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

Website www. irdt.info

September 2005 Newsletter

I am pleased to be writing this newsletter having just returned from a three week visit to the IRDT projects at Mettupalayam and the Tsunami area. As in the last report I will outline separately what is happening in each geographical area. The relationship on the ground between the two aspects of the project is encouragingly, increasingly integrated. Integration has been achieved by Venkat overseeing both of the projects. Staff from both project areas have been able to share training opportunities. The social work and education aspects in both projects have common goals.

There are many things that I would like to share with supporters and I am aware that a lot of people are keen to know more about how the work is evolving. I will follow up this newsletter with one in November. I will also start to publish monthly updates on the website. The website will also feature a range of new photos. Please note my new e-mail address.

Tsunami Report 26-08-05

Many of our supporters have indicated that they want our support in the tsunami area to be long-term in nature. Following comprehensive field work Venkat has established that the best long term response for the people living in the targeted villages is three fold in nature. Firstly that we build a school, secondly that we support the development of Self Help Groups (SHG’s) and also that we work to improve the quality of health and disability care available to the rural poor.

Where we are working:
Mahabalipuram (Mamalapuram) is a famous sea temple town and world heritage sight located south of Madras on the Tamil Nadu coast. The location of IRDT’s tsunami based work is in an area 10km-20km south of that point. Our office centre is located in Kalpakkam. We have a simple disability project located near Sadras. We are planning the building of a school at Palayanadu Kuppam.

What we are doing:
Visiting the work that IRDT is carrying out on the coast was a great privilege. Initially we had been involved in surveying a wide area. As a result we have focused our work into seven villages. SHG’S have been set up to help respond to women’s requests to find new ways of making a living. The fishing is poor, with many people chasing a limited catch and it has only allowed people to scrape by at best. Our lead social worker Gomathi from Mettupalayam has spent a lot of time helping these self help groups to successfully access government funds that are available to them. We saw evidence of people who had gone on to set up small food stalls selling home made biryani and samosas. There is also a group of women making and successfully selling washing powder in SHG Sadras 6. The main difficulty for all the SHG’s is that the people in the area have no spare money and can afford little other than the necessities of life. Therefore being entrepreneurial on a small scale is hard, because markets are hard to find. This is an area where we will need to work hard and try to be innovative if we are to help people improve their economic status. We need to find new ways of generating income and new markets. We are researching the possibilities of bee-keeping, paper making and hand made gift cards. If anyone reading this has other or better ideas about generating some viable economic activities we would be pleased to hear from you.

We are running a 30 pupil temporary full-time school, this is run by one very good local teacher. It was extremely encouraging to see the efforts everyone was making to provide a worthwhile education. There are also three night schools being run outside people’s huts and in available village spaces. The need for good educational opportunities is great. Many children don’t go to school because they have to travel too far and the provision is poor. We have been asked by the village leaders of Palayanadukuppam to build a school there. Geographically it makes good sense and will be easily accessed by many of the people we are working with. The village leaders at this time are helping us to negotiate for the land on which the school will be built. This very positive approach and support from the community provides a good foundation on which to build long term. We would envisage initially a school for 50 children with two teachers. We would then grow the size of the school so that it covered children’s needs up to year 6. We will link this to a badly needed nutrition and health programme, including meeting the needs of the disabled and pregnant women. So we are planning to develop a small campus that can share the knowledge and skills we have developed over time at Mettupalayam.

It has long been a concern to understand the needs of the disabled and find an appropriate way to respond. We are delighted to have made a link with The Association of people with Disabilities (APD). This Bangalore organisation was set up 47 years ago by a disabled couple. We were lucky enough to meet the founder, now in her seventies and full of energy and enthusiasm.

There is a small disability outreach centre being run in the tsunami project area. Here people, usually under 25, have come to have their needs assessed. Already children have had leg braces, walking frames and hearing aids provided with the help of APD. The long term aim of all our disability work is to integrate this isolated group back into their communities. To do this we have to enable them to acquire some level of independence both physically and financially. This will be facilitated through improved education opportunities, including awareness training for their families.

Currently the disability centre is run by two 20 year olds. Arulanandam a boy from Mettupalayam and Jennifer, from Sadras, who is the only wage earner in a family of 5 and has a father disabled in an accident. They look after around 14 children and young adults every day. They conduct individual physiotherapy sessions and teach parents how to follow their work up at home. Their work is in the formative stages, but their achievements are impressive and greatly appreciated by the people of the area.

The tsunami project whilst completely under the direction of Venkat, also has a coordinator for day to day running matters. This man is called Selvam, a friend whom Venkat has known since they were 6! We have the delightful Kalaivani who is a community worker. Kannammal from Mettupalayam, who has been moved down to coordinate the women’s activities. There are also a variety of other night school teachers and outreach workers who get paid a small wage, but basically they are working voluntarily to support and build up their communities.

