Here I am watching TV with my family on our front porch. My wife, Vim, is 23 and my son, Vikas, is two and a half. A couple of neighbour children have joined us.This used to be an old army barracks, but the army left and the government turned it into free housing for people with leprosy. We have one room and this porch.Up until now we haven't paid for electricity, but last month a government man came and said we would have to pay. Before, we would not have been able to pay for it, but now we can, thanks to the extra money we are earning from the fields and fish farm started with FAO's help.
Here is a neighbour crippled by leprosy who gets around in a hand-pedalled tricycle. She is one of about 6 000 people who live in the colony. You can almost see my house at the end of the street.When my mother first came to live here, there were hardly any people. Now there are shops, houses, the government clinic and a school. The clinic gives free medicine to the lepers here.The fields where we grow our vegetables and have our fish farm are next to the colony.
Our TeleFood pond
FAO's TeleFood Fund made this fish pond possible. Three years ago, the younger people in our self-help society dug the pond by hand. TeleFood paid for two wells for water, fingerlings for stocking the pond and enough fish food to get us started. Taking care of it is a group effort.A volunteer from the Rotary Club taught us how to manage the fish farm. I contribute where it is needed. Usually I help circulate water with a pump so that the water has oxygen in it. I never did that before, but I learned how; it is not hard.The nets belong to the society, but we contract with a fish seller who comes with his own people to catch the fish and take them to market.
Benefits from TeleFood
Look at those fish! It takes them around 3 to 5 months to grow that big. We pay attention to how much fish are selling for, and then call the fish seller. He buys them for around 30 or 40 rupees per kilogram (about 66 to 88 US cents).
If we sold them ourselves at market, we might get around 23 or 24 rupees per kilogram after expenses because it costs money to transport the fish and have a stall.The extra money we make goes back into our society projects. Families with members who are sick or handicapped get a free ration of fish, and we also sell the fish to our neighbours at half price.
Sometimes we use the water from the fish pond to irrigate our fields. Other times we start the pump in the pump house behind me and fresh well water runs into the fields. It is good enough to drink.
The work is hard, but the good thing is that this is my own personal effort. It is my own work that makes a difference, and the harder I work, the more I get out of it.All decisions are made by a full vote by our society. Working on our projects has brought us together. Each of us feels responsible; if others are working hard, then we should work too.
Next to the fish farm are the society's fields, which FAO helped us start 10 years ago. Here is a society member with a healthy looking crop. We also grow grains, lettuce and potatoes.Just like the fish farm, some of it we sell, some of it we eat. Part of the money we earn goes to our families, and part of it goes back into society projects.
Our next project is a chicken farm, which we are building with profits from our fish pond and help from the Rotary Club. We hope we will make a profit of as much as 1 000 rupees per person a month selling chickens and eggs.
Before, we had to leave the colony to buy food. Now there are stores around and men also come with carts and sell vegetables, which we sometimes buy. They are a bit expensive but not too bad.
We spend about 200 to 250 rupees a month on vegetables and spices (about US$5 on average).
My wife, Vim, is cooking lunch: lentils, rice and vegetables. In the morning we drink tea, and in the evening, we eat vegetables and wheat bread. My mother is opening our new refrigerator, bought recently with our increased income.Meat is very costly. But now we get a portion of fish from the farm. Sometimes we ate fish before, but not very much. It was very expensive.Before, my family had to depend on a single food ration from the government to survive. Now with our FAO projects we produce our own wheat, rice and fish. We are not hungry any more.
If I didn't have the income from our TeleFood and FAO projects I would not be able to take care of my family, although sometimes I earn additional income doing construction.
My parents had a difficult time taking care of me, but because I have these different skills, I am confident that I will always be able to find work and take care of my family.Because of this, I hope that my son will get the best education possible. We'll see what he can do then.