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 our first newsletter of 2013. As always, it is a pleasure to be able to write about the many and varied aspects of our work in Tamil Nadu, at our schools and in the wider community. This year, trustees were again visiting Mettupalayam during Pongol, the main South Indian Hindu festival, and this gave us the opportunity to join in with the celebrations, and also contribute by handing out new clothes to the elderly poor. Along with the mid-day meals which we also provide, this support to one of the most vulnerable sections of the community really does make a difference. Many now receive a small monthly state pension of around 1000 rupees (£12) and we also provide access to healthcare through Dr Paramasivam’s weekly free clinic. Venkat is always looking to improve and add to the facilities for the elderly and it is his long term dream to provide a more comprehensive service through some form of sheltered accommodation.
Both schools regularly have around 100 pupils coming each day, from local villages, tribal groups and of course, the gypsy community. The Crakehall School now has 6 full time teachers and a part time teacher who is also a tailor. Although the Government curriculum is quite structured, and based on the texts provided, we are always looking to extend this into other areas such as art and crafts, music, dance etc. Pictured is teacher, Siva with the year 5 class and their fantastic model of the Crakehall School, playground and surrounding buildings. There were also marvelous displays of art and craft work in most of the classrooms and the children took great pride in showing this to us. Despite the staff turnover, with 4 new teachers, standards remain high and the children’s enthusiasm is infectious! We continue to provide a nutritious school dinner and morning and afternoon snacks, although increasingly, children also bring food from home.
Turning to the Nambikkai School, managed by head teacher Tanigai, this is an English medium school, meaning half the lessons are taught in English. Due to the distance from Mettupalayam, and lack of suitable accommodation, visitors are generally unable to provide much by way of sustained input, and we are looking at ways of addressing this in future. Sadly, the playground equipment is very badly corroded by the sea air, and is in desperate need of replacement. Venkat is to look for plastic or fibre glass alternatives, and we have also authorized the purchase of a significant amount of indoor play materials. We are also looking to improve the school grounds and unfortunately need to wall the entire compound to stop the rubbish dumping from the nearby village.
Community news and healthcare
It is only whilst at the project that one is able appreciate the many and varied ways that IRDT benefit the community. It seems that Venkat and his staff are the first port of call for those daily emergencies that happen, whether minor injuries, social problems or advice. With the support of the local court, Venkat has arranged a free legal advice camp later this month and he has persuaded one of the top judges from Chennai to attend. Another eye camp is also scheduled in February, and this will no doubt lead to more cataract operations. Sometimes there is little that can be done, other than provide support. Murugan, who lives in a village near to Mettupalayam, was involved in a serious road accident some 6 months ago, and he has now been sent home. He is in a coma, and there seems little hope of recovery. We were able to provide a wheelchair so that his wife can take him out into the fresh air and also facilitate some support so that she can take a break now and then.
Rajeshwari was home again for the holidays and it was fantastic to see her progress at the special school for the hearing impaired. She is now learning sign language and can also articulate some simple words. Although it is a free school we have to provide funds for her everyday living needs and also pay travelling costs for her family. Her hearing aid batteries also need regular replacement. Thanks go to Ashfield Infants School who raise the funds for this support.
Our education fund continues to encourage children in further education, either at secondary/higher secondary school, or at college. The 3 gypsy boys at college all seem to be progressing well and the two tribal girls, Selvi and Patchyammal continue at the high school. Some of the younger gypsy and tribal boys remain a real challenge, but Venkat always seeks ways to incentivise school attendance!
It is very sad to report that Gomathi, our former social worker, who married last September, has suffered a miscarriage, losing twins. We hope that she soon recovers and that she will return to work shortly.
With funds provided by the Harrogate Soroptimists, we are arranging for a full time health worker and also hoping to send Anjalatchi, a former teacher, to Bangalore for specialist speech therapy. She suffered a major stroke at the age of 28 and this has left her unable to speak. She still manages to run a small medical supplies shop. This week, Venkat has provided her with a bicycle and physiotherapy help and she is now able to ride to the project for further treatment! Additional training for the 4 village health workers is planned, along with improvements to our free weekly health clinic. The records cards introduced by Friends following a visit last year are still in use, and the dispensary and medicine storage area remains well organized and neat!
Turning to community news, Venkat has started a small tailoring class for village women and gypsy girls. Our Friend Karen is going out next month and plans to build on the tailoring work that she undertook last year, as well as taking out a suitcase full of craft and art work for the children.
The tribal families, who normally reside on our land, all travelled to Kancheepuram where the local government are suggesting setting up a tribal settlement and plan to give out free houses. Failing this, Venkat is discussing provision of free house pattas (building plots) with the local council and we are committed to helping with funding as appropriate. We would prefer that these families remain near Mettupalayam so that we can continue to provide good education, employment, access to healthcare and social support. The change in these tribal people over the last 9 years is astonishing- from bonded labourers (effectively slaves) to an independent, flourishing and confident community, taking a full part in society and sending their children to school!
Our premonition in the November newsletter has turned out to be true and the monsoon has failed this year. There is likely to be a severe drinking water shortage later in the year, and there is insufficient water to plant much paddy. Venkat has therefore planted dry season crops, such as ground nuts (peanuts) and is planting banana plants and a small crop of chillies. He has also arranged to sell the duck flock whilst prices remain reasonable. Plans for a small dairy herd remain on the shelf, as does replacement of the hen flock.
This last 12 months has seen more visitors to the project than ever before. Everyone who goes contributes in their own way, bringing specialist knowledge, encouragement and support to Venkat and the staff. The children really enjoy meeting us, not least for the English chocolate that we take out. There have been visitors from Singapore, Switzerland and of course, the UK. Language skills are enhanced, as is the children’s confidence. The staff also benefit from the support and interest that they see.
Recently, one of our Friends diverted on his journey from Northern India to Sri Lanka to spend the day in Mettupalayam. Whilst there, he designed and drafted out plans for a waste water recycling system, to utilise run off water from the new school toilets to irrigate one of our nearby fields. Thank you Malcolm!
Another of our supporters, Paul Huffinley, has offered to run a charity stall to raise funds for us at the weekly Bedale car boot fair. He would like donations of saleable goods, of any sort, and is happy for you to contact him direct re donations. His phone number is 01845 565500 or 07844 2537395. Thanks in advance Paul.
After many years running the charity, Francis and Rosie have decided to take a small backward step, and although remaining trustees and full supporters, are handing on responsibility for admin to Hugo Welsh and the treasurer’s duties to Chris Riding. Their contact details are as follows:-
Mr Hugo Welsh
16 The Avenue
Phone 01904 769248
Mr Chris Riding
CA8 9ER phone 01228 562965
Francis and Rosie still intend to give talks to schools, social groups, church groups etc, when asked and to play a full part in fund-raising. Annual visits to India are very much a part of their life now and should continue. They ask us to pass on their thanks to everyone connected with the charity, either as supporters, Friends or colleagues, for the help, encouragement and wonderful support that has been forthcoming over the years. Your donations are what make all this possible, thank you for being both generous and consistent in your support.
And finally, it is impossible to summarise the impact that Venkat and IRDT has made to the community of Mettupalayam and district over the 30 years that the charity has been running. It is exceptional for a charity project to last this long, evolving and changing to meet the needs of the people that it serves. Venkat has devoted the majority of his working life to serving his people and it is a privilege for us to be involved in supporting him.
To you all, thank you for your support, you really have made a difference.