Two months ago, there was a tragic accident
in Thottapira village near Ambalamoola of Ayyankolli Area. Eighteen
year old Elumban was electrocuted when he came in contact with a live
electric line. While establishing connection in one of the houses of
the village, the lineman from the Electricity department called on Elumban
who was working in a nearby field to assist him by passing him the electrical
main line lying on the ground. Neither realised that it was live and the moment
Elumban touched it, he was fatally electrocuted. Though this can be termed
an accident, it was caused entirely by the negligence of the Electricity department
who should have turned off the main line before starting work.
As soon as the news of the incident spread, people from all the nearby sangams
assembled at Thottapira. Ayyankolli area team and the sangam leaders
supported the family to complete all the legal formalities and to file a complaint.
They also made representations to the Police and other government officials.
Though a case was registered, there
was no attempt by the
Electricity department to provide compensation to the family. Many
attempts were made to ensure some for of compensation but since all failed, the AMS
decided to organise a public protest.
On 21st June 2008, in spite of monsoon weather,
more than 400 men, women and young people from all the eight
areas of AMS, assembled at Elumban's house and took out a procession from
Thottapira to Ambalamoola. They urged the Government to take immediate action by providing
compensation and financial support to the family. The event was covered by television channels and
local newspapers, and the media joined the adivasis in highlighting
the Government apathy to this tragedy.
After the procession, a
public meeting was also organised in Ambalamoola town. Leaders
belonging to all the five tribes and a few from the
neighbouring Wynad district of Kerala State spoke in the public
Apart from forcing the Government to
consider the plight of the affected family immediately, the public
meeting was also used by AMS to underline the failure of many other
Government initiatives. Speakers from the
adivasi community minced no words while attacking the indifference
of the Government to the problems of the adivasis. Development programmes that sound quite well in
paper, when implemented often circumvent the guidelines and the
principles behind the programme. This results in a wastage and leakage of funds and
the community continues to be deprived. Adivasi leaders wanted a change
in this attitude, urged the Government to consult them before designing any development programme
and involve them in the implementation.
In the first week of June, Vidyodaya
Trust got a letter which said,
Dear Sir / Madam,
I am to inform that your
agency has been accredited provisionally as a Study Centre of National
Institute of Open Schooling (NIOS) for Open Basic Education (OBE)
Programme from the Academic Session 2007-08 and allotted a Study Centre
Code No. OB-1904308, which may please be quoted in all future
correspondence with NIOS.
This is a wonderful news for our
education programme. During the last 10 years, we were caught up in a
difficult balancing act. On the one hand, our goal and desire is to
provide meaningful, relevant and good quality
education to adivasi children. And, on the other,
the numerous statutory and legal requirements stipulated by the
Government often makes it impossible for us of to be creative and responsive
to the needs of the community. For example, the rigid and demanding curriculum
for instance leaves us with neither the time nor space to develop a culturally
relevant syllabus. Under the NIOS
we have far more freedom to develop an educational programme that is in keeping with
our goals and aspirations. This was why we decided to apply for recognition under NIOS.
were delighted when
the Ministry of Human Resources Development of the Government of India finally accepted
our application. It opens up a whole lot of
opportunities and exciting possibilities for us. The most important aspect is that
under the broad curriculum development guidelines, Vidyodaya will be able to teach the history of adivasi
communities in Gudalur valley and their struggle for self reliance, as
part of the regular
curriculum itself. The cultural history, traditional knowledge of the
community, vocational and life-skills that parents would like to pass
on to the kids can all become part of the school curriculum.
And what's more, community leaders can become teachers and can teach subjects like Honey Collection, Herbal Medicines, Construction of houses, Traditional Dances, playing musical instruments etc. - just like 'qualified' teachers teach Maths and Science to the kids. Possibly, all the Village libraries and Study Centres that have been started during the last three years can become extensions of the Vidyodaya School. The school can, literally, go to the doorsteps of the children.
The prospects excite us. But, it involves lot of work. Creative inputs
from everyone is required. During the next two years, our challenge is to
develop this curriculum and the required teaching materials.
insurance policy with Royal Sundaram
Insurance Company came to an end in May. This programme was
being implemented with the financial assistance of Sir Ratan
Tata Trust, Mumbai from 2003. While we were still thinking about renewing the policy the Government under the World Bank funded Tamilnadu Health Systems project came forward offering to reimburse the costs of tribal inpatients. This would be on an initial pilot basis for one year. This raised the issue of whether we need to continue with the insurance programme or not. So, we took this opportunity to start extensive discussions with our community on the financial aspects of the health programme.
were conducted with all the Area Team members separately, and then with
sangam leaders. Presentations were made highlighting the
health parameters which are monitored and used to assess the health status
of our people. For example, the
immunisation status, number of patients seen in OP and admitted in
Gudalur Adivasi Hospital, tribewise deliveries and mortality of
children etc. were shared with each of the Area teams through graphical
presentations. Along with these, the financial aspects were also
discussed - the total expenditure on providing comprehensive health
care to the people, the different sources of funding and the ideas for
allocation of resources in future were debated.
the messages that came out loud and clear from these meetings was that
the insurance programme needs to continue - come what
may. Though the premium paid by the community is only about 25% of the total premium paid to the insurance company, insurance is seen as an important mechanism to involve the community in the governance of our health system. And to give them a sense of ownership.
Over the years, we
have inculcated the habit of looking ahead and saving some money for
the future needs in a variety of ways - health insurance is one of them.
