FRIENDS OF METTUPALAYAM TRUST
Registered Charity No 1054673
c/o David Eldridge
The Coach House, Bainbridge
N Yorks DL8 3EE
Tel 01969 650618
Francis and Rosie Muncaster =
Bedale. DL8 2HF
I have just come off the phone to Venkat, our project leader in Tamil Nadu. Our first subject of conversation was his country’s crushing victory over Pakistan in the Cricket world cup! We agreed how good it was that sport could be a positive channel for “friendly” rivalry and not for the first time, thought about how we might introduce more sport to our curriculum. In the meantime, we have plenty of activity and good news to share with you. As always, Venkat takes this opportunity to say thank you all for enabling him and his team to improve the lives of so many people in the rural areas we support
Our Nambikki primary school at Pazyanadukuppam on the east coast of Tamil Nadu was built after the devastating tsunami of Boxing Day 2004 and made possible by the amazing support we received from the appeal we made at that time. Thank you. Many of our pupils at the school are from the poor but fiercely proud local fishing community who would not otherwise make the journey to government primary school. These young children have gained all the benefits of a quality primary education and many have also gone on to high school with the development and opportunity this can bring in a developing Indian economy. There are over 100 pupils regularly attending Nambikki. On a recent visit, our senior trustee Francis noticed a significant deterioration of the buildings. The premises have not had as much investment as our primary school at our project centre in Mettupalayam, so we have asked Venkat to provide us with proposals to rejuvenate the school buildings, in order to demonstrate our commitment to a quality education environment.
Our Crakehall School at Mettupalayam continues to thrive despite the regular turnover of teaching staff. We currently have 5 teachers and are in the process of recruiting two more. Although losing established teachers is in some ways disappointing, we recognise that this is inevitable. There is growing competition for labour with companies near Chennai offering free transport and higher wages for factory work. But in some ways we see the positives – our teachers receive a multifaceted approach to learning, supported by regular and varied teaching visitors from the UK. Craft, art, music, teaching English using phonics – these are skills and knowledge which we hope will be taken on to new roles in government schools where teachers receive higher salaries but teach class sizes of double or more. Our pupils love the variety – just look at this recorder group for example, and of course we are now able to develop the new set of teachers, who are settling in well.
In our last report, we told you about Serpakkam. Many of the poverty-related issues which were the catalyst for our project in Mettupalayam are still evident here just a few kilometres away. So, our plan is to support Serpakkam using the lessons and experience gained in Mettupalayam.
Our initial focus is on nutrition and healthcare. There is some severe malnutrition, especially with the children, many of whom have been relying almost solely on rice. Every Sunday we now take a bulk vegetable delivery into Crakehall School. This normally includes onions, potatoes and other seasonal vegetables. The local children then help to share out the vegetables into cloth bags (handily made by our tailoring unit!) one for each of the 55 families in Serpakkam. Each bag supplements a family’s meals for one week and they are sold in the village (at a much reduced cost). It is important that the value of this nutritious food is recognised and the families also feel that they are investing in their own and their children’s future. This support costs around £1 per week per family, a very small price to pay for the improvements to health that we expect.
We are now also holding regular health camps in the village, supporting access to a doctor and gathering base medical records so that we can monitor health improvement. Our most recent visitors, Karen and Judy (an experienced nurse) have also just completed a series of first aid training sessions here and in other surrounding villages.
Education is complicated by the fact that the transport links from the village are poor and as a result some parents do not send their children to school. This is exacerbated by the cost of uniforms and books. We are looking at a variety of ways of alleviating this situation.
Five personal stories
We often focus on the big picture stories at the project, but in the end it is all about each individual. Here are some recent stories about local children.
Pictured here is Gunnasekhar, a Mettupalayam village boy who almost dropped out of secondary school at age 12, as his parents couldn’t afford the fees and costs. Thanks to a donation of 1000 Rps (£11) by a UK family, he returned to his studies and satisfactorily completed year 8. He is now employed as a drivers mate, earning 200Rps/day. With his education certificate, he will now be able to apply for a driving licence and can then expect to earn up to 800Rps/day as a driver. It just shows how a relatively modest sum in UK terms can make such a difference.
Monisha, a charming 14 year old Kuruvi (gypsy) girl who attended our primary school, was forced to leave high school by her stepfather to earn money for him by selling beads. She is desperate to return and finish secondary school. We have agreed that Venkat will provide both moral and financial help to facilitate this. Local gypsy families still do not value education for their daughters, preferring early marriage, often at just 14 years of age. Venkat has already made huge inroads with this community and will continue to do so. Currently, over 50% of the local gypsy children attend our school, against a national average of around 5%!
Here is a lovely photo of Rajeshwari with her mother and grandma at the Rangammal School for the Hearing Impaired. Many of you will remember Rajeshwari, from Mettupalayam who, supported by the funding from Ashfield School in Workington, is progressing really well, top of her class for some subjects, and starting to speak in both Tamil and English. To meet her, as one of the Ashfield teachers was able to do recently, is to know you have met a real star!
Boubadi has made tremendous progress over this last year. He suffers from a form of cerebral palsy and, when he joined school in 2013, was only just able to walk, and had no speech at all. He now has much improved coordination and speech plus a very positive and smiley attitude. He is a credit to all his school mates who welcomed him so warmly and to the teachers and staff for their work with him.
Finally, a photo of Logeshvari, a minus class girl, who recently joined our Crakehall School, and who we have discovered, is tongue-tied. Thanks to an introduction from Dr Paramasivam, we are organising an operation in a local hospital, covering the cost from our healthcare budget.
Just five examples of lives improved beyond measure thanks to your support.
The Mettupalayam Farm
Very poor monsoon rains will unfortunately curtail planting again this year, but the sugar cane crop has been successful and will raise good returns at the market. Our milk cow is again pregnant which may be good news for our local dairy…and Caramel, her female calf, is growing strongly. The children have been helping to plant vegetables in both our school garden and in the adjacent field and lots of chillies, okra, tomatoes and white radishes are eagerly awaited!
UK News and visitors to the project
The project has benefited from UK visitors from early December right through to mid-February, with all sorts of highlights – perhaps the most notable being Susan Sands celebrating her 80th birthday at the project! But massive thanks go to Martin, Susan Francis, Mhairi, Jess, Isaac, Janet, Barry, Michelle, Karen and Judy for all your great work. Visitors add so much and also bring so much back with them from their experiences. We would also thank all those “back home” who help so much by raising funds and awareness at all sorts of events.
Over the Christmas period, we have been to various fairs and coffee mornings and given talks to raise money and sell goods. With the expansion of our work into the Serpakkam area, and the associated increase in cost, we would love to hear from anyone who has ideas, or who wishes to help, regarding future fund raising events.
We hope you have found this newsletter informative. If you would like to know more about any aspect of the project, please do not hesitate to contact us by email, phone or social media.
Your support and interest keeps us going, thank you all very much.