For each of the six weeks of Lent, the Diocese of Parramatta is sharing one of Caritas Australia’s feature stories of lives changed through support and empowerment programs.
Second Sunday of Lent – 13 March 2022
When you believe that you can’t contribute to your community or provide for your family, feelings of shame and inadequacy can be debilitating. Biru grew up living with a disability in a remote village in eastern India, with low expectations for his future. He had little self-confidence and was ashamed that he had to rely on looking after his neighbour’s cattle in exchange for food.
With your generous support, Biru was able to access an entrepreneurship and livelihoods development program, run by Caritas Australia’s partner, Caritas India. He gained the skills, support and encouragement he needed to establish his own bicycle repair business.
Now, Biru is able to provide a good life for his family – and an essential service to his community. He has discovered a sense of pride, confidence and hope which has inspired others living with a disability and paved the way for future generations.
Biru, 30, lives in a rural village in Jharkand State in India’s east. He lost mobility in one of his legs, after contracting polio as a child, which makes it difficult for him to walk. He managed to complete his education until grade six but was always dependent on his parents to get him to school because he was unable to walk so far on his own.
A member of India’s Ho ethnic minority population, Biru started to work as a shepherd from a young age, looking after other people’s cattle. He continued this work, after he married his wife, Budhni and had four daughters, even though keeping up with the cattle was a challenge.
“The problem was that I couldn’t walk in mud, I used to fall and the grazing cattle would sometimes make me run, I could not handle them. I also used to face psychological challenges,” Biru says. “Looking at others who did not have a disability, I wondered what it was like to be them. I was wondering how to look after my family”.
Over 26 million people who have a disability in India also live in poverty.  A further, 69 per cent of the population living with a disability reside in rural areas which makes access to support services, education and employment an even greater challenge . Discrimination can further limit job opportunities and lead to social exclusion.
Although he had taught himself to repair bicycles, by watching other people, Biru never dreamed of using his skills to start his own business.
Then in 2016, Caritas India’s staff saw Biru struggling to walk along with the cattle and invited him to join its Community Led Development and Governance (Gram Nirman) program which is supported by Caritas Australia. The program works with tribal communities and vulnerable groups, such as people living with a disability, women and the elderly. It supports them to develop small businesses; to improve farming and financial management skills, which helps them to increase their incomes; and assists them to access government entitlements.
Biru became involved in one of the program’s community support groups which encourages members to draw on their resources to improve their incomes and quality of life.
He participated in group meetings which he says turned his life around, as he gained the courage to tackle his many challenges. Caritas India also helped Biru to apply for government disability and housing schemes which he had not known were available nor had the skills or confidence to apply.
“I was motivated by the team, my life started changing after I entered the program,” Biru says. “I didn’t know that I had the skills to manage a shop, but after receiving the support, I started with cycle repairing, then I realised I can manage other skills too, like repairing motorcycles.”
His new business received an enthusiastic response. People started coming from kilometres away to get their bicycles fixed. They would also offer to travel to nearby towns to access bicycle parts for him.
Before, Biru had felt like a burden. Now, his community has a better understanding of how people living with a disability can participate in community life and decision-making. “Now members of my community have started listening to my opinion. I am getting appreciation and recognition,” Biru says.
Biru is now able to provide a better life for his young daughters, all aged under eight – and the whole community is benefitting from his skills. From a shy man lacking confidence who felt defeated by his circumstances, Biru has become a beacon of energy, skill and hope for future generations.
Around 100,000 people have benefitted from this program so far, including over 15,000 families who have increased their incomes by between 40 and 50 per cent.
“Biru is one of the bright, upcoming entrepreneurs in his village,” says Nikhil Ritesh Sanga, Caritas India’s Program Implementation Lead. “He motivates others, in particular those with disabilities, to become self-dependent and self-reliant. He overcame all odds to build an enterprise that is of benefit to himself and the community.”
Biru is keen to build his business, as well as a better house for his family, and he is eager for his children to receive a good education.
However, COVID-19 has had a significant impact on villages and businesses across India, like Biru’s, over the past year. With your support, Caritas Australia has been working with Caritas India to provide dry ration kits for families, as well as vital information about wearing face masks, social distancing and hygiene, to prevent the spread of the virus.
“I would like to thank, from the bottom of my heart, the people of Australia for supporting this program and for helping us to live in dignity,” Biru says. “I pray that you continue to reach out to many more to help them.”
Along with your generous support, this program is supported by the Australian Government through the Australian NGO Cooperation Program (ANCP).
You can help people like Biru continue to thrive by making a donation through Project Compassion boxes and envelopes, visiting lent.caritas.org.au or phoning 1800 024 413.
With thanks to Caritas Australia.