Tsunami Summary:
The tsunami was a catastrophy that rocked everyone. One can still find much evidence of the devastation that was visited on the people. There are many people still living in temporary shelters. We have found out that the rebuilding of houses is an extremely slow process. This is because of local government restrictions placed on redevelopment. There are many big international organisations waiting and able to carry out this building work. It is therefore unnecessary for us to join this queue. What we are most skilled at is working on the ground with the people. We are skilled at helping them meet their everyday needs and goals.

Even before the tsunami the people in this area had very low scores on the important social indicators, such as health, education and employment. By helping to address these problems over the long term we are going to make a big difference to many people’s lives. The village where we are most likely to permanently base our work will be Palayanadukuppam. Our Nambikki (Hope) school will be built there. We would not be in a position to carry out this work were it not for the wonderful support fundraisers have given. I am able to say that all the money donated so far has been allocated effectively and wisely. We have identified funding for the tsunami outreach project for a further two years. We are in a position to buy land and build the health and education campus for the tsunami project area.

Further costs will need to be met and an increased budget of £200 per month is something we are aiming to work towards.

Mettupalayam Report 26-08-05

Venkat has been celebrating his 21st year at IRDT and I have been enjoying my 18th year supporting him. It’s exciting to think of all the supporters who have been involved for more than ten years! It is especially pleasing to see the amount of people who donate through standing order on a monthly basis, as this has been the firm foundation on which the project has developed.

Mettupalayam School

The school continues to be a vibrant and happy place. The teachers are an especially good team at the moment.nanasoundari is still the Head and has been working with us for 12 years, our longest serving person. There are three men and two other ladies. They consist of four Hindus, a Muslim and a Christian, all of whom are well qualified. This balance very much reflects the inclusive aims of the project. Twenty five percent of the children are tribal and the boy-girl balance is about equal. There are generally around 105 children in school. The year groups finish at year 5 and the larger classes are at the lower end.

Whilst there our friend Amanda, led an excellent activity which involved making and flying a hot air balloon that was five feet high and constructed from tissue paper! The precision and care that the children brought to the task was exceptional. They were able to carefully follow instructions and worked better together as a team than anyone I have ever seen. The result was early morning balloon fights, powered by hot air from a fierce mobile cooker! The first flight disappeared over the village and the children ran off and captured the balloon. The second flight got stuck at the top of a palm tree! No worries, the children brought it back down. It was all a bit short on health and safety and high on educational value and fun.

It had previously been mentioned to us by visitors that they felt the buildings of the school were looking a bit tired. We have to agree about this, the school buildings have been very useful, but are rather piecemeal. The other issue is that they are built on land that the government can reclaim should it wish.

We have now put together proposals for a two year plan. Part of this plan is to start to build a new simple school building on the land next to our main community building. We have identified a school 10km away that has recently been built and we plan to copy that design. It features airy light rooms, with large low windows on each side of the classroom.

We have three disabled children who attend school and in the local area there are others who do not. We are committed to making our school accessible for people with disability.

We have become aware that whilst our school is inclusive, the tribal children when they move on do experience prejudice, finding it hard to continue their education. Venkat has asked if he can extend his provision to include year six, we have agreed to this.

Quarry People

We have had much interest expressed in the lives of the quarry people. Naturally we returned to meet them again. There is very much a mixed picture to report. Sadly the quarry owner has moved many of the workforce down to the tsunami coast, so that they can break hardcore for road reconstruction. The quarry people are in debt to the quarry owner and have to go where his work is. Their situation is exacerbated by high levels of malnutrition other illness and no education.

Our plan is to build some basic accommodation on our own land for seven families, in order that we might encourage them to settle in one place. We will continue to provide meals for the children in the morning. Our health and social work people will continue to support them. We are delighted to have been given the money by Sadeh Lok (social housing group), to pay the loans that the people owe.

Venkat is now working at addressing the first problem of stopping the people turning round and getting another loan! The second problem is that to enable people to settle one must provide employment. In order to facilitate this we are hoping to purchase 3.5 acres of land joining our farm. Clearing this land will create 3 months of work for the quarry families. We will then be able to do three things on the land. We are going to make bricks, farm crops and run a quarry. The land we are planning on buying has a magnificent well and has the potential to provide water for either good irrigation or brick making.

We thought long and hard about this, as there are obvious moral dilemas. The important thing about the quarry work is that it should be fairly and safely organised. We are going to provide the workers with safety goggles, as eye injuries are common. We are going to increase their rate of pay to a living wage. We are going to enable the children to attend school full-time. The profits made from their labour will go towards running IRDT project, the aim of which is to provide the people with the further help they need.

