NEWSLETTER

No.13

Jan-Feb 2007


 

Baby Heart Surgery

 

Our health intervention has grown over the years in response to the changing needs of the adivasi community. Though it was envisioned primarily as a preventive health care system in 1987, the health programmes grew into a comprehensive health care system, ranging from preventive health systems at the village level to provision of secondary level curative care at the Gudalur Adivasi Hospital.

Kirbomman of Chembakolli village

after his successful heart surgery

The three tier structure of health delivery comprising of village health volunteers, health animators at the Area Centres and first referral unit at the Gudalur Adivasi Hospital has become a robust system of addressing the health needs of the adivasi community. As the health status of the community improved, we started tackling illnesses which had hitherto not been the  main focus.

 

During the last three years, we started special programmes to handle mental illness, sickle cell anaemia and prevention of HIV AIDS. We were happy to add the screening of children for congenital heart diseases and surgical remedies where required.

 

This was possible due to the support received from Charities Adivsory Trust through its Good Gifts Catalogue. Donors in the UK contributed money to constitute a Baby Heart Surgery Fund with ASHWINI. Last year, we received about Rs. 2.5 lakhs for Baby Heart Surgery and we will get about Rs. 11 lakhs. We had already conducted four heart surgeries in Narayana Hridayalaya, Bangalore.

 

One of them is Kirbomman of Chembakolli Village, proudly posing here with his mother. They waited for more than six months for this heart surgery at the Madras Medical College Hospital in Chennai, but the operation could not be done. Thanks to the Charities Advisory Trust, UK, Kirbomman was operated upon quickly in Bangalore. Another four children will be sent for surgery in March to Bangalore. We hope to continue this programme to save precious lives.  

 

Adivasi Boy's death under suspicious circumstances

Sundaran was a 14 year old Paniya boy  belonging to Choladi village in Pattavayal area, who worked as a house-servant at a non-tribal's house in Idukki district, Kerala. In January, he died under suspicious circumstances there. The non-tribal owner sent a vehicle to fetch the father of this boy to Kerala without informing him that his sone had died. Only after reaching the hospital there, he was informed about the death, but the reasons have not been clearly told, creating suspicion that the boy might not have been treated well in the house. They tried to hush up the issue by sending the dead body back to the Choladi village in an ambulance.

But, in the village, the sangam members and the Pattavayal area leaders made it into a big issue, by refusing to take delivery of the body. They made sure that government officials came to the village and an assurance was given by the authorities that a proper investigation will be undertaken by the Police. Though many local politicians tried to take mileage out of the incident, the AMS leaders took the issue  in their hands and presented their case to the government officials properly. Memoranda seeking investigation were sent to the police and other officials in Tamilnadu and Kerala by the AMS.

The root cause of the problem is the practice of adivasi families sending their children to work as servants in Kerala. Similarly, AMS is taking up the issue of adivasi youth going to Kodagu as wage labourers. This takes place without any involvement of the village sangam or the adivasi leaders. The working conditions of many of these places are not very secure. Though the families send their children and young boys for economic reasons, actually they do not seem to ever save any money to send home. Most of the young people spend all their hard-earned money on alcohol and return home almost empty handed. As AMS managed to make the death of the adivasi boy in Choladi village a big issue and get local newspaper coverage etc., the activists plan to raise awareness about the dangers of migratory work. It has been decided to discuss this in detail in all the village meetings and to print pamphlets / posters highlighting this issue.

 

ATP Visit

 

We had the great pleasure of hosting our friends from Adivasi Tee Projekt - Rolf, Winfried, Laura, Jenny, Verena, Markus and Petra - from the 19th of December to the 8th of January. Like all our exchange visits, this one too helped to strengthen the strong bond between the adivasis of Gudalur and their German friends. 

 

They spent some days with the Vidyodaya school, the Adivasi Hospital and at the ACCORD office. They visited some villages with different area team members to get an idea about the kind of activities our team members are engaged in. The germans sponsored this year's Christmas celebrations at the Vidyodaya school and talked to the entire team at the All Team Meeting. The group went to Saward in Calicut to get a first hand understanding of the Just Change activities and explored the possibilities of being part of the Just Change network.

