Meet: Tamara Cannon, charity worker
Photo - T. Cannon
Greenhouses are producing life-saving vegetables in the high-altitude desert villages of Ladakh, thanks to the Australian charity Lille Fro. Robin Powell spoke to its founder Tamara Cannon.
Tell us a bit about Lille Fro.
It’s a charity I started in 2008. We work with families and communities in the remotest places on earth, in Ladakh in northern India. We fund education for kids through child sponsorship, and we have a skills development program for mums and dads teaching them to grow vegetables at high altitude.
Why is that necessary?
Our focus is in reaching families living in extreme poverty and helping them become sustainable. These villages are not only poor, they are isolated, with winters of -30 degrees for 6-8 months. What vegetables they can grow through summer don’t last through winter. Malnutrition is high; many of the children suffer from disabilities.
The sustainability solution you’ve been implementing is greenhouses. How is that going?
It has had an amazing effect on health and wellbeing. One community is so isolated it can’t reach a market at all through the winter, and with a small greenhouse it has become sustainable and is able to grow enough food for the whole village all year. In another area a larger greenhouse has started producing an excess, which is being sold at market. The profit is being invested in planting potatoes and in mending the greenhouses.
Village women building a greenhouse. Photo - T. Cannon
How many communities are you working in?
We have six programs in various stages of development at the moment. The whole process takes about 24 months because you can only access the village for such a brief period of time.
How do you get to these isolated places?
It’s not hard to get to Ladakh itself. The capital Leh is an hour-and-a-half flight from Delhi. It’s a tourist mecca, one of the most beautiful landscapes you’ve ever seen, like Shangri-la. Then it’s a two-day jeep ride over some fairly harsh terrain to a village where we can base ourselves and get our bearings for a few days. Then it’s a trek. One village is 13-hour trek over a pass that is 5,5000ft above sea level.
A great harvest. Photo - T. Cannon
How did it come about that you are doing this work in Ladakh?
It happened by accident. I was a corporative lawyer until 2008 when I put my law degree into the bottom drawer. I found myself in Hong Kong with some time on my hands, so just closed my eyes and pointed to a spot on the map. My finger landed on Mt Everest. I had never trekked or climbed a mountain before, and I saw that as I challenge. So I bought a pair of hiking boots and up I went. I just fell in love with the Himalayas. I was just in awe. It inspired me to start climbing mountains. Nepal was shut for down for the monsoon season, so I made my way to India and Ladakh where there are some relatively easy peaks to climb.
My guide, Dawa, came from a poor background, and had been sponsored as a child, which had enabled him to go to school. He felt this love and gratitude towards his sponsor that really moved me. I sponsored a little girl, and enrolled her in school. It was so easy, I started to think how it could be to share that with other children. I found it difficult to turn my back on that thought. And so I started Lille Fro.