About the Karunai Illam Trust

Our vision is to provide young, disadvantaged children with educational opportunities so that they can lead productive and enriched lives and realize their true potential.

Through our fund raising efforts we are able to ensure:

  • the children at the Illam get access to education and whole child development in a safe, nurturing environment.  
  • and ensure that the Illam is a place where every child blossoms

Our team of volunteers works for no financial reward, donating time and expertise to realize our vision.

Who we are

The Karunai Illam Trust is a New Zealand incorporated charitable trust. It was set up to support the work of the late Jean Watson, a Wellington writer, who in 1987 established a children’s home in the rural town of Nilakottai, in the southern state of Tamil Nadu. The home called Karunai Illam is simply known as the Illam.

What we do  

Our Illam provides a home away from home for about 50 young girls and boys. Many of the children come from single parent families who are unable to financially support their children. They reside at the Illam during the term time and are fully supported with their schooling, residential and extra curricular activity costs met by the Trust.

Living at the Illam and attending the local high school provides these children an opportunity to escape a life of desperate poverty. Many of our children are further supported upon their departure from the Illam to seek higher education at local technical colleges and universities.

In Tamil, Karunai means grace, and Illam is home. The home is called DHAN Karunai Illam in recognition of our partnership with the DHAN (Development for Humane Action) Foundation. Partnership with the DHAN Foundation has allowed the Illam to move to a more sustainable operation with local support and management. 

The Illam complex

The Illam has had several incarnations since 1987. Until recently, the girls and boys lived in homes at separate sites in the town. It was a long term dream of Jean’s to have a productive piece of land, where vegetables, fruit and flowers could be grown and to provide an outdoor oasis for our Illam children to explore and enjoy. In 2015, our newly built girls hostel was completed. The girls and boys now reside at the same site, on 4 acres of rural land, which Jean purchased in 1989 as a result of selling her Wellington home in Aro valley.

The Illam complex today is where all of our children reside and spend most of their time outside of their school day. This complex includes the newly built girls hostel and the older boys hostel. The complex also has a small building called Jean’s cottage where occasional visitors stay.

Meet the people behind the trust