October 2004

Friends of Mettupalayam Trust
RegisteredCharity No. 1054673
c/o David Eldridge, Director
The Coach House,
North Yorks,
Tel 01969 650618
E Mail [email protected]
Charity website address www.irdt.info
Report on activities following July/August 2004 visit

School numbers have now reduced to 130 children. During the visit, around 20 children were absent from the nomadic gypsy colony and a further number were away following a chicken pox outbreak. The fall in enrolled numbers follows the reduction in average numbers of children per family in the school catchment area, a result of successful family planning education.Class sizes are now around 18 per teacher, and this contributes to the continuing success of the children who move on to secondary schooling. It is essential that good standards are promoted and maintaining a small class size is an effective method of achieving this. It is gratifying that, at the local secondary school, for three out of the last six years, the top ranked child was educated at Mettupalayam school. Teacher turnover continues at a high level, with only Ganasounderi, the  Headteacher, having more than two years service at the school. With the improved pay scale Venkat is now finding it easier to attract good young teachers when he needs them, this is a position that we have soought to arrive at for many years. It is also encouraging to see a mix of male/female teachers. Following observations, a more interactive teaching style is to be encouraged, and resourcing has been greatly increased to help achieve this end. To further improve teaching skills, more supervision by the Project Director is to take place, with outside expertise brought in as necessary. Teacher visits to other highly rated primary schools in neighbouring states are also to be arranged during the coming year. Increased levels of communication are planned with UK schools. A clearer organisational structure has been agreed, including recognition of the Headteacher as one of two Project Assistants to the Project Director. Finally, a new pay scale has been drawn up which will reward length of service, and which will also allow for an annual performance bonus. Overall, we were very impressed by the children’s level of achievement and recognise that this is due to the teachers’ efforts, together with the children’s commitment both during school hours, and also at the daily homework clubs.It is exciting to have been able to identify and fund necessary building maintainance, which will greatly benefit the children in school. The school playground is a huge success. A slide, roundabout, climbing frame,      see-saw and swings! This truly allows children to be children.

Nutrition Programme
Current levels of nutrition for the school children are satisfactory, particularly following the addition of two eggs per child per week with the planned improvements in farm output, more fresh vegetables and fruit will be given to supplement this. The additional programme to provide nutritional support for the elderly in Mettupalayam has been very successful, giving a daily mid day meal to 27 elderly people in the village for the previous few months. Following a survey covering all the villages in the immediate locality, a further 90 elderly people were identified who would benefit from this programme. Equipment and funding has been provided to extend the scheme for them for the next two years. Three out centres are now in place, with cooking and coordination being organised through the Women’s Groups. Close monitoring will be undertaken by Gomathi, and other Community Workers. The intention is to cap this provision for two years and then review its status.

plaster treatment


The photo’s  show a little boy getting patched up having fallen out of a tree! The following day everything looked and felt a lot better.

Health Care

First aid and frequently required basic medical supplies, contained within a lockable medical box, have now been provided to 6 villages. Murruonma, the Health worker, will undertake a monthly audit and replace medicines and supplies as they are used. Our daily observation of the importance of these basic facilities, left us in no doubt of their importance and effectiveness. Health camps continue, with the schoolchildren having monthly monitoring of height, weight and general physical condition, supervised by a local doctor. Treatments include vitamin supplements and an immunisation programme. The eye camps, half yearly dental checkups, and ante and post natal care also continue. Funding has been agreed to pay for spectacles, at a cost of £2.50 per pair as required for the next two years. Many small payments are made when required to meet emergency medical treatment. As an example, following a routine health check, one gypsy child, Chandrasekar was identified as having a serious heart complaint which needed urgent surgery. This has now been carried out, paid for by the Project and he appears in good health and will progress to the Secondary School next June. It is also noteworthy that he didn’t have any schooling until the age of 9, and has now caught up with his contemporaries in 2 years!India has a serious AIDS epidemic, as do many developing countries, and Government training and information will be provided within the project area over the coming months.The health programme is one of the most all encompassing and rewarding aspects of the project, something that all members of the community greatly value.

ladiesThe ladies here are the original people to benefit from our meal programme for the elderly. This is now being extended to 120 elderly people in the area. It costs just £1 per month to feed each of these individuals.



Community Developments

cataractWhilst at the project, we noted that young people aged between 16 to 21 had few identifiable leisure or social activities. Provision of various sports equipment has therefore been made and 6 youth/sports clubs set up. A nominated leader has taken charge of each group, and inter group competitions will be organised on a bi-monthly basis. This should encourage further integration of this age group with the project. This is an area that may in future benefit from further development input.Mettupalayam village still has around 17 houses constructed of mud walls with a wood and leaf roof. These are unhealthy to live in for many reasons, and are vulnerable to severe damage in the monsoons. It is a long-term aim to replace these over the coming six to eight years with proper concrete houses, and this will be done as funds permit. Interestingly the provision of adequate housing was one of Venkat’s first targets twenty years ago. It is in the nature of the project that after much steady progress we now find ourselves able to address such important issues, as part of the enriched fabric of the whole project.The Women’s Self Help Groups continue to function satisfactorily, and following an invitation and attendance at a farmers seminar, facilities for training and support for diversified farming enterprises have been identified. Around 250 women, in 10 groups, have signed up to receive 5 days free training at the Farmers Training Centre, part of the Tamil Nadu Vet and Animal Sciences University, Kancheepuram. In order to facilitate this, funding has been put in place to cover the travelling expenses required over the coming 3 months. This will then enable the groups to access further Government funding to set up their own self sufficient enterprises. The local bank manager has played a very helpful role in allowing the women to pursue their goals.Finally, the Community Worker is to help arrange some leadership and self development courses for the 25 women’s group leaders, initially of two days duration, but with potential follow up courses as necessary.

