By Anto Akkara
Dand, India, 26 April (ENI)--Retired Indian soldier Amar Singh
has been living in penury after six consecutive years of droughts
that forced his family to stop farming in their fields around the
village of Dand in India's northwestern state of Rajasthan.
However, their harsh lives in the desert state changed for the
better when church social workers arrived and set up self-help
groups for women. Initially, Singh's wife Hiri Devi was not keen
to join the women's group started by the social workers from the
Church of North India (CNI). But her friends and her husband
cajoled Devi to join the group and to take out loan of 5000
rupees (US$110). With that money, Singh's family bought six
sheep. Two year's later, they have 55 animals.
And with the money accumulated from selling milk and wool, Singh
deepened his well and found water to resume farming. The water
ensured better feed for the sheep and the cattle with the fodder
now grown in the field.
"You don't find this in many villages," Singh told Ecumenical
News International as he stood in his tiny onion plot surrounded
by rocks and dying trees.
Prakash Dodiyar, the field worker who looks after the CNI
programme in Dand and 15 neighbouring villages, explained, "The
financial support is only part of our drought relief programmes.
Our aim is to educate and empower the people to face the drought
The church workers are also undertaking similar drought relief
and rehabilitation programmes in 45 other villages in the region
faced with acute water shortage and other problems.
"Normally, there is not much rain in this area. And when it fails
for years in a row, what can we do?" asked Hukum Singh, a farmer
who sits most of the time looking at his parched fields.
But the church groups are using the situation to conduct training
on water conservation methods. They arrange visits of water
conservation experts to the remote villages and provide work to
villagers with innovative water preservation projects.
Catholic Relief Services, the international emergency and relief
body of the Roman Catholic Church in the United States, is
supporting several "food for work" watershed programmes in the
desert state. Under these programmes, each worker gets four
kilograms of wheat and 250 millilitres cooking oil each day for
working 6 hours on making small dams, deepening ponds and other
water preservation projects.
"We are glad that we are getting employment while many villages
are starving," said Santosh Telli, who works on a small dam at
the village of Anshari.
Albert Abhay Singh, the project co-ordinator of the watershed
programmes of the Catholic diocese of Ajmer, said the villagers
were at first "not excited" about the food for work projects. But
now, he asserted, they can see the benefits. [476 words]
[COURTESY TO ENI AS SOURCE]