February 2012

FRIENDS OF METTUPALAYAM TRUST

Registered Charity No 1054673

c/o David Eldridge
The Coach House, Bainbridge
N Yorks DL8 3EE
Tel 01969 650618
E-mail davidweldridge@gmail.com

Francis and Rosie Muncaster
‘The Rowans’
Exelby,
Bedale. DL8 2HF
01677 425961
Email: fmuncaster@hotmail.com

Dear Friends

Welcome to our first project update of 2012. It is a pleasure to speak directly with everyone who supports the amazing work that Venkat and his team do to improve the lives and prospects for the children and communities we work with in Tamil Nadu.

School news

In Mettupalayam, the new Aspire school provision is gathering pace. The school is dedicated to tribal children from the local gypsy population and also our quarry settlement, many of whom otherwise cannot attend due to the nomadic nature of their families. Through education and support we can improve the lives and futures of these lovely children from the most marginalised sector of the community. As previously advised, the school is currently housed in the grounds and sub-standard buildings of the old school, with the children sleeping overnight on simple camp-beds, supervised by a night watchman. The local education office has given verbal commitment of on-going financial support, a condition of which is a requirement to build a purpose-built hostel for this group of up to 40 pupils. This would provide two dormitories for 20 children each, plus dining facilities, kitchen, toilets and bathroom. We estimate a budget of up to £15,000 and once we have confirmation of local education support we will be opening an appeal to raise this one-off capital amount.

Our Mettupalayam and Nambikkai schools each currently have 105 pupils and we are delighted to have had good continuity of our teaching staff providing a high standard of education to pupils in classes of less than twenty (local government schools often have 100 pupils per class).

Community News and Healthcare

Our marvellous support worker Gomathi, continues to lead more than 60 active women’s groups with a variety of practical and educational support. She has recently enabled Government Bank loans for 85 women. With these, each woman receives 44000Rps (£570) allowing the purchase of two milk cows. In return, they must repay 34000Rps over a two-year period.
We continue to provide food for old people in the local area. There is often nothing left for the old folk at meal times as parents and children traditionally come first.
The situation with disability support is challenging as we currently have no long-term trained disability worker. We have found it very difficult to find or retain suitably skilled people. However, we have women’s group leaders identified to support the disabled in their own villages and we continue to seek ways to improve what we do.

The Mettupalayam Farm

The monsoon season has provided about 70% of the desired rainfall this year and Venkat says this has provided satisfactory levels in our percolation lagoon for the farm. We currently have sugar cane almost ready to harvest plus groundnuts, watermelon and turmeric. Rice will be planted soon. In terms of livestock we have a small herd of cattle and a flock of some 300 ducks producing eggs for our nutrition programme. Our farm provides not just excellent food for our community, but also employment and income.

UK News

I am pleased to report a series of successful coffee mornings which took place in November. Five separate events were held across Yorkshire with almost £1300 raised and perhaps as important, the privilege to spread the word yet further about the project.

We have had an increasing number of UK visitors/volunteers working at the project and newly arrived- a Swiss teacher and her husband who are staying locally for around 6 months.

Please share this newsletter with friends and family, and contact us if you want additional copies. We continue to think that a paper newsletter is easier to read, at your convenience, but if anyone would rather receive this newsletter electronically, please let us know. If you wish to keep regularly up-to-date, you can access the Facebook link via our IRDT website which is open to view even if you are not a Facebook member.

We are always pleased to receive contacts from new Friends. Thank you once again for all your support and Venkat has asked to send on love and best wishes from all in Mettupalayam and Nambikkai.

October 2011

FRIENDS OF METTUPALAYAM TRUST

Registered Charity No 1054673

c/o David Eldridge
The Coach House, Bainbridge
N Yorks DL8 3EE
Tel 01969 650618
E-mail davidweldridge@gmail.com

Francis and Rosie Muncaster
‘The Rowans’
Exelby,
Bedale. DL8 2HF
01677 425961
Email: fmuncaster@hotmail.com

Dear Friends

Welcome to our end of year newsletter and a summary of developments across the project. Should you wish to keep a more regular eye on things, why not access the Facebook link, (via our IRDT website, bottom right of page) which is open to view even if you are not a Facebook member.

School news

In our July newsletter, we mentioned the initial stages of a new initiative to encourage the local tribal children into education. Well, a lot has happened in the intervening months! Tribal and quarry children have a number of extra challenges. First, their families are nomadic, so regular school attendance has been an issue. Second, the tribal groups are deemed as below the lowest level of the caste system and have long been treated as such by most – with the notable exception of Venkat who has unceasingly championed their rights. As a result, there is a significant improvement in their acceptance within the local community. Venkat has now opened an annexe to the Crakehall School, utilising the existing buildings from the old school. There are 42 students who had previously dropped-out, ages ranging from 5 -13, with two new teachers dedicated to this group. The children are treated as a part of the Crakehall School, with some shared classes and joint events such as PE and Assembly. Basic meals and overnight accommodation are being provided, without which the children would not be able to attend as their families could be roaming many miles from the project. We have a name too – the ASPIRE school (Additional Special Provision for Integration & Rural Education). We rather like it! Venkat has approached the local education office on the understanding that full Government funding will be forthcoming. As you can imagine, this new endeavour has involved a massive amount of organisation and commitment from Venkat and his team at IRDT – recruitment, training, staff organisation and not least the design of suitable education plans for such a diverse group of ages and abilities. Here you can see the children in a quieter moment.