 

Madhuvana Plantations continues to be the focal point around which the adivasi-German relationship is being built. They visited the estate, talked to the workers, went around the plantation to understand the recent developments and stayed there for a night. To commemorate two decades of work by ACCORD with the adivasi community in Gudalur valley, some members of the ATP raised a donation of 500 euros.

 

This gift was used to construct a Leaf Collection Shed in the estate, besides buying the leaf bags and shears for the workers. They distributed these gifts to the workers during their interaction with them. The team also participated in the construction of the leaf shed in the estate. We have a beautiful leaf shed now, thanks to the ATP gift.

 

In May this year, another group of adivasis will be visiting Germany. So, we had some preparatory meetings as well with the ATP members. As usual, it was a great joy to have the company of our German friends. Many of our adivasi team members invited them to their homes and villages, reciprocating the many years of hospitality, warmth and friendship showered on visiting adivasi groups since 1997 by the ATP gang and their families. This year will be the 10th anniversary of Kirchentag visits from Gudalur  to Germany.

 

Harvard Medical Students trained in Gudalur

 

The Medical Student Electives programme has been successfully running for more than a year now. Medical students from UK are trained in our hospital for four weeks. The training includes theory as well as a hands on experience as they follow senior doctors around the wards getting to see a variety of cases at close quarters.  In the first week of January, we had a special programme to train five medical students from Harvard University specialising in Public Health.

 

These students were trained in the community health programmes being undertaken by ASHWINI, the issues related to health financing of our programmes, a detailed analysis of our mutual health insurance programme and our health delivery system. The students enjoyed this exposure very much. One of them wrote later,

 

"I think, we told you. But after we left, I think it became even more clear for all of us that our time in Gudalur was definitely the best part of our trip".

 

For the year 2007, we are already booked to train more than 20 students under this programme.

 

Soap Making in Adivasi Villages

 

As part of the vocational training programme of Vidyodaya, adivasi youth, women and children are being trained in many vocations. Soap making has been identified as one such activity. After our successful efforts to export the handmade soaps to UK last year, we are currently planning a more systematic method to produce soaps in our adivasi villages and to encourage all the sangam members to use these soaps.

 

Durga and Subramani from Kotharavayal have been assigned the role of Trainers for this project. Now that we have an organised women's group in many of the villages, thanks to the Chicken Bank programme, we decided to work with the chicken women on soap-making too.

 

Women in Theyyakuni village (left) and Kanjikolli village (above) enthusiastically participated in the training for soap making

 

They have been visiting different adivasi villages to demonstrate the simple method of making the hand made soaps, using natural materials like coconut oil and lentil powder. During these training sessions, we have made both toilet soaps and washing soaps. The initial response from the women is very positive and we hope to build this into a sustainable economic enterprise in as many villages as possible. Apart from making soaps for their own consumption, we hope to establish one or two units making soaps commercially as well.

 

Construction Activities in the Estate

 

Our Madhuvana Estate has seen a flurry of activities during the last two months. And, for the next one year, there will be lots of construction activities in the estate, thanks to the support of the Charities Advisory Trust, Ethical Investors and Nilgiri Adivasi Trust in UK, and the Adivasi Tee Projekt and Westernacher Business Management Consulting AG in Germany.

 

Not having houses for the workers on the estate was a major constraint for us with worker shortage during the peak season of leaf output. Having houses will provide us with a core work force. During the last five years or so, we invested only in the plantation, bring more area under tea cultivation and maintaining the fields etc. Now, we hope to invest in the other infrastructure required for the plantation like housing, fencing and irrigation facilities.

 

So, we were thrilled when the Ethical Investors group in the UK and the Charities Advisory Trust came forward to provide us with the money to construct 12 houses for the workers in the estate. We have identified the sites for these houses and have completed the designs for them with the help of architects, Subhash and Yogananda. The walls will be built using soil cement blocks, which are energy efficient and provide lots of labour. Anu and Krishna trained a group of construction workers in this technology and one such group has started making the blocks required for these houses.

