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
I am delighted that having just returned from visiting our two projects I am able to update you all on progress at Mettupalayam and Nambikki.
This year, Rosie and I were accompanied by Michelle, a long standing supporter of FOM. Everyone who visits is complimentary about the work that Venkatachalam and the staff are doing, and the warmth and affection that greets you from all the villagers and children just cannot be overstated – it really does make you feel special. I know that Michelle was very moved at times by the difficulties faced by the children in particular – not only the general day to day hardships, but also the lack of love that some parents appear to show. This was highlighted by two children at Mettupalayam School, Prakash and Akash. Following their mother’s death, father remarried and placed his two sons in an orphanage as the step mother didn’t want them. Fortunately a local priest has taken the boys under his wing along with 3 others from the orphanage, and is looking after them at the vicarage. Prakash will be going up to Secondary School in June. Each year, we pay out for Secondary School support to over 30 children whose parents either cannot or will not cover the costs of uniform and books. Having spent 5 years educating them at primary level, this extra support is vital. Our bursary fund was initially set up with money donated by Risedale School but this has now been exhausted. If any UK school would like to take over provision of this funding, do please contact me- it would be a tremendous help and make a significant impact!
Our plans for building The Crakehall School are taking some time to finalise, we are now on our third version. Pending receipt, we are starting to stockpile sand, cement and steel ready for the construction and we hope to complete the work by the end of August.
Late last year, we were visited at Mettupalayam by two teachers from Scotland who run a Teaching English as a Foreign Language school. They are looking for UK volunteers to work at our schools starting later this year and this would certainly help to improve the standard of English – both for pupils and teachers. Volunteers don’t need to be qualified teachers-training in how to best use native English language skills within teaching placements is provided and a little Tamil language is introduced to volunteers using some of the communication methods they’ll later use to teach English. (www.schoolhousevolunteering.com) Their comments about our school were highly complimentary “A model project, an inspirational school and a great leader” and they were also very helpful in highlighting areas for development. We have started to address these with the purchase of a significant quantity of poster paint, water colours and drawing paper and asked that all children have the opportunity to use these at least weekly.
Our new team of teachers has injected youthful enthusiasm as well as some new subjects- the children are now studying yoga and, from the 3rd year, learning using a new card based system. This enables the children to progress at their own pace as well as enabling the teachers to keep a close eye on each child’s progress. We have employed an additional teacher to take on this responsibility. We have also taken out two play parachutes, paid for by pupils at Ravensworth School, which the children and teachers really enjoyed using.
The Nambikki School licence is still outstanding, held up by a recent ruling that we need 3 acres of land for the school grounds. Meantime we will issue education certificates backed by our Mettupalayam licence for the 4 children this year who are going up to secondary school. With a new intake of around 15 children expected in June, numbers should rise to around 60 children. There are still many parents whose support is lukewarm, as they do not yet see the benefit of a good education on their children’s job prospects – it took nearly a generation for Mettupalayam parents to appreciate this.
The gypsy communities in South India generally have a very low regard for formal education with less than 5% of their children completing primary education. Over the years we have been able to counter this to some extent and more than 50% of the gypsy children in our area now attend school. Most also now go on to study at secondary school- pictured is Thamilharasan, now studying in 9th standard and who has been 1st ranked student for all 4 years at secondary school. His ambition is to become a Government Officer so that he can help his community. His success is so unusual that he and his parents recently shared a full page article in the Indian Express! There is no doubt that in his case our bursary fund has been well utilised! We do of course take every opportunity to talk to parents about the benefit of schooling and try to get all locally based children attending school.
Since freeing around 45 people from debt slavery some 3 years ago, the quarry families have mostly dispersed, each seeking their own fortunes. We still have three families living at our farm-based settlement and two children, Selvi and Basubadi at our primary school, with Mari studying at secondary school. The progress that they have made in this short time is astonishing and it is now hard to pick them out from the other children, they are so well integrated. Along with our farm worker’s daughter, Sundari, we provided them with a set of new clothes for Pongol, and also new school clothes. Indeed, on republic day, all the children at the school received a new set of clothes donated by the Uttham Sari Centre in Utherimerur, around £250 worth in all, another example of the increasing local support and interest being shown in the work of IRDT.
We have regularly held health camps and provided a village based surgery each week in Mettupalayam, however, the State Government recently suspended all such provision right across Tamil Nadu following problems elsewhere with botched cataract operations. After consultation, we have restarted the free surgeries and are contacting a very well respected and reputable eye clinic in Chennai to see if we can reintroduce eye camps in the near future. We are also looking to refine the village first aid box system. With another two UK medical students due to take their elective in Mettupalayam in the summer, we hope to revert back to our very effective system of village healthcare in the near future. Venkat still monitors the issuing of TB medicine for the government and tries to ensure that the full 6 months course is completed. Our former health worker Geetha has rejoined the team bringing with her a wealth of experience.
There are so many disabled adults and children in our two project areas that, although we have been working hard over the last 3 years to provide help and equipment, there is still much to do. With the help of two Rotary clubs, Ripon Rowels and Utherimerur, we plan to significantly increase provision from June and an application for funding is currently underway. Through education, we continue to tackle many of the causes of disability, and it is particularly sad to see the result of relative marriages. We recently purchased hearing aids for Rajeshwery, whose mother is also severely hard of hearing, and she has an aunt with severe learning difficulties. Both her mother and grandmother married uncles, perpetuating these genetic, inherited problems. It is so difficult to break the cycle and definitely a generational change is needed. However, the hearing aids will ensure that Rajeshwery can cope with main stream schooling- at 4 years old, she is showing signs of a keen intelligence as well as a charming personality. I am also pleased to provide an update on Franklyn, our friend with cerebral palsy. After his 3 years physiotherapy, he is now walking extremely well unaided and we have been able to provide him with shoes. We hope that his parents will agree to send him to a special school for children with learning difficulties.
Our senior social worker, Gomathi, now organizes and supports over 150 women’s self help groups. With the support and encouragement of the Indian Bank most have revolving loans and savings schemes. Regular training courses are held with funding from the NABARD Bank, a government regional development agency. Last year I was present during the negotiations involved in setting up 3 trial groups running cotton waste processing machines. There have been several teething problems, however these are being addressed and we hope to be able to expand this scheme to many more groups in the future. This should lead to a good level of earnings, social interaction and a rise in the status of the women involved.
Despite the recession, regular UK donors, through the bankers order scheme, continue to provide a significant proportion of the funds needed to finance IRDT. However, we have had to restrict growth this year, and ask Venkatachalam to finance some aspects of the work from farm income. At this stage we are reluctant to consider any contraction in services and hope to increase fundraising by establishing a wider support base. Please share this newsletter with family and friends and let me know if you would like extra copies. With Gift Aid still available at 28%, every donation really does make a difference, and with no deductions for UK expenses, every penny donated here still arrives in India.
We have more talks booked in, and requests for school visits continue to be welcomed. Our school education packs have sold well and are being added to- we now have an Indian Recipes pack to go with the other material available from Tiger Moon. (www.tigermoon.co.uk)
As usual, supporters are planning many fund raising events, including sponsored walks, barn dances, social evenings etc. Please do let me know if you are able to help in any way.
Finally, a date for your diaries, Rosie and I are having an open afternoon at home in Exelby on the 8th March from 2-5pm. Please join us for tea/coffee and cakes if you can- we will have lots of photos and information as well as cards and new tribal jewellery for sale.
Once again, many, many thanks to all our Friends for your support, encouragement and long term commitment to combating poverty and helping us to change lives for the better.