This period witnessed a flurry of activities in the adivasi villages. The activists of Adivasi Munnetra Sangam were quite busy with the many new initiatives started by us in 2005. Some highlights of these activities are given below.
After cows, solar lights and tea plants, it is the turn of chickens now. We launched a massive programme called Chicken Bank in December 2005. Through the Good Gifts Catalogue project of Charities Advisory Trust, many people in the UK have donated money to buy five chickens and a coop for the families here. The objective of this gift is to help families tide over emergencies, mainly for health needs. The chickens at home can be like a saving for the family. People can sell a chicken and pay the health insurance, for example. If there is any sudden need for cash, they can sell a chicken or two and meet their expenses. Moreover, the eggs can provide nutrition to the family and can result in a regular income also.
Each village is constituting a community fund from the funds allocated for establishing this chicken bank and adivasi women are actively involved in the entire programme. Most of the villages have completed making the coops for the chickens. Now, we are busy organising chickens from different farms and supplying to the villages.
There are, of course, lots of hurdles and difficulties along the way; but, the numerous meetings we have been having in the villages will help us sort them all out. There are ideas like 'give an egg per month towards the community fund', 'organise villagewise egg collection and marketing' etc. These ideas need to wait. Let us not count the chickens before they hatch !
If anyone wants to donate to Charities Advisory Trust for establishing these chicken banks, Click here.
The Adivasi Cow Insurance scheme has also been launched. So far 53 cows of the adivasis have been insured under this mutual insurance scheme and we hope that this will protect the adivasi families from sudden death or accident to the cows.
Village Education Workers
Meet the new faces of our education intervention. The Village Education Workers. These old women and men are making a crucial difference to the education scenario of the adivasi community for the last couple of years. After the year 2000, we launched a massive village education programme targeting enrollment of adivasi children. Most of the parents of the adivasi children are wage earners (and go for work early in the morning) and the adivasi villages are situated far away from the schools. This has been a major obstacle to the children attending schools regularly. We came out with the strategy of motivating volunteers from the villages to take the children from the village to the school, and back. They are called Village Education Workers and most of them are old women and men. A meagre honorarium is paid towards their tea expenses for this service. Today, this strategy has resulted in a sharp increase in the enrollment of adivasi children - from about 700 in 2000 to more than 1800 in 2005. The retention of children in schools too has become quite healthy.
Badichi (left in the sitting row) started taking children to school on her own, after getting motivated by the education worker concept. Seeing her taking children from her family, others also started sending their children with her. Now she is being paid honorarium as well. Besides, the Village Education Workers take children to the Library classes being held in the Area Centres, and accompany them to the children camps. Recently when a police official saw adivasi children seriously studying in the Devala area centre, that too on a Sunday, he was quite surprised. Gone are the days when people used to think that adivasi children cannot study even in schools. Now, they see them studying even on Sundays !
About 60 of these workers went to Mysore in December. They saw the big Palace of the Mysore Maharaja, visited the Zoo and went to the Chamundeeswari temple. Is it a pleasure trip ? "No", one worker remarked. "This has been an experience of a life-time for me to see this palace an zoo and all that. I will tell the children stories about this visit while taking them to school every day. It will be useful in my 'work' as well".
You can find more details about our education programme, here.
Exposure Visit to Mental Health Institutions
After the Community Mental Health programme has been launched in April 2005 with the financial assistance of Sir Ratan Tata Trust, the health team and volunteers have been spending a lot of energy in understanding and analysing the issue of mental illness. Professional Psychiatrists from NIMHANS, Bangalore and CMC, Vellore have been invited to give inputs in small capsules. Lot of traning programmes have also been organised for the village volunteers and area team members of Adivasi Munnetra Sangam.
As part of this learning process, the health team undertook an exposure trip to Chennai. The team visited Banyan, which has been doing commendable work among the destitute women with mental illness in the Chennai city. The crisis intervention by Banyan by providing a safe shelter for the mentally ill destitute women and a life-long treatment support for them provided an excellent learning for our health team. We also visited the Institute of Mental Health, a massive Government run mental hospital in Chennai and the TTK hospital specialising on de-addiction of alcoholics and drug addicts.
Adivasis become Shareholders !
