Jul - Sep 2008
Twenty years ago, Adivasi Munnetra Sangam was started primarily to assert the land rights of the adivasi people in the Gudalur valley. Village sangams were formed to give confidence to people, to protect their land and to take possession of the land into their custody which have been their homes for centuries. This struggle was called 'Land Rights Campaign' by AMS, around which the entire adivasi community was mobilised.
After two decades, most of the adivasi families are in possession of at least one or two acres of land. They are no longer dependent on daily wages alone for their livelihood and get some income by cultivating their land. But, most of these lands still do not have proper legal titles issued by the Government. With land becoming the most precious asset and with steep increase in its prices, adivasi families are becoming vulnerable. There is a growing sense of insecurity among adivasis at this state of affairs. Hence, the leaders of AMS have vowed to take serious action to resolve this issue and to make representation to the Government. Another Land Rights Campaign has been launched to get legal sanction for our land.
A massive survey of land under the possession of adivasis is currently being undertaken, covering all the adivasi villages in Gudalur and Pandalur taluks. Bomman, the Secretary of AMS, along with a group of adivasi leaders met the District Land Settlement Officer and formally presented the claim of the adivasis for land rights. As soon as the village survey is completed, he has assured the Government official that a more detailed information regarding the landholding pattern of adivasis will be provided to them. It is hoped that this second Land Rights Campaign will culminate in some meaningful action by the Government, recognising the traditional rights of the adivasis over this important resource.
Simultaneously, AMS is also working on the issue of
Forest Rights of adivasi communities. The new Forest Rights Act is
being explained to the leaders, animators and people by young
activist, Tarsh with help from other resource persons. Apart from the
handful of villages situated inside the Mudumalai wildlife sanctuary,
there are many adivasi families that are dependent on forests. They
collect minor forest produce, medicinal herbs and bamboo that are
crucial for their livelihood. Hence, AMS is taking up steps to utilise
the newly enacted Forest Rights Act as a powerful tool to establish
their rights over the forest resources.
During the next two weeks, all the eight areas will discuss the implications of this Act, will constitute Gram Sabhas as required by this legislation and will formally submit their claims for individual and community rights over the forest before the sub-divisional committees and District level committees formed by the Government. AMS is also wary of many vested interests and would like to steer clear of them. Our aim is to establish the forest rights of the adivasis alone, because only the adivasis can have a healthy relationship with the forests and can ensure its protection.
We hope that Government will engage the adivasi community and help them by securing a sustainable livelihood for them.
During the last three months, the health team finalised the future plans of the health programme. We have come a long way from the days when adivasi people did not seek health care and preferred to stay at home rather than visit unresponsive Hospitals. Today, the demand for health services is growing with each passing year, as witnessed by the increased number of adivasi patients seen at the health sub-centres and at Gudalur Adivasi Hospital, pregnant women and children coming forward for immunisation and other preventive health measures. Apart from that, we are implementing special programmes to tackle some diseases at the community level - like Tuberculosis, HIV / AIDS, Sickle Cell Anaemia and Mental Illnesses.
Looking ahead, we are
gearing ourselves to meet the challenges of the future. On the
one hand, the infrastructure of our health system is being improved. We
are constructing a new hospital building, which can handle this growing
demand better. Details about the hospital building construction
can be viewed here.
New medical equipments are being acquired and our network of
professional doctors willing to volunteer at our hospital is
increasing. And, the Government is also keen to work with Ashwini, as
it has realised that working through our village sangams and ASHWINI is the most effective way to reach health care to
the adivasi community.
On the other hand, we are also making elaborate plans to improve the capacity of our adivasi team for managing this entire health care programme and to initiate steps for the community to participate in the governance. The next phase of our work is going to focus on intensively working with the adivasi team and improve their skills and knowledge so that they can manage the programmes even when it grows into bigger scale.
Accordingly, we have made a detailed action plan and set the following objectives for the first three years :
1. To decentralise the Community Health Programme into Eight Units so that village specific interventions can be made by the Area Teams.
2. To set up Institutional Management Systems; train adivasi team members in Institutional management skills in a systematic way, so that they will be equipped to manage the Gudalur Adivasi Hospital
3. To lay the foundation for the senior adivasi team members to become trainers of community leaders and younger team members on management and governance aspects.
All the existing and new activities will be implemented within the context of these objectives.
Adivasi health volunteers are playing a crucial role in improving the health knowledge of the community and in ensuring that health care reaches the villages. The area teams will work closely with them during the next three years and wherever possible, involve them in implementation of our activities. We will interact with the policy makers of the Government and impress upon them to design programmes that will address the specific needs of adivasi community.
This detailed plan of action has been made into a funding proposal and we have submitted it to Sir Ratan Tata Trust, Mumbai who have been supporting our work during the last five years. Click here to download this document (333 KB). We will be happy to receive your comments and suggestions on this.
We have come thus far with the support of many
friends and organisations. We thank them all and hope that everyone
will be with us during the next challenging phase as well.
Our support group in Germany, the Adivasi Tee Projekt, has been supporting the development activities and investment needs of the Madhuvana Estate right from 1998. Last year, Westernacher Business Management Consulting AG in Wiesloch, Germany had helped the estate establish a Solar Electric fence and Sprinkler Irrigation System. The estate and the workers are protected from wild elephants this year. And, with the installation of the sprinklers, we are able to irrigate more acres of tea fields.
Now, this year ATP has again mobilised funds from Westernacher. When the company came forward to donate another 10000 euros, ACCORD made a proposal for a new Jeep for the estate. This was sanctioned and a new Jeep was purchased early in September 2008. Though the funds were received about two months ago, we were waiting for the monsoon to recede.
