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.