Jeevika Partners extend helping hand to flood-ravaged Tamil Nadu

by Priya Anand, India Co-ordinator at Jeevika Trust

A flooded hut in Tamil NaduThe monsoon rains that lashed Tamil Nadu in early December 2015 were unprecedented and were the worst that the state had experienced in over a Century. They caused flooding across the State, bringing normal life to a stand-still. The human toll in the devastating floods was over 190. More than 2500 villages were badly affected and 60 percent of the capital city Chennai was under water. The District of Cuddalore was one of the worst-affected regions, where over 50 villages were under water. Apart from the death of 49 people, over 50,000 huts were damaged during the floods in Cuddalore district and hundreds of families spent weeks together in relief camps. Heavy damage was inflicted on standing crops, cattle and infrastructure.

Cuddalore was ravaged by a tsunami in 2004 that killed 640 people along the district’s 57 km coastline. Since then, it has been hit hard by multiple cyclones including Nilam and Thane, and the district’s cup of woes brimmed full with the recent rains. The armed forces—the army and navy in particular—and 50 teams of the National Disaster Response Force did a good job of mitigating the impact by rescuing stranded citizens and distributing essentials. The floods brought out the best in residents of Tamil Nadu and volunteers from nearby States like Karnataka, who provided support in the form of cash and relief materials. Impromptu rescue teams were formed to rescue those who were stranded and residents who were not affected opened their homes and offered food and shelter to victims. Corporates such as Cognizant, Tata Consultancy Services, State Bank of India and Tractors and Farm Equipment Ltd. have also done their part by pledging funds to help victims. Several NGOs complemented the official machinery in delivering essential items to residents in the flood-affected areas.

Mithra Foundation distributing aid in Tamil NaduTwo of Jeevika’s partners in Tamil Nadu, Mithra Foundation and SCAD, played a key role in supporting flood-affected villagers. Mithra Foundation, our partner working with HIV positive individuals and their families in Trichy and Cuddalore districts, with support from various NGOs – including Jeevika – and individual contributors from Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh, was able to provide 23,000 kilograms of relief materials in kind to flood victims from 33 Flood Affected Villages in Cuddalore District. Essentials like food (milk, rice, oil and lentils), clothes (sarees, dhotis, children’s clothing, undergarments), sanitary napkins, torches, blankets and toiletries were also provided.

SCAD, which focuses on rural underprivileged communities was able to support victims in Cuddalore, Kanchipuram, Tiruvallur and Tuticorin districts. It collaborated with local NGOs such as EKTA Nambikkai Centre, Killai, Cuddalore, GOD Trust, Institution Rural Development Trust, and Joseph Rural Development Trust in Kanchipuram to have an easy access to villages not reached by the Government.

distributing aid in Tamil NaduAfter a careful door-to-door assessment of affected villagers, especially women and children, SCAD provided relief kits to meet their needs. Flood relief kit materials included some 23 items including dry rations, dress, note books, oil, soap, food as well as basic things like bed sheets, dress materials, biscuits. etc. Kits have now reached 1325 families across four districts and over 2500 people from 24 villages received medical care from medical personnel in mobile vans. Close to 1500 individuals received essential items such as clothing, food items, blankets and mosquito repellants.

SCAD was able to effectively enlist the support of schools and colleges that are associated with it, and students and staff of both the rural development teams – as well as the educational institutions – played a key role in raising resources and collecting relief items.

Both Mithra and SCAD will continue to engage in rehabilitation efforts in the months to come. To find out how you can support their efforts, please contact us.

Things I Learned as a Volunteer in India

Two years ago, I had the wonderful fortune of being introduced to Jeevika Trust. I was just about to travel to India for the first time, and when I mentioned to a friend that I was interested in writing about development issues, he connected me with Jeevika.

During my ten months in India, I went on several field visits to Jeevika’s projects in Orissa and Tamil Nadu, and I’m forever grateful for the chance to witness island crab farms on Chilika Lake, walk with women through Tamil villages, and converse with Jeevika team members and partners alike about pressing issues. Here are three things India taught me as a volunteer:

 1. We all have something to give.

Before volunteering with Jeevika, I had never been to India, nor had I ever worked with an NGO. I felt inexperienced and unsure of what I had to offer people with far more knowledge than myself. But my time in the field with Jeevika taught me that we all have something to give, even if it doesn’t feel like we do.

As a writer, photographer, and blogger, I was able to help both Jeevika and its partners by taking photographs of projects and their beneficiaries, setting up our first blog, and even putting together a 16-page pamphlet. We all have skills that could be of tremendous value to an organization.

volunteer india

2. More is gained than lost in translation

My first task with Jeevika was to interview rural Indian women and write case studies about how they benefitted from participating in our livelihood projects. Although the prospect of telling these women’s stories excited me, I was hesitant about how we would connect, only being able to communicate through a translator.

I needn’t have worried. Although there were always details that got lost in translation, I was struck by how we still connected. Nowhere did I feel this more than in the Orissan village of Bebari, as I watched one woman I was interviewing rest her hand on the leg of another woman. Such a simple gesture – as with a smile or laughter – goes a long way in connecting with people.

