Lifestyle General Empowering Local Answers to Poverty
Empowering Local Answers to Poverty

Dr-Peter-Connaughton-March 13-2Dr Peter Connaughton fund-raising through West Bengal

Occupational physician Dr Peter Connaughton has just spent some of his precious downtime with 11 other intrepid cyclists in West Bengal, pushing through 700km of rough roads, dodging traffic and sacred cows to raise money for the Child in Need Institute (CINI).

“West Bengal is on the east coast of India on the border with Bangladesh and it has significant health and social challenges ranging from malnutrition and HIV to child labour and human trafficking,” Peter said.

“There’s a firm belief that by empowering women in particular, West Bengalis can address these issues within their own communities. We met formerly malnourished children who are now working for CINI with post-graduate qualifications in nutrition. It’s a highly successful inter-generational approach to breaking the cycle of poverty.”

“And you have to ask yourself this question, how is a non-government organisation started by two people still growing 38 years later with about 1000 employees and 3000 volunteers?”

One answer to that is CINI’s philosophy of developing knowledge, skills and self-reliance within communities in need.

“About 90% of the CINI budget is funded from within India so they’re not reliant on overseas aid. In fact, their long-term goal is not to need overseas assistance.”

CINI-Cyclists-March 13 Redcd“It was a pretty eclectic mix.

The focus is on using resources available within the country – including their people, food and medications. At present, however, external financial support is essential to spread these successful programs to areas where there are still great unmet needs.

“The CINI model is to get development projects up and running, prove they work and then get public funding. They also have important health training roles with the Government of India and they work with other NGOs including UNICEF and Save the Children – so it’s a very co-operative model.”

Peter wasn’t the only medico cycling through West Bengal. His sister, Dr Jennie Connaughton, who works in indigenous health and is a trainee surgeon from Sydney, were part of a larger peloton.

“The age range was 21 to 69 and it was a pretty eclectic mix. We had an accountant, a lawyer, graphic designers and retirees all doing battle with the roads and traffic. We ended up doing about 720km with the first seven days fairly flat going but the last day was in the foothills of the Himalayas. Part of that was a 1500m climb and I pushed my bike for 7km of the steepest bit.”

“There was a mixture of bikes, most of us took our own and I used a touring bike with thicker tyres. A few used mountain bikes provided in India and they had a distinct advantage on the last day!”

P2140058 Redcd-225There’s great abundance in our society

Peter found India a fascinating place – vibrant, colourful and noisy but it’s only since his return to Perth has he allowed himself a deeper reflection.

“You find yourself asking, ‘how many televisions do you need and how many of our other challenges are just First World problems?’ There’s great abundance in our society and a lot of it we take for granted. We have a real opportunity here to share some of our good fortune with extraordinary results.”

“We can learn a lot from the CINI model. There were some really good lessons regarding self-empowerment and cheaper, more effective health solutions. This isn’t all about doctors – we don’t have all the answers. Health workers providing advice, support and education are solving problems within these communities. You don’t need a fleet of expensive four-wheel drives to make a real difference.”