NEWSLETTER

No.9

Jan-Apr 2006

 

  AMS Leaders Election 

Elections are being held in all the Sangam villages affiliated to the Adivasi Munnetra Sangam from January. Many village sangams have elected their Village Sangam leaders and the process is on in the other villages as well. The emergence of new generation of leaders for the village sangams and for the adivasi community can be witnessed in these elections.

Once the village leaders are elected, the Taluk level executive committee of AMS will be elected. There is a strong perception among the existing team that the executive committee at the taluk level should also be represented by the emerging younger leadership. The entire election process will be completed before June.

  UK Teachers visit Gudalur 

Like last year, a group of teachers from UK visited Gudalur in the 3rd week of February. We have created many interesting education materials based on the life of the adivasis in the Gudalur valley in association with Actionaid, UK and these resources are widely used in the UK schools. They are popularly known as 'Chembakolli materials'. (Visit www.chembakolli.com for more details). The teachers who are involved in this curriculum visited Gudalur for a first-hand knowledge of the people and the place.

More details of this visit can be seen in our education newsletter. Click here to read that newsletter.

  Review of our Mental Health Programme 

Our intervention in the Mental Health field is progressing quite well. During the last one year of intensive interaction with the adivasi community, we have been able to create an widespread awareness about this new issue. We have taken the professional support of doctors from reputed mental health institutions like Nimhans in Bangalore, Christian Medical College in Vellore etc.

In April, we had invited Dr.Sridhar, a Psychiatrist to undertake a review of this programme. Some highlights of his observations are given here. 

"The entire staff involved in the Mental Health programme appeared very enthusiastic about it. The medical officer is confident of initiating treatment for the patients. The Health animators were confident in identifying people with mental illnesses.

 

The village volunteers or health guides, who are generally young people without formal education, are very enthusiastic about providing care and disseminating the knowledge in their villages. The involvement of the village health guides is an innovative step in mental health care delivery in these remote areas.

 

The dramatic improvement of some of the chronically mentally ill, has created a lot of enthusiasm in the community. This has also increased the awareness not only of the animators and health guides, but the community also regarding the curable nature of the illness. As a spin off benefit, the treatment and follow up of other chronic ailments, the out patient and in patient numbers in the hospital have also increased.

 

Some of the patients with acute mental illness come to the hospital early and directly for treatment. Even from the non tribal community, people have started accessing care at the hospital, as there is no such facility available in the whole district."

 

The inputs of Dr.Sridhar in taking our intervention forward were quite useful. We are planning our next year's activities taking into account his recommendations and suggestions.

 

 

 

Village Health Guides attend a training

Programme in our hospital

Dr.Ashwin talking to adivasi youth &

school children about 'Substance abuse'

 

We would like to thank Sir Ratan Tata Trust, Mumbai for financially supporting us to implement this programme.

 

 

  Adivasi Cultural Festival 

 

This year's Adivasi cultural festival was held on March 26th in the Uppatti high school ground near Ponnani. There was an overwhelming participation of men, women and children in the cultural festival this year. All the usual events like pooja, cultural songs and dances, sports etc. were performed this year too.

 

The Ponnani area team, leaders and adivasi youth of nearby villages took on the responsibility to conduct the cultural festival successfully.

 

As per the practice of the last few years, free food (Annadanam)  was provided to all the 2000-odd people who attended the cultural festival. Adivasi youth from the Masinagudi region organised the cooking and distribution of food.

 

 

 

Adivasi leaders of five tribes are lighting

lamps in the cultural pooja.

An elderly adivasi man participating

in the Archery competition

 

The highlight of this year's festival was the 'Korathi Nadagam' (a traditional theatre form) performed by a drama troupe trained by Velan, an excellent actor himself.

 

  Good Gifts - Chickens and Cows 

 

With the financial assistance from Charities Advisory Trust in UK, the Adivasi Munnetra Sangam has been providing 'Good Gifts' to the adivasi families. CAT has been mobilising funds through its Good Gifts Catalogue (www.goodgifts.org), which are given to the adivasi families in the form of chosen gifts. During the last one year, we have given Cows, chickens, solar lights and tea plants to the adivasi community as gifts under this programme.

 

 

 

An adivasi family with their

Good Gifts cow and calf.

An adivasi couple making a chicken coop

 themselves using locally available materials

 

Till now, more than 80 families have received cows and over 50000 tea plants have been distributed. Similarly, chickens were given to more than 800 families till now. There has been very good response for these gifts and there is flurry of activity in the sangam villages : Choosing the needy families, designing the operational details, identifying the sources for purchasing cows, tea plants, chickens etc. are all done by the village activists of AMS and the sangam leaders.

 

Recently, 25 cycles were given to the health animators working in the villages as Good Gifts. We plan to provide about 120000 tea plants during the next couple of months. Though the chicken programme faced some problems initially, the animators have worked hard to stabilise it now. Many families have reported that the chicks have started laying eggs and some villages have offered eggs back to the Sangam for setting up a 'Community Fund' !

 

  Camps for Adivasi Children & Youth 

 

We are catching them young !

