FRIENDS OF METTUPALAYAM TRUST
Registered Charity No 1054673
c/o David Eldridge
The Coach House, Bainbridge
N Yorks DL8 3EE
Tel 01969 650618
It is with great pleasure that I write another review of progress at our two projects in Tamil Nadu, South India. Rosie and I, accompanied by Mrs Carol Woodward, a local primary school’s Headteacher, recently visited both Mettupalayam and Nambikki areas.
We spent some time working at both schools and reviewing current teaching practices and methods. Whilst in many ways these are very different to here in the UK, Carol was both pleased and surprised at how well the children perform. Indeed, for the last 4 years, Mettupalayam School has had by far the best entrance exam results amongst the 15 feeder schools for the local high school. There is scope for further improvement however, and we took out another 40 Tamil/English story books, provided at a reduced cost by the publishers (Thank you Mantra Lingua!) These are both educational and entertaining- an ideal combination. Carol is now looking at developing much closer links between her own school and Mettupalayam, and has already started a joint weather monitoring programme. Results so far-Mettupalayam hot and dry, Burneston, wet and windy!
The second phase Nambikki School buildings are almost complete- a further 3 classrooms and kitchen block- leaving only minor work to be finished. Our government licence is still awaited, so numbers are still much lower than expected, but Venkat is confident that once received, we will have a new school year enrolment of around 100 children in June. It is a real pleasure to be able to say that the Head teacher is a former Mettupalayam School pupil who completed his B Ed last year. We still expect to have around 150 children at the school eventually.
The bursary fund, started last year from money donated by Risedale Community College, has been a great success, helping many older children with books, uniforms and sundry expenses. It is important to continue this work and during our visit, it was exciting to be able to pay for Divya and two other girls to have additional computer tuition at a total cost of £20 for the month. We receive many such requests which we always try to support.
Following a further comprehensive survey in our two project areas, we now have a list of the 540 disabled adults and children who need our help. This ranges from simple registration for benefits claims to significant immediate support, training and long term assistance. Our three trained physiotherapist/disability workers have been fully operational for two years, and we have seen some remarkable results. It is really exciting watching a young boy taking his first steps with the help of specially designed callipers. Many of you will remember my friend Franklyn. Following two years of treatment and with wonderful family support, his life has now been transformed. With a little help, he can now walk and his smile is worth travelling 6000 miles to see! However, there are still challenges to face- sadly little Arissa, who we started to help at the same time as Franklyn, has made no progress at all. Despite our disability workers’ best efforts, and mainly due to lack of interest and support from her family, she remains immobile for most of the time, looked after by her grandma. We continue to try our best for her and hope that intervention by the village elders will persuade her parents to cooperate in future. It only took ten minutes stimulation and play for me to get her to smile-from the expression on her grandma’s face, I don’t think that she knew that Arissa could smile. You can be sure that I will be going to check up on her progress again next year!
Currently our disability team has reduced as one of the physiotherapists recently left. We have another four village girls starting training with APD next month, and also now have two assistants receiving short term intensive training so that they can provide support to our two remaining disability staff. We plan to significantly increase our disability programme in 2009 when these trainees return to the project and we are working with Rotary Clubs locally and in India to seek funding for this programme for three years.
We continue to provide a Friday afternoon surgery in Mettupalayam, paying around £10 each week to a very good local doctor. On average he sees around 40 patients each week, prescribing medicines or hospital treatment as necessary. Everyday needs are met by the village first aid boxes and we also continue to run various comprehensive health camps. It was interesting to see polio drops being administered during our visit, part of a national programme.
I was also fascinated to meet Sonja, an albino girl who has just joined our school. The doctor was able to give her mother and the teachers lots of advice and information about her condition.
Gradually, over the years, our school meals, and more recently, old age people meals programmes have made significant differences to health in our area. Children are growing up stronger and more resistant to disease, helped by hygiene education and now the latrine programme. These all interlink to make a significant difference.
Our links with the Indian Bank continue to prosper with support being granted recently for an enlarged women’s self help group programme. We have also linked up with a Government Bank to set up a small cotton waste reprocessing operation, providing employment for 25 women. Training and funding have been agreed and the machinery should be ready for use within the next month or so. Whilst the women will be self employed, our social worker, Gomathi, will monitor and assist when necessary. I was excited to take part in training another 30 women who will shortly be forming their own self help groups.
The communal quarry continues to provide employment and a good standard of living to the five families who have chosen to remain following their release from bonded labour. Some of their children are now coming to school and Gomathi continues to try to persuade the parents of the benefits for those that don’t- at least now they are able to play and do not have to work at breaking rock all day!
It is exciting to tell you about a Primary School education pack that has been developed based on our work in Mettupalayam. This is available to all primary schools for use in meeting the National Curriculum requirement to study an Indian village. This will hopefully enhance our profile and increase support for our work. Available through the usual education materials suppliers, we will also receive a small royalty on each sale. Any packs ordered direct through us will however ensure that we receive a much larger sum! Delivery to local schools can be arranged.
In each newsletter, I continue to mention www.everyclick.com- we now have 9 supporters signed up and using this search engine as their home page. So far we have raised over £50 for our work, and literally every click gives another 1p to us! As each school meal costs around 4p, you can see the benefit of increased support. Please consider this when you are next on your computer! Finally, we continue to be asked to give talks about FOM and life in India. We are happy to talk to adult groups or to school children in class. We also continue to sell Indian tribal necklaces and bracelets, and cards. Please contact us if you would like further information or extra copies of the newsletter to pass on to family and friends. Please also note our slightly changed website address www.irdt.co.uk
What’s next for FOM?
Over the coming year or so, we have two significant opportunities. We are planning to expand the disability programme as highlighted above. However, we are also planning to rebuild the whole Mettupalayam School complex! Currently built on Government land and at cheapest cost, these buildings are no longer suitable for purpose. The classrooms are too small, dark and poorly equipped. We have a plot of land adjacent to the playground which is suitable to take a purpose built campus. Whilst not looking to increase overall pupil numbers, we do need to improve disability access and ensure that we provide equal education opportunities to all in our catchment’s area. We are busy drawing up plans and working out the cost.
We also face a significant challenge. Gift Aid reduces by around 11% in the new tax year, following the adjustment to tax rates. Added to annual inflation of around 5% in India, and a fall in the exchange rate of around 9%, we need to increase income significantly just to stand still! As always, your support is very much appreciated. In line with our promise, every penny donated ends up in India- we do not have any UK expenses as these are covered by the personal donations of the trustees.
On behalf of the children and villagers, Venkat has asked me to thank you all for your love and support over the years. Next year is the 25th anniversary of the project and although our celebration plans are at an early stage, you may be sure that they will include special treats for the children! As your representatives, the trustees have the pleasure of being able to visit with them each year, and we are also able to take Friends with us on occasion. All this happens because of you. You are all MAKING A DIFFERENCE.