M ONCHO Ferrer was born on December 6, 1971 in Anantapur, in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh. He was born in Villa Emma, the same place, were the Rural Development Trust (RDT), the organisation his parents, the late Vicente Ferrer Moncho, a philanthropist who spent his life working to improve the lives of the poor founded, and was later helped by his English wife Anne Perry who now runs the foundation.

He had his primary and upper primary education in Anantapur and both secondary and pre university education in Kodaikanal. He moved to Keele, in the UK, in 1989, and after one year course preparing to enter university, he graduated in International Relationships from Keele University in 1995.

Back in Anantapur in 1997 he started his professional career in RDT as Director, looking after a major sector namely ‘habitat'. He was named Director of the Comprehensive Development Program and then he dedicated himself to visit each corner of the district to know first-hand the needs of the population.

Since 2010 he has been the Programme Director of RDT focusing attention on ecological development, rural housing, higher and professional education of children of deprived sections, promotion of rural sports and games and cultural talents among children and this week he has been in Majorca to thank all of the small businesses that help the foundation and to increase awareness to what the RDT is doing in an attempt to attract more sponsors.

Today, the Vicente Ferrer Foundation carries out humanitarian projects in Andhra Pradesh, bringing aid to over 2.5 million poor people, many of whom are considered Dalit or untouchable, and that figure is rising all the time - so funding is vital. “My mother has run the foundation since my father died in 2009, but I guess I am the ‘face of the organisation'. Obviously, she is not getting any younger so travels less and the area in which we operate is vast and we are constantly branching out, including more villages and communities so there are vast areas to travel and cover and thousands of people to meet, so that has increasingly become one of my many roles. “Also, there is the overseas travel, meeting our foreign sponsors and trying to expand the foundation's image. “We are now working on setting up in the United States but the paper work is taking for ever, and we've been getting more and more interests from the UK. “I don't know if it's because of the large Indian community in Britain and the two country's history and relationship so I think the UK is definitely somewhere we will also look to move into to,” Moncho told the Bulletin. “We have, I guess ,nearly 130'00 children who are being sponsored by people mainly from overseas. It only costs 18 euros per month and that goes a long way in India so in reality, our private sponsors are sponsoring the whole family and their village because, we really can not afford to take children on to programmes from villages where only two or three children are being sponsored, it's not viable, so we are talking about villages where a large number of children are being sponsored and that benefits the community at large,” Moncho explained. “And the fact that most of our funding comes from private sponsorship - makes it our main base about 90 percent, the rest comes from companies and government and it is the latter where we have noticed a large drop since the recession hit because they have much less to give, but the sponsorship is individual, it's more personal, has more contact, it's more intimate and it's a small amount every month. I guess you could easily get through 18 euros in a day in Spain...So that base is secure, so no one is going to really break that unless they are really, really struggling. “The problem is getting newer ones at the moment ...” he added. “But, on the whole, even if children are not sponsored, we try to take care of every one. For example, if a child in one of the sponsored villages is born with a heart problem and he or she is not part of the programme, we will take care of the medical costs and the operation etc. So no one is excluded from what we do,” Moncho underlined. “And, not only are we looking to expand our overseas fundraising base which has always been traditionally very strong here in Spain with my late father having been born in Barcelona, we are also trying to tap into the growing number of wealthy Indians. “In general, Indians are very giving people, they always give a lot to their local temple and religious leader but they quite often give far too much so we are trying to encourage them to direct some of those donations our way. “Many of the government schools have ‘Vicente Ferrer piggy banks' in which the students deposit what's left of their pocket money at the end of the week or whatever, so that helps. “Even if an Indian gave us just one Rupee, you think of the millions of Indians there are in the country, so we are not asking for much. “And it is working and even in Andhra Pradesh, local farmers and communities are starting to help raise money. For example, a local mango grower we helped get off the ground has set aside a small plot and all the money raised from the sale of mangoes from that plot, comes to the foundation, so peoples' philosophy towards us is changing. “And of course, it's becoming a generational thing now. We now have university graduates who were born as part of the foundation, want to give something back and many have got involved in our educational programme, if it was up to me, I would have them running the educational programme, they've just gone all the way through it,” Moncho said.

But, Andhra Pradesh is a tough part of India, geographically and socially. “Traditionally, the main industry has been agriculture, but it's very dry, we never really get proper monsoons. The last time it really rained was in 2001, so we're working with companies developing drip irrigation systems. The main product are groundnuts because they are very tough and can go without water for over 40 days but we're developing other agricultural progranmmes. “But, because it has always been a ‘barren and feudal place', I guess it's always been forgotten and I think that is why my father chose Andhra Pradesh, it was the real back water of India rife with tribal leaders and feudal battles, some of which still continue today. We can't stop family, faction killings, it's part of their culture although education is helping to improve the community's social philosophy but you can't change everything. ‘Blood boils very fast' they say.” Born in India to a Spanish father and English mother he is an Indian, his wife is Indian, but he is very proud of his Spanish and British routes. “Growing up, my mother would only talk to me in English, although I would speak with my sisters in the local dialect. I remember when I first went to the UK to study, I was overwhelmed by the sense of how orderly everything was. I remember sitting in the taxi as we left Heathrow amazed at the fact that all the vehicles not only went in a straight line, they also all went in the same direction,” he joked. “They don't know how to drive,” I thought. “That would be impossible in India, even today. “And, while I was there I met my relatives etc. and obviously I have a close connection to Spain as it is also our main fund raising base,” he added.
Moncho is not the only Indian in Andhra Pradesh who is proud of his British routes.
In fact, his late father was not the first European to have travelled through and helped the local community.
Moncho explained that in the early 1800s Major-general Sir Thomas Munro, 1st Baronet, an East India Company Army officer and statesman, went to the region and a statue was erected to him in honour of the work he did in the region during the time the British were in charge of the land. “People still talk about him today...
What Moncho is also very proud of is how the government has eventually become to highly respect what the foundation does and its expertise. “We're very involved in house building projects, for example, but the government plans were so small, they were building match boxes, so we got involved and eventually the government said ‘OK, you do it' and that now tends to be the government's approach to us, they come up with a scheme and then hand it over to us to put into practice.” From here, Moncho flies to the Canary Islands to continue his tour thanking supporters and generating more interest before returning to India where he will find a film crew which began shooting a movie about his father last Monday. “It's going to be tough going for them, it's the height of summer, 40ºC every day, but we have given the project all our support because it will help increase awareness of the foundation, not only in Spain but hopefully around the world and, if all goes well, it should be presented at the San Sebastian Film Festival in September,” Moncho said.

Ironically, while the foundation is increasingly well known overseas, even in Andhra Pradesh, it is a mystery. “For example, we are working with a tribe who has always lived in the forests, for centuries and they'd never heard of us so when we first approached them three years ago, they told us to ‘get lost', in fact, quite a few, some 60 villages, are refusing to come out of the forest. However, what was surprising was the desire they had for education and now we're working with them to try and bring them out into the community, go to school, access health care and all the other services and programmes we provide,” he said.

And sport is a big part of Moncho's plan. “We have the best cricket pitch in Andhra Pradesh and some great cricket players and athletes across the board but the problem is diet and that is an area we are working in because in order for India to produce more great sportsmen and women, they need to have a good diet from an early age, plenty of calcium for the bones etc. “What we're doing is complicated and very time consuming but my message while I am travelling abroad is simple, ‘helping people makes you feel good and when you are happy the World is happy' so come and be part of what we're doing in India. If you can do something then do it, think of others. If those in Anantapur who have very little can help then there's really no excuse.” i To help visit www.fundacionvicenteferrer.org