Jan - Mar  2008

Adivasis take up Govt. contract for building houses

Housing has become a very serious problem for our community. In the past, they always built their houses from natural materials sourced from the forest. But now their access to the forest is severely restricted by the Forest Department as a result of which in spite of having the skills to build their own houses, they have come to depend on government sanctioned and built housing. More and more of them live in these poorly constructed, badly designed houses of the government. Many still share living space with their relatives. This overcrowding compounded with poor ventilation and severe dampness has resulted in the emergence of serious health problems. Tuberculosis is on the rise in spite of best efforts.

So the housing problem has begun to worry us all a lot and we are looking for ways of dealing with it. In the meantime in Kodamoola village, 12 houses were santioned by the government. The village sangam and the women self-help groups decided to take up the contract to build these houses, instead of going through the normal route of employing a non-tribal contractor. From our earlier experience, we knew that this was not as easy as it sounds. Dealing with the government, getting funds released without paying bribes etc are a huge challenge. And this requires that the people stay united and determined till the last house is completed.

But Kodamoola felt they were ready for the challenge. And their determination has led us all to decide to support them in every way possible. Though there is lot to be desired regarding the design of these houses and the flexibility (or the lack of it) to suit the needs of an individual family, everyone felt it was time to engage with the government and at least ensure that whatever little is done, is done properly.

Rs.40000 has been sanctioned for each house and the people are determined to stay within this budget. The village has formed a committee to purchase building materials and to take stock of the expenses periodically.

Some of the adivasi youngsters trained by Anu and Krishna in construction are also helping out and a number of youth volunteers have agreed to help coordinate the efforts. The families for whom houses are being constructed also chip in with their own labour, so as to minimise the costs. (In the earlier system where an outside contractor builds the houses, the family does not have any role to play; but is just given the final completed house !).


At the time of writing this report, two houses have been completed in all aspects, walls are up for the third house and the foundation laid for the fourth house. The costs incurred have also been within the sanctioned budget. Kodamoola sangam members are determined to work together till the last house is constructed and to their satisfaction.

This is an important development and will help all the other sangam villages also in tackling their housing problems. Based on this experience, the sangam will try to influence Government policy on housing for adivasis.

Savings Coordinators - GeneratioNext

The village savings programme, the first step to setting up the Adivasi bank has sprung to life with the induction of fresh young blood into the team. By February, all the eight area teams had identified 16 young men and women to work full time on the savings programme. This has not only changed the average age and the gender balance of our area teams favourably, but brings a fresh perspective to our work. In February, we had an intensive induction programme for the new trainees for three days - in the new Training Centre at Madhuvana estate.

It was an eye opener for most of the people who attended. On one hand, the trainees got to know - for the first time - about the struggles of the adivasi community two decades ago to assert their land rights and to protect their human rights. They could not believe the stories of the serious human rights violations and the social / economic hardships that the previous generations of adivasis, (including their parents) had suffered. 'Bonded Labour' was something these young people had never heard of. Vaccination of mothers and children joining schools are things they now take for granted.

They could not imagine Adivasis not being allowed to cultivate in their own land, adivasi mothers dying during child birth every year or adivasi children getting humiliated in the schools by the teachers. This was all news to them because these young people grew up without facing any of the discrimination as their parents endured. This is a powerful indication of the huge transformation that has taken place in the adivasi community.

On the other hand, it was a revelation for the older generation of activists that these young people view things so differently and that their aspirations are not the same. Their skills and knowledge levels have equipped them and made them better and more capable of handling the dominant society. They have all gone to school and have studied upto the 10th standard; they dare to dream big and will demand equality from society. None of them have ever gone to bed feeling hungry - (whereas starvation was a way of life for their parents and grandparents).

But, the task before this generation is quite different - probably equally difficult as that of their parents. They need to preserve the cultural ethos and community spirit of the adivasi society; they have to start spending money more prudently; they need to work hard on making a livelihood using the new skills acquired. The three day induction programme addressed these issues head on. They tried to make an estimate of the various income sources and the expenditures of a typical adivasi family. To understand the role of savings, where they can intervene and how to create discussion at the village meeting.

At the end of the camp, they were all quite motivated to take up the challenge and to help their people progress - not as individuals, but as a community. The older team members were also satisfied that the next generation will be able to continue their work and that the future is in capable hands.

Herbal Medicines - New Project

Dr.Mahesh, an Ayurveda Medical professional has just joined our team. Although our health intervention is primarily allopathic, our team has always been keenly interested in reviving traditional knowledge and practices. So, when Dr.Mahesh wanted to take a break from Poonthottam, a reputed Ayurveda Hospital in Kerala, we invited him here to do an intensive feasibility study to launch a comprehensive Herbal Medicine programme in our area.


Our proposal to revive the traditional health practices of the adivasi community has three components.

  • To create a network of traditional practitioners; document their practices and the medicines being used by the adivasi community.

  • To strengthen this traditional knowledge and to differentiate between diseases that can be treated and those needing urgent referrals.

  • To establish an Ayurvedic Hospital that will follow an integrated and holistic approach to health.

