Sustainable progress is the name of the game.
When I first started out in India one of my projects was a tiny fishing village. Owing to sustained and interactive charity development we not only created economic growth, a lower environmental impact and progress through education but also improved their overall health.
Of interest to me was the healthcare in this village. Children born are vaccinated and healthy and mothers have access to prompt medical care. Expecting mothers now regularly access the local Primary Health Care centre. The hygienic toilets are a roaring success and water is still pure and clean.
And with the recent addition of the village’s first Internet access and a single laptop and wifi connection to enable the usage of mobile phones the village was planning to celebrate by asking the people to come down for a celebration.
The only sour note was the memory of people who had told me that I could not produce sustainable growth. That I am no different from the “white saviour”. The note was especially sour due to this message being given to me by atheists who did not think we could do this.
I wish I had a camera for all the things they have done in the 2 years since I moved on. There were proud fishermen with good teeth and safety shoes showing me their nets and explaining to me that they actually recycle their nets. When they are done using them and there are too many holes they give them to a local company that uses the plastic to make carpets. They then stood by their catches and showed us what they were pulling in by using different nets and how they were following advice on fish quotas and balancing the catch. They showed us their notes about TB patients, they showed us the kids who were born and did a little thing to show us what we did. The kids wore white and black and when we asked why they told us that every kid who wore black was a kid who would have died or been very sick if not for the things we got them.
Out of 40 children 15 wore black. These were miracles of children who lived due to us. For when people lost all hope and got care and attention that they would never could have afforded.
I won’t lie but I got laughed at for crying.
People I trained and taught helped make all these things happen. I am so incredibly proud of everyone who turned such a remarkable success.
And through this all I saw nothing but success. What you can do as charity is to help people help themselves. You aren’t helping people by simply dragging them to the top. You help them by teaching them to climb and encouraging and when they slip and fall? You catch them or help them catch themselves. Progress is not pulling people up but helping them climb because the journey of progress also ensures that people grow and change.
I saw nothing but happy and smiling faces.
And I realised that I could not show that to people who read my work then and who supported me and kept me working. I could not show them the faces of people who I had helped and the things I have done. I could not show them the new boats and the plans to get a deep sea boat. I could not show you the village becoming a cooperative fishing and farming fleet. I could not show you the children’s thank you message or the colours of the traditional dances or the boats named after those who helped the village.
I could not show you the children who were disabled use real equipment and their shiny fresh water supply or even something so banal as the toilet.
Because I had nothing to photograph with. Or else this place would be alight with blazing smiles of people moving up. Of a a little progress in the Age of Kali.
But I can describe what I see. And it was a bittersweet day. After all that I responded to a drunk driver who got into an accident and fell off his motorcycle with no helmet. He will live but it was just painful to see someone throw away their life in such a callous and thoughtless manner. He is still unconscious and we still wait for his recovery but if I wasn’t there he wouldn’t be unconscious in a hospital but dead on the road.
And that too is a sort of progress.
I just wish I had more of the former and less of the latter.