The People of Kolleru Lake

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Kolleru Lake, Andrha Pradesh, India [Google Map]

© Copyright Jeremy Chu - www.jeremychu.com

© Copyright Jeremy Chu - www.jeremychu.com

There is a lake in India, which at one time was the largest and cleanest lake in all of Asia. It is surrounded by over 120 villages and 40 years ago the people of these villages had an easy life. They would drink the lakes pristine water straight from their hands. The men would paddle small wooden boats, out into the lake and catch fresh fish. Families would also grow rice and vegetables and together they would eat 3 healthy meals a day. It was a livelihood handed down through the generations.

In the 1970’s, the Kolleru Lake lifestyle began to change. The Indian government determined that because of it’s massive size and the wealth of life within it, Kolleru Lake would support an industry large enough to feed fish and rice to the entire planet. And so over the next few decades, that is exactly what happened.

© Copyright Jeremy Chu - www.jeremychu.com

© Copyright Jeremy Chu - www.jeremychu.com

Kolleru Lake was divided up into cross-sections of raised land, creating rectangular ponds of stagnant water in which the rice and fish farming flourished. The people of the villages surrounding Kolleru Lake had a change in livelihood from one of self-sustenance to one of dependency on international industry. Kolleru Lake the sweat labor of it’s inhabitants provided inexpensive fish and rice to people around the world.

Life was different then, but it was still good. The villagers were making wages and with it, they were able to buy food and other things.

© Copyright Jeremy Chu - www.jeremychu.com

© Copyright Jeremy Chu - www.jeremychu.com

However, by the turn of the millennium, things were not looking good. The industry was taking it’s toll on Kolleru Lake. The chemical filled, stagnant water used in farming was repeatedly drained into the main body of the lake, which literally poisoned all of the life within it. Before the 1970’s there were over 100 species of fish in the lake and today that number has been reduced to a small handful.

India had an environmental disaster on it’s hands and the world had taken notice. Finally, under international pressure, the Indian government agreed to reverse the decision they had made in the 1970’s.

In 2005, in a swift, ill-forewarned and seemingly random way, an attempt was begun to return the lake to it’s natural state by demolishing many of the rice and fish farming ponds.

But it was too late.

© Copyright Jeremy Chu - www.jeremychu.com

© Copyright Jeremy Chu - www.jeremychu.com

The vegetation had changed. Most all fish had gone extinct. Birds had stopped migrating. And the water was absolutely contaminated.

The entire situation was a disgrace. And hiding in the shadows of such disgrace, was possibly an even sadder story…

The industrial livelihoods of the people in the surrounding villages had been erased in an instant. The water they once drank from their hands, was now unsafe to even bath in. Nobody had seen it coming and worse yet, the villagers were left with no options. There was no chance for them to return to the easy life they knew as young children, because the lake they once knew had literally died.

© Copyright Jeremy Chu - www.jeremychu.com

© Copyright Jeremy Chu - www.jeremychu.com

They had become dependent on a system which destroyed their lake and was then removed, leaving them with poisoned water and no livelihood.

Today people are struggling and suffering in the Kolleru Lake region. With no drinkable water, no source of food or income the villagers are migrating for work. Fathers are leaving to do income producing labor elsewhere, sometimes for weeks at time. Mothers are leaving for months to serve as household maids in far-away countries, sending meek savings (often of $100 or less per month) back to their families.

© Copyright Jeremy Chu - www.jeremychu.com

© Copyright Jeremy Chu - www.jeremychu.com

The water issue is a most massive disgrace not only because of what happened to the lake, but also because the water is pumped into large government holding tanks, which then feed the water taps in the villages, and these tanks are not being maintained. Many tanks have broken stairways, a painful visual reminder of the Indian government’s negligence. Villagers tell that the tank’s filters have not been replaced in years, which explains the green water coming from their taps.

For those able to afford it, they now buy their drinking water in bottles or plastic sachets. For those who can’t afford that, but have some savings, they pay to be taken by boat each day, across the lake to taps which supply water that is less green. For those who can’t afford or have no option for a boat trip, they bath in and drink the only water they have access to. The water is causing sickness and skin disease. Many children’s feet in the village are visibly spotted with sores.

© Copyright Jeremy Chu - www.jeremychu.com

© Copyright Jeremy Chu - www.jeremychu.com

With parents off working, children are also missing and dropping out of school. In some villages drop-out rates are so high that schools have been completely abandoned or turned into shelter for animals. Many families have abandoned their homes too, some leaving doors locked and others leaving them wide open – a sign of no hope for return.

Unfortunately little attention is being paid by the Indian government to the people of Kolleru Lake. All of those who lost their livelihood were promised compensation, but most have received nothing. Government schemes have been put into place to guarantee work and provide food subsidies to these villagers, but little has been done to get any of this information to them.

© Copyright Jeremy Chu - www.jeremychu.com

© Copyright Jeremy Chu - www.jeremychu.com

This horrific and sad situation in Kolleru Lake was far too much for one man to simply stand by and watch happen.

