“I think the best thing about starting out as naive as we were, is that if we knew how much work we were getting into, we would have been scared off. I think naivete is one of our greatest gifts. You’ll actually have the courage to take on something big.” – Clary Castrission, President, 40K Home Foundation
For Clary Castrission, elite schooled at Knox Grammar, a double degree in Arts majoring in film-making and Law at UTS was a step forward in vague life plan – school, university, corporate law, followed by the UN or similar. His life veered left when he encountered UTS:Law Professor Sam Blay. “Sam was one of my favourite lecturers at UTS,” says Clary. “Every holiday, he would go to some backward part of the world – Sudan, Laos – and really get his hands dirty. He told me early on, ‘If you really want to get involved in poverty eradication, don’t do it from New York or Geneva. Get over to the developing world and see what you find.’”
Inspired, Clary headed over to India looking for a cause. He confesses to being very young – he was 22 when he set up the 40KHome Foundation – and naive. “I think the best thing about starting out as naive as we were, is that if we knew how much work we were getting into, we would have been scared off. I think naivete is one of our greatest gifts. You’ll actually have the courage to take on something big.”
The 40KHome Foundation refers to Clary’s initial investment in the project – $40,000 amounted to his life savings at the time. The Foundation is now building a school in Bangalore, a region dominated by a local granite quarry. Most of its workers, says Clary, came from uneducated agricultural communities mired by extreme poverty. Lured by up-front loans of $600-$700, these workers will spend 5-7 years in the quarries to repay their loans. “It’s 21st century slavery,” says Clary.
“Our project is happening right now,” says Clary. “There is a big hole in the ground in Bangalore. Literally. If that hole is do anything other than to form a little dam, it needs constant funding. This isn’t dreaming about eradicating poverty as a whole. We’re taking it one step at a time. We’re doing this project.”
Clary is enthusiastic, perceptive and driven. His Pitt Street office is Spartan, furnished dirt-cheap. The table was once a door – he points out the grooves of design, the old hinges. “I’m a full-time volunteer,” he declares proudly. “Everything we receive, we put back into our project.” Indeed, he is a rare breed of individual: altruistic in a world where self-interested ambitions are often prized and admired.
“I was attracted to jurisprudence – the theory of law – like every nineteen or twenty year old,” says Clary. “What I’ve learned since is that the law is one portal for being able to execute justice. Law and social change should be used together. What’s happening in India is blatant human rights abuse and exploitation – but it’s not a matter of law. The problem is that when you are outside of [India’s] cities, the law has no teeth.”
“A law degree teaches you to think horizontally, to look at bigger picture issues,” says Clary. “People sometimes ask what my longer term plan is, and I honestly think, ‘I don’t know.’” At the time of the interview, Clary worked nights and weekends to support himself while he continued on the Bangalore project, in part as a research assistant to Professor Blay.
“Personally, I’ll always be involved here as long as there is something exciting in the future planned. Yes, this project is great. But there’s so much that we’re interested in achieving. Until I start getting bored, I’m here for the long run.”