Feb 2005

newsfeb2005-02Friends of Mettupalayam Trust
Registered Charity No. 1054673
C/o David Eldridge, Director
The Coach House, Bainbridge, North Yorks, DL8 3EE
Tel 01969 650618 E Mail [email protected]
Charity website address www.irdt.info

February 2005 Newsletter

            A lot has happened over the last six weeks. My principal feeling has been one of gratitude. So many people have helped in so many ways, giving generously both time and money. I have been in contact with Venkat, often daily, and in amongst all the things he has been doing he’s found time to try to keep us all updated.

Mettuplayam project has started the year well. I think it is important to emphasise that we have ensured that the project remains fully funded. It is because of our experience with Mettupalayam that we find ourselves in a position to help some of the people affected by the tsunami. The tsunami work is an expansion of what we previously have done. It is hoped that both areas of our project, on the coast and in Mettupalayam, will benefit from each other.

Mettupalayam Update:

Much of this newsletter will be taken up with our response to the tsunami, but I know people will appreciate a brief update on progress in Mettupalayam. The first thing of note is that it has been the first harvest season of the year. The farm has made approximately £1000 from paddy and sugar cane. This is an excellent yield that has been generated partly as a result of the new percolation dam, which has enhanced the quality of the irrigation. We hope to raise £3000 through our agricultural activities this year, this money goes towards the running costs and development of Mettupalayam. In addition the farm will provide approximately 1600 days of labour for local people.

The second area of success is the continued improvement in the lives of the quarry people. five of the children now attend school regularly andeveryone has the opportunity to take advantage of the booster nutrition programme, which includes breakfast. Venkat now employs one quarry person as night watchman and a woman from the quarry around the farm, he is delighted with the way they perform the task.

The third thing of note is that the people of Mettupalayam have expressed a strong interest in helping in the tsunami affected area. On many occasions Venkat has taken up to twenty villagers with him to work alongside him in the Sadras area. It is very important for Venkat to establish good links with the new community. The first hand knowledge of life in Mettuplayam that the people bring and share, is of great value.

Stop Press News…

            One of the joys of the Mettupalayam project is its immediacy. I am typing this at six o’clock on Saturday morning. I have just had a 45 minute telephone conversation with Venkat. Yesterday there was a meeting in Mettupalayam for 150 women from 35 women’s groups in our area. Seven bankers from across India attended, they even needed some translation! Venkat had been asked to share the work of the project in setting up women’s groups, as the work lead by Gomathi is seen as being first class. In this way we help people in other areas whom we will never see. Something of a tribute for our team.

On the agricultural front 3,500 water melons, weighing 4 kg on average are ready to be harvested. A business man buys the lot at Rs3.5 per kg. A total value of Rs 49 000 = £ 605 Another result improved by the percolation dam.

newsfeb2005-03 A photo from the archives.

1994 and the monsoon turns the area around Mettupalayam into a lake! On Christmas Day in 1987 much of the village was badly damaged by flooding


Once again we have been fortunate that Susan and Martin Sands have been able to visit Venkat and help him with his work. Martin has sent an interesting report and I have included this, slightly ammended in the light of further conversations with both Martin and Venkat, below:

Tsunami Project Report  08.02.05

At 6.30 on the morning of 26 December many people along the east coast of South India woke to the tremors of an earthquake and were a bit frightened. Two hours later the tsunami waves came crashing across their beaches, smashing everything in its wake. Along the recreational beaches at Chennai early morning joggers and swimmers were swept away.  Right down the length of the coast fisherfolk whose houses come right down to the shoreline, experienced the devastation of their villages . In almost every case the first two rows of houses were completely destroyed and subsequent rows badly damaged.  Most fatalities occurred on or near the beach – in two cases they included church congregations, but generally children and their mothers, who were sadly caught up in the disaster.

After his initial forays to distribute emergency supplies, Venkat explored the coast from Mamallapuram southward past Pondicherry and Cuddalore as far as Pichavaram, to try and find an area where his long established NGO, ‘The Institute for Rural Development Trust’(IRDT) could usefully provide longer  term support without getting muddled up with other NGOs numerously active in the area.   Eventually he located a clutch of seven `kuppams`(villages) stretching about 5kms southward from a position about 30kms south of Mamallapuram.  He established a base in the village of Sadras in which he has hired a small house for his volunteer staff and his stores of supplies.

The villages are of varying sizes, each averaging 200 families approximately 750 people, of whom, around 300 are children.  About 40% of their houses were destroyed or made uninhabitable and the Government have provided tents or other less than satisfactory temporary accommodation for the victims.   In the biggest village another local charity is building a small temporary thatched village for them.  Practically all the fishing boats, except those few who happened to be at sea at the time, were smashed – many of them tossed hundreds of yards inland, their nets hopelessly tangled and torn.  About 25 people lost their lives in our group of villages, mostly women and children.

There have been one or two remarkable escapes.  A little girl of five was playing on the beach with a two-year old baby. When she realised the danger she grabbed the baby and clasped her very tightly around a coconut palm.  She stayed there hanging on for some minutes while the torrent poured around them and receded, and they were saved.  A woman was swept out of her house, over a six foot wall and into the branches of a tree where she stayed wedged until she could climb down.

newsfeb2005-04Venkat, with strong support from Nagarajan, a former director of operations for Action Aid in South India, has a team of six full time volunteers. These include a professional social worker (Chandragala) from IRDT Dharampuri. Venkat has also recruited 14 part-time helpers from the local community. He is also assisted by Mr.Pichay Pillai whom we identified through contacts he had previously made with friends in North Yorkshire!

