Leaving the closest city with an airport, Guwahati, we drove up into the mountains, through teak forests, past thousands of small dwellings with smoke coming from the windows and roofs, as people prepared a little food on wood fires. We saw two men on an elephant walking along the highway.
When we arrived, the women of the Nongladew village were beginning a day of training as seamstresses. But before we joined them we spent some time getting to know Martha and her family and discovering what World Renew is up to here.
Many development organizations prefer to work near big towns and roads, because amenities and access will be better, especially in the rainy season. But this choice can mean that the poorest of the poor get left out, and these are the people who would benefit most from having someone walk alongside them.
World Renew is firm in its conviction of Putting The Last First - however inconvenient it is.
The village of Nongladew is a good example of this: it is remote, tough, and the people face tremendous challenges of poverty.
Martha and her children are in a situation where they don’t have enough to eat, her daily life is nothing short of a struggle for her family to survive. Even Martha’s hard work may not guarantee that they can eat, because access to food depends on special skills, and on the weather.
Martha rises at four every morning, in the dark, with no electricity. She finds and chops firewood, lights a fire, she cooks some simple food, she gets her children ready and takes them to school, and then she sets off on a long walk to the plot of land she farms. Before she finishes her work, with a hoe and machete, the children return home, and Martha has left them some food to eat when they get there. Martha works a long day on her plot, growing bananas, sorghum, pineapples and a few other crops for their own consumption.
World Renew, through its partner Neicord, develops the capacity of Martha and the people in Nongladew. They learn farming skills and post-harvest skills, to improve their harvests and look after their grains. They learn how to improve their nutrition by planting and eating particular varieties of crops, and by setting up small family-sized fish farms.
The week before we arrived there had been a hail storm, hail like golf balls had fallen for a few minutes and the damage was extensive. Any standing crops were damaged, most of them destroyed, it’s drastic for Martha and everyone in the area, to lose a whole crop when you have no reserves can mean you enter into severe malnutrition. The roof of the school where Martha’s children study was irreparably damaged.
Diversifying from farming, to have an income stream from something else, can be vital when you are faced with losing a crop. And so World Renew’s trainings in things like making clothes to sell can provide a life-saving alternative. And because banks normally won’t provide services to poor, indigenous farmers - particularly for emergencies - World Renew helped set up a village savings and loans group. Martha is a part of this group.
Putting the last first, as a principle of faith and solidarity with others less fortunate than ourselves, is not an easy job, but World Renew doesn’t shy away from difficulty. It deals with it with conviction, practical solutions and hard work. Meeting Martha and the people of Nongladew, I am overwhelmed with the sense and value of this vision.
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About the author: Sean Hawkey sometimes serves as the eyes and ears of World Renew and you when he visits World Renew's projects around the world as a photographer and videographer.