John's story

Gloucestershire companion John Dowling looks at vase 131109 web

I was born in Burma (Myanmar), but adopted by a British couple when I was just a baby. I lived in London through my teens and enjoyed school and then art college. I started working in the music business as a sound engineer and did that for 22 years. It was pretty incredible, I travelled all over the world working world tours for bands of varying success and fame. The biggest was probably the six years I did with Motorhead and the time I spent with Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart.

I learned quite early on that although drink and drugs were pretty much on tap, if I wanted to keep my job, I also needed to keep my nose clean. Countries like the States and Japan won’t let you set foot in their country if you have any record of drug use, and for a roadie, being able to travel is essential.

I met a woman and had a couple of lovely girls, but my job meant that I was always touring – even the first summer we were together we were travelling around Europe. We spent a while living in a castle, in Italy, it was a truly rock and roll lifestyle.

After about 20 years of gigging I had had enough. What had been enormous fun was just hard as an older guy, and eventually I got a job as an electrician, installing automatic doors for a big company. I felt like I’d sold out, and it didn’t take long before I felt completely disillusioned with the rat race. I got all the money I had and bought a round-the-world ticket. I planned a route that would take me to all the places I hadn’t been when working, taking in Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, Malaysia, Singapore and more. It was a fabulous time.

I arrived back in the UK with not a penny in my pocket. If you didn’t know it before, there is actually an office in Gatwick where they help arrivals who have no money. They paid my bus fare to Crawley where I tried to get into a night shelter. In turn, they paid for me to get to Brighton. I stayed at a shelter for a couple of weeks and then found out about Emmaus Gloucestershire.

I didn’t find the Emmaus lifestyle hard to get used to, probably because I have spent my life travelling around with just a few belongings in a bag. I enjoy working in the book shop, sorting the donations and deciding what stays and what goes. After a while of saving up my allowance I thought about travelling again. I was planning a trip to India, when one of the community managers mentioned that Emmaus Gloucestershire wanted to start more international solidarity projects, funding Emmaus work overseas.

It was the perfect solution: Emmaus paid for my ticket and I went out to India to conduct the necessary research. What a joyful and satisfying experience. I stayed for a month, travelling to all four Emmaus branches. The Village Community District Service operates in 60 villages throughout the Villupuram District in Tamil Nadu and supports the Valit people, known to many as ‘untouchables’. In rural areas, these people still suffer discrimination and as such rarely own land or rise to any prominence. Emmaus helps to provide micro-finance, free legal aid and skills training to try to boost their chances in society.

The Emmaus Florence Home Foundation in Cuddalore runs two orphanages: one for girls and one for boys. Kudumbam is an agricultural project in Subramaniyapuram and the TARA Project (Trade Alternative Reform Action), operating in a 125-mile radius of Delhi, is a fairtrade programme for community development and business. The organisation enables hundreds of artisans to create some of the major handicraft lines of North India and sell their products internationally.

My time in India was spent meeting people, taking hundreds of photos, and really trying to get a feel of how we, at Emmaus Gloucestershire, could help. I saw how the Valit people, who had felt so isolated and downtrodden, were helped to help themselves. One particular story from Kovilveerakudi touched me: some villagers had taken loans to pay for farm equipment, but the crops had failed and they were unable to pay back the money. As a form of payback, they were forced to sign their daughters over to a sweatshop, working for several years to pay off the family debt.

However, when the girls finally paid off the debt they clubbed together to create a cooperative and started bringing in their own orders. Each piece of clothing needed button holes creating, and the girls had not got the right machine to do the fastenings. We funded two machines and an electric generator to power them, so that the girls could complete the orders. What seemed insurmountable to them cost our community just £200.

At the girls’ orphanage, they asked if we might be able to provide funding for a milk cow. Following our community open day in June, we sent the money for not one, but four cows. The only stipulation we made was that they were called Ermintrude, Flossie, Dizzy and Bernard, as the money to fund the cattle was raised through a ‘name that cow’ competition!

I stayed for a while at the boys’ orphanage, and what struck me while I was there was how isolated the property was. Electricity supply is not always reliable and after the sun went down, there were often hours of darkness to pass, stranded in the middle of the countryside. Emmaus Gloucestershire is funding four large solar powered lamps, so that people can find their way more easily to the site, and carry on using outside spaces until later in the day.

Another project that I am still working on, again for the orphanages, is raising money for a flock of goats. This will not only teach the children skills such as animal husbandry but will also allow the orphanage to sell and use the milk, kids and meat, provided by the flock. For this, we are looking to raise around £2000.

The final enterprise that we currently support is helping farmers in the Tamil Nadu area. Changing weather patterns mean that they are undergoing longer dry periods, where they rely on water in ponds, rather like our reservoirs. However, these ponds are not big enough, and need digging out and doubling in size so that the crops can be kept watered and healthy. This costs around £5000 per pool, so is more of a long-term investment.

I plan to return to India next year, and I feel very fortunate that, through Emmaus, I am now doing something to support people who have less than I do. It’s a wonderful thing to see my efforts bringing happiness and success to people on the other side of the planet.