TO ELIMINATE POVERTY IN RURAL INDIA
“My job is to make impossible dreams come true.” – Vicente Ferrer
Vicente Ferrer landed in Mumbai, India, in 1952 for the first time, and he immediately felt connected to the plight of rural farmers. In 1956, he was ordained as a priest and spent the next 12 years dedicating himself to supporting the farmers, building wells and building community grassroots teams. But his untraditional methods made him suspicious, and he was ordered to leave the country in 1968.
On April 29, 1968, more than 30,000 rural people marched over 150 miles from Manmad to Mumbai to demand the government to allow Father Ferrer to stay in India. That July, then-Prime Minister Indira Gandhi took a stand to support him and his work in India. Father Ferrer ended up returning to his homeland in Spain while he awaited news from India.
In 1969, he returned to India with the government’s blessing and established the Rural Development Trust in Anantapur in the southeastern state of Andhra Pradesh. In 1970, he left the priesthood, and in the same year he married his wife, Anne, who worked as a journalist covering the protests in support of her future husband.
The couple faced huge challenges in those early days. Located in one of the driest regions in India, Andhra Pradesh barely supported its inhabitants. For the rural poor, just getting basic nutrition was a daily struggle. They also endured extreme discrimination in a society deeply divided along caste, tribal, and gender lines.
The organization’s main concern was helping the district’s poorest families find work and gain access to food. The founders paid special attention to the most marginalized communities, including the so-called “untouchables”; people with disabilities, and women and girls. This focus on the severely underprivileged continues to this day.
Since its inception, VFF has embraced a whole-village approach emphasizing self-sufficiency. At the heart of the organization’s mission is to empower the people to build up their own communities, to break down centuries of ingrained discrimination, and to take charge of their own lives. VFF merely serves to identify and remove the barriers to progress. We consider the people of India to be the main players in the process of their own improvement — India for India. As Father Ferrer put it in his pithy way: “Action is a flame that never goes out.” The story of VFF is the story of action over words.
To achieve our mission of eradicating extreme poverty and suffering, VFF dedicates itself to holistic development. We believe in being accountable for every dollar raised and spent. This means we aim to create highly effective, sustainable programs that not only tackle the symptoms of poverty such poor nutrition and disease, but also improve the underlying factors, including education, women’s empowerment, the environment, cultural development, community health, and recreation.
We are changing lives by addressing the interconnected web of issues affecting every impoverished family: hunger, housing, healthcare, education, discrimination and sustainable farming. In this way, we are breaking the cycle of extreme poverty by empowering lives. We’re not asking for charity. We are seeking real solutions. We are seeking transformation.
Today, because one man dared to imagine the impossible, nearly 2,400 people (99% of whom are locals) contribute to the organization’s work covering 3,200 villages and affecting almost 3 million people.
Father Ferrer said it best: “[VFF] does not end with Vicente Ferrer; it just started with him.”