40K and Beyond

Monday 16 May, 2011

When Clary Castrission decided to do something to help the very poor of India he came to believe he needed to live with them to see what the world looked like through their eyes.

So Clary moved into a one of the 200 granite quarries in Bangalore in Southern India where the workers live in crippling poverty. The workers in the quarry are paid around $2 a day to work for more than 12 hours breaking up granite with little more than hammers and chisels. They live in squalid dwellings without running water and with cow dung floors.

Speaking to Warrane residents on Wednesday May 11, Clary said one of the best insights into the life of the quarry workers came when he overheard a domestic dispute in a makeshift house next door. Later the man who was involved freely admitted to Clary that he was an alcoholic.

“He said that after years of hammering on the stones every bone in his body ached and the only way he could sleep at night was to drink,” the NSW Finalist for Young Australian of the Year explained. “He drank a cheap bottle of brandy that cost $1.50 so he could sleep and carry on the next day.”

This is the sort of future that awaits the children of the quarries and Clary and his friends who have formed the 40K Foundation decided that the best thing they could do for this next generation was to try to give them an education.

Now, five years later, 40K has opened a bridging school for the illiterate children of the quarries to raise their level of education to the point where they can enter mainstream schooling.

Clary said that at present the project was catering for only a small group of children, but there were around 20,000 living in the quarries and millions more living in similar poverty around India. But he said he is still convinced that the way to solve poverty is by doing what you can with the opportunities that come your way.

He was inspired down this track when he was a 22-year-old third-year student at the University of Technology, Sydney, and heard a Professor of Law say: “If you really want to get involved in poverty reduction, don't go and do it from an office in New York or Geneva. Get out there, get your hands dirty and see what opportunities you can find.”

The foundation he established with his young friends, 40K, now has permanent office space, an experienced board, and three full-time staff along with a team of around 25 part time volunteers.

Clary said there were many obstacles in the way of helping the poor in India, not least being the widespread belief in reincarnation and the idea that the poor were suffering because of the sins of their past lives. But the satisfaction of opening the new bridging school and other successes had given the group the encouragement they needed to carry on.

The organisation is always looking for volunteers who want to roll up their sleeves and do something practical to help eradicate poverty. Information can be found at http://www.40k.com.au.

(Click on the photo above for more images from the evening).

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