Community News and Healthcare

Mettupalayam gets a bus line! Knowing the width of the local track that runs past the school, it was with some surprise that we learned that a new bus route has opened incorporating our project and the village. This is good news and will enable better access to local areas and as far as Chennai. Attached is a photo of Venkat honouring the bus driver and conductor.

In Mettupalayam, dentistry is generally unavailable but working with the Utherimerur Rotary Club another free dental camp has been provided, open to all the school children and villagers. The dentists came from a top clinic in Chennai. Altogether 178 check-ups were carried out and around 80% of the children needed work doing. Venkat has arranged to make regular trips to the dental hospital until they have all been sorted. He says “Indian sweets” are to blame!

We are delighted to report the healthy arrival of two new “project” babies. Sakthi, who has worked with the project for many years gave birth to a 3.5 kg baby girl at a local hospital, photo attached. Mari a former student of Crakehall School and still only just 16 has given birth to her second daughter. After a C section last time, she felt some pains, sat under a neem tree and half-hour later, delivered her own baby! Thanks again to Venkat for keeping a watchful eye on them all.

UK News

Coffee across the world!

On the weekend of 19 November, the Trustees are each planning to hold coffee mornings to celebrate the work of our project – making a real difference to lives, expectations and aspirations. Venkat is arranging for coffee to be taken at the same time in both Mettupalayam and at the Nambiki School. We would be delighted if any friends wished to do the same – to promote our work and hopefully find new friends and support. Anyone wishing to do so, please let us know and we can provide any supporting information and materials as necessary.

We continue to keep close and regular UK contact with the project and we are pleased to report that some long-term supporters are making their first visit at the end of October and that further Trustee visits are planned for the early part of 2012.

Please share this newsletter with friends and family, and contact us if you want additional copies. We are always pleased to receive contacts from new Friends. Thank you again for all your support and let us be one of the first to wish you-

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

August 2011

FRIENDS OF METTUPALAYAM TRUST

Registered Charity No 1054673

c/o David Eldridge
The Coach House, Bainbridge
N Yorks DL8 3EE
Tel 01969 650618
E-mail davidweldridge@gmail.com

Francis and Rosie Muncaster
‘The Rowans’
Exelby,
Bedale. DL8 2HF
01677 425961
Email: fmuncaster@hotmail.com

Dear Friends

How time flies! It doesn’t seem that long since the last newsletter in February but, as always, there is a lot of positive news to report from our friends in India.

School news

A new school year began in June and as readers of our Facebook page will know, we still await the new Government supplied school books. However, as usual, nothing daunts Venkat and he is providing the teachers with daily lesson plans. There has been a significant increase in pupil numbers at the Nambikki School; there are now 105 students, gradually approaching the planned maximum of 150. Venkat has appointed another teacher at Nambikki and we are now using both buildings. Additionally we now have new school desks and chairs for the older children.
At Crakehall School, our head teacher Satish has returned for another year, along with all of last year’s staff. This may well be as a result of the splendid work that Ian and Lynn undertook in teacher training during their 2 months stay earlier this year.
An exciting development is underway which we hope will benefit the children from the quarry community and also some older tribal children. These two groups have either dropped out of formal education, or not started. Venkat’s long term aspiration has always been to remove barriers to education for those from disadvantaged backgrounds, and from sections of the community not previously included. He is therefore setting up a system to integrate the 9 quarry children aged from 4 to 11 who have had little schooling to date, and a further 16 mixed age tribal children who have indicated that they would like to attend. Initially this will entail a separate class for these children, partly working as a group and partly with the Crakehall classes. Nadhia and her friend Saranya who have just completed their 2 year teacher-training course have been employed to take responsibility for this group. Nadhia comes from a very difficult family situation, and she graduated through our primary school, the state secondary school and teacher training college. A lot of support has been provided to Nadhia and her family over the years and it is marvellous to see such a positive outcome.

Disability & Healthcare

The support system of village based healthcare and community workers is now well established; benefits include claiming disability allowances and pensions. We continue to work closely with both the local Rotary and Lions Clubs-thanks to Utherimerur Rotary Club funding, only last week another disability tricycle was presented to a local man who is now able to take part in a rural employment scheme. With local Lions Club support, there have also been 3 recent village-based health check-up camps, plus both dental and eye clinics and even a farmers’ veterinary camp for livestock! Following the eye clinics, 55 cataract operations have been successfully completed.
Our last newsletter mentioned Rajeshwari who is studying at a special school for the deaf. We have received tremendous support here in the UK for her and her family, and are now able to look at ways to help her parents improve their situation. Neither have been able to work for some time- her father is partially sighted in addition to still being in recovery from a major cancer operation and Rada, her mother is also severely hearing impaired. The family rely on Grandma’s small income from her two cows! Rajeshwari is making really good progress at school, and is enjoying being in a small class of 10 children with similar needs.

