Am a known warrior now, says Magsaysay award winner Kulandei Francis *Empower a woman and she will empower a society, says Magsaysay winner
Chennai, July 26 2012: Noting that the Magsaysay award has transformed him into a “known warrior” from an unknown one, Kulandei Francis today said he would like to be a role model for others to emulate his village development project.
The lone Indian among six award recipients, he described the honour as a “pleasant shock,” saying he wants more people to emulate his Integrated Village Development Project in Krishnagiri district in Tamil Nadu.
“I was pleasantly shocked. From an unknown warrior, I have today become a known warrior and am happy that this award comes in as recognition of 35 years of my work,” 65-year-old Francis said over phone.
Hailing from a modest background and equipped with a degree from Annamalai university, Francis said he would now like to be a role model and see more persons emulating him and his IVDP model.
“I should be a role model. I can stay here (Krishnagiri, Dharmapuri and Vellore),” he said.
Francis started IVDP in 1979 and has helped establish Self Help Groups that supported poverty-stricken women engage in group activities and start micro enterprises, create savings accounts and secure reliable loans.
At present there are over 8000 SHGs across three districts of Krishnagiri, Dharmapuri and Vellore, supported by IVDP. Both Francis’s wife and daughter play prominent roles in running his organisation.
The Magsaysay Foundation had said yesterday that Francis was being recognised for “his visionary zeal, his profound faith in community energies, and his sustained programmes in pursuing the holistic economic empowerment of thousands of women and their families in rural India.”
Empower a woman and she will empower a society, says Magsaysay winner
Chennai, July 26 2012: When 65 year-old Kulandei Francis, a priest-turned- social activist in Krishnapuri district in Tamil Nadu got a phone call from Ramon Magsaysay Centre in Manila late Wednesday evening informing him that he has been selected for the Ramon Magsaysay Awardfor 2012, he was flabbergasted. “I have never heard about Magsaysay Award. I also could not believe my ears since this is the first of its kind event in my life. I have never been given any honor either by the State or Central governments,” Francis told DNA.
Magsaysay Award is the Asian equivalent to the Nobel Prize. The Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation selected Francis for the honor ‘for breaking the bonds of poverty and prejudice’. “The Foundation recognizes his visionary seal, his profound faith in community energy and his sustained programs in pursuing the holistic economic empowermentof thousands of women and their families in rural India,” the Foundation said in a release.
“You empower one woman and she will empower a society. This is what I learnt from my 35 years of social service,” said Francis whose Integrated Village Development Project revolutionized many villages in the backward districts of Krishnagiri and Dharmapuri.
There are 8,500 self help groups in these districts boasting of 1,53,000 women as its active members. “They do annual business worth Rs 2500 crore. Women run the families and their husbands stay away from vices like alcoholism or drug addiction. More than a million people spread across 200 villages are a happy and contended lot. I rate this award as a honor to the unknown warrior,” said Francis.
The major achievement of Francis, according to R Manikantan, manager, Pallavan Grameen Bank, was saving the villagers from greedy money lenders. “We do not have any problem in extending loans to the SHGs headed by Francis. Through perseverance and hard work, he has carved outa society where women and menwork together. While women earn Rs 300 per day by selling milk to cooperatives, men help them to supplement the family income by farming operations and poultry,” said Manikantan who has been associated with Francis and his NGO for the last 25 years.
Vasanthi, a homemaker from Devasamudram, a remote village in Krishnagiri, said Francis guided them to a world of hygiene and sanitation. “Today all women in these SHGs use sanitary napkins. We all use purified water for drinking and cooking. All our children , especially girls, go to schools and colleges. He has made arrangements with banks for their educational loans,” said Vasanthi.
Francis said more than 50 per cent of the families associated with IVDP has switched over to toilets from open defecation. “We are planning to eradicate open defecation on a war footing,” he said.
He said he does not want to expand his operations beyond Dharmapuri and Krishnagiri districts. “My hands are full here itself. But I want others to replicate the work I have done here all over the country. I can help them with free consultancy,” said a beaming Francis.
The former member of the Holy Cross Society is yet to find out who informed the Magsaysay Foundation about his work. But Carmencita T Abella, president, RMAF, told this writer that the selection process is a closely guarded secret. “We have our own sources all over Asia who pinpoint good and selfless workers who deserve this honor. That’s all I could tell you,” said Abella.
For the record, 49 Indians have won the Magsaysay Awards till now. And Tamil Nadu boasts of six awardees which include MS Swaminathan, late MS Subbulakshmi, Dr Santha, TN Seshan and P Sainath.