By Anthony Barich
Australia has an outstanding reputation of compassion in helping Caritas assist people in third-world countries rebuild their lives, says Caritas’ Sustainable Agriculture manager for South Asia.
Dr Haridas Varikkotil Raman, in Perth last week to promote Project Compassion at the Catholic Education Office, Murdoch University, John XXIII College, the University of Notre Dame Australia in Fremantle and Thomas More College Chapel at UWA, said Australia’s level of charity through parishes is used as a model for other countries who raise money.
He says that Caritas helps communities and villages in developing nations help themselves by building social, economic and ecological security.
Australia’s charitable donations through Project Compassion help Caritas overcome the repercussions of the Green Revolution, a policy initiated by the Indian Government in the 1960s to solve the food crisis by giving farmers chemical fertilizers and pesticides rather than direct support.
These chemicals have killed the macro and micro-organisms in the soil and pollute water, and as the chemicals need seven times the amount of water to promote crop growth, such measures are useless in times of drought. So crops dry out and farmers are unable to repay loans, often to private lenders who charge 50 to 100 per cent interest. This has led to up to 150 farmers committing suicide over the past 10 years by ingesting the chemicals, which can kill a person in 10 minutes.
Fertilizer also gets into the produce itself and, when consumed, affects the soft tissue of humans, causing cancer and digestive problems, among other things. Plants and animals are also affected.
Problems are exacerbated as the men of families go the cities to earn more money and return to their village with diseases like HIV.
In places like West Bengal, farmers also compete with each other to receive chemicals to help crop growth. Deeper wells mean more chemical subsidies, but a naturally-occurring chemical in the earth mixes with oxygen when the wells are dug deep enough, and creates arsonic, which then affects the population.
To help reverse these trends and affects, Caritas mobilises families into community-based self-help groups, where a core group of 10 to 15 people solve village problems and deposit money that villagers save by working for Caritas projects that assist food production and conserve and improve the local environment.
Villagers can then borrow from this fund for a very low interest rate to buy necessities for their families. Dr Haridas says that individual self-esteem is also boosted in such initiatives as people take control of their lives.