Quarry Community & Farm

It is with mixed feelings that Venkat reports that Mari and Masi are expecting another baby, so soon after her first at the age of 14! Gomathi is ensuring that Mari receives regular check-ups and the baby should again be born in the local hospital. Following a reasonable monsoon there has been a good amount of farm work and all the families have been fully employed. Recent crops planted include turmeric, pulses and groundnuts. The community has expanded a little with Sagar and his family returning to live at the small settlement and there are now 9 school age children as mentioned above. Venkat has purchased a new farm trailer seen here being tested by some of the village children!

UK News

Later in the year there will be a visit by UK Friends with medical backgrounds and Venkat is already planning a suitable programme for them. It is always encouraging for Venkat and his staff to receive visits which demonstrate the passion and commitment to the project that exists here. Your continuing support and financial help enables Venkat and his staff to make a real difference to the lives, aspirations and expectations of the people in our project areas.
Please will you share this newsletter with friends and family, and contact us if you want additional copies sending out. We are also pleased to receive contacts from new Friends and of course always welcome additional funds!

Thank you again for all your interest and support.

February 2011

FRIENDS OF METTUPALAYAM TRUST

Registered Charity No 1054673

c/o David Eldridge
The Coach House, Bainbridge
N Yorks DL8 3EE
Tel 01969 650618
E-mail davidweldridge@gmail.com

Francis and Rosie Muncaster
‘The Rowans’
Exelby,
Bedale. DL8 2HF
01677 425961
Email: fmuncaster@hotmail.com

Dear Friends,

Schools update

Our two primary schools continue to provide an excellent education, now both in wonderful school buildings and with a dedicated teaching staff. However, visitors often comment that the curriculum is somewhat restricted by UK standards, with little art, music or sport. It is a joy therefore to be able to promote these subjects during our visits. Currently we have two retired teaching professionals working at the project and they are also incorporating these into the children’s daily study. The standard of spoken English continues to improve and with much more classroom space to display their work, the teaching environment is much enhanced. The teachers have readily taken on board some of the ideas and techniques which were introduced to them by David, Adele and Liz in July/August and further teacher development continues. Teacher training is more problematical at our Nambikki School but we have recently learnt that a new lodging house has opened nearby and it will therefore be possible for visitors to go there for extended stays. Above all else, the children at both schools are an absolute delight, full of enthusiasm and really working hard.

Our Crakehall School building will shortly have its own water supply as the builders have just completed the new 40,000 litre water tower. This is connected to our nearby well and should be able to supply year round drinking water. The school toilet block is also being built and a new sports ground is planned on land behind the school.

Disability

We have been involved in provision for the disabled for some time, and continue to look for better ways to help those disadvantaged by learning or physical disabilities. After consultation, and in order to coordinate this aspect of IRDT’s work, we have appointed some village based healthcare and community workers. As these are mature married women with children, we hope that the training and support that they receive will enable a more effective and lasting system to be developed.

In January, during our visit, we were delighted to take Rajeshwari (pictured) back to the Sylvia Wright School for the Deaf where she is receiving fantastic help, so much so that she is now starting to lip read and speak! It was a very moving experience visiting this marvellous charity-run school, teacher training school and hospital. Whilst Rajeshwari receives a free place at the school, each month we are paying around 600 rupees (£9) to enable her parents to visit and to pay for those little extras that all children need! We are also giving Rajeshwari’s family some additional financial support as her father is recovering from a serious stomach operation following a cancer diagnosis .

Community Work

It is always interesting to meet the women who take part in the Sanghams (Self-help groups) and to see the various ways in which they are improving their family’s economy. Social development is also a very important aspect of this work. We were accompanied during this year’s visit by Hugo and Jean from York, their second visit. Jean was very keen to use her nursing training and experience to benefit the villagers and took part in a very productive discussion with Sangham leaders about general healthcare, childbirth, and hygiene issues. We are now advised that nearly all village women go to the government hospital to have their babies as they receive a childbirth grant for their first two children. This is a big improvement as previously there were significant problems with birthing difficulties and consequent disability and infant mortality.

Whilst at the project, Jean also met with Dr Paramasivam, who runs the weekly free clinic in Mettupalayam, and she helped to reorganise the medical supplies and storage.

