At 65 years, Kulandei Francis shows no sign of slowing down.
A day after being awarded the prestigious Ramon Magsaysay award for economic empowerment of women in rural Tamil Nadu, Francis says he has enough work to keep him on his toes until he turns 100.
"To me, poverty is simply unacceptable, and we should declare removal of poverty as our collective national mission," says Francis, director of the Krishnagiri-based NGO, Integrated Village Development programme (IVD)
Excerpts from an exclusive interview with sify.com:
Q: Congratulations on the Magsaysay award. Were you expecting this?
I am shocked by this. I do not know how they even got the information on my work, but I am happy because this proves how women are capable of empowering themselves, given a little guidance. The way these women have transformed their own lives in these rural pockets is what keeps me going.
How did all this start? What inspired you ?
It was 1975, and I heard about poverty and starvation deaths in many rural areas. One in particular was in a reserve forest, and you had to walk 20 km from the nearest town, Anchetti, to reach the village .
Today it is motorable from Hosur, but at that time, this was the backwoods. There were a number of issues. I was appalled by the poverty. People were eating roots and whatever they could find on the forest floors, many were ill and unemployment was a reality.
The area would get rains, but the water would run off, leaving the area dry and parched. I began in a small way, established a school, got the community interested in check dams and bore wells, and after three decades we have over 200 wells in the area.
I also arranged for loans for the farmers, but that exercise ended up as a failure.
Image: Kulandei Francis