Two more Social Projects

Day 5 – 3 March 2009

Two more Social Projects – in rural locations in Tamil Nadu

We are all up early for breakfast this morning – my favourite meal of the day! We receive a briefing on today – and the agenda seems to be well planned and very interesting. We are to visit a rural tribal community affected by Tsunami – issues of caste and dowry will be discussed here – all the more interesting because the project is largely organised by women. We will then visit a crocodile park which has a strong social enterprise extracting snake venom from snakes – this sounds very interesting as it is profitable and very sustainable. The afternoon session allows us to have some free time – I have agreed with BB that we should continue or work related discussions.

A meeting with Dr Krishnan – Founder of Irula

Dr Krishnan kindly offered us a talk at the hotel prior to the visit to ITWWS. This was a wake-up call for me. He was very detailed and his talk was designed to prepare us. An hour of briefing first thing in the morning is hard to follow – but the effort was worthwhile. This man has established a brilliant organisation – all credit to him.

Our first visit to ITWWS (Irula Tribal Women’s” Project

This was situated in Chenelpattu. The main issues addressed by the project were tribal rights, women’s rights, health, education, housing, political participation livelihoods, and environmental conservation. Wow! What a list… The organisation was started in 1986 – initially with five villages but now works with over a hundred villages. It is one of the beacon projects in Tamil Nadu – and quite deservedly – it would win medals from me any day of the week! The concept of protecting rural resources, empowering women and using the tribe’s knowledge of forest resources for economic prosperity is just what is required. This is one of my favourite projects that we have visited so far – I am totally spellbound. We met in a small village. Less than 125 people live here. Many turned out for our visits – mainly women and children. We received a short briefing on their work – then lots of questions from us to them and vice versa. We were asked questions about marriage, love marriages, housing, alcohol, and education. We walked through the village and saw people’s houses, and facilities. There was a lovely atmosphere and the work which was being carried out was of the highest quality and the welcome and hospitality we received was simply humbling.

The work being carried out included education programmes, developing learning centres, scholarships for higher education, and teacher training; Health – awareness training in hygiene lifestyles and disease prevention, health care services and health camps, and workshops including alternative natural remedies. Livelihoods – microcredit and revolving funding, establishing self help schemes, self employment projects, sustainable economic and employment development and insurance for 1800 families. Ecology – forestry seed bank, medicinal plants nursery, tree planting rain water collection. Other work include civil rights development, human rights and identity on issues such as gender – how can you not fall in love with this project? I am fascinated!

This project is deservedly one of the beacon projects in Tamil Nadu. I was told their next priority is a holistic development of the poor and the most marginalised members of their tribe. Their total membership is 3500 families out of a population of 100,000 people.

Our group was appreciative – and thankful that we were allowed to see so much. This was one of the best educational experiences I have ever enjoyed and I am grateful to both the project for their kindness and to the Learning Journey staff who facilitated the visit.

The Crocodile Park was the next project that we visited. Hunting snakes (for skin and food) was made illegal some years ago and caused a loss of earning capacity to local people. Snakes are now still hunted for their venom (to be sold to drug companies) and they are then returned to their natural habitat. The Crocodile Park is the centre for the safe extraction of the venom. The visit allowed us to see the important environmental conservation work with crocodiles and other similar species – and with snakes. I am not a great fan of snakes so I passed on the visit to the extraction centre – and bought my postcards instead… There was one picture of an angry crocodile that reminded me of my mood first thing in the morning on a bad Monday morning!

We were all hungry and went to a local restaurant – opposite the Bay of Bengal, part of the beautiful Indian Ocean- for lunch. It was a picturesque location and the buffet meal was first class. The walk along the sandy and surprisingly clean beach was a perfect end to our work day. It was very hot but quite invigorating and satisfying.

We arrived back at the Hotel mid afternoon. My peers went shopping and site-seeing. I too went into Chennai for a quick look around. I was taken to a huge Indian shopping centre that was only used by locals – my taxi driver came with me into the centre and helped my buy a new watch, groceries etc. I saw the prices of men’s clothing – I could have bought three suitcases filled with goodies for pennies – but I exercised self discipline – Air France charges far too much excess baggage rates for my liking. I returned to the hotel for an Indian body massage – which was recommended by my friends. The hotel had a resident health spa and the skill of the masseur was amazing and very relaxing. I had a very late dinner – which was probably a mistake and then immediately off to bed! We are up early tomorrow for another busy day. It was nearly mid-night when I went to bed – I have to be up and about tomorrow by 7 am…. I Thought my days of burning the candle at both ends for extended periods were over!

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