Their tasks include counselling the severely traumatized, developing health care, organizing child support groups, setting up night school and providing nutritional help for the children in particular.  Many of the children are under-nourished and all are now receiving hot milk once a day.

Many health problems existed prior to the tsuanami exacerbating the situation. With the agreement of a clinic in Chengleput, numbers of children are now being taken there for treatment every couple of days or so.  These activities extend to the villagers as a whole. All of whom are suffering severe poverty because of a total lack of fishing income.  The Government are committed to replacing their boats, but it is happening very slowly. Indeed it is not possible to say when the boats will all be replaced. The largest village had 22 boats, each employing a crew of five, of which only two boats survive, nets have been ruined.

A maverick and feisty Canadian woman called Sue stepped in and bought them one, on condition that the villagers took her out fishing – which they did!  Sue has been an unofficial member of Venkat`s team, as has Robert Wheeler, but neither can stay for long. Venkat has been buying a net today for Palayanabu Kuppum, with funds from FOM and we hope that it will be in action very shortly.  A strong theme of request from the fisherwomen has been for training for other jobs.  Nagarajan`s people in particular are pursuing this and he has already provided opportunities for some 5 destitute or disabled women to jobs at Dharmapuri, which is in the north-west of Tamil Nadu.

Venkat is worried about the lack of education amongst many of the children whose villages are 5kms or so from the nearest school. Whilst the best option is almost certainly to try to provide a small school in the local area, we would need to be able to fund this long-term.

He now thinks that in the context of an operation that may persist for many months he should move his office from a crowded three-room house to a bigger one, where at least the men and women can sleep in separate rooms.  This is in hand and I understand the rent is not much higher.

Nagarajan`s ambulance is a rickety old vehicle which apparently can only legally be used for transporting patients.  I have asked Venkat to consider hiring a minibus for, say, a month or two for use to take kids to school, and to hospital and for general support for the volunteers.  It would be based entirely at Sadras.

Our general impression has been that most of the NGOs are happy to step in with funds to buy or build something, but not to provide ongoing support towards their recovery, as is IRDT. A much more difficult task considering the deep trauma of a people whose conditions have been endemically neglected.

The general suspicion, amongst villagers, is that this disaster is a unique opportunity for the Government to develop new tourist areas on the coast and to push the fishermen to one side. I strongly recommend that our funds are spent on ongoing humanitarian and economic support. Gaining the trust and understanding of the villagers is a vital part of this.   Morale boosting gestures are especially valuable; Sue, for example, has been sleeping amongst the fisherfolk most nights, and the other day we watched a dance routine organised for the children of one village by one of the volunteers.  The costumes were dazzling (some provided by an orphaned child`s extended family), and the event probably a first in this area. The women’s faces were a delight to watch and reminded us of excited parents watching their children’s nativity plays at our own grandchild`s school.

Further Information.

In a situation that initially was ever changing, organising a clear understanding of what is happening and what people’s needs are has been difficult. The village where it appears our work will eventually be centred is called Palayanabu Kuppam. I understand that this village is located 15km south of Mamallapuram. If we were to decide that a school needed to be built, this is the place that it would probably be constructed.

newsfeb2005-01Currently there are three villages where the children have to walk 4km to get to school. When they arrive there, there are 280 pupils and 4 teachers. There is a 30% drop out rate and the Head teacher has requested that Venkat consider building a school, similar in size to the school in Mettupalayam. It would be around 150 pupils in size and have 6 teachers including a head teacher. We would provide a cook and of course school meals, nutrition being a very important aspect of our work. There is a strong feeling that should we wish to go ahead with this the local government would provide the land. To establish the school and run it for the first year would cost around Lakhs 7.5 or £9 260. After that the annual running cost including the nutrition programme would be about £4 000. Clearly there is much to consider.

The Outreach Team:
The principal work that we are supporting at the moment is through the outreach team. This team currently is made up of 3 social workers from Dharmapuri IRDT and 3 people from Mettupalayam IRDT. In addition there are 2 volunteers from each of seven villages. It is hoped to provide a house for the team to be based in and a cook to provide them with meals.

Venkat has confirmed that approximately 800 children aged 0-5  and pregnant women are currently getting milk every day. Materials that have been bought to help children with school work and for them to play with are organised and used by the social workers everyday. They are also arranging evening classes between 5:30pm and 7:30 pm each day. Seven large covers have been purchased that provide shade for a meeting area in each village. These have cost £13 each.

75 children have been taken to hospital from just one village. Complaints included, breathing problems relating to polluted water, leprosy, kidney complaints and bad teeth. The bad teeth apparently result from inadequate nutrition. The initial monthly running cost of the outreach team will be £2100.The cost will be reviewed monthly but we would imagine a full review and assessment taking place in August.

newsfeb2005-06Raising Funds

Fund raising has thus far been most successful. We now have received £40 000 including gift aid. The sources are many and varied, a big thank you to everyone. We are delighted that North Yorkshire County Council are backing this work and through them many schools in North Yorkshire. We currently have 48 schools across the country who want to help this work. We recognise that many people have expressed a firm interest in being involved long-term. The work we are doing will necessarily take place over many years and we are clear in the purpose of building long-standing links between communities.
We can clearly see that funding will cover the first years work. We now have to push on, it is only through secured funds that further planning can be carefully put in place.


Best wishes

David Eldridge

Friends of Mettupalayam (chair).