I recently wrote about my experience in starting a non-profit organization dedicated to poverty alleviation. That blog post described the why and a bit of the how of thisvillage, but what I’d really like to do is describe the specifics of what we’ll be doing.
thisvillage focuses on one village at a time. We collaborate with that particular village in order to establish effective and long-term poverty reduction tools, such as clean water and literacy training. We feel that poverty alleviation can only be effective if we have a relationship with the people and if they take ownership of the projects.
In September, myself and the three other founders of thisvillage traveled to Andhra Pradesh, India to meet with our partner organization and to find a village that desired to work with us. What we discovered was much more than that. We discovered a country and a people awash in poverty, but also hope. Simplicity, but also joy. Need, but also satisfaction.
When we arrived in each village, we were welcomed with great joy by the people there. This was with us coming as mere visitors, not as an NGO offering any assistance. Everyone was just happy to meet us, to show us their homes and to have us take their picture.
We met one woman named Raman who, at age 25, has already been married for a decade. A few years ago, Raman’s husband was electrocuted and left unable to work. With no money coming in and with debt from the medical treatment, Raman, her husband and their two kids struggled to survive.
Unlike Western countries, there is no safety net for people like Raman who live in rural India. Poverty is ultimately about a lack of choices, and Raman was left with none. Miraculously, our partner organization in Andhra Pradesh was able to provide Raman with a microcredit loan that she used to purchase a buffalo, which is now a source of income. Raman was very proud to show us her one-room home and her children who are doing quite well in school. Raman could still benefit from greater assistance, but her story exemplifies how just a little help – especially for women – can go a long way in rural India.
We also had the privilege of meeting with a group of about 50 widows. In India, widows are considered bad luck and are ostracized from their respective communities. And, unfortunately, widows are all too common in the part of Andhra Pradesh that we visited. In fact, the area we were in is the farmer suicide capital of India. This is due to the fact that farmers were encouraged by companies to use pesticides in order to increase crop yields. Crops eventually became dependent on the pesticides and companies started raising their price. Farmers borrowed money in order to pay for the pesticides, and there was no real hope of ever paying those debts off. Farmers then turned to suicide in light of crushing debt and no options.
Not all of their husbands died of suicide, but all widows we met had to deal with ostracism of some variety. They weren’t even allowed to attend their own daughters’ weddings. And, if being rejected by most of their community wasn’t a difficult enough obstacle in finding work, most widows are also illiterate.
thisvillage will work to address the root of the suicide problem by introducing farmers to organic farming. More than this, however, we will work with the widows to ensure that they can grow in confidence, education and practical skills. There is nowhere for these widows to turn if not for the work done by a handful of NGOs. By meeting as a group and talking about their struggles, the women are able to grow in confidence. And by being given some education and loans, the women are able to make money, ensuring that their kids go to school and that the cycle of poverty does not continue into the next generation.
In meeting with a group of orphans, we encountered a similar theme. Despite being left with no one to take care of them, the joy and hope of these kids was difficult to fully comprehend. From a Western perspective that values money, career and possessions, it didn’t quite make sense how someone lacking in all three could possibly be so full of life. And yet, this only motivated me more to help a people who have been wronged. To provide some semblance of justice in a place teeming with injustice. To give people with no money, no food and no jobs some necessities and some opportunity.
It is heart-wrenching to see people sleeping on the side of the road, sifting through garbage and being sold into modern-day slavery. But more than that, it is motivation to heed the call of Jesus. By no choice of our own, myself and most people reading this post were born into a country of wealth and opportunity. We were able to acquire everything needed for survival and more. We have thus been provided with an opportunity to do as Jesus wanted and help the poor and broken. India is a country that desperately needs the love and care of Jesus. Together, we can make a difference in the lives of those who need it most.
Graeme Esau is a co-founder of thisvillage and is also doing research on Africa’s extractive industry for the North-South Institute. Graeme holds an MA from the University of Ottawa in Public and International Affairs and a BA in International Studies from Trinity Western University. His academic interests extend to development, economics, philosophy and political science. Graeme is an elder at the Meeting House and is passionate about alleviating poverty around the world. His spare time is spent struggling on the golf course, reading a good book and enjoying the outdoors.