The story of the old jeep is also not to be forgotten. Six years ago, when Madhuvana estate wanted a jeep and did not have the funds required, all the adivasi staff advanced Rs. 4 lakhs from their savings to buy the vehicle. This was subsequently repaid by the estate in monthly installments of Rs.10000.
The project also has another component - Construction of a small drying yard in the Estate. Construction materials required for building this Drying Yard have already been procured and the foundation work has been started. We hope to complete it within a month or so. We take this opportunity to thank our friends in Germany, ATP and Westernacher in Potsdam for their continuous support to our work.
All the houses for the estate workers have been completed and last week, we had five adivasi families moving into these new houses.
During the last eight years, intensive educational activities have been going on in our sangam villages. Vidyodaya Trust launched a massive village education programme, targeting various education needs of the adivasi community. Till then, Vidyodaya was involved primarily in running the Vidyodaya school for about 100 children. But, in 2000, with the support of Sir Ratan Tata Trust, Mumbai, an ambitious plan to enroll all the adivasi children in schools and to ensure good quality education for everyone was launched. Each Area team has an Education Coordinator now, who closely monitors the education programmes and takes responsibility for village level education activities. Children going to school in each and every village were monitored and those dropping out were persuaded to go back to school.
Adivasi children face enormous odds and all sorts of difficulties - ranging from remoteness of the villages, being the first generation learners in many villages, poor facilities at home to study and difficult economic conditions. They needed lot of support to overcome the problems.
When these problems were addressed systematically, the results were astounding. The enrollment increased significantly and the drop-out rate came down (at least delayed). But, most importantly, education became a priority for the community and it was brought into the agenda of all the discussions. Not only that, the parents are not satisfied with just any schooling, but are demanding good quality education.
At the end of this first phase of our education work, we took stock of the situation - changes that have taken place in the last 8 years, strategies that worked, programmes where we failed, and the future challenges. During the last six months, discussions went on in different forum on this issue. A detailed document has been prepared capturing the essence of this review process. Click here to download this document (810 KB). Please give your views on this document.
Based on this review, a detailed plan of action for the next phase of our education work has also been prepared. As the aspirations of the community increase, we should be geared to meet these new challenges. Today, almost all the children go to school and are determined to reach the High School level. So, we have to be prepared to provide support to a large number of children at High School level - ranging from financial help to buy books and dress to supplementary educational inputs through tuitions or special sessions. There should be one resource person in each village who can 'guide' the children on education related issues. The 80-odd village library centres functioning right now have tremendous potential to become the learning centres for the community.
Vidyodaya Trust becoming a Study Centre under the National Institute of Open Schooling has opened our doors to many more exciting possibilities. We are venturing into creating our own cultural curriculum and are even proposing to start a Residential facility where more than 300 adivasi students can stay and undergo intensive learning - including Life Skills Training.
We will keep everyone updated as our dreams continue to unfold into concrete plans and activities. We invite all our friends and well-wishers to support us in this exciting journey.
We are extremely happy and proud to announce that we have got our first Adivasi Pharmacist. Indira has successfully completed her Diploma in Pharmacy course from Trivandrum Medical College. Indira joined our team more than fifteen years ago and has been working as a Nurse in the hospital. Three years ago, when the opportunity of getting admission for the pharmacy course in Trivandrum presented itself, Indira boldly took the decision to take it up. She left behind her husband, Surendiran and two children, stayed at a hostel in Trivandrum and worked hard on her studies. After finishing all the classroom sessions, she underwent practical training in one of the hospitals at Kalpettah for three months. When the results were about to be released, not only Indira, but all of us were waiting with anxiety. Finally, she has passed the exams in her very first attempt - a remarkable achievement for one who last went to school more than fifteen years ago !
We must acknowlede the support of Indira's family in her pursuit of higher education, especially her husband Surendiran. Even when his official responsibilities in Vidyodaya kept increasing - Head master of Vidyodaya School, one of the Trustees in Vidyodaya Trust and in-charge of all the financial aspects of the education programme, he continued to support Indira complete her studies in far-away Trivandrum. Along with that, he took care of the children and ran the family during the last three years. Let us congratulate Indira, Surendiran and their family on this splendid achievement.
Indira's case is not alone. The biggest asset we have created during the last two decades of work is the adivasi team - committed and capable to make a difference in the lives of their community. From merely being wage labourers, they have been courageous to take the responsibility of organising the community, providing essential services like health and education, continuously learning new things so that they can improve the knowledge of the community and always pushing the sangam to move one step ahead. Today, they have become a valuable resource for not only the adivasi community or the institutions run by AMS, but also for other grassroot organisations working for disadvantaged communities. They have rich experience gained during the last 20 years, which can be used by other similar organisations.
Recently, Patta (the adivasi woman managing all the financial affairs of ASHWINI) was nominated as one of the Trustees of Skillshare India Trust, the newly formed Indian branch of Skillshare International. It is a new challenge for her and she has accepted to take it up with a hope that she can share her experience in managing the health programme in Gudalur with other community groups associated with Skillshare India.
Today, the adivasis no longer
need professionals or highly educated people from outside to
inspire or guide them. They have their own Indiras and Pattas. There
is Gangadharan training all the Education Coordinators; Lalitha
mentoring 10 young girls as Area Accountants; Seetha guiding young
nurse trainees... The list goes on. The AMS can boast of confident adivasi leaders, capable of
training, grooming and mentoring the next generation of adivasi girls
and boys to work for their community.
Regular updates about our other activities are available in the newsletters of Ashwini and Just Change .
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