Thursday 20 May 2010

Today my heart was gladdened.

I joined a project team meeting in the office to discuss their work - all the usual stuff, what they did this past month, what they plan to do for next month etc. We talk a bit about a full project report, what can be put into the Annual Report. I've been trying to persuade my NGO that they need to improve the quality of their photography for project reporting but also in advance of our web site construction, so when I see some photos I am interested to note good and poor examples. But I am sidetracked by one project member beaming with pride as a short video is run. It shows a group of men are sitting in a village telling a story, which the man from my NGO is caught on camera translating into Oriya. I, of course, understand neither the villagers language nor enough Oriya to know what it is all about, but the project workers face tells me he is very pleased, nay, proud of what this video is showing. While technically it is not  the best video in the world as I am told the story behind it I can't but feel gladdened to be part of this organisation and to share their joy and pride in what they have acheived.

The men have been returned to their village after one year spent in what can only be described as slave conditions. They were lured away by a contractor promising good money for labor work. About a dozen or so men from the village signed up. And that was the last anyone heard of them, no word, no money sent home, nothing,  until a few months ago when unexpectedly one man returned. He told of the group being split up, some taken to Rajastan, some to Hydrabad, some to Bangalore - all far away - and of the terrible conditions in which they had been kept. Sadly a common story, not just in India, where people are subject to unscrupulous gangmasters, who make them work incredibly long hours, with little food, poor accomodations and who take exhorbitant monetary deductions for these from the laborour's wage packet. The prospect of sending money home evapourates, and debt mounts. Dissent is punished with physical beatings and the withholding of food. Effectively the men found themselves prisoners, labouring to repay ever increasing debt, in effect working for nothing.

When the one man managed to escape and eventually get back to his village the story surfaced. The villagers work with my NGO on many projects and felt they could tell the story to the NGO workers. The NGO workers were moved by the men's plight and the situation of the other familes still missing their menfolk. The villagers wanted to act and the NGO staff galvanised their action and helped the villagers track down the remaining men, and finally they all came home, to much rejoycing. Women have their menfolk back home, children have fathers again, families are whole - job well done! 

What makes this special is that this wasn't work funded by some international or even national donor. This was work done because my NGO was in the right place at the right time, was trusted by the community and the staff recognised it was the right and proper thing to do.

I go to bed tonight with a warm feeling in my heart that somewhere someone has done good :)