Since we were the first volunteer group to go to Chuvuru village, Ravi, the head of Association of Relief Volunteers (ARV), decided it would be good for us to see another village where ARV has been working for a year and a half. So Wednesday we went to Gummallapadu (nicknamed GP) village. It was a long drive, and then we crossed a new bridge above a stream of beautiful purple flowers and all piled into a rickshaw that took us to the entrance of the village. That was quite an experience! Here`s a picture of us crossing the bridge:
Wow, from the moment I saw it I could tell there had been a lot of progress! Here, you can see for yourself the amount of construction and development:
I`m standing on top of the four-story community center which also serves as a medical clinic and temporary shelter for homeless and migrant workers. In front of me is the church. To the right is the school, and to the left are some houses. Nearly everyone had a house! You can`t really see much, though. Here`s perhaps a better picture of other houses. Notice that many have straw huts beside them. During the dry season, they still use the huts for storage or extra rooms.
Annie and Vishal were the most enthralled. They had worked in this village last year and were so excited to see the progress. But a lot of the old problems were still present. About thirty years ago there was a massive cyclone, so to help with relief efforts the Indian government allotted unused land for Dalits (untouchables) to farm and do aquaculture. But the people had no money to invest in land development, fertilizer, seed, anything, so they ended up leasing the land to rich landlords, who made them sign contracts the people couldn`t read. The people ended up giving up all their land to these wealthy landlords and were forced to work it, giving the landlords nearly all their profits. Basically it was a reinstatement of the feudal system. Then these wealthy landlords decided to farm the most profitable kind of fish, which happened to be salt water. So they built earthen walls within the lake, the largest freshwater lake in Asia, and filled the lake with salt and pesticides. Here`s a picture of what that looks like:
The water became contaminated and undrinkable and many of the native species of fish and bird became endangered. So instead of insisting the land lords use better techniques and give the villagers fair wages, the government simply took the land back and designated it as a bird sanctuary. So what can the people do? Now they have to migrate for work, sometimes hundreds of miles. Sometimes more than two dozen people are stuffed into the back of a truck, and they often fall out and die, so there is a surprising amount of widows. Many of these women have left to become domestic servants in Kuwait, and often complain about mistreatment, enslavement, and sexual abuse. Children who`s parents have died or left to find work are unattended and unschooled.
So along came ARV. They are trying to negotiate with the government to allow the people to practice traditional farming and agriculture within the bird sanctuary. Then everyone will be happy, except the wealthy land lords, maybe. Traditional farming and agriculture has never hurt the native fish and birds; it went on for thousands of years without disturbing anything. The bird sanctuary might also provide the added industry of tourism for the locals. So far ARV has made a little progress, but the government hasn`t fully agreed yet. Things take time in India, just like they do in any beurocratic system. Unfortunately, many people have to suffer and even die during that time. Annie and Vishal noted that many of the families they knew before had migrated or were gone for days at a time, leaving their children behind. There were a LOT more kids than adults in that village, and a few with shaved heads. It was scary and sad to see.
But, having said that, yes, there`s been a lot of progress. Here`s one story that really touched me. A fifty-five-year-old widow was hit by a truck was dying. She didn`t have a house, so she slept in the middle of the village on a bed. When it rained and stormed, she got sick. The villagers said she didn`t deserve a house. So ARV stepped in, provided her with medical care, and built her a house. Here`s me sitting beside her:
See how healthy and happy she looks? And the children all love her. They often come over to her house and she tells them stories. She taught me the word Wandanamuru. Thank you.
We spent most of the day being led around the village by the kids. We showed them pictures of our families and homes and they showed us theirs. In one house, a gecko fell from the ceiling and almost landed on my head! That was pretty funny. There were geckos everywhere; we even caught one by the tail to see if it would come off and sure enough! Didn`t pinch it or anything, just came right off and kept wiggling!
These kids too loved songs, dancing, and photos. Here`s them posing with a whole family. Notice it`s only children and old women. I think in total I only saw two young men in the entire village:
Here`s one guy feeding the chickens, wearing the traditional men`s work-skirt thing:
In this village, everyone was Christian. A lot of Dalits convert because they are attracted to the message of love and equality denied to them in Hinduism and Islam. Many of the villagers had Christian names like Maria and Job. I asked the kids if they knew any “Jesus songs” and they burst into several. Interestingly enough, no one knew Amazing Grace, but they knew a few modern praise songs and had their own traditional folk songs and hymns. I really wanted to post a video, but I`ve been trying for the last three hours and they all seem to be too long for blogger. It
won`t take anything over one minute. Oh, well. They were singing "Jesus I love you" and were so cute!
I also had a lot of fun playing “let`s travel” with the kids. They all piled into the rickshaw and we pretended to go to different cities. First we started in country; Madras, Hyderabad, Deli, Calcutta. Then we went to New York and Singapore and London and Paris. Anytime we stopped somewhere I would point out the sites, “Look, there`s the Statue of Liberty, look, there`s Big Ben clock!”
Then the kids asked me, “Your village?” My village. I told them Tulsa, the city where I went to church all my life and attended university, but later on it really made me think. Where is my village? Is it Temple, Texas where I was born? Owasso, Oklahoma where I was raised? Tulsa? Nabari, Japan where I live now? Lilongwe in Malawi, Africa where I spent a summer and left a huge part of my heart with the AIDS orphans there? Or Chuvuru where I spent most of my time in India building houses and teaching the kids?
The world is my village. Perhaps that sounds cheesy, but I really think so. Wherever there are welcoming hearts and warm smiles, that place will be my home, my village for as long as I am there. And the villagers of India really are so welcoming, so loving that you feel like one of them from the very beginning. There is no insider/outsider. Only friend and family.