Orphans and nuns at Homes of Hope
Paul Wilkes (at right, in back) with orphans and nuns at one of the Homes of Hope in India.

By Barry Jagoda

Even as the Catholic Church endures continuing criticism, it may be easy to overlook the great humanitarian benefits provided by Catholics throughout the world. We see this through the good works at the University of San Diego, a predominately Catholic university, which houses the Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace and Justice.

Also coming to mind, as a remarkable example of what Catholics can and will do when there is a need, is the work at Homes of Hope India, a U.S. nonprofit started by a lay couple that has 11 orphanages in India and provides a safe refuge for 1,000 abandoned and neglected girls.

“We started Homes of Hope in 2006 after my wife and I found a street girl who had been cruelly blinded to make her a ‘better beggar,’” said Paul Wilkes, an author and writer for the New Yorker, New Times and many other publications.

The Wilkes’ approach was simple. They began talking in Catholic parishes and before civic groups, telling of the plight of girls who live on the streets of India. Then they started accepting used books and selling them to support the orphanage program.

Paul and Tracy Wilkes

Wilkes and his associates build the Homes of Hope by diligent daily work inspired by their deep faith. Their efforts have demonstrated what dedicated persons can do.

“The whole Catholic ethos is what inspires people to support our work; giving to the missions was taught to us when we were children,” said Wilkes, a member of the 1967 class of Columbia Graduate School of Journalism.

Churches from all over the United States—including here in San Diego—have provided the venues for raising funds and connecting parishioners who care.

Wilkes, once an altar boy in the church who went on to a distinguished career in journalism, sees the work as providing a way to live out “Your Second to Last Chapter,” the title of a book he wrote. His book speaks to those who may have retired and now seek new meaning for their own lives.

Partnering with nuns and other dedicated Catholics, Homes of Hope literally is lifting young orphaned girls from the streets to achieve the possibility of productive lives.

“Homes of Hope is like a true blessing from heaven,” said Sister Agie, a Carmelite sister who administers a Home of Hope for AIDS orphans in Dimapur, Nagaland.

“Our partnership gives a chance to young girls who would otherwise be left with their former lives as society’s castoffs,” explained Sister Ancy, a Salesian nun at the Home of Hope in Kochi, Keralae.

Wilkes, having produced twenty-one books in an award-winning career as a writer, literally stumbled on the need while on a trip with his wife Tracy.  Never shy about seeing creative possibilities the two returned home with the idea that they—along with fellow Church members—could make a difference in the lives of street girls.

Homes of Hope continues to grow, as does the attention the program is receiving around the United States, and, of course, in India.

“We are now planning for Homes of Hope #12 and #13,” said Wilkes. “With 500,000 girls on the street right now, our work has just begun.”

An effort is underway to connect Wilkes, Homes of Hope and San Diego’s Kroc Institute.

Barry Jagoda, an award-winning broadcast journalist, was special assistant to President Carter for media and public affairs. He is a 1967 graduate of Columbia Graduate School of Journalism and lives in La Jolla.