They say if life gives you lemons, you make a lemonade out of it and 2012 Magsaysay awardee, Kulandei Francis remains yet another proof to this. At 65 years, he shows no sign of slowing down.
Over the past 30 years, he has been working tirelessly to improve the living conditions in rural India. But his contribution gained attention after he received the prestigious Ramon Magsaysay award in 2012.
Walking down the memory lane, priest turned social worker grew up in Salem, a village in Tamil Nadu. Eldest among his six siblings, he was the only one who could afford to go to college. And that too was possible because his mother sold a small part of their land to the money lenders.
Fresh from college, he was not keen on getting a job. He wanted to join the priestly order to engage in the upliftment of the society and during a period of training, he and two of his colleagues opted to work at the remote Sesurajapuram village conducting night school to the community kids.
In 1979 Francis founded the Integrated Village Development Programme (IVDP). The organization began small with a night school and a first-aid centre in Krishnagiri, Tamil Nadu. IVDP started out with small projects like conducting night schools in the light of gas lamps and setting up a first-aid centre. Today, IVDP is majorly into SHG, health and hygiene and education.
Wonder what inspired him? When Mr.Kulandei heard about poverty and starvation in rural India, he decided to make a difference in the society with his experience he has had over the years. For this one particular community who lived in reserved forest, he recalls they use to eat roots and whatever they could find in the forest which was making them ill and thus increasing the death rate.
Today if you visit the same village, the village is completely different. Today there is a school, a bore well to drink clean water and the village is now motorable from Hosur whereas years back one had to walk 20kms from the nearest town to the village.
Over the years, IVDP has established over 8,200 self-help groups, built over 300 check-dams and empowered over 100,000 women, giving families a stable livelihood.
We think we need more people like Mr.Kulandei in our country. We salute such unsung heroes in our lives who are trying to bring a change in our country.