Dr.Mahesh is visiting different adivasi villages, making a list of and meeting traditional practitioners and documenting their practices. He is undertaking the feasibility study for the next two steps. This study has already generated tremendous excitement and interest among the herbal practitioners of the adivasi community. Madhuvana Estate, the common property of the adivasi community has the potential and the perfect ambience and hopefully we will set up a centre here to meet the community's ayurvedic medical and pharmacy needs, and to train adivasis to manufacture ayurvedic medicines and to learn paramedical skills.



Developments in Health Intervention

The health front has also seen a lot of activity. The sickle cell control and HIV / AIDS control programmes have been streamlined. We have been interacting with the Government for the Bed Grants project (The Government reimburses expenses of inpatient care provided to adivasis) and Sickle Cell project (under which expenses of inpatient and outpatient care provided to sickle cell patients will be reimbursed by the Government).


In March, the Government organised a public function in Ooty to recognise the work being done by Ashwini to control HIV / AIDS and Tuberculosis among the adivasi population.



The new hospital building is also coming up fast. The basement for the pharmacy unit, and the ground floor for the outpatient ward / administrative block are done, and the foundation for the first floor has also been completed; work on the first floor has started. Donations for the new hospital building have also been steadily streaming in. Details of the new hospital building progress and the list of donors are on the Ashwini website.


Dr.Premila visited us in January and in March, and helped the health animators do a thorough review of the health status of pregnant mothers and under-5 children in their area. This intensive review helped the health animators design their future intervention in a more planned manner.


Quality of Education - Our current Focus

Gangadharan, coordinating the village education programmes, has been painstakingly collecting various data regarding the educational status of adivasi children during the last seven years. In January, he made a presentation to all the team members which highlighted some important issues concerning education of adivasi children.


As one can see from the graph below, we have come a long way in the last seven years. The lines keep going higher (showing the increased enrollment in schools). From the time we started an intensive intervention in the education sector, the number of children going to school has steadily increased and also importantly, they no longer drop out of school as early as they did before. For example, in 2001-02, children started dropping out right from the 2nd standard. Over the years, our effort has been to make the line as horizontal as possible - now, we manage to keep the children in school till they reach 6th standard.



We also analysed the different reasons for children dropping out of school. The graph below shows the profile of adivasi children studying in different schools during the current year. Today, about 2670 adivasi children are going to schools and, more than 78% of these children are studying in the 1st to 6th standards. However, after that, the number of kids dropping out is quite dramatic and steep.


We analysed the data to see if gender plays a role, but were happy to discover that there is no correlation between gender and dropping out- as is the case in other parts of the country. Thus we feel that the primary reason for our children dropping out of school after 5th or 6th standard is the poor quality of education they get in these schools.


Although we have been emphasizing the need for quality education for the last two years, this analysis made it extremely important for us to focus on this problem. Random tests done among the adivasi children studying in different schools of this region also substantiate our theory that the children do not reach the educational standards required. We need to supplement the inputs received from the schools with more meaningful and innovative tools and support them with more intensive teaching methods. Village Libraries (where children can get exposed to different reading materials, stories etc.), Study Centres (where a conducive learning atmosphere can be provided to the children) and Tuition Centres (where additional teaching inputs are provided to the kids by trained teachers) are some ideas that can make a change in the quality of learning of our children. Currently, we have drawn up a detailed plan for our future education intervention and a draft document prepared. You can download it here. We will be happy to get your feedback.


Adivasi BPO unit - first steps

Outsourcing has become a big topic for debates, not only in the American presidential elections, but also in our small town called Gudalur. Many outsourced jobs move from lower income groups in developed countries to middle class people in India. We want to see if these opportunities can move all the way to the adivasi community in the Nilgiri hills.


After lot of discussions and planning during the last four months, we are now doing the groundwork for setting up a rural Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) unit in Gudalur. Historically, the most important aspect of our work has been in training young people from the adivasi community – who have mostly just done basic schooling - and train them on delivering services, managing institutions and implementing various development programmes. So, today, we have nurses, teachers, accountants, lab technicians, computer operators, managers and of course, leaders from within the adivasi community. We want to replicate this in our BPO initiative as well. What started as an idea to centralise the administrative work of all our institutions like the hospital, school, marketing cooperatives and the tea plantation etc., has grown into forming a business unit, which can offer these services to other small NGOs as well.



When this opportunity was presented to the young people from the adivasi community, more than 15 young boys and girls (who have dropped out of schools, but have an aptitude for administration related work) have come forward to be part of this unit. We will be selecting some of them and starting an intensive six month training programme on office administration, with a strong emphasis on computer applications and financial accounting. We got the hardware a few weeks ago and hope to get the unit going within a month.


We are also considering the possibility of offering these administration related services to other NGOs situated in more remote places or where such trained human resources are not available. Moreover, we will also explore the possibility of getting some orders from other commercial 'Outsourcing units' in cities from India or abroad, since it will give us some idea about the demand and the kind of training we need to provide for these young people. We have professionals who will pitch in and can ensure quality control regarding outputs and can keep us updated on the latest developments in the field. If this unit can make profits, it will initially be ploughed back in training more young people on these issues , but will essentially be used for filling the gaps in our other institutions like hospital, school etc. 

Regular updates about our other activities are available in the newsletters of Vidyodaya, Just Change and Ashwini.

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