete – the construction of the first high school uniquely for Santal students

Auctioneer and MC
Liam Mayclem

Thanks to your support, brighter futures are opening up

*Check donations can be made payable to: 


Please send checks to: 

35 MILLER AVE #185

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