By Anne Ferrer
RDT Executive Director
This year RDT celebrates its 50th year in India. 50 years of turning hopelessness and despair into dignity, change and equality.
Vicente and I reached Anantapur in 1969 with no funds, no organisation and no team. We were four people. I was 21 years old, a young journalist living in Mumbai along with Vicente Ferrer and two volunteers from his previous place of work in Maharastra, Pereira and Mahadeo. Many people ask me why we left everything behind us and came with Vicente to work in Anantapur?
When Vicente and I reached Hyderabad in 1969, a group of journalists asked us, “Where are you going to start your work?” Vicente answered, “You know your state better than me, tell me which is the most needy place”. The journalists told us that in Andhra Pradesh, the region of Rayalaseema is the most underprivileged and within Rayalaseema, Anantapur is the poorest district with constant droughts, high levels of migration and poverty. So we came to Anantapur, a desert like area, where the idea of having a better life, the possibility of offering a different future for their children or daring to think that their lives could change was not even a dream.
Vicente had a powerful conviction, a very clear vision and never a doubt about it. Vicente inspired us, three volunteers in 1969, as he convinced and inspired thousands of people later on that:
1) The eradication of extreme poverty and suffering in the world is not a dream. It is an achievable goal. If we worked together at the grassroots with people, helping them, little by little, they can transform their lives.
2) That we cannot leave this eradication of extreme poverty only to the Government and big institutions. Each of us has a role to play, a responsibility, to contribute our might however small that may be, to making our world a better place for everyone.
Over this long half century, I have seen these words, spoken by Vicente, come true and become a reality for all of us thousands of poor people.
I would like to share with you some of people’s expressions about RDTs work and their own progress during the last 50 years. I think people talk about the change in their lives in a way that is not possible for us to describe.
“The very thought that RDT is with us gives us strength”
“Women led the life of slavery but now we are living with freedom”
“From Vicente Ferrer and RDT we have learnt the importance of sharing, of giving…Today even though we are not well-off, we share the little we have through our hundis…with our small coins we can make a difference in the lives of others and help people and children poorer than us have a better life.”
“We never thought our lives could change, we though they would always be the same like generations before us…now we see the change, we feel the change, we ARE the change…”
Reading people’s words, I was reminded of Vicente’s advice to all of us many years ago – “we will work quietly, consistently. It may take many years, helping people improve their conditions in life, but slowly they will come out of poverty and have a dignified life like others in society.” The words of the people made me feel that that has happened and it is already happening.
As Vicente once said “as long as there is suffering in the world, RDT will continue working.”
That is our goal for the next 50 years: Reaching more people and helping them to bring change in their lives.
About the author:
Ms. Anne Ferrer arrived in India when she was 16 as part of an adventurous journey by car with her family. She was working as a journalist in Mumbai when she met Vicente during an interview and was inspired by his philosophy and work in Manmad. At the age of 21 she quit her job and joined Vicente and together they founded Rural Development Trust in 1969 in Anantapur. Currently she is the Executive Director of RDT as well as the President of Fundación Vicente Ferrer in Spain. Amongst several accolades, Anne Ferrer is the recipient of the Jamnalal Bajaj 2015 award for the development of women and children and the Hamsa Award 2015 given by the Andhra Pradesh Government.