Jul-Oct 2004

Many eventful things happened during these four months. Just Change, our new effort to establish a cooperative of producers, consumers and investors has taken concrete shape. Adivasis have started trading in rice in a few villages and there is tremendous excitement around this activity.

The sangam animators have been meeting different village leaders on a one-to-one basis. The adivasi development institutions providing the important services to the adivasis are being managed by trained

 adivasi youth now. The sangam animators are spearheading our next phase wherein we strive to put the governance structures in place. Many meetings were held in this regard at different villages and in the institutions. Next few months will see a few of the sangam leaders coming forward to join some of the governance committees at least in the Area level.

Some important events that took place during this period need special mention.

Adivasis visit Orissa

A group of 30 adivasi youth belonging to AMS visited Orissa in August. They were hosted by Sahabhagi Vikas Abhiyan (SVA), an NGO working with adivasis and dalits in four districts of Western Orissa. The trip was to explore the possibility of trading commodities between the adivasis of Gudalur and the people of Orissa. We have already sent tea samples to them and have piloted such trading. The team was accompanied by Stan, Sajan, Ranan and Murthi.

The adivasi youth were really impressed with the rice trading being done by SVA. Particularly, they were thrilled to see so many varieties of Rice that are being cultivated - many varieties of rice which are lost in Gudalur area - and sold. The rice mill of SVA, the traditional water harvesting structures in vogue there, the unity in many of the villages, community enterprises of the adivasis and dalits, anti-alcohol movement in some villages - many such activities interested our people.

We also agreed to explore the possibility of trading in tea and rice between Orissa and Gudalur.  Community to community relationship that has been established in this trip will be a solid foundation on which the further economic linkages will be built. This exposure trip was funded by Sir Ratan Tata Trust, Mumbai.

Medical Student Electives

We have launched another project called Medical Student Electives, which is aimed at training medical students studying in developed countries on health care system at a rural situation and to provide them an exposure to the grassroots issues. Three students from Ireland and two from UK came to Gudalur for a month of training as part of their Electives.

The training involved discussions and lectures on theoretical concepts, field visits to the adivasi villages, study of the existing health care delivery system, exposure to the treatment provided in the Gudalur Adivasi Hospital, participation in the meetings of the adivasi staff to plan and monitor the programmes etc. From the feedback of these students, it was a very rich experience for the students to get a first hand experience of working in the grassroots. The doctors and adivasi staff designed the curriculum / training schedule and conducted this training programme for these medical students.

This programme is being coordinated by Charities Advisory Trust in UK. Interested students can visit the website for more details on the course contents, how to apply, etc.

Rice Trading started on Onam

One of the most important activities that excited the entire community is the Rice trading started in three of our villages. Kozhikolli in Devala area, Palavayal and Odadamvayal in Pattavayal area started this rice trade in their villages from Onam, an important festival of the adivasis. Though our final objective is directly source the rice or paddy from the growers themselves, for a start we purchased rice from a wholesaler in Gudalur and took it to the villages. This was considered necessary to set up the systems required for selling rice at the village, transport arrangements and to learn to keep track of the transactions at the village.

On the first day, 1300 kg of rice was taken from Gudalur by the jeep owned by the Adivasi Tea Leaf Marketing Society. Earlier, the three villages had a series of meetings and decided the quantity of rice required and the mechanism to store / sell it. Within a day, more than 1000 kg of rice was sold and the money collected. To give few figures and show the impact on local economy :

Discussions are going on in many other villages about this activity. Some more villages have come forward to start this trading and new products that can be traded along with rice are also being identified.

10th Anniversary of ATP

As mentioned in the last newsletter, Radhakrishnan, Lalitha, Stan and Mari attended the 10th anniversary celebrations of Adivasi Tee Projekt in Germany. Deva also went from Belgium to attend the gathering. It was a very nice occasion for all the ATP members to recollect their experience and the change in their life after their visit to Gudalur. Majority of the ATP members seem to have visited Gudalur at least once. A multi-religious prayer was organised as part of the meeting. Many ATP members had come with their children. Plans for the future relationship were discussed. For example, ATP has done a good job in establishing trade opportunities for the adivasi tea in Germany. There are some more interesting ideas like designing a development education pack for the German kids; ATP and AMS will work on these ideas during the next few months.

AMS had sent a banner wishing the ATP on this happy occasion, with signatures of over 100 of our team members. A PowerPoint presentation describing the progress made in the Madhuvana Plantations Project was also prepared for this meeting and the same was presented there. ATP was instrumental in getting a grant sanctioned by Bingo for constructing a road in the Madhuvana Estate. The progress of this project was shared with all the ATP members in this meeting.

Vidyodaya's Education Project

From 2000, our education intervention has become very intensive at the villages. With the support of Sir Ratan Tata Trust, Mumbai our education team has taken up many innovative steps to make education as an important agenda in the lives of the adivasis. Lot of effort has been made in enrolling new children, emphasising on their retention in the schools, non-formal and supplementary educational inputs to the adivasi children at the village itself, exposure to library activities, special camps exclusively for the children etc.

All these have resulted in a tremendous improvement of the educational status of our society. Today, more than 90% of the adivasi children are going to school - and staying there ! An enormous achievement within a brief period of four years. At present, we are engaged in consolidating the gains of the past into a sustainable and irreversible change.

So, we were glad to get the news from Tata Trust that they would continue their financial support to our education work for the next three years as well.

Workshop on Just Change Trading System

The AMS has taken a lead in establishing an alternative trading system among poor communities, after realising their potential both as producers and consumers. To counter the challenges posed by globalisation, we realise that organised poor communities should not remain as the victims or as mere objects in the market, but to become active players. In fact, we are the market. Just Change is born out of this analysis. During the last six months, Stan and Sajan are actively coordinating with other groups in different parts of the country and are giving shape to this concept. As a concrete shape to establish a structure for trading, a workshop was organised in Mysore during the third week of October. Ayyappan, Neelakandan and Lalitha had represented AMS in this workshop.

More than 30 participants from 10-odd NGOs participated in this workshop. The concept of Just Change trading system was explained by Stan; the strengths and weaknesses of such a radically different economic system was debated; doubts were raised; solutions were found. The experience of adivasis in Gudalur in running the Tea Leaf Marketing Society and in initiating the rice trade were shared with all the participants. A detailed 5-year plan detailing the potential for such a trade between communities was presented in the workshop, seeking feedback and

Community groups in other parts of the country, particularly in Kerala, Orissa and Andhra Pradesh also have lot of experience in channelising the flow of money within their own communities. At present, the crux is in establishing links between the groups in different parts of the country. Towards the end of the workshop, an exercise was conducted to explore the possibilities of actually starting some pilot trading. All the groups were astonished to see the enormous potential that exists, just by trading the essential items consumed by the poor communities. From a study conducted in our villages, we established that almost 50% of the expenditure of such communities go towards purchasing food items. Almost all the groups would like to start the process by doing a pilot run with commodities like Tea, Coconut Oil and soaps.

The next few months will be crucial in setting up this innovative idea on sound footing. AMS and ACCORD will support Just Change in making this dream a reality.


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