Saving an African child’s life – with cow dung


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.



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7 responses to “Saving an African child’s life – with cow dung

  1. Peter Hayes

    Its a great story, I love it. Krishna has put everything in place for our convenience but we always want to change things in a way that fights against his arrangements.

    Best wishes.


  2. Thanks Peter,
    Whether its a flood in Doncaster or a famine in Ethiopia we are all aware, as never before, of the very delicate balance within nature. Religion is a powerful force for either restoring that balance or disturbing it. As Vaishnavas we are called upon to help restore the balance of nature and the place of humans in it, by sharing simple,yet essential, information wherever we can.

  3. Vidya Sagar

    Very nice to hear the activities of Vidura prabhu.

  4. Jane MacCutcheon

    Excellent that the Africans have been redirected to utilize wise fuel methods such as the cow dung. But everyone continues to ignore the most crucial point to the survival of us all: birth control. The world was overpopulated decades ago, and now is approaching the precipice of destruction, causing depletion of resources, pollution that is poisoning us, and global warming. Poor, undernourished women do not need to be continually used as breeding devices. They deserve to have a life just as the men who run about freely not carrying their share of the load. I’m sure this will fall on deaf ears, but that is the problem. You would rather feel that you are a martyr in your meager assistance, while doing nothing to encourage birth control. If you spent time talking with these people, the men in particular, about how lack of birth control creates so much misery and war, maybe you could be more readily applauded. If these people are unwilling to change in this area, as are so many others, then your efforts are really, sadly futile. If you do not agree that birth control is important, I question your intelligence. The world is finite and so are its resources.

  5. Thanks for your comments Jane. From what I have understood about overpopulation – and you can please correct me – the problems stem from poor land use, poor social collaboration and unsustainable economic principles rather than the number of humans per square kilometer.

    In Africa it is a sad fact is that even though birth control is not practised the workings of disease, famine and war seem to be reducing the population nevertheless. 750,000 children die before the age of five of malaria; cholera and dysentery claim thousands more lives; and AIDS is killing 2.9 million every year now, the majority of those cases in Africa. Then war is also claiming so many. Eight years of war in the Congo (1998-2006) has claimed 4 million lives.

    I am not sure whether overpopulation is the problem or whether keeping people alive is the problem.

    It is true that with figures like these the contribution of the Hare Krishna movement in Africa is ‘meager’ but at least there are a few people alive today who would not be were it not for Vidura, the cow-dung enthusiast mentioned in the blog piece.

  6. Jane MacCutcheon

    One can never diminish what you do, and I understand your comments about the devastating
    circumstances of disease and war. However, I reiterate that the world and its resources are finite and to say that poor land utilization is the only problem still misses the crucial point. We cannot continue to thoughtlessly populate a finite world.
    Wars are over land and resources and if women especially are not overburdened by birthing, they can train, especially their male children, to be thoughtful and join you in solving land use problems rather than acting out for their own immediate pleasure and power. They can learn that there is a better way. After all, before there was so much population, there was not so much overuse of land (and water) in such a critical manner.

    When I speak of overpopulation, I assure you that I am speaking of the whole world and not just the African people.

  7. ashling

    how wonder full 🙂

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