Over the years, IRDT have made remarkable differences to people’s lives. There are so many examples but one which comes to mind concerns Chandrasekhar, a student at the local Higher Secondary School. He is a tribal boy and many years ago, whilst he was at our primary school, Venkat noticed that he couldn’t run around like the other boys. Venkat took him for a health check and it was discovered that he had a life-threatening heart condition which necessitated open heart surgery. He fully recovered and is now in his first year of A level equivalent exams. It is remarkable for a tribal boy to progress so far in the education system, as nationally only around 5% of tribal children receive any schooling. We will continue to encourage and support him and his friends in their ambitions.

Quarry Community and Farming news

P1020416 (2)Our small community of former bonded labourers continues to inspire, with our first new baby. Mari gave birth around May last year after a c section. At only 14 years old, with a husband who couldn’t live with her as he was still bonded, this must have been very traumatic for her. However, we have now managed to pay off the debts that tied her husband Masi to the quarry owner, and he is now living and working at our farm settlement. It is sad that the other quarry children choose not to come to school but at least they are now receiving good nutrition and are free from having to break rocks all day! We will of course try to encourage them back to school. They were a great help with the sugar cane planting whilst we were there, and Venkat gave them all some “pay” and lots of sweets. Hugo also had some toy mouth organs which were very much appreciated!

This year, Tamil Nadu has received an excellent monsoon and Venkat plans to increase food production from our small farm. The first post-monsoon rice crop is ready to harvest, and sugar cane has been planted along with vegetable crops. The percolation lagoon has been stocked with around 500 small carp which should be harvested later in the year. Venkat has also introduced 4 ducks and is looking to buy a drake!

UK News

This year has seen an increase in UK volunteers visiting and working at the project. This really enhances Venkat’s work, bringing new insights and skills, and plans are in hand for further visits later in the year after the summer heat. There are two brief reports on our IRDT website) from Hugo and Jean, and Ian and Lynn who are there at the moment www.irdt.co.uk

Fundraising has been effective again this year with many talks, Christmas fairs and sponsored events. We remain very grateful to the many long term supporters who give monthly donations, and to the many schools which also help with our work. There are however some concerns regarding future funding. General inflation in India continues at around 8% per annum, but food price inflation is particularly high at around 16% this year- this obviously has a disproportionate effect in a poor rural area such as Mettupalayam where wages are very low. In addition, the amount that we can claim through Gift Aid falls by around 10% from April when the Government’s temporary top-up funding ceases. Monthly running costs last year amounted to around £3000, and we have yet to agree this year’s increase. Whilst we keep a small contingency reserve fund, we very much believe in using donated funds to best effect. We would therefore be delighted to hear from anyone who wishes to make a regular donation or increase an existing donation. We still cover all UK costs from our own donations, so every penny that we receive is received in India to promote IRDT’s work.

Once again, many thanks to you all for helping us to make such a big difference.

November 2010

FRIENDS OF METTUPALAYAM TRUST

Registered Charity No 1054673

c/o David Eldridge
The Coach House, Bainbridge
N Yorks DL8 3EE
Tel 01969 650618
E-mail davidweldridge@gmail.com

Francis and Rosie Muncaster
‘The Rowans’
Exelby,
Bedale. DL8 2HF
01677 425961
Email: fmuncaster@hotmail.com

November Newsletter 2010

Schools update

We are delighted that our new Crakehall School, Mettupalayam is open! Pictured above, Venkat, the teachers and children send their greetings and thanks to all their friends in the UK who have supported them over the years. The new facilities are a much appreciated improvement over the old school buildings, the first of which was built nearly 25 years ago with funds raised by David and Adele whilst at teacher training college. The new classrooms are spacious, light and airy, with large windows to catch the breeze, and lovely furniture made locally using timber from our own teak trees. Venkat is now having a new toilet block built, completing the water tower and planning the courtyard area. He has asked for the children’s ideas and will let us know what they decide. They have already planted some trees to provide shade in the playground, and relocated the play equipment which was paid for by Bedale Primary School many years ago and which is still enthusiastically used.
Turning to the old school buildings, Venkat plans to renovate and repair these and to use them for community facilities. Having sought various ideas, he would like to open a day centre for the elderly where he could provide an improved nutrition and healthcare programme, as well as some daily activities suitable for their skills and abilities. Many local elderly people have little to occupy themselves with once they are unable to do the farm work which is all that their limited education allows.
The Nambikki School, set up following the tsunami, has now expanded to around 78 children and recent UK visitors were able to see the wonderful progress being made. Thanigai, the head teacher, is a former Mettupalayam School pupil, and he provides excellent support to Venkat.
Following Becky Bell’s 5 months spent teaching in Mettupalayam, the standard of English has improved and we hope to build on this with further visits by volunteer teachers early next year.

Venkat’s visit

In September, Venkat spent 3 weeks in the UK, visiting schools and meeting many supporters. As always, he took lots of new ideas back with him and we are already seeing photos of these being put into action. It is wonderful to see the strong links being forged between the children here and in India. We also held our usual open afternoon and are grateful for the interest and support that we received. We now have a Friends of Mettupalayam Facebook Group and intend to post regular pictures and brief updates.

