For 33-year-old Joshua Godfrey, studying the farming models of Israel’s
kibbutzim firsthand has provided the framework he needs to open a permaculture
orphanage back home – on the outskirts of Chennai, southeastern India.
am developing a project where I could demonstrate that permanent agriculture
could support orphan female children and elderly women,” Godfrey told The
during a recent interview in Tel Aviv. “The concept is to bring
the two communities together to tailor them as a single-parent
Godfrey decided to focus on girls, rather than on boys or both
genders, because girls still tend to face many more social problems in rural
India compared to their male counterparts, he explained.
“It’s tough to
be a girl in India,” he stressed, explaining that impoverished girls risk being
trafficked for sex and that “the stress on families is huge to raise a girl” –
they must still pay a heavy dowry for her marriage.
There are still
cases, Godfrey continued, where parents drop their female child into the garbage
due to lack of funds.
Traditionally, both the orphan and elderly female
populations in India live in confined environments and are not readily exposed
to nature, and living among plants and animals could have long-term positive
impacts on their lives, Godfrey explained.
One out of every eight elderly Indians is isolated, starved and abused, a 2012 study from the HelpAge India group said. India is home to about 31 million orphans, according to UNICEF.
The Chennai orphanage will aim to house 50 orphan girls between
the ages of five and 18, and 50 elderly women.
Small cottages will house
one girl and one older woman in a mother-daughter type of setting, Godfrey
An agricultural campus with crops and livestock manned by
approximately 20 laborers will feed into the orphanage’s expenses, giving the
farm at large “the ability to sustain itself.”
While the girls are at
school during the day and no one will be required to work on the farm, both the
children and the women will tend to personal gardens and will be able to
volunteer on the farm itself, he said.
“They are within the nature, a
closed-loop ecosystem,” he said.
Both the girls and the women will have
“the pleasure of living with nature” and they will encounter a sort of
“psychosocial care,” he added.
Godfrey was awarded a bachelor’s degree in
agriculture from the Allahabad Agricultural Institute in 2001, followed by a
master’s degree in agricultural extension from the Indira Gandhi Agricultural
University in 2003. During both of his courses of study, Godfrey said that
professors used kibbutzim as models for teaching many elements of agricultural
Following completion of his master’s, Godfrey worked in a
foundation farming development program that focused on motivating and educating
farmers about water technologies, and afterwards worked with elderly communities
affected by the 2004 tsunami.
Godfrey came to Israel in June 2012 to
volunteer at Kibbutz Bar’am for three months.
He then worked in a moshav
for two months while beginning master’s-level environmental studies at Tel Aviv
University’s Porter School.
“We face similar issues as Israel, like water
stress,” he said, noting that if the annual monsoon is late, the livelihoods of
subsistence farmers can be seriously harmed. “The farmers suffer a lot
because of this water issue.”
Godfrey only developed the idea for the
permaculture orphanage once he came to Israel and found inspiration in his
studies at the Porter School, as well as on the ground at the
As the project has progressed in its planning stages, Godfrey
has begun conducting feasibility studies by regularly visiting kibbutzim that
are practicing particularly permaculture or agriculture.
He has been
meeting with leaders at Kibbutz Harduf, which has a permaculture project for
disabled adults and atrisk youth, he said. In addition, he is also spending time
at Moshav Kidron, which specializes in food forestry; at Kibbutz Lotan, to learn
about building techniques; and at Kibbutz Neot Smadar, which has expertise in
Meanwhile, Godfrey has already applied for an
initial $45,000 in start-up funding and is continuing to apply for social
To keep Israel permanently involved not
only in the framework but also in the active daily life of the orphanage, Godrey
said he plans to “showcase Israeli technologies” and open an incubator program
where Israeli agricultural entrepreneurs can come to perform product development
While there are many standalone orphanages for children and
homes for the elderly in India, this will be the first such facility there to
integrate these residential needs with agriculture, according to
Although the farm makes the facility self-sustainable, it will
likely take about seven years to break even on the initial
However, Godfrey said he hopes to use this initial
permaculture orphanage as a prototype to building others in at least two other
impoverished Indian states.
As for the girls living there, they will
build the confidence and receive the life skills they need to move out into the
world once they reach adulthood.
“They will have skills on their hands to
stand on their legs,” he said.
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