Local woman strives to provide for one child
By Kris Leonhardt
MARSHFIELD — The people of Eleanganny, India, live a simple life. Survival is based heavily on agriculture, which first supports the family’s needs and secondarily provides income.
Families must pay tuition and other fees to send their children to school. With little means for income and extra hands needed in the fields, the children of Eleanganny are often left without an education.
“In the summer of 2013, I had a friend who was going back to India. He was moving away from the area, and I was going to miss him,” said RaeAnn Thomas Gust. “So I said, ‘Shall I come home with you?’ and he said, ‘Yes, come home with me.’”
Thomas Gust began to prepare for the trip.
“You can’t find anything on the internet about this place in India,” added Thomas Gust. “There is no technology there. It is really very, very basic. The technology now is that the walls there are concrete, but in many, many villages the rooves are still thatched.”
That January Thomas Gust went with her friend to India not knowing what to expect.
“It was kind of shocking,” said Thomas Gust. “They don’t have Western toilets. They don’t have indoor bathrooms.”
As Thomas Gust was being introduced to the region, she began to open her mind and heart to what she was seeing.
“I saw all of this poverty that you cannot imagine,” said Thomas Gust. “But at the same time, they are so generous. … They don’t have stuff, so being able to feed someone well is a big gift.”
“Education isn’t free. The boys got to third grade or fourth grade, and then they had to quit, and then they go in the field with the parents,” Thomas Gust added.
When Thomas Gust returned from her trip to India, her world had changed.
“(My friend) said to me ‘That place really changed you,’” recalled Thomas Gust. “I said, ‘I don’t think you could go there and not be changed.’”
Not able to get the children of Eleanganny out of her mind, Thomas Gust began building a charity with the help of family and friends.
“I started a cooperation called For One Child of India (FOCI),” said Thomas Gust.
The 501(c)(3) provides tuition support for the children of India whose families are unable to obtain the finances to provide a proper education.
“I believe so strongly in this that I sponsor FOCI itself,” explained Thomas Gust. “All of the costs of the organization I pay, … down to the paper and ink.
“If I can keep the structure of it going, I think the people will see that it is worth it to donate because all of the money goes to the children.
“The first year we helped 38 children, and this year we are at 49. Once we’ve chosen a child, we promise them that we will pay for them to get through high school and even try to help if they can get into a college.”
Through the program, up to 75 percent of the child’s tuition is provided through sponsors. The family must contribute the remaining amount.
In addition to a financial responsibility, the family must see that studies continue. If the child does not promote to the next school grade, the support will end.
“We usually choose one child per family,” added Thomas Gust. “The philosophy is if we can get one kid through school, through college to get a decent job, that child will come back and help their family. That is their culture. That is what they are going to do. By focusing on one child, we can do the most good for the whole family.”
For more information visit for1child.org or call 715-387-4135.