Community work

Venkat can tell many uplifting stories about his work in this very poor, rural area and we always look forward to hearing how our friends are getting on. We are delighted and very much moved to hear that Rajeshwari, the little girl who was born with congenital deafness, has settled in well at boarding school. She has now started to speak and is making excellent progress. Our disability worker, Siva, takes her parents on the bus each month to visit her as her mother is without speech and hearing, and her father is blind having worked for a welding shop owner who didn’t provide goggles!
At a recent health camp, attended by over 600 villagers, many health issues were addressed including organising another 14 cataract operations.
Gomathi, Venkat’s assistant, continues to very effectively organise and support the women’s groups. IRDT are now involved with over 250 groups, facilitating micro credit and small business enterprise which makes a significant difference to the local economy. Regular meetings also provide IRDT with the opportunity to address some of the many social problems.

Future plans

Increasingly, we are being approached by volunteers wishing to provide practical help to Venkat and his team. At the moment, this is constrained by the lack of suitable long term visitor accommodation at the project. Venkat has plans to build additional facilities above the new Crakehall School, and we are looking at ways to fund this. Meantime, we continue to use the two bedrooms in the multi-purpose building. During the coming year, Venkat also hopes to open a day centre for the elderly, as already mentioned, and set up a small dairy unit.

Finally, as usual, we wish to thank all our supporters, friends and helpers- you are really making a difference- also all the UK visitors to the project who contribute so much. Venkat, Gomathi, staff and children have just celebrated Deepawali, the festival of lights, and join with us in wishing you all a very Happy Christmas and a prosperous New Year.

July 2010

FRIENDS OF METTUPALAYAM TRUST

Registered Charity No 1054673

c/o David Eldridge
The Coach House, Bainbridge
N Yorks DL8 3EE
Tel 01969 650618
E-mail davidweldridge@gmail.com

Francis and Rosie Muncaster
‘The Rowans’
Exelby,
Bedale. DL8 2HF
01677 425961
Email: fmuncaster@hotmail.com

Mid Year Review – July 2010

Schools update

Following another successful year, 24 children from Crakehall and Nambikki Schools have moved on to Secondary School, being replaced by more than 40 little ones. We continue to employ mainly recently qualified and inexperienced teachers, this being another aspect of our development work. A notable success has been achieved by Tamilarason, a tribal boy who has been studying at Secondary School. I am delighted to say that he has passed his exams with a total of 448 marks out of 500, missing out on being the year’s top student by only 5 marks! His two tribal friends have also passed and all three have now entered Higher Secondary School in Utherimerur, the first tribal students to gain admittance. We have paid fees and expenses of 4000rps each (c£60) with their parents paying the balance of 1500Rps. Further fees will be payable next year and we would hope to find support to enable them to go to college in due course should they so wish. In India, less than 5% of tribal children have any formal education, so this is a significant achievement for them and their families.
The Crakehall School building is now being equipped with tables and chairs and the water supply is also complete apart from the pump. Venkat has widened the recently purchased well which will supply the school’s water-tower and we hope that a grand opening for the school will take place when David and Adele visit later in the month. We are arranging for an official school photograph and will put this on the website in due course.
As I write, we have two recently retired UK teachers in Mettupalayam and they are looking at the possibility of setting up a formal teacher improvement programme. They also would like to build on Becky’s English teaching earlier this year, and help the teachers with their English.

Farm

Sadly, another droughty season has meant that crop yields are well down again. However, a reasonable paddy harvest has been followed by groundnuts, and Venkat recently banked £323 from the groundnuts and a further £420 from the sale of 4 young bullocks. We do of course use much of our own rice for the school and OAP meals after milling in our rice mill.
Community Development
I am delighted to report that Mari and her baby daughter are doing well, and Gomathi has arranged for her to receive the Government Tribal Childbirth Grant of around £100. Her husband, Masi, is a bonded labourer working in a quarry some distance away, and we are trying to arrange payment of his outstanding debt so that he can stay with Mari and work on our farm. At the moment he can only visit occasionally and is getting into trouble from the quarry owner. Bonded labourers are treated little better than slaves and we continue to vigorously oppose this illegal system.

Women’s Self Help Groups

Gomathi will soon have over 200 SHGs operating and as an example of the kind of enterprises that are organised, there are 3 groups who own cows and run dairy units, profitably supplying the milk to a processing company. Initiating and supporting this type of small scale business is essential in changing the economic circumstances of the older, less well educated villagers.

Disability and Healthcare

Our year’s support from Ripon Rowels Rotary Club for the disability programme has now ended and it is good to be able to confirm the excellent work that Siva and the other disability workers have been able to do. A smaller programme will continue for the remainder of the year but we will of course respond to needs as and when possible. Another eye-camp was held recently and a further 5 cataract operations have been successfully completed. We continue to receive excellent support from the Utherimerur Lions and Rotary Clubs.
I am delighted to report that Rajesweri, the young deaf girl, has now been accepted at the Rangammal School for the Deaf, thanks to Tony Allinson of the Sylvia Wright Trust. We have used funds donated by Ashfield Infant School in Workington, to pay for the essential supplies and clothes that she required and also to cover occasional travel expenses so that her parents can visit.