Agriculture

Our farm continues to sustain itself. There has been some small amount of rain in recent weeks and this leads us to hope for a good season. We have planted the paddy nursery and will plant 5 acres of seedlings in the second week of September.

We have planted about 200 coconut trees, which I was surprised to learn can harvest up to 300 coconuts per tree, per year! We are also seriously considering planting 2 acres of bananas. These require both water and a night watchman. One can harvest both the fruit and the leaves.

We are pleased that the move towards organic production continues. It is also nice to see the paddy straw used to feed the cows. The cow’s milk is used in school. Cow dung powers the bio-gas plant. The gas is used to help cook the school meals. The waste from the bio-gas goes into the vermi-culture (worm compost area) and then that compost replenishes the soil on the farm.

We feel very positive about our farm work and feel it benefits every aspect of our project work.

Self Help Groups

We now are involved with 67 women’s SHG, in both the tsunami and Mettupalayam areas. Gomathi is highly respected in all these communities for her motivational and organisational skills. The 67 groups have collectively secured around £20 000 of government support. The women in the groups add up to 1500. This work carries on developing independently of any of our funds. Rather we provide the skills and access points for the communities to organise their own micro economic projects.

It is exciting to see how the women’s groups have matured and we will work at finding ways of taking the initiative forward in the future.

Health and Disability

The areas of health and particularly disability are ones which in the past we have found hardest to advance. We are excited by the new opportunities that are becoming available. We have bought 0.4 acres of land on the main road near Mettupalayam at Karani Mandabam. This allows easy access by bus and is set on the edge of this small but lively village.

The new initiative is to build a small health and disability centre. The purpose of this centre is to provide a base for disability training and support. We also will provide a medical resource affordable to the rural poor. We will employ a doctor for dispensing purposes for one day a week. We will have a full time nurse and they will have two assistants.

In the centre there will be 3 beds for maternity and other purposes. It was sad to hear of a woman dying in childbirth just 4km away from Mettupalayam whilst we were there. We will provide health education training programmes to enhance awareness of basic issues. There is still much evidence of malnutrition and bad diets. This results in a range of illnesses, including those that threaten children’s eyesight and long term health.

We have noted that the local GP doesn’t always use sterile needles and this obviously concerns us, particularly in the light of HIV rates increasing in India (currently at 4%). In response we have attempted to provide our own needles. Unfortunately there does continue to be an expectation that a trip to the doctors ought to result in an injection. There is a reluctance to take tablets such as antibiotics and a lack of understanding that the entire course of tablets has to be taken. We hope to educate people towards better practise.

The disability aspects of the centre will involve creating a place to share knowledge, training and problems. We will offer physiotherapy and other related training for staff from both the tsunami project and Mettupalayam.

Ambitiously it is our hope to raise funds for a school bus, with disabled access. This would provide meet local needs: it would allow for the transportation of disabled people, of whom there are 72 in the Mettupalayam area alone, including 28 children. We will be able to use it to bus children into school from the more distant areas. It will offer a 24 hour ambulance opportunity for emergency purposes. The cost would be approximately £13 000. This is beyond our normal funding capacity, but is high on our list of targets, as it would so richly serve the community. It is of interest that at a meeting of parents, they offered to pay the diesel costs for the school run.

A further aspect of the health and disability project is to create small shop outlets. We plan to construct 5 simple premises for the following purposes: A shop for selling products from the SHG. A farm product shop. A school provisions shop. A citizen’s advice bureau and a shop for hiring products that people frequently hire. Items such as plastic chairs, large cooking pots, sound systems, large canopies and agricultural equipment. All these outlets will be constructed at low cost with the disabled in mind. We would hope to see disabled people playing an equal role in the running of the shops and centre.

Summary

We are going through a very exciting period supporting the IRDT projects in Mettupalayam and the tsunami area. We have done some excellent disaster relief work and then development work in the Sadras, Palayanadukuppam areas. Mettupalayam continues to move from strength to strength.

We have devised a two year plan which is ambitious and yet achievable. Venkat is excited by the opportunities that are available to him. We have strong support in the local communities.

Our need now is to maintain our support base in the UK and to indeed build upon it. The emphasis is to increase the amount of standing orders that are in place. We continue to be very grateful for the regular donations received by post. We also continue to benefit richly from gift aid at 28%.

I am happy to be able to say that we continue to run Friends of Mettupalayam with no administration costs. Nat West continue to allow us to transfer money free of charge. Postage and printing costs are absorbed by trustees.

Many thanks to everyone who shows an interest in what we do and thanks for all the kind wishes that we have received.

David Eldridge
Friends of Mettupalayam (Chair).