It was still light; the sky was deepening into dusk. Cow bellows interrupted the quiet vibe of village life; a few pushbikes lined the streets; spots of colourful saris painted the countryside. I like to watch their faces. It’s a good way for me to get a feel for what they are saying, even though I can’t understand the words. I asked one of the local World Vision staff, who’s been with the organisation for 20 years, what he enjoyed most about the work he does. I waited as my question was translated, and I watched his face closely as the foreign words relayed the message. His face lit up as he listened, and then he smiled as he responded. He said it’s the relationship he finds most rewarding. “They are like family.” Even on his day off, you will often find him visiting the villages he works with. As Alison from Talking Frankly succinctly put it, “It’s a calling, not a job.” The typical term for a World Vision project is 15 years, so there’s time to establish meaningful relationships with the community. I’ve learned sustainable change takes time. Time, support, perseverance, compassion, patience, savvy and passion. And it takes special people to do this type of work, and I deeply admire the World Vision staff on the ground, and feel a sense of gratefulness to meet them, and to do my part to support the incredible work they do.
I never know what quite to expect at each World Vision project. I knew this day we were visiting a “Milk Society” but that was about it. This Milk Society project was designed for a rural community in the Pudukottai region in India and was established in 2011, so it’s about halfway through the 15 year term which is an interesting time to visit because it’s well established now, but still heavily supported by World Vision. At the start of this project, after careful assessment and planning, World Vision gave 27 cows to families in this community with training and additional financial support needed for them to set up their own businesses. Training can include education on cow health, instruction on how to measure fat content in milk, book keeping skills, and how to save money and run a business.
One of the ladies who shared her story was given one cow in 2011, and thanks to profits from her milk business, she has now grown her business to six cows. This means she can afford to send her children to a private school where they will learn English along with Tamil. What great opportunities this will give her children in the future! One of her children used to be malnourished. “He used to just be still and have no energy,” she said. World Vision run an intensive 90 day emergency food program for malnourished children with addition follow up, and this mother said it made a big difference to her son. Now with good quality milk and money for food, he is happy and full of life. I could see it in they way he jiggled and giggled, bright eyed on her lap. I can imagine as a mother, to see your kids suffer in this way, would be heartbreaking, and on the flip side, to have such positive outcomes for her children in both health and education – such a joy!
Another mother of three, who has been parenting solo for over three years due to her husband’s work far away from home, also started with one cow, and now she has three. Her family used to live in a mud hut, but they now can afford brick housing due to the profit she is able to maintain due to the cow milk business. You can’t help but be inspired by these women who take hold of an opportunity and turn it into gold. They are business owners, they are mothers, they are heroes.
It’s not only about the individuals, World Vision also helps to establish community self help groups, and most significantly, the important habit of saving. Members of the group are taught how to consistently save a little money into pool fund so they can help each other and their own community. Since 2011, the self help group in this community has saved a whopping 400,000 rupees which amounts to approximately $8,000 Australian dollars! The concept of saving is a new one for may rural communities – the majority of people have never opened a bank account – and it means people can keep out of the cycle of debt. Persons in the community who are going through a tough time can loan from the self help group and get a leg up.
Another positive out coming from the milk society is the quality of the milk and the benefits for the children in the area. This community has a very low rate of child malnutrition because of the access to quality (non watered down) milk. There are 32 sponsored children in this community of 102 families, and this is the type of project possible thanks to people all around the world who invest in this way. It changes individual lives, assists families and transforms communities. Businesses are run, malnutrition is almost abolished, children are educated, homes are improved…and it all started with a cow.