UK News

You may remember Jean and Hugo Welsh who visited in January. They were both very taken with the project and decided to raise funds for us. Jean has just completed a swimathon challenge in the Lake District, swimming 7.5 kms on 4 lakes and tarns, and walking in between. So far, Jean has received over £800 and further donations can be made through www.charitygiving.co.uk on her page “Jean Welsh”. What a marvellous effort! Thanks Jean.

Finally Venkat is coming to the UK on the 10th September and we will be having our usual open day. We will also try to visit as many schools as possible.

On behalf of Venkat, the children and the villagers, may we thank you all again for your wonderful support.

February 2010

FRIENDS OF METTUPALAYAM TRUST

Registered Charity No 1054673

c/o David Eldridge
The Coach House, Bainbridge
N Yorks DL8 3EE
Tel 01969 650618
E-mail davidweldridge@gmail.com

Francis and Rosie Muncaster
‘The Rowans’
Exelby,
Bedale. DL8 2HF
01677 425961
Email: fmuncaster@hotmail.com

Dear Friends,

It seems incredible that IRDT has just celebrated its 25th year of service to the people in and around Mettupalayam! Starting from a very small base, providing education to a handful of Mettupalayam children, we now have two primary schools with over 200 children attending each day. In addition to providing a free education, we also provide a balanced, nutritious diet and healthcare support and monitoring. A bursary fund helps many students on to further education at secondary and even college level and some support is also provided for children with disabilities at other local schools. We are pleased to be able to provide support for the elderly and those with disabilities, and organize Women’s Self Help Groups, Farmers Groups and provide basic village level healthcare. In addition we have a small farm and in all, employ around 45 full time and many part time workers.

All of this is funded by the generosity of donors, mainly in the UK; however increasing local support is being generated.

The Crakehall School

Having recently returned from another visit to the project, I am delighted to update you on progress. The structure is now almost complete, with only minor works still to be done. The architect/engineer, who gave his time on a pro bono basis, is very pleased with the design and new building construction methods. We will be applying shortly for a licence, to start from the next school year on the 1st June. During our recent visit, a small inauguration ceremony took place, and an opening ceremony will no doubt be held when appropriate. Meantime, despite a nearly complete change of teaching staff over the year, the old school continues to impress with the standards achieved. Becky Bell, who has been teaching English there since October, is now coming towards the end of her voluntary stay, and it is remarkable to see and hear the progress that has taken place. All the trustees and staff in India and here wish to record our appreciation and gratitude to Becky for her magnificent achievements.

The Nambikki School

Now that we have our school licence, we expect the student numbers to grow steadily towards the capacity of 150. Last year we had 4 students going on to secondary school; this year there will be 9.
I am delighted to mention in particular, Nandini, the minus group teacher and also head teacher Thanigai- both have been with the school from the early days following the tsunami. Their contribution and support for the children has been exceptional. The second class room block will be brought into use in the summer and we remain very grateful to Bedale High School and the Caedmon School in Whitby who have given long term support and raise funds each year to pay for two whole classes.

Healthcare

In the last newsletter we mentioned Sabina, the young girl who had severe long term tonsillitis and consequently, malnutrition. Following several months of taking liquid nutritional supplements, she has now had her operation and is back at school, able to eat normally for the first time in several years. Also at school, Becky identified Gopi and his brother Jeeva Nathan, who both have sight difficulties. We are arranging for them to have eye tests and appropriate treatment with our very good Friend Dr Paramasivam.
We are also fortunate in having more visitors at the project at the moment, Jean Welsh who is a very experienced Practice Nurse at a doctor’s surgery near York and her husband Hugo. They have taken time out from a very busy life to go to India for 2 weeks to help us with both healthcare provision and other aspects. I know that Venkat very much appreciates all the help that is given by visitors. The old people’s meals programme, set up by Askrigg School, now provides meals on Sundays and also new clothes each year. This also contributes to improving community health.

Disability

We are now half way through our year of Rotary funding, and it was very exciting at the school inauguration to see lots of disability equipment being given out to both children and adults. At the local market, I also saw the man with leprosy to whom we had supplied a bicycle last October. He insisted on riding it up and down to show us how well he managed, despite having only the stumps of fingers and thumbs! It is very humbling but also gratifying to see such sights- a huge improvement in his lifestyle at such small cost! We continue to be grateful to Samuel, the technical expert, and all at APD for their help and guidance in all disability matters.

