FRIENDS OF METTUPALAYAM TRUST
Registered Charity No 1054673
C/o David Eldridge
The Coach House, Bainbridge
N Yorks DL8 3EE
Tel 01969 650618
Francis and Rosie Muncaster
Bedale. DL8 2HF
Welcome to the end-of-year newsletter about our project and the people working there. We are pleased to report positive news from several areas of our work supporting rural development and those whose lives depend on it. With our own economic challenges and regular news of the “tiger” economies of South East Asia and India, we have decided to dedicate some of this report to the implications for our project. We have also produced a separate supplement with a personal reflection on this from David Eldridge, joint founder of the project. We hope that you will find this stimulating and useful.
A Changing India
Change is indeed sweeping India, with increased economic investment and development. Our project is situated in one of the poorest, rural areas of one of the poorest states in India, but we are certainly not unaffected by the changes. There are positive changes, such as improvements to transport and infrastructure and there is a gradual increase in standards of living, although this is patchy and gives benefits to some groups more than to others, generally in line with caste, religion and race.
There are many challenges too. Multinational companies are opening factories in the region near Chennai – within travelling distance of our projects. Salaries for basic factory labour can now be more than the salary we pay our school teachers and are particularly aimed at attracting labour from rural areas, although working conditions can be very unsatisfactory. Power supply in the region is also an issue as the government prioritises industry, resulting in power cuts for rural areas. This year, in Mettupalayam, we have regularly had only 6 hours power supply in every 24 hours! So, it is a challenging change!
We are pleased to report good progress and healthy student numbers at our Crakehall School in Mettupalayam and the Nambikkai school on the coast. We currently have 7 teachers and 130 children on the register in Mettupalayam and 5 teachers and 105 children at Nambikkai. Pressure on staff salaries is becoming a major factor, for the reasons outlined in the section above. We are presently reviewing teacher salaries and believe we will have to increase them to keep the high standard of education that we stand for.
One group that we are increasingly supporting is the tribal community living close to Mettupalayam. This semi-nomadic group has traditionally had no standing in India and been treated as “out-castes”. We now have more than 30 children from this community at the Crakehall School. Plans to build a hostel for some of this group have had to be shelved as we were unable to get the promised State funding. We now provide these young children with an early breakfast before starting their daily education and have successfully integrated them into the standard classes. The success of 3 local tribal boys in gaining entry to Engineering and Arts Colleges to study for degrees, the first from our district and very rare in India generally has also provided a powerful motivation to the children and their parents.
Community News and Healthcare
As previewed in the last edition, Gomathi, our loyal support worker, got married to Mohan in September. Who can resist the beauty of an Indian wedding! We hope that she will return to support the project in some capacity. Meanwhile, Venkat has been fulfilling more than one job (nothing unusual there) supporting over 50 local women’s group leaders in various ways, gaining loans and also beneficial insurance policies through the Life Insurance of India. At present we have encouraged over 250 women to pay into a policy at the rate of 100 rupees (£1.25) per month over 10 years, with a life assurance payment and surrender payment of 22,000 rupees (£275). That may not sound a great deal to us, but it represents very good value and we were gratified to know that the family of our student Meena and her mother, who we reported had tragically died, will benefit from a payment from this scheme.
General health check-up camps, and our weekly free doctor’s surgery continue to improve access to healthcare and we are looking at ways to increase this much needed area of support.
Farm and Nutrition
As we put this together, we have been suffering flooding at home and hearing of the effects of Hurricane Sandy in The US. Our projects have not escaped natural disasters either, though they don’t get the same prominence in our media. A cyclone struck Tamil Nadu at the beginning of the month. We are relieved to report that there were no serious injuries to any of those connected with our projects though it brought down trees and caused damage to buildings and crops. Unfortunately, although it brought high winds there was little in the way of much needed rain. We are hoping for rainfall over the coming few weeks, but it is looking like a particularly poor monsoon season – with an inevitable impact on what we will be able to grow next year and the related price of commodities and food. A good supply of drinking water is also likely to continue to be a problem.
We had several very successful visits to the project this summer. The Bell family returned, supporting the teachers and pupils and providing innovative learning approaches such as allowing the children to experience running a shop. They also took Venkat for a short break to visit the holy city of Varanasi on the river Ganges which we know was hugely appreciated. We hear that Rob (Dad) indulged in a fully-immersed dip – and lived to tell the tale! Also visiting in August were Olivia and Jo, two students from Newcastle University. They had a wonderful time and Venkat was highly impressed with their various contributions. Here are photos showing “the Mettupalayam Olympics” and a lovely mural on the school wall. We have two more evangelists for the project!
Following our request in the last newsletter, many of you agreed to accept emailed letters and this will save considerable expense to the trustees. Thank you and if anyone else wishes to accept updates by email, please let Francis have your address.
If you wish to keep regularly up-to-date, you can access the Facebook link via our IRDT website.
I hope you find supporting Friends of Mettupalayam as rewarding as we do and that our Newsletter is informative.. If there is anything in particular that you would like further information about or regular updates on, please let us know.
Meanwhile, we send you our very best wishes for a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year
“Charity Starts at Home”
The old saying, ‘charity starts at home’ is one that we are all familiar with. Some 30 years ago whilst working a night shift on the railway, I was talking to the then Bishop of Carlisle, David Halsey and in the course of conversation he said … “You do realise that charity starts at home … but it doesn’t have to end there.” I have always found this comment to be warm and encouraging.
We support charity because we want to help to do good. Charity does not have to be conditional, indeed I feel that to give freely is uplifting. In a sense we become children again, we have a simple desire to do help, in the same way a child might put a coin onto a lifeboat appeal box and watch the coin rock into the RNLI boat.
Politics is hugely complicated and we all hold our own views. Friends of Mettupalayam is a non-governmental organization (NGO). We are non-political and indeed inclusive of all people of different faith and those with none. Our aim has always remained the same. We seek to help to enhance the life chances of very poor people. We strive to help improve people’s health experiences and the quality of their educational experience; We have been very successful.
People sometimes say India is rich, they have a space program and nuclear weapons; however there are also 400,000,000 desperately poor people in India and that represents 400 million reasons why we shouldn’t walk on the other side of the road. I’m sure all faiths have a story similar to The Good Samaritan and the message to help those that need help, is clear and true.
There is a lovely buddhist story about two monks walking along a beach, a massive wave comes in and when it recedes from the beach there are millions of stranded starfish everywhere. The first monk bends down and he picks up a starfish and throws the starfish back in the sea. “What’s the point of doing that?” the other monk asks, “you can’t save them all!”
“No I can’t, but that starfish appreciated my help.”
So we continue our work after 25 years because it helps people to help themselves. We focus as far as possible on people such as the elderly, young and the disabled knowing that our support is appreciated and makes a tremendous difference.
Local Indian government has always been helpful, as have many Indian friends that have provided their laboring and medical services free of charge over the years.
Our job is to worry about achieving the successes and objectives that are so important to both donors and recipients.
Charity does indeed start at home and then it spreads like love, like a smile, like human kindness. Supporting the work of Friends of Mettupalayam is hugely rewarding and I know that maybe all the people that help us also support possibly cancer charities, children’s hospices, shelter and RSPB.
I rejoice that I am part of a group of people that care so generously about so much and find time to care and make a difference.