Volume 2 Number 4
Kiwis in India
01 April 1989

Inspired by the dream that India's Western Ghats might be re-afforested by the year 2000, over 60 senior college and university students from throughout New Zealand applied to join.

There can't be many students who go to India and get the chance to meet both Mother Teresa and the Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi, but this was the recent experience of 37 people from New Zealand and the Pacific.

The group, who called themselves Project Redirection, had gone to India to work on environmental projects on `an adventure of service', as Joan Holland, Principal of St Cuthbert's College, Auckland, and initiator of the project, put it. Inspired by the dream that India's Western Ghats might be re-afforested by the year 2000, over 60 senior college and university students from throughout New Zealand applied to join. Twenty-one were chosen, with others representing Fiji, Tonga, Niue. Samoa, Kiribati, Australia and the Philippines. All had raised their expenses of NZ$3,500.

Receiving the group at his residence in New Delhi, the Prime Minister told them. 'There are so many barriers in the world today, social, political, religious, but with the environment there can be no barrier.' This was certainly something that the group had experienced first-hand.

100,000 saplings
Claire Eeles, a political science graduate, outlined their experiences for Mr Gandhi. Ten days had been spent at the Moral ReArmament training centre in Panchgani, near Bombay, working with local villagers and a nearby secondary school in a re-afforestation programme.

There, a 20-year experiment has restored a 35-acre forest on a hillside above the Asia Plateau centre. The area, barren for many years, had once been a thickly wooded forest. Regeneration had been successful because the forest had been protected from dryseason fires that devastate the region year after year. Fortyeight different species of birds are now found there.

In the last seven years over 100,000 saplings have been planted on the most eroded parts of the hillside. They are growing well, with a survival rate of 65-80 per cent, attracting the attention of the local State Social Forestry Department, and encouraging people to develop their own land.

But it was in the villages that the group really experienced the breaking down of barriers of ignorance and prejudice. On New Year's Day, Project Redirection had the opportunity of working with elders and young men of Dandeghar village in clearing a mile-long fire-break around an area they had selected for protection. The hard work and team spirit moved beyond differences of language and culture and was followed by an invitation to the temple grounds where the elders expressed their thanks. Then came a meal shared in village homes followed by a Hindi movie and overnight hospitality for the visitors.

Destitute and dying
Sanjeevan Vidyalaya is a well known Panchgani school with its own forestry project, developed in association with another local initiative, the Green Future Foundation. Here the team worked with students on land given by the Forestry Department, learning about managing a plantation.

From Delhi the group moved to Debra Dun to assist at Raphael, the Ryder-Cheshire Centre for handicapped children and leprosy and tuberculosis patients. Dr Hussain, who left a well paid job to take charge of the TB unit, cares for villagers within a 40-mile radius of Raphael. His selfless work has encouraged two city specialists to give their services in the villages for one day every week.

Calcutta was the final stop and the group spent time in Mother Teresa's homes with her Sisters and Brothers of Charity and their novices. Here the group glimpsed the meaning of sacrifice and the quality of dedication needed to give love and care to all who suffer, especially to the destitute and dying. The energy and joy of Mother Teresa's workers were an inspiration. It was clear that human oppression and poverty need not reduce the human spirit to despair.

Throughout the 28-day journey, bridges of trust and appreciation were built. As one young Bangladeshi, whom the group met at Asia Plateau, wrote afterwards to one of the New Zealanders, `I hope this is going to develop into a deep and lasting friendship between our two countries and peoples.'

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