Helen Green our Board Chair went to India a few weeks ago to visit one of our projects funded by the NZ government. It’s an organic farming project inclusive for people with disabilities. Helen shares with us how these people have discovered within themselves the resources to step up to a new way of life.
The taxi was waiting at 6.45 am but the hot water in the guest house was not turned on until 7.00 am so it was another cold shower and then off for a 2 hour drive into the North East Indian rural districts of Uttar Pradesh- right up next to the Nepalese border. The madness of the traffic in Gorakhpur is replaced by increasingly narrow and bumpier roads, until we are almost on tracks, used only by bullocks, pedestrians and the odd goat.
Finally we reach the villages of Captaingang district, remote, pretty, but desperately poor. Despite having practically nothing, these people welcome us and offer drinks and a small vegetable patty, and we sit down in the sun to discuss progress on this organic farming project I have arrived to see.
People in these villages used to spend almost all of their earnings on fertiliser to coax rice, grains and vegetables from an increasingly depleted soil. The project aimed at replacing the costly fertiliser with village made compost, cow dung, and other organic inputs, to reduce costs. So these very small, marginal farmers were able to start the year with no debt. 2 1/2 years on, they are busy telling me that the crops are growing, the food tastes better, and they have enough money to have begun small savings groups. Because these people are very poor, and many have a disability, they cannot access banks and banking facilities, so they received training from our partners, the Catholic Diocese, to manage savings and loans within their small groups. Already they have sufficient for small loans which are used for processing their produce and opening small shops selling produce and other very small goods, such as drinks.
Because our focus is those who live with a disability - and are therefore the poorest of the poor, I was most interested to know how they were faring from this new scheme. And that was where, for me, it becomes very exciting.
One young man with legs severely impaired by polio, told of a life of isolation, rejection loneliness, and feeling useless. But he had strong arms, so could contribute to the organic composting and other organic farming tasks. He also had a good brain, so participated in training and learning to work as a trainer himself. As he worked at these things we also worked in the villages trying to encourage a change in attitude towards those who have disabilities. It is slow hard work, but we are slowly making progress together. The transformation in this young man's life is truly incredible. He has dignity, stands tall with the help of crutches, has confidence, and talks about being accepted within his own environment. He makes a small amount of money from the compost and training and has been able to buy a hand worked process machine for wheat, which he processes into flour and sells in the next village.
So many stories such as this of people whose lives have been changed, who have discovered within themselves the resources to step up to a new way of life and grab the opportunities that this organic farming project can bring them.
It may be hot, dusty and dirty, but above all it is truly inspirational to sit with people such as this and to share their stories and to have a small part to play with them in this venture, made possible by funds from our NZ government and also from donations from people such as yourselves who give so generously.
Thank you. You are indeed transforming lives!
Written by Helen Green, Board Chair of cbm New Zealand and Chair of cbm Programme Advisory Group.