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Welcome to Karunai Illam

The Karunai Illam Trust is a New Zealand incorporated charitable trust. It was set up to support the work of Jean Watson, a Wellington writer, who in 1987  established a children’s home in Nilakottai, Tamil Nadu, south India.

October 2014 notes from Jean
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October 2014 notes from Jean

Notes from Jean since arriving at Nilakottai in late September 

9 October 2014 

On the 24th September, the film crew; Gerard and Jan and I arrived in Nilakottai to show the film to the children. A screening in our school across the road was arranged for the next day: the 25th which happens to be our Anniversary Day. It went very well indeed, the Illam people were so excited. Present were more or less just the children and Illam staff, our x children, the local doctor, the president of the residents association, and one or two parents. Gerard said that it was the best audience he’d so far had!

He had been a bit concerned that any people left out might have been disappointed, not so, every child got shown even if briefly and all were delighted and had a good laugh at themselves in the appropriate places. It was a lovely occasion, the speeches were few and short and tea was handed round.

Now, here I am, delighted to be in Nilakottai after year’s absence. I have seen the latest in the progress of our new building: the installing of the Dewatts waste management system.  Waste water is processed through a series of tanks and becomes irrigation water for our gardens.

Although over the months, the other Trustees and I have been kept well informed on the building progress by email, phone calls and photos – but nothing matches seeing the actual building itself. It is spacious and elegant, plenty of windows and a wide entrance.  Our team leader Gomathi Murugan expects it to be ready for the girls to move into before I leave on the 20th of December.  I think he is optimistic, for much remains to be done.  But all well worth waiting for.

New Illam Building Project

7 August 2014.           Exciting news!    The first phase of building a new Illam building for both boys and girls nears completion.  The building of the girls hostel and common facilities area suchas for kitchen and dining has now been completed!  All that remains before the girls can move in is to fit them out and complete vital services and fencing. 

Check out our Building Project page for more information and to see how you can help.


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Progress of the Film

We are very happy to say the film is going very well. Screenings so far have been fully booked. It will be returning for general release in September.

On the 22nd of September, Gerard Smyth and Jean leave for India to show it  to the people of Nilakottai.  In Chennai they will meet up with Jan who worked on the sound for the filming in India.

More interesting events to raise money to finish our building project are in the pipe line, so watch this space.  Phase 1: the girl’s room, all the facilities like kitchen, dining room and ablutions blocks are nearly finished. Currently work on the fencing of the whole property is underway.


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Aunty and the Star People

Filmmaker Gerard Smyth has completed this outstanding full-length documentary about the life of Jean and her work with the children. It is screening in the NZ International Film Festival in Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch, Dunedin, Nelson, Hawkes Bay, Tauranga and Hamilton.

See the trailer http://www.nziff.co.nz/2014/wellington/aunty-and-the-star-people/ and find a screening near you on the nziff site.

It will help Jean’s and the Trust’s work if you let your friends know about the film and the Karunai Illam Trust website.  Apart from Jean’s travel costs and other incidental expenses, no-one is paid as all work for the Trust in NZ is through volunteers; over 90% of all donations to the Trust is sent to the home and children in India.


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Our children's home is called DHAN Karunai Illam. The DHAN Foundation is our Partner organisation and the word DHAN stands for Development for Humane Action. Karunai means Grace, and Illam is Home.



Tamil Nadu, India

Nilakottai, Tamil Nadu

(Click to view maps)