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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.

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First steps in building the new “dreamhome” Illam for DHAN-Karunai Illam

Our trust’s Chairperson Michael Harris has just returned from staying in the Illam for 2 weeks.  There he saw the culmination of the donations and efforts of so many of you in raising funds to build the new enlarged School building. Michael confirms the need for a new Illam building complex in which both boys and girls can live together with support staff – where visitors and volunteers from NZ and elsewhere can stay and experience the special atmosphere of this remarkable children’s home established by Jean Watson.  Up until now the 30 girls have been living on the outskirts of Nilakottai, some 1½ km away from the 14 boys who live on the ‘garden land’ in a rural setting.  The present arrangements limit any growth in numbers or achieving a better balance, and the boys to some extent are “out on their own”.


Karunai Illam Trust and DHAN Foundation and its staff all agree to move swiftly towards building a new ‘unified’ Illam (children’s home).   The choice of site was effectively settled while Michael was there with Jean - a spacious site has been chosen on an open area within the garden land.  The children have made suggestions as to what they would like to see included in the complex, as have the staff.  Right now, options as to layout and building arrangements are being worked through.  Hopefully there will have been progress towards finalising outline plans by the time Jean returns to NZ in early December 2012.

Now it is over to us here in NZ and our supporters overseas to raise the money to make the ‘dreamhome’ a reality for the children.


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NZ High Commissioner opens newly-completed School and unveils Foundation stone for new DHAN-Karunai Illam‘ dreamhome’


Our new school building was opened by NZ's High Commissioner to India Jan Henderson in a joyous celebration that took place on 10 October 2012.  She came with her husband and daughter and friend all the way from New Delhi together with the NZ Honorary Consul in Chennai.  This is the first occasion in 25 years  that we have been honoured by a visit from the High Commissioner. The primary and nursery school children danced and sang a prayer and there were speeches.  The new School was festooned everywhere with artwork done by the children and coloured decorations.

Just before that, the High Commissioner and her party had been taken to our ‘Garden land’ where all the Illam children and staff along with many others gathered by the DHAN Foundation were assembled under a thatch sunshelter.  After puja and speeches including from Jean and the High Commissioner, she ceremoniously unveiled a foundation stone for the new ‘unified’ Illam hostel building.  Her visit was a great success and a happy occasion - in which our students did splendid dancing and put on presentations for our guests.



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Celebrating 25 years of Karunai Illam - Nilakottai, 25 September 2012


The lighting of wicks in oil in the shiny brass Kuthuvilaku (lamp) and a prayer by the children started our Silver Jubilee celebration in-house gathering under a thatch on the land. Also present were old students, DHAN workers and the local community leaders. Two of the senior girls were confident mistresses of ceremony. There was a short speech by Mr. Khader and Jean, dance  

by the girls and boys and then at 11.30 the assembled people were divided into groups to share on the general theme; ‘A Way Forward for the Illam.’ The groups made a vow that in another 25 years time there will be no poverty in Nilakottai and surrounding district.

After a tasty lunch sponsored and prepared by two of our old children, the second part was a public celebration held in a nearby hall where we displayed art works by the children. Representatives from the major religions were present - two Swamis from the Ramakrisha Mission, a Christian Priest and a Muslim leader. The event was simple; speeches by various people, the presentation of gifts of shawls to people who have helped us, and items presented by Illam children and children from the school. It was a splendid occasion and according to Jean “I was moved by the appreciation our Karunai Illam Trust as a partner of Dhan receives from the Nilakottai Community”. 



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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)