On the 6th February, Father Francis Laborde, 92, was awarded the highest distinction from French Republic for his work for the poorest and handicapped in India in the last 50 years.
Fr. Francis Laborde is already the recipient of the award, at the rank of “Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur” which was conferred on him by the late French Président François MITTERAND, in Calcutta, this gentle giant of humanity stands tall, moulding and shaping unfortunate lives towards a better tomorrow.
On 26th January 1965 Father Laborde came to India for social and anthropological research on “Relations between Marginal and Integrated Populations in India”, under the patronage of Dr M. Adiseshiah, member of the ONU and UNESCO, then in charge of the Social Institute of Loyola College at Madras. Then, in 1976, with the help of late Cardinal T. Picachy, s. j., Fr. Laborde opened a home for handicapped children at the Nirmala Mata Maria Girja Parish in Howrah. Later on he developed other centers in Howrah. This was the beginning of the great adventure of developing the association known all across India as ”Howrah South Point” (HSP). It was a new venture, realised with the collaboration of very dedicated young men and ladies. (Their number has grown up to 320, among them 10% are physically handicapped and more than 27 families of workers have legally adopted a child).
Fr Laborde likes to say that HSP is not his work, but has developed thanks to very dedicated workers. He is more proud of the different teams of Indian ladies and men working with untiring dedication (along with some volunteers from France, Germany and Switzerland) under a vigilant and efficient Governing Body. Also he likes to stress that this work, not like any, provides a lot of joy because from the handicapped of the society, we receive at least as much as we give:
In serving the different able ones, the sick people, children deprived of education, we are receiving a happiness giving strength, the joy to feel more human with our brothers and sisters finding back the place they ought to have... Another great joy is to work together - Muslims, Hindus, Christians - for the service of the most deprived without any distinction of creed or castes or language.
On the 6th of February, a few days before Father Laborde turned 93, H.E. the Ambassador of France to India, Mr. Alexandre ZIEGLER, honoured him with the highest French national award to commend his exceptional contribution towards society, in alleviating the suffering of those physically and socially challenged by granting them the chance to lead a fulfilling life. The ceremony was held at Ashaneer Center in the nice decorated ground. Father Laborde wished that all handicapped children would be present with their mothers. The event started at 3 pm with a cultural event by handicapped children from EPN, Ashaneer and Lalkuthi. After the speech of the Ambassador, Father Laborde was awarded the medal, and then went along with H.E. to review a small exhibition which provided the background of HSP history. It was followed by a high tea and all children enjoyed a lot this time of celebration.