Everyone also strongly feel that nothing should be given totally free and people should be
encouraged to contribute whatever they can. It was mooted that even though the
Government is subsidising the costs of treating adivasi Inpatients in
our hospital, people should continue to pay the insurance premium, and this could be used
for outpatient care, emergency transport or costs of treatment when they
are referred to bigger hospitals. That is the only way to ensure that
our people access care with dignity. The participants felt that every
sangam member will be willing to pay a bit more if we explain
all the financial aspects of the programme in a clear manner.
period also saw many Government officials visiting our Adivasi
Hospital. ASHWINI has also been implementing other programmes under
the Tamilnadu Health Systems Project. The Director of
this project and other State / District level officers visited us to
We shared some of the problems faced by
us while implementing the programme and the need to make some changes
in the design. In an interaction with consultants from the World Bank
team, we gave feedback on the bottlenecks in reaching the services to
really needy villages and emphasised the need to continue interventions
like the Bed Grant programme even after the WB funded programme comes
to an end.
The new hospital building construction
is going on in full swing. Details are available in this link.
the last decade, all the adivasi team members working in the area
centres and in the institutions have been intensively trained on
management issues, planning and designing programmes, monitoring and
reviewing their activities regularly and in setting up the required
systems. Now that the foundation has been laid, we are taking an
important step of decentralising the planning and monitoring process.
The focus of our next phase will be this.
a first step, the area teams have decided to prepare a village specific Plan for all
sectoral activities to be implemented in their Area. After few
rounds of training and brainstorming,
all the area teams have been preoccupied during the last three months with
the preparation of their
Area Plans for the next one year. The Animators listed their
priorities with respect to community mobilisation and economic
development activities. Similarly, the health animators pitched in with
their objectives of providing good quality health care in the villages
and the education coordinators came up with ideas for improving the
educational status of adivasi children. This combined effort resulted
in detailed villagewise plans for more than 200 adivasi hamlets.
most important aspect is that the starting point was the situation of a
village and the issues faced by the adivasi community in that village,
rather than pre-designed programmes or sectoral intervention plans of
the institutions. Even though many activities were similar in all the
villages, the team could identify specific problems of villages to be
tackled. For example, if drinking water was a problem in one
village, the priority in another village was the resolution of a dispute between the
Similarly, while the focus in one village would be to start Savings, in another, it was to
ensure that no one below 18 would get married; and
to complete the survey of land under possession of adivasi families and
to create government records in yet another village and so on.
plan is not perfect as yet. And, the more important task
of periodic monitoring and review at the Area Centres is to be
ensured. But, this is an important step in the direction of enabling
the adivasi community identifying their problems and challenges,
setting priorities for themselves and working towards those goals
Six months ago, when the savings
coordinators joined the
team, we could see the result of investing in young children through
and exposure visits. The impact on the youth who had attended children
camps a few years ago could be clearly seen, from their
self-confidence, knowledge about the Sangam and attitude to their
community. Hence, the education team drew up a plan to
organise at least one Camp in each of the eight Areas and bring as many
children as possible for these camps. In May, all the schools
closed for summer holidays. We used this period to organise 10 children
Children from different villages were
together, our area
team members interacted with them for a day or two on different
aspects, ranging from
the cultural history of adivasis and political problems to health
issues and role of Adivasi
Munnetra Sangam etc. Though the initial planning was done by the
education team, all the area team members actively participated in
conducting the children camps and interacted with the children. Here,
Eswaran is explaining about Tuberculosis to the children from Gudalur
and Srimadurai areas.
went on brief exposure visits as well to the Theppakadu
Elephant Camp, Wildlife Museum and to the View Point near Gudalur. The
Gudalur team worked with the adivasi staff working in the Camp and
Museum and got permission for these visits before hand. All the
children enjoyed these trips. And, there were lots
of fun and games as well.
These children camps provided a good
opportunity for the area team
members to interact with the children and build a bond with
them. It is our hope that these children will continue to take interest
in the affairs of their community and will take an active role to build
a better future.
Ponnani Area Centre is currently being
from a small single room house. Given the expansion of activities
during the last ten years, this room was found to be highly inadequate.
With our current focus on
making the Area Centres the hub of all the programmes and a big push
towards decentralising the
planning and review / monitoring of the activities through the Area
Centres, a proper Area Centre with the required infrastructure is a
must. During the last few years, Accord has been mobilising funds for
equipping all the area centres with proper building and other
infrastructure as a top priority. Ayyankolli
and Pattavayal have constructed new buildings. Devala and Erumadu have
acquired land and finalised their plans.
As soon as our proposal to the Japanese Government gets passed,
construction will start.
Ponnani and Srimadurai have started construction recently.
The Ponnani area team drew up a plan
building. After consultations
with different people in the team, and with Anu - Krishna (our
Architect friends), the plan for
the Centre was finalised. And, the area team promptly started
with the help of adivasi masons in the nearby villages.
ten years ago,
Anu and Krishna ran an intensive training
programme on construction technology for adivasi youth. It was
heartening to see some of the
trainees from Ponnani area taking up complete responsibility for the
construction of the Ponnani area centre. Everyone was amazed at the
quality of work by our adivasi masons and the speed at which the
construction is proceeding. As with all the adivasi
team members working in the different institutions, this is not a job
or a labour contract,
but they are involved in building a proper centre for their own
community. Their involvement
and most importantly, the pride with which they are working is
significant. Sasi, one of the
adivasi masons taking a lead in the construction, will surely tell his
children when they
grow up, "I built our area centre building !"
economic aspect to this as well. As the entire team involved in the
is from the adivasi community, the money spent by the organisation on
is again going to the community members only and helps circulation
of money locally and strengthens local economy. Though we had to buy
steel from outside, walls are constructed with the soil cement blocks,
which were hand-made by adivasi youth. Once again, we realise the
tremendous potential in construction activity and the economic benefits
it can offer to our community, most of whom are still dependent on wage
labour. We need to build some mechanism to tap this
Regular updates about our other
activities are available in the newsletters of Ashwini