Another important milestone was achieved during this period. The Just Change company has been formally registered on January 6th. The adivasis in Gudalur, along with women groups in Kerala and farmers in Orissa have come together to float this Producers Company under the newly amended Companies Act. The challenge before us is to breathe life into the piece of paper, to convert legal recognition into real recognition by having a major impact on the lives of the shareholders! For the first time perhaps we have a situation where shareholder value as the bottom line of a company does not mean exploitation of the poorest but on the contrary means justice for the poorest.
That we have been able to create the framework for ordinary people to participate in the economy as owners of capital assets and not just physical and human assets is indeed a revolution of sorts. We hope that this legal framework will help the members to gain control of their own economy, will help them realise better returns for their produce and will ensure trade justice in the process.
The adivasis and ACCORD take a lead in promoting this company. The formal name of the registered company is "Just Change India Producers Company Limited". For more information, please visit www.justchangeindia.com
Treatment of two handicapped boys in CMC Vellore
Two handicapped adivasi boys, Suresh and Vijayan from Devala area, were sent for treatment to the Christian Medical College, Vellore. Dr.Henry who had worked with our hospital earlier is currently working in the Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation department of the hospital there. He took responsibility for the surgery and subsequent treatment of these two boys.
Since the families of both the boys are very poor, they could not afford even to send people to be with the patients for long time. They were in the hospital for more than 3 months. Hence, the trainee boys from Gudalur Adivasi Hospital took turns to be with these two patients in the hospital. It has been a valuable experience for these adivasi trainees also to be in a big hospital for such a long time and to take care of all the needs of the patients.
After the surgery, when these two boys returned from Vellore, Dr.Henry sent this letter to the health team here.
"Hope the Boys reached in One piece! Hope no pressure sore because of the prolonged sitting. Any way by now they would have showed off their walking a bit, I guess. Here there was a lot of flat place to walk; there the problem will be uneven ground. May be people there would not be impressed with the kind of walking they must have expected more I guess. But believe me with a neurological level like T10, it is pretty difficult ambulating even this much. Imagine walking with no Sensation, Proprioception, no muscle power at all.
Hope they share their experience with all there before forgetting. They did get a lot of education, discussions, games, meeting others etc. May be Suresh should attend the Indian Medical Association meeting in Gudalur and share his experience. Very few docs know about life spine injury, and that they can have almost a near normal life if they are educated and rehabilitated well.
And of course the medical team and the lay people should be aware of ways to PREVENT such injuries, which spoil the lives and the cost of rehabilitating and preventing complications in these guys is huge. Get them going with some work as soon as possible, once the feeling of worthlessness sets in again they will crash again. And taking care of them long term will be difficult."
The kind of attachment Dr.Henry has for our work and the adivasi community here can be best illustrated by this mail. We thank Dr.Henry for his help and concern.
Dr.Henry recently got married to Ms.Cassandra. We wish both of them a happy married life.
Odakolli Ammini - Homage
We were saddened by the demise of Odakolli Ammini in December. She was diagnosed four months ago to have cancer in the esophagus. The cancer was in an advanced stage and she could not be cured.
Ammini was a brave activist of the Adivasi Munnetra Sangam. She was from the Paniya tribe and was in the fore front of the land rights campaign in the Srimadurai area. Due to her fighting spirit to protect the land of the adivasis, she faced the wrath of non-tribal settlers of that area. She handled almost single-handedly the land problems of the Srimadurai area. It is important to note that she was the only female Animator of the Sangam and was very active till she became terminally ill. She had visited Germany in 1999 and represented the Adivasi Munnetra Sangam in the meetings there.
We pay homage to this courageous member of our team and remember her services to the adivasi community gratefully.
The Pattavayal Area team had completed the construction of their new Area Centre building. This building was constructed with the financial assistance of FEASTA, Ireland. A well-equipped area centre building in Pattavayal has given fillip to the sangam activities in Pattavayal area.
The first batch of students from the Learning Centre of Vidyodaya school have appeared for their 8th standard examinations. After the exams, they are actively working with the education team on various programmes. This year's Christmas celebration in the school was completely planned, managed and conducted by these students !
Dr.Nandakumar Menon of the Gudalur Adivasi Hospital was chosen as an outstanding alumnus of the Christian Medical College in Vellore. He was presented the Paul Harrison Award by the college as a recognition of his work with the adivasis here.
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