(Italian version here)
Carol Faison first traveled to India in 1994, in search of a few children she had started sponsoring then lost track of. Until then, she had been campaigning in Italy to provide financial support for indigent children in southern India, but her visit to the state of Andhra Pradesh made her realize she needed to take over the situation. Together with her husband, she decided to found Care&Share Charitable Trust, an NGO aiming to house, educate and support abandoned children in the city of Vijayawada.
In this interview, Carol tells us about her amazing story, the goals she achieved and the challenges she faced while working with development cooperation in India. We close our talk with some considerations about the situation in the Indian subcontinent: despite being described by media as a fast-growing economy, India is in fact facing a deep crisis and still has a long way to walk to equality and development.
interview by Rossella Sala
R-First of all, Carol: how did it come to your mind to create Care&Share? Why did an American living in Venice quit her job and lifestyle to move to India to found an NGO and help children in distress?
C-It was actually an idea of my brother’s, who spent some time in Andhra Pradesh in 1991 as an Indian Literature student. He got to know some local priests who were hosting a group of children in their mission, since the boys had come from a small island with no school and had no way to get an education. My brother was moved by the missioners’ story and as soon as he came back to Italy, he asked our family for help: he was willing to give financial support to some kids, in order to allow them to complete their studies. I started writing to the mission’s director, asking for photos and information about the children to find them some sponsors. In a few weeks, thanks to word of mouth, we had found so many supporters that we decided to involve more missions: in just four years, we would manage to sponsor more than 300 kids. However, the turning point occurred in 1994, when the first mission’s director suddenly died and I had to leave for India to track the children he had been taking care of for so many years. I succeeded in my research, mainly because of the first person I met here in India, Noel (her husband): he was a social worker willing to dedicate his life to disabled people and street children. My visit was therefore an occasion to start planning new projects, including the idea of renting some apartments in town where we began housing kids rescued from the streets. By 1999 the rent had become so expensive and the flats were in such bad conditions that we resolved to buy a plot of land in the countryside, where we built Care&Share’s first village, Daddy’s Home, which now hosts more than 600 children. Our choice to move to a rural area was mainly due to our will to take the boys away from the city, to discourage them from going back to the streets again.
R-What are the main challenges you had to face in your 20-year-long mission?
C-Most of our problems are due to differences between the European and the Indian mentality: our cultural backgrounds have very little in common, mostly because we live in a rural area where people’s attitude towards problems is basically opposed to ours. They have no sense of urgency, while we are used to planning and organizing everything. Here villagers still live according to natural rhythms, they have a far more relative sense of punctuality and can hardly understand the idea of full-time work, since farmers are not used to work 12 months in a year. I often feel the reason people do what they are supposed to is they want to please me or Noel, instead of understanding the purpose of their job.
Another big problem is castes: most Care&Share children belong to lower castes and this discourages high-caste adults from working for us. Fortunately we have always been supported by the State from which we received several rewards, although they never helped us financially. Money has become a major issue for us, as India is plagued by growing inflation and the economic crisis in the West prevents us from rising sponsorship fees, that are no more sufficient to cover the organization’s costs. We don’t know how to sort this problem out.
C-Not at all. India is a country where 80% of the population lives in rural areas, 600 million people do not have access to drinking water and most families live in terrible hygienic conditions. Most Indians still clean their homes according to traditional methods, and sweeping the floor with manure certainly isn’t the best way to keep it hygienically safe! Furthermore, there are no measures to protect natural resources, rubbish is piling up in the streets, air is terribly polluted; they keep on building new cities and constructions without any town plan nor infrastructure: parkings, schools, hospitals are in awful conditions.
Journalists describing this country as an economic tiger should experience reality at first hand, instead of just landing in Delhi or Mumbai to write an article about some new big firm and then flying back to Europe having no idea of what reality here is like. The same thing happened after the tsunami in 2004: Care&Share was very active in helping the villages destroyed by the catastrophe, but I didn’t see a single journalist during the emergency. No one was there to report what was going on in the countryside, in small towns, all the most damaged areas.
R- You depicted quite a difficult scenario. In your opinion, can India reach its economic and social development goals in the coming years?
C-I have the impression there is a huge disaster going on in India. Brain-drain has reached endemic proportions, since the few talented graduates we have are forced to emigrate because they find no opportunities here. The consequences of this phenomenon are evident on both economy and politics: the ruling class is now composed by people who have reached their positions corrupting public authorities and using irregular methods to win votes in their town or state. These men don’t have any education, they are actors or gangsters with no experience in politics who couldn’t care less about their country’s future. A few days ago I happened to watch Obama’s inauguration speech with one of my boys. He asked me whether I thought Rahul Gandhi would ever be able to say such words to his citizens. Today, India is an adrift country still far from becoming a developed nation.