November 2009

FRIENDS OF METTUPALAYAM TRUST

Registered Charity No 1054673

c/o David Eldridge
The Coach House, Bainbridge
N Yorks DL8 3EE
Tel 01969 650618
E-mail davidweldridge@gmail.com

Francis and Rosie Muncaster
‘The Rowans’
Exelby,
Bedale. DL8 2HF
01677 425961
Email: fmuncaster@hotmail.com

Dear Friends,

2009 has been a memorable year for FOM and IRDT. So much has been achieved, with our new Crakehall School nearing completion, a volunteer long stay English teacher and a major expansion in our disability work, supported by the Ripon Rowels Rotary Club. This update follows a short visit by our treasurer in October.

Schools update
It is difficult to convey the feelings experienced by visitors to IRDT in seeing the fantastic work done by Venkat and the teachers at our two primary schools. Even regular visitors continue to be moved by the enthusiasm and vitality of the children, the commitment of the teachers and staff and the long term improvements in health and education. This year, we have reached a milestone at both Mettupalayam and Nambikki Schools. Firstly, Mettupalayam School has now been open for 25 years- a fantastic and unusual achievement for a charity project, many of which are much more short term. We have now educated a whole generation of villagers and tribal people and are starting to see their children coming to the school. Indeed, our head teacher at Nambikki School is a former pupil of Mettupalayam!

Secondly we are delighted that we now have our official school licence for Nambikki School and can therefore more confidently plan for the long term. Many children have already benefitted from the new school and of course education lasts a life time. Due to recently enacted Indian Government regulations, we have had to register as an English Medium school, which means that half the lessons are taught in English. This provides even greater opportunities for the children; however, it means that we have to employ better qualified teachers and pay higher wages. The developmental aspect of our young teacher employment is therefore experiencing new challenges; we are however convinced that the benefits will be significant. Most English Medium schools are fee paying, but we intend to continue as a free school for all pupils. Two classes are already financed by secondary schools in the UK and we are always looking for additional support!

It is now appropriate to again thank all Friends at North Yorkshire County Council, particularly the Education Department, all the schools and the many other people who contributed to our Tsunami Appeal and the subsequent appeal for funds to start this second project. Without your support, these children would not receive an education and would remain illiterate and innumerate and in dire poverty.

Our new ‘Crakehall School’, Mettupalayam, is now almost complete and it was very exciting to be there when the roof was laid. In the next newsletter, we will report on the opening ceremony scheduled for the 10th January.

Meantime, our first long stay volunteer for many years, Becky, is now working hard at the school teaching English. Becky, from Cumbria, has taken a gap year before starting university, and after completing a special course, is now working with both children and staff in Mettupalayam. Subject to visa approval, Becky expects to stay at Mettupalayam for 6 months. She is already making very good friends and having a major impact particularly in verbal English skills.

Healthcare
Other visitors during the year included Laura and Emily, trainee doctors from Newcastle University Medical School. As part of their elective, they spent 5 weeks at Mettupalayam, partly shadowing our fantastic Dr Paramasivam, and also organising health camps, training our staff and introducing the children to soap! Amongst several medical conditions observed, one schoolgirl, Sabina, was found to be suffering from very severe tonsillitis. She had been unable to eat properly for some time and we were advised at the local hospital that she was too underweight to have an operation. After providing liquid food supplements and vitamins, Sabina is now to go back to hospital hopefully to have her tonsils removed. This was the second visit by student doctors in recent years, and we very much value the input and expertise that they have brought to the project.

Disability
With greatly appreciated financial support from Ripon Rowels Rotary Club, we have been able to plan a whole year of much increased disability work. This started in July with general disability assessment camps and during my recent visit, I was delighted to be at a Rotary Club meeting, attended by the District Governor, when two disability tricycles and a bicycle were issued. We are arranging another 6 vocational places for disabled young people at APD in Bangalore and several major operations are planned for April/May next year. Venkat gains much local support and encouragement from his Rotary and Lions Club friends.


Women’s Self Help Groups

Our social worker, Gomathi, has recently had a bout of Typhoid fever and been out of action for 2 weeks. I am delighted that she has fully recovered and is back organising and supporting the 150 or so groups that she has helped to form. In her spare time, she has become very attached to the game of Bingo, which Becky took out as a teaching aid. We hope that this will not interfere with her duties in the future!

UK News
We are pleased that financial support has remained strong, despite the ‘credit crunch’; we continue to benefit from the extraordinary fund raising achievements of Friends. Stuart’s Lyke Wake Walk, Emily’s Great North Run and even as I write, Jonathan’s Riviera Marathon have all raised significant and much needed income:- a very big thank you from us all in the UK but particularly from Venkat and all the villagers and children who will benefit. For any future potential fundraisers, we now have our own web page on www.justgiving.com under Friends of Mettupalayam. This makes the organisation and collection of sponsorship money very easy, and we are always happy to advise, publicise and support your efforts.

And finally-
Plans are in hand for Venkat to visit the UK again next year, in September, and we will be arranging for school visits- please let us know if your school would like a visit.
THANK YOU ALL AGAIN FOR YOUR SUPPORT AND ENCOURAGEMENT- IT REALLY DOES MAKE A DIFFERENCE. WE WISH YOU ALL A VERY HAPPY CHRISTMAS.