Farm developments
The project director has produced a separate document outlining the farm development and plans for the future. This will be considered in isolation, with the funding implications being carefully considered in line with the potential for farm income improvements, and return on investment. The capital funding requirement has not yet been quantified, nor has any indication of support been given.Recently agreed capital expenditure, mainly on water management and conservation, has been implemented over the last month with the major item being the water check dam, or percolation lagoon. This has the potential to catch and temporarily store around 20million litres of rainwater which would otherwise run off the land. This water can then be used for irrigation of nearby farmland, and will also slowly sink down through the soil, topping up the ground water level. This can then be accessed through the spring fed wells, and existing boreholes. In addition, a seasonal fish farm is also planned, making a supplementary food source available to the project.All 24 acres of farmland now in hand are cleared and either in production, or ready for sowing once the winter monsoon arrives. Current crops include sugarcane, rice paddy, groundnuts, mixed vegetables and fruit orchards. Additionally, a significant number of teak trees have been planted and these will be harvested after a twenty year growing period. One of the existing spring-fed wells has been widened and it is planned to deepen this in due course. We await mains electricity connection at which time, funds are in hand to purchase and install electric motor pumps. Meantime, the diesel motor pump is proving invaluable. Once irrigation systems are completed, and following the monsoon, the farm has the potential to generate over 250000 rupees (c£3000) income annually whilst at the same time providing a significant increase of paid coolie labour for the villagers. However, over recent years, this has been severely limited by periods of drought as evidenced by the dried up rivers and lakes in the area.Potential further developments include a 1acre banana plantation, and the expansion of the chicken farm. However, no funding commitment has been given at this stage.Finally, funds were provided to refurbish the bullock cart, buy a trained team of bullocks and provide a modest cattle house. A second biogas plant is also planned, sufficient cow dung will be available once the bullock team has been bought, and Government subsidy of 20% of the cost will be available. This will then enable all the school and nutritional support meals to be cooked fully on biogas stoves, freeing up the agricultural workers from providing daily supplies of firewood, and providing a much more healthy environment for the cooks.

It is evident that a significant amount of important development work has been carried out over the last two years. This is reflected in the support given by the improved infrastructure, the wider impact of targeted IRDT activities, and the increasing local profile of the project. In the month that we were in Mettupalayam, there were several official visits, including the Block Development Officer and local government officials interested in many aspects of the project including the school, agriculture and the biogas plant. All sectors of the local population now benefit in some way from IRDT input, but the heart of the project remains the school, giving the children an excellent start to their education. IRDT is providing a good level of nutrition for the vulnerable old and the school children. The wider community has access to essential healthcare and both youth groups and women’s groups are supported and encouraged. What starts at the school level has a beneficial impact for the whole of their lives. Having run for 20 years , many of the first generation of schoolchildren are now parents themselves, with children studying at IRDT school. All supporters of Friends of Mettupalayam who have helped in any way, can feel proud to have contributed to this outstanding, effective and unique community project. It is on the back of a very positive message that we can look forward to developing our fundraising base, hopefully enabling us to continue to respond in a focused creative way to the needs of the Mettupalayam community.

A New Chapter To End With
Perhaps for many of us the most uplifting and simultaneously challenging aspect of our trip was meeting a group of hill tribe people who found themselves working as bonded labour in a small granite quarry. They are now generally referred to as, ‘The Quarry People’. This group of about 40 people all told including children, had lives that consisted of using rickety hammers to break stone all day for around 20p per day. Even in India this does not constitute enough to live on. All the people are illiterate and they all clearly suffered from varying levels of malnutrition.

greendress thatchA Quarry family. The man is weaving a rat net. The little girl in green is now going to IRDT school. The older girl Mari is also going to school.



It was shocking to see the pond of stagnant water from which their drinking water was drawn. On asking why a man was making a very fine net, I was told that it was for catching rats to eat. What will always stick in my mind was seeing the gruel in the man’s pot. Given a choice I would have eaten the rat, if he were lucky enough to catch one. I was then shown some rather straggly rice still on the paddy straw. This had been taken out of a rat’s nest, in order that his children might eat! The people were, of course, so nice…the children so beautiful, in a very deep way. It reminded me of where Mettupalayam was when we got involved 17 years ago. I knew we could make a difference. We encouraged the Quarry People to attend a meeting at our school. They all came. We presented everyone with new clothes, some of the children had none. Venkat spoke in a powerful way about achieving change through working together. The ladies taught the children how to play in the playground. It was a rich and deeply moving experience. An action plan was drawn up and has been carried out. The 5 children who are old enough go to school now do so. The adults have access to food everyday at the project. The people also have access to such health care as we can provide. We are constructing some good basic accommodation for them to live in on our land. The adults are to continue working at the quarry, but they now have the option of doing seasonal work on our farm and we are negotiating better wages from the quarry owner. Lives have been changed. To see a child of 10 eat the first proper meal of her life was something that can’t be described fully in words, it just made me feel very privileged.

curryThis was a special day. Mari has her first proper meal. It was also the first day at school for three Quarry children.It reminded of just how much difference Friends of Mettupalayam makes to so many people every day.


An Apology
I am sorry that it has taken longer than I intended to write this newsletter, I will certainly try to produce another one of shorter length that may well include the many things that I doubtless will have left out on this occasion.If you would like to make a donation to the project, or perhaps to make out a standing order please contact me at the address at the top of this letter. By claiming  ‘gift aid’, tax payers can enhance their donation by 28%.

Many thanks
Peace be with you
David Eldridge
DirectorFriends of Mettupalayam.

The best thing:  ‘Letting children be children’.