Simple Living Saves Lives

by HG Kripamoya prabhu
Srila Prabhupada consistently stressed how important it is to
understand the gifts of nature and of God’s plan for humans – who
would think that cow-dung is an important part of it all?
Today I learned of how a small amount of traditional guidance saved
the lives of many children in Africa. It was a fascinating story told
to me by a visiting old friend and I thought I’d share it with you.
Vidura das, an Irish devotee of Krishna, lived in Kisumu, Kenya for
many years. He and his African wife Esther set up a large-scale food
distribution programme for needy people. And in northern Kenya there
were plenty of needy people. What concerned him most was that there
were many children who died young. “We discovered that the very area
where we were living had the highest infant mortality rate in the
world,” he explained.
To distribute food as a religious act, and yet to watch parents grieve
over their dead children was an intolerable situation for a
compassionate devotee like Vidura, so he started to ask questions
around the area. Dirty drinking water was the obvious culprit, but
when he enquired of the mothers why they did not boil the water they
replied that they did not have the money to buy charcoal, the commonly
used fuel.
Remembering that the guru of the Hare Krishna movement had always
praised the cow for providing, amongst many other gifts, the
sustainable fuel of dung, he explained to the women that Indians have
for centuries mixed dung with straw and dried it to create an
everlasting supply of good quality fuel. But the local Africans needed
to be encouraged to refrain from slaughtering their cows if they were
going to create a sustainable fuel source. They also had to overcome
the prejudice – given to their tribe decades ago by Christian
missionaries – that dung was dirty and never to be touched.
After some period of encouragement, mainly to women who already
trusted him as ‘Father Vidura,’ some families complied followed by
many more. “Eventually health workers were coming up from Nairobi to
see why children in our area were living longer than children
throughout Kenya,” Vidura said. The project was an overwhelming
success, and received endorsement by the tribal patriarchs, who, as
children, remembered their mothers talking of cow-dung as fuel in
their village but who had switched to the more expensive wood after
the missionaries had persuaded them to change. It was only a small
change to revert back to a more traditional fuel – and dung has to be
the cheapest and most abundant thing in the world – but it made a
world of difference.
Vidura went on to introduce the spinning wheel and the loom, and is
now in dialogue with President Musoveni of Uganda to introduce hemp as
a major crop for the villagers who live around Lake Victoria.
#Prahladananda Swami – 22/7/07

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