July 2009

FRIENDS OF METTUPALAYAM TRUST

Registered Charity No 1054673

Gomathic/o David Eldridge
The Coach House, Bainbridge
N Yorks DL8 3EE
Tel 01969 650618
E-mail davidweldridge@gmail.com

Francis and Rosie Muncaster
‘The Rowans’
Exelby,
Bedale. DL8 2HF
01677 425961
Email: fmuncaster@hotmail.com

Schools update

Due to the very hot and dry weather in the Mettupalayam area, building progress on the new Crakehall School has been slow; however, the foundations are now complete although we have to bring 4000 litres of water down every day from the farm well to make the concrete. Venkat is still optimistic that the building work will be completed by October. With 10 men, 12 women, 2 masons and an engineer, there is no shortage of labour on site! Now that the foundations and support pillars are in place, the block work will go up much more quickly. Meantime, numbers at the Mettupalayam School remain constant, around 145, and the Nambikki School has now expanded to 63 with the possibility of another 10/15 joining at the month’s end. We are employing another teacher at each school, as we try to maintain class size to a maximum of 20 children. Having bought all the children chappals (sandals) last December, we are providing them for the new children in the minus group (nursery class) and also for some older children who have joined from the gypsy colony.

There is some very disappointing news-having fought long and hard to try to keep Mari at secondary school, she has decided that she wants to get married and has therefore left to join her future husband’s family. I believe that she is about 13 years old! Marriage at this age is very common in the tribal community and changing these social mores will take more education, however, Venkat is very persistent and thankfully child marriage is now very much an exception in our project area. There is better news of Nadhia who passed her higher secondary exams this year. Her mother has sold the family’s small goat flock, borrowed a further 16000Rps from the Womens Self Help Group and managed to pay for Nadhia’s first full year at the Government Teacher Training College. She will continue to live at the project, travelling daily and we are paying for her travel and food expenses. Venkat will try to arrange an education loan for her second year’s fees. Once qualified, Nadhia will be able to work in a government school, earning around 10000Rps (£120) each month.

Farm

Amongst the many other regular activities organised by Venkat, on Friday 26th June, IRDT Mettupalayam hosted a farmers gathering, sponsored by the Nabard Bank, the Indian Bank and the local Block Development Officer. As well as the inauguration of another 6 farmers self help groups, this was an opportunity for the 250 farmers attending to learn about the government finance schemes available to encourage them to bring fallow land back into production. Although traditionally a very rural and productive farming area, irregular rainfall, high land values and low crop yields due to poor farming practices have meant that much land is uncultivated, local people are left with little work and the poverty cycle continues. Our small farm enables us to demonstrate how these difficulties can be overcome.

Women’s Self Help Groups

Many development activities are organised through the Sangams- a recent example is linked to our introduction of litter bins in our project areas. Previously, little thought was given to rural environmental considerations- in an economy where very little is wasted and rubbish disposal is minimal, there are still problems with plastic which cannot readily be reused. In the towns, local government organise regular daily rubbish collections but this does not extend to the villages. In Mettupalayam, the local council are now paying one SHG to empty our bins and recycle wherever possible. This provides some paid employment and equally importantly, keeps the area clean. We also involve the schoolchildren, they were already keeping the playground clean and they now monitor the villages.

Disability and Healthcare

It is very heartening building links between our two communities, and the link between Ripon Rowels and Uthiramerur Rotary Clubs continues to inspire and motivate us. With very generous local Rotary support, we are able to expand our disability work for the coming year, meaning that many more disadvantaged villagers and children will receive help, physiotherapy and equipment to make their lives that bit easier. We are always looking to build upon past achievements and will be looking at ways to continue and extend this work into the future.

UK News

Many of our supporters will be feeling the effects of the recession, and perhaps have less funds available for discretionary spending. It is therefore even more appropriate to thank you all again for your continuing financial support. The steps that some Friends take to help raise funds are highlighted by Stuart who is running/walking the Lyke Wake Walk on the 18th July (www.justgiving.com/stuartdingwall1). The normal challenge is to complete the 40 miles in 24 hours- Stuart is committed to completing it within 12 hours- Good luck, my friend.
Finally, trustee representation is expected at the opening of the Crakehall School in October, a further newsletter with photos will be sent in due course.

February 2009

FRIENDS OF METTUPALAYAM TRUST

Registered Charity No 1054673

feb09cc/o David Eldridge
The Coach House, Bainbridge
N Yorks DL8 3EE
Tel 01969 650618
E-mail davidweldridge@gmail.com

Francis and Rosie Muncaster
‘The Rowans’
Exelby,
Bedale. DL8 2HF
01677 425961
Email: fmuncaster@hotmail.com

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.

Education

feb09eThis 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.

feb09hLate 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.

feb09cOur 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.

feb09dThe 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.

Social Work

feb09gSince 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.

Healthcare

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.

Disability

feb09aThere 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.

Community Development

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.

UK News

feb09bDespite 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.