In 2005 Ravi Kumar and his organization, the Association of Relief Volunteers (ARV), took on the task of standing one village back on it’s feet. The Gummallapadu village was suffering all of the pains in the Kolleru Lake region.

ARV provided this village with a teacher, who now spends after-school hours with the children, making sure they are doing their homework and attending school regularly. For some children, ARV also provided books, pens, paper and school bags.

ARV built 84 cement houses to replace those bamboo and thatch dwellings which were frequently washed away with heavy rains.

© Copyright Jeremy Chu - www.jeremychu.com

© Copyright Jeremy Chu - www.jeremychu.com

ARV held community meetings to raise awareness with the villagers about human rights, entitlements to compensation for the removal of their livelihood, guaranteed work schemes, food subsidies and health care programs. ARV brought in the proper paperwork and helped villagers to fill them out.

ARV hand delivered applications to government offices and advocated on villagers behalf, calling over and over again to check on applications and going to meet with officials to tell the stories of unjust suffering. They have had great success in supplying the people of Gummallapadu with registration cards guaranteeing work, providing food subsidy and health care and even some of the compensation promised them.

ARV even convinced the government to supply children with one nutritious meal per day. Now each morning before school, 80 children in Gummallapadu eat a healthy breakfast.

Unfortunately, one of the largest problems, clean drinking water, is something ARV has yet been able to help with, because they have lacked the funding necessary to properly research and provide a solution.

Since 2005 Ravi Kumar and ARV have done an incredible amount to begin helping one of the Kolleru Lake villages back on it’s feet. They now have their sights set on 22 more villages to begin working with this year.

Ravi is a highly educated man, holding multiple Masters degrees in different areas of human rights. He works tirelessly, 7 days a week, seeing his family infrequently, though they understand and are inspirationally supportive. “My dad is a hero” tells Ravi’s son.

Longitude LogoTo date, all Ravi and ARV has accomplished has been funded by Longitude, a lone-star 501c3 USA non-profit organization founded by teacher and traveler Shawn Rubin. Since 2005 Longitude has been sending ARV international volunteers and money gathered through small donations of friends and family. This has helped ARV to accomplish a lot, and at the same time the size of Ravi Kumar’s dreams require much, much more.

ARV is an ill-funded organization, not because they are anything less than effective – they are in-fact incredibly effective with the little money they have – but because Ravi Kumar and his small staff are still quite unknown.

iPartner India, aUK based charitable organization, has recently taken on ARV as an organization to support, because they share Ravi Kumar’s dreams for human rights in India.

With the proper funding, ARV can help thousands more people of Kolleru Lake to be made aware of their rights, to register for their deserved benefits and compensation, to have work, food and clean, drinkable water.

© Copyright Jeremy Chu - www.jeremychu.com

© Copyright Jeremy Chu - www.jeremychu.com

At a meeting on Friday, August 21st in Gummallapadu village, representatives of the 22 villages ARV is now focused on helping gathered to listen to Ravi speak on his hopes, dreams and plans to help them. Each representative got a chance to voice their concerns and ask questions. Before the meeting adjourned, there was a vote on the three biggest issues facing the villages. In order of importance, their results were:

  1. Employment Opportunities
  2. Clean Drinking Water
  3. Children Education

Ravi and ARV have plans for helping with each of these issues.

  1. Employment Opportunities – Advocacy & awareness, networking to help villagers take advantage of India’s National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, which promises 100 days of work to each Indian citizen.
  2. Clean Drinking Water – Currently seeking funding to bring in professional advice on the best solution.
  3. Children Education – Provide an after-school teacher in each of 25 villages and provide school supplies to the children.
© Copyright Jeremy Chu - www.jeremychu.com

© Copyright Jeremy Chu - www.jeremychu.com

The story of Kolleru Lake and the lives of the people who call it home it is a sad and unfortunate one. The story of Ravi Kumar and his organization ARV is inspirational.

Send your financial support and you can be part of relieving the suffering in the Kolleru Lake region.

Tell your friends and family these stories and you can be part of Ravi Kumar’s inspiration.

Donations over  £100 received before September 30th, 2009 are eligible for 100% matched funding by the Reed Foundation.

If you are considering helping then please donate now, because even a little bit will help.

5 Thoughts on “The People of Kolleru Lake”

  1. Suman.saidu Says:

    Dear sir,
    This is a wondraful trailer to changing of people lives in kolleru.I know peoples problems in kolleru because I am also from kolleru.
    Thanks for your special concentration on kolleru.

  2. Parul Says:

    Dear Sir,
    Its just stupendous.People like you are real hope for this drowning planet..hats off to you sir…good luck.Thankyou for your concern on humanity

  3. sravya Says:

    can you plz give the population near kolleru

  4. chekuri venkat Says:

    very good article i am from bhujabhalapatnam

  5. Ramu Mungara Says:

    population in kolleru will be around 3.5 lacs

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