 

The mobilisation work of the Adivasi Munnetra Sangam is an important and continuous activity of the village level activists. Though the initial organising work revolved around the issue of land alienation of the adivasis, subsequently we have been systematically interacting with different age groups in the adivasi community. During the last few years, there has been a significant involvement of volunteers from the adivasi community in the different development programmes being implemented by the Sangam. This strategy has ensured that the involvement and participation of the community in all the sangam activities remains significant.

 

One important activity in this strategy is the camps being organised for the adivasi children and youth by the AMS area teams. Children studying in different schools are brought together for a couple of days and are exposed to the issues confronting the adivasi community today. The status of the community in terms of social indicators like health, education etc. is explained to the children and youth. The collective response of the sangam to some of these issues, the logic of our intervention and the details of the activities are described by the activists to the young members of the community. Audio-visual presentations are used to get the attention of the participants.

 

Cultural expressions like songs and dances are given priority in these camps. The common adivasi identity is emphasised and we hope that the next generation from the community will also strive to take control of their own lives, like their parents - the founding members of the Adivasi Munnetra Sangam - have done during the last two decades.

 

  Adivasi Mutual Health Insurance Programme 

 

We have been running an innovative mutual health insurance programme for the last 13 years. The main objective of our insurance programme is to improve access to health care; to remove the financial obstacles that any of the adivasi families will have in accessing quality care and to make the health programme accountable / responsive to the people. Of late, there is tremendous interest in our insurance programme and to learn from our experience.

 

During the last two years, we have been undertaking many interesting experiments in redesigning the insurance programme, like fixing village premiums, allowing each village to fix their own premium and collect the amount on their own etc. In March, we invited an expert panel to thoroughly review our insurance programme and suggest ways to improve it. Dr.Devadasan of Institute of Public Health, Dr.Indrani Gupta and Mr.Mayur Trivedi visited us for three days; talked to various stakeholders and analysed our programme threadbare. They visited a few villages and held Focus Group Discussions with the people, patients and the health team working in the villages.

 

Currently, we are discussing their recommendations and are encouraging the villages to come out with their own plans for next year. We hope to arrive at a decentralised strategy of implementing the insurance programme and collecting the premium for the year 2007.

 

  Adivasis visit UK 

 

A group of 8 adivasis visited United Kingdom from March 15th to April 3rd, along with Stan, Mari and Manoharan. The team criss-crossed the country from Manchester to Scotland to Whitby to New Castle to London to Oxford. They had been invited by Actionaid, UK to address the students and teachers studying about adivasis. Taking this opportunity, the team met many groups and explained their way of life, current issues faced by the community, our future plans etc. The team also had the privilege of inaugurating the Skoll World Forum in Oxford, organised by the Skoll Foundation and Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship in Oxford.

 

 

 

Chathi & Kuttan are teaching English children to play adivasi musical instruments

The adivasi team addressing volunteers in UK

while explaining the history of the A.M.S.

 

 

Adivasi team meeting some activists and community group representatives in New Economics Foundation

An exhibition of products used by adivasi community in their cultural events / daily lives

 

The significant achievement of the trip of the adivasis to UK has been the enormous interest we were able to raise on our Just Change concept of trading. For the last few years, the adivasis have taken a lead in establishing a radically new system of trading between community groups, by directly linking producers and consumers. This concept has been rapidly growing in India and in UK, more than 50 volunteers are actively promoting this idea among conscious consumers, ethical retailers and community groups. More information on this initiative can be obtained from the websites www.justchangeindia.com and www.justchangeuk.org. During their 20 days trip in UK, the adivasi team met lots of people and promoted Just Change by talking to different groups like Young Cooperatives, Community Pride Initiative, District Council of Chester-le-Street, ethical retailers like Unicorn (Manchester), Out of this World (New Castle), 8th Day Cooperative (Manchester) and Soundbites (Derby) etc. The team also participated in many events organised as part of the Fair Trade week in UK.

 

Another positive outcome of the visit has been the finalising of an order to sell our tea through the Amnesty International catalogue. AI has been selling fair trade products and items sourced directly from community groups through their catalogue. In the next catalogue to be published in July, our tea and handmade natural soaps made by two women groups associated with Just Change will also be included. At present, production of these items is going on in full swing. Bomman, the Secretary of AMS has designed an excellent bio-degradable packaging for the tea and a gift container. The adivasi team was happy to be the 'models' for their own products. The online version of the Amnesty Catalogue is available here. After July, our products will also be displayed in this site.

 

Two articles written by Mari and Stan Thekaekara in connection with the visit of the adivasis to UK have been published in the Guardian newspaper in UK. They can be accessed from the links Linking Hands and Fair Trade and Tea industry. After the visit, Mari had written another article in the Business Line newspaper in India about the adivasis attending the Skoll World Forum. Click here to read this article.

 

On a personal note, it was wonderful to see so many friends of the adivasis in UK. It was almost like a home away from home for the team and the hospitality of everyone was really overwhelming and encouraging. We thank all our friends in UK for the excellent reception.  During this hectic trip, all of us together have kick-started a historic process of creating an alternative trading system - a just and equitable one. Let us hope that we will sustain this momentum.

 

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