Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of March 3, 2008
Alberta dollars free Indians from poverty
Assam people become self-sufficient, content with funded projects
By RAMON GONZALEZ
- photo supplied
A woman frees candles from their forms, another venture funded by Alberta donations.
“These are very poor people who can’t afford to send their children to school; they live in huts,” explains Margaret Michaud, a widow who has been helping the poor of Assam for about a decade. “They are shut off because there are no roads. They don’t have access to the bigger cities.”
Michaud, a retired St. Paul teacher who moved to Edmonton seven years ago, formed Friends for World Development in St. Paul in 1997 to support projects in Assam to help families become self-sufficient.
The group’s partner in Assam is Devasia Nellikunnel, an Indian humanitarian who used to work with Mother Teresa and visited St. Paul more than a decade ago. Michaud billeted him for six weeks and the man urged her to become partners with him in helping the needy.
The 78-year-old mother of three agreed because “I am a Catholic and I believe there is a spark of divine in every person and everyone deserves to have the dignity of making a decent living and to have respect.
“I believe that through love we will achieve world peace,” she said in an interview. “And how do we love? We love by first of all making people feel that they are loved by God and that they are worthy.”
“Everyone deserves to have the dignity of making a decent living and to have respect.”
Michaud handpicked several of the group members, all of whom have experience with Third World Development and have a genuine love for the poor. Every year, group members send anywhere from $5,000 to $8,000 to Nellikunnel’s Welfare Association for Relief & Regional Development (WARRD) in Assam.
“Our group can’t raise enough money for all the projects,” lamented Michaud, the group’s president since it was formed.
“We contribute as much as we can raise each year.”
The group raises funds through donations and bingos. They do three bingos a year in St. Paul. According to regulations, half of what they raise has to stay locally so they give it to the St. Paul’s Lyons Club.
The other half is matched by the Wildrose Foundation and goes to India to fund the projects.
In 1998, the group founded a milk cow project in a small village with $400 donated by a supporter for the purchase of one cow. Today the project has 17 cows and benefits 32 families.
- photo supplied
Alberta donations also bought pigs.
In 1998, the group founded a weaving and knitting and tailoring project, under which 27 girls from 27 families got weaving machines and nine girls got knitting machines.
The project has made 42 families economically self-sufficient, Michaud said. They have a better standard of living today and better social status and their children are all attending school.
In 2001-02, the group funded a multipurpose training centre, where people get training in everything from weaving to raising ducks and pigs as well as in mushroom growing.
People come to the centre for training from urban areas as well as very remote areas in the Himalayan Mountains.
In 2001-02, Friends for World Development also funded a tea plantation project that has made 19 families in the rural village of Dholaibil economically self-sufficient.
All the children in the village now attend school and no one goes hungry anymore, Michaud said.
Another tea plantation was funded in 2004 in the village of Geririjan, which is benefiting 20 families.
Currently there are several other projects under implementation, including a mushroom and bee-keeping project. The projects have the potential of benefiting up to 300 families.
- photo supplied
Mushroom growing is another cash crop.
Also in the planning stages is a candle-making project that will provide employment for at least 20 landless women.
Friends for World Development, with help from schools in Calgary and St. Paul, is also sponsoring several students in Assam.
In 2006 Margaret’s son Gary Michaud, a teacher at St. Marguerite Catholic School in Spruce Grove, and his wife Janice, spent two weeks in Assam visiting some of the projects.
They visited the training centre and saw women and children wearing the clothes they make on the looms; they visited the tea plantations and the pig raising projects and the mushroom cultivation projects and realized how big an impact a few dollars can make in the life of the poor.
“It was a very educational experience,” Gary said.
“I like the projects that people like my mom sponsor because it’s not just throwing money at them but helping them help themselves. They have to learn to raise pigs by themselves.”
Even though many of the projects’ participants are doing significantly better, poverty is everywhere in Assam and throughout India, Gary said.
“We saw a lot of poverty,” Gary commented. “(Parents) usually have a large number of children, some of whom go out and beg in the streets or (spend their time) in the garbage dump looking for something of value.”
The Michauds also saw women working in the tea plantations with a baby hanging on their back.
“And we saw very young kids breaking rocks by hand (to make gravel for the roads),” he said.
“What we do with machinery: they do it by hand.”
Devasia Nellikunnel, the partner of Friends for World Development in Assam, will visit Alberta April 24 to May 2.
For more information on the group’s activities or to donate call Margaret Michaud at 780-454-5707.
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