Indian student to build innovative orphanage using Israeli permaculture techniques

Student studies farming methods used in Kibbutzim, Moshavim to improve Indian orphanage that helps impoverished children.

July 3, 2013 14:47
4 minute read.

JOSHUA GODFREY 370. (photo credit: Courtesy)

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.

“I am developing a project where I could demonstrate that permanent agriculture could support orphan female children and elderly women,” Godfrey told The Jerusalem Post during a recent interview in Tel Aviv. “The concept is to bring the two communities together to tailor them as a single-parent family.”

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 explained.

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 development.

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 kibbutzim.

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 permaculture practices.

Meanwhile, Godfrey has already applied for an initial $45,000 in start-up funding and is continuing to apply for social entrepreneurship fellowships.

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 on site.

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 Godfrey.

Although the farm makes the facility self-sustainable, it will likely take about seven years to break even on the initial investments.

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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