We are very happy to see some of our construction crew willing to take the contract for the houses. This group has made the cost estimates for a house based on the specifications given by the architects and have given a quotation for undertaking this contract. Besides giving continuous employment to all of them, this project will also showcase their ability as masons, designers and construction contractors. A major leap for the adivasis, who were known only as unskilled labourers till recently.

We are also planning to construct a Community Hall near these houses. And we hope a village sangam will build this hall using traditional adivasi construction methods.

The second project is the construction of a multi-purpose training centre on the Estate that can be used for conducting our training programmes and camps for the adivasi team, children, youth and sangam leaders. This will be built on top of the current building at the bottom of the estate. A perfect setting for undisturbed reflective sessions. The Nilgiri Adivasi Trust, UK has offered us up to £1500 for the construction of this training centre. We were quite happy to invite Ms.Rosaleen Mulji of NAT to visit the estate and the proposed site of the training centre. Work on this has already started and we hope to complete it before the beginning of the monsoon.

The third project is solar fencing for some parts of the estate and sprinkler irrigation to cover about 20 acres. The funding for this programme is provided by  Westernacher Business Management Consulting AG in Germany through our support group, ATP. We hope to complete this project also by March.

 

Third Tribal People's Award

 

On February 18th, the Adivasi Munnetra Sangam organised a function in which the Third Tribal People's Award was given to Ms. Hilary Blume and the Charities Advisory Trust in recognition of their unstinted support to the adivasi community. They have been a special partner to us for over a decade and supported us through a number of emergencies. Hilary has bailed us out at the eleventh hour when a major Funding agency abandoned us and we were stuck without salaries for staff. Shyla merely mentioned the need for a doctor and like magic, Emma was despatched to us all the way from Scotland with the added bonus of  John who ended up being a major player in Just Change.   

CAT entered our lives in a major way when to our amazement, Hilary offered  to advance the money  for the  purchase of the estate. All  2 crores of it ! The deal was CAT would provide the money and the ATP would repay the loan. And so, after years of uncertainty  the adivasis of Gudalur acquired the Madhuvana or Honey Forest estate.  CAT also provided  working capital  to the Adivasi Tea Leaf Marketing Society,  gave Ashwini a grant to establish a Diabetic Fund and  a Hardship Fund to support needy people. During the last four years, Hilary  has sent  us  enormous sums of money through the Good Gifts Catalogue.  We have received  cows, chickens, tea plants, solar lights and smokeless stoves for hundreds of adivasi families. During 2007, there will be a new  safe deliveries project for pregnant women and  another for conducting heart surgeries with good gifts money.

We realised with a shock that  CAT alone has, over the last decade, supported us with funds equal to all our other funding partners put together. In addition to the direct support to us, we wanted to acknowledge our appreciation of  the amazing task that Hilaryís creativity has achieved, mobilising funds for  hundreds of such projects and initiatives around the world.  Hence, this award is also in recognition of CATís innovative fund raising methods and the impact it has had in so many communities all around the world.

The function was also used to lay the foundation for the proposed 'Adivasi Bank' in Gudalur. During the last two years, we have had lots of discussions about the possibility of organising savings programmes in the adivasi villages and establishing suitable institutional mechanisms. The support received from CAT for the Chicken Bank programme was used to kick-start the process of mobilising savings and community funds at the village level. More than Rs. 100000 has already been collected and now we are ready to seriously explore  ways of institutionalising this programme.

 Stan used the presence of sangam leaders and members from all the eight areas to elaborate our vision of the proposed Adivasi Bank. Volunteers collected money from all the people as a token contribution to the Bank. We hope that the amount of Rs. 2189 collected  on this  opening day will grow into a permanent institution through which the adivasi communities can transact most of their financial affairs.

 

Regular monthly updates about our education activities are available in the Vidyodaya Newsletters.

 


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