The cost of twiglets
I’ve just returned from a trip to India where I visited one of our CBM partners, Naman Sewa Samiti, in rural poor Madyha Pradesh. I was there to visit an inspiring project, Inclusive Organic Farming. On my outward journey, at Heathrow Airport, I bought a packet of twiglets; little did I know then, how valuable they were!
Betul District in Madhya Pradesh, is deemed by the Indian government to be one of 250 poorest areas in the whole of the country. To live here is to know what it is like to lack clean water, to live in poverty, and to struggle for hope.
Imagine then, living against this backdrop with a disability. There is no NHS, no benefit system. Yes, extended family and the sense of community are impressive support systems, that have long since disappeared from the so-called ‘developed’ world, but in rural India, despite being officially outlawed, the deeply-rooted caste system is strong and pervades religious belief.
This is not good news for the person with a disability. Some see them as having bad karma, people guilty of some misdemeanour in a previous life.This means that discrimination abounds towards people with a disability. Too often, they are disempowered, considered to be of far less value to employers, and sometimes, abandoned in their home or pushed out to beg on the street.
Inclusive Organic Farming
CBM UK Partner Naman Sewa Samiti has been working with with people with diabilities in the area since 1994. Historically this has been done through spice making, cooperative and credit banking, self help groups and health education.
Since 2004 Naman has been working with farmers living with a disability, or those caring for a family member with a disability, and empowering them in a new, accessible, far more cost-effective and productive way of farming; organic farming. The results have been stunning. The stories of transformation moving and inspiring.
Take Gajanand and Sangwata for example. Proud parents to twin boys Atul and Praful. Their boys were born with extra special needs, and life has been a struggle. Like most people in the area they are farmers. Farming is difficult enough, but throw in twins into the equation, especially twins with extra needs and challenges and, well, you can imagine.
When the boys were 8, their mum and dad had to make the gut-wrenching decision to send them away to a residential special school, miles from the famiily home. The lack of transport meant that Gajanand and Sangwata did not see their precious boys for weeks, even months at a time. Even if they could have got there, they were in financial dire straits brought on by their inability to pay for the chemicals to sustain their farming. They were desperate.
One day a field-worker from CBM UK Partner, Naman, got to hear of their plight. The couple were introduced to Inclusive Organic Farming. Over the following year, their fortunes were turned around. They came to realise that organic farming, a method in this part of the world that uses plentiful natural resources such as animal dung and aromatic leaves, would cost them next to nothing. They applied, were interviewed, and joined the programme, one that involves checks/inspections, transparency and accountability.
Gajanand and Sangwata were able to grow their customer base, sell at the market and earn more. The small savings that they have been able to make has resulted in more visits to see their boys, and enabled them to put aside some money to contribute to their sons’ future security.
Not only that, they are both now involved in running groups for other parents and farmers who find themselves facing similar struggles.
The ugly face of poverty
I have seen many times, the ugly face of poverty, and how it blights beautiful people. I am sick of it. I hate it. Seems to me we have three fundamental choices that confront us individually and as a society. We can ignore it, pretend that over two thirds of the planet’s population do not live this way, we can see it and choose to do nothing about it, paralysed by our own lack of resources or the sheer size of the task before us, or we can try to play our small part in eradicating the obscenity and injustice of poverty.
I am so grateful to CBM UK that they consider I have a ‘few tools in the box’ to play my part. But if poverty is going to be tackled we all need to be on board. If we are going to see a fairer allocation of resources and wealth, then those of us who are in a privileged position to generate some, should, in my opinion, give some of that away. Actually it’s not all about giving, because there is something in the way that we are wired, that makes US, that makes me, feel good when we give. Giving is receving. Who doesn’t want to feel good? Who doesn’t like receiving something?
I want to shamelessly pull on your heart strings (and your purse strings for that matter). Look into the eyes of Raja, aged 6, living in a slum with a learning disability. Aged 6! He’s gorgeous, beautiful, but poverty has got him, and millions like him, around the throat and is strangling his life and hope for the future.
Humour me, just for 30 seconds. Look into Raja’s stunning eyes, and think. Think about yourself, think about your family, your loved ones, your friends. Then look up and give thanks for the roof that is over your head, and as you look up, offer up a thought/prayer for Raja, and ask how you can help, how you can play your part in loosening the grip of poverty.