 3. Change does happen.

When focusing on small tasks, it isn’t always easy keeping the end goal in sight – what ultimate effect is our effort making? Can we really make a difference in a country as large as India? But while visiting our partner organization SCAD in Tamil Nadu this March, I found my answer, through a 17-year-old boy named Sudalaimani.

SCAD cerebral palsy

Sudalaimani was born with cerebral palsy, but over the last five years, SCAD has provided him with therapy, treatment, and even surgery, to the point that he is back living at home. As Sudalaimani walked towards us on his own, and later showed us how he can now ride a stationary bicycle, I was overwhelmed with the awareness that change does happen, one person at a time.

Every small thing – every story written, every step taken, every hour of our time donated to an important cause – helps in making a difference.

To donate your time and skills please email info@jeevika.org.uk – if you cannot donate your time to changing the lives of Indian villagers for the better, donate your money 

Jeevika goes to Auroville!

In March this year, Jeevika Trust – with the help of Department for International Development – took its five partner organisations to Auroville, an architecturally-designed township located near Pondicherry in Tamil Nadu in South India.

Founded in 1968 by Mirra Alfassa (also known as ‘The Mother’) – and  Sri Aurobindo, an Indian nationalist, freedom fighter, philosopher, yogi, guru and poet – Auroville was built to embody their vision of human progress and spiritual evolution:

Auroville is meant to be a universal town where men and women of all countries are able to live in peace and progressive harmony, above all creeds, all politics and all nationalities. The purpose of Auroville is to realize human unity.

AurovilleWhy visit Auroville?

Auroville has been created and inspired by the residence of many NGOs and other wholistic and globally-minded organisations which reside within the Auroville township and whose prime concern is to make the world a better place.  All these organisations undertake research, experiments and apply their new-found technologies and knowledge using local resources with the aim of challenging and advancing progress in rural India.

What did we learn? 

Jeevika’s partners visited organisations that used bamboo to produce anything from jewellery to buildings; that research fresh ways of using water systems to grow crops when water is limited; others produced earth blocks from moulds to build cost-effective, water-resistant schools, moveable houses and apartments up to four floors high with zero energy and without cement ; worked with volunteers to grow and generate awareness of sustainable food production; or worked with women, men and children using art therapy to empower individuals, cross-cultural, group & community relationships.

Capturing the learning

Back in their own project delivery areas, our partners passed on their new-found knowledge and skills to the villagers with whom they work in Jeevika-supported projects – and in this way, the Auroville experience helped Jeevika and its partner organisations expand their ways of working with some of India’s most disadvantaged villagers living in remote areas of Tamil Nadu and Orissa.

We also had fun!

art therapy aurovilleDonate now to support our partner organisation capacity building  workshops twice a year

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India Update: Live from the Field

It’s that time again – when Jeevika staff leave our London office behind, jump on a plane, and head for the field, to the heart of where our work is based.

This past weekend, our programmes officer Judith arrived in the city of Bangalore in southern India, where she’ll mostly be based for the next three weeks. To keep you up to date on our team’s various movements, we thought we’d give you a quick rundown on what the next few weeks will hold:

This week finds Judith heading to the campus of SCAD (short for Social Change and Development), one of our largest partners who are located in Cheranmahadevi, Tamil Nadu.

But she isn’t going alone – our project coordinator in India, Priya, is accompanying her, and they’ll spend this week running a four-day stakeholder workshop with our partners, as well as visiting some of SCAD’s projects.

SCAD in India

One of SCAD's fishery projects in Tamil Nadu

Next up, they’re heading east to the state of Orissa, to visit another one of our partners, JRP – Jeevan Rekha Parishad. This time they’ll be joined by our communications consultant Candace (that’s me!), who’s looking forward to re-visiting some of the same projects she saw last year, as well as new sites.

One such new location is Barhampur Island on the brackish lagoon of Chilika Lake. Earlier this year, we were grateful to receive a grant from the innocent foundation to implement another eco project on Barhampur, modeled after a similar project on the nearby island of Mahinsa.

Jeevika Trust

Judith and Priya on last year's visit with JRP

Lastly, Judith, Priya, and Candace will spend a few more days in Bangalore, finishing up the Impact Assessment that they’ve been working on for the last several months.

There will be many more updates to come from the field over the next month, so be sure to watch this space!

The Hidden Link

What connects a skate-board park in Hampton Wick, with a charismatic NGO leader from the far, far south of India, and a Canadian professor of physics and Indian scripture? And all in 36 hours?

There is a simple answer to this question, which you won’t learn till you finish reading this!

At Church Grove, just on the edge of the lovely, water-rich acres of royal Bushy Park, you pass the clatter and bang of skate-boards and BMXs performing daring leaps and turns – a happy safe zone for young boarders and bikers to congregate with their own café – The Kcafe – all run by our new friend Dan.

This past weekend, Dan had organised an open day and you’d have found Jeevika’s own community liaison officer Becky Buchanan wo-manning a stand telling visitors about Jeevika and its work, and promoting our 2012 Walk for Water, starting at 2 p.m. on Sunday 30 September from the very same Kcafe. Though it was rather a grey day, Becky made several new friends, potential walkers and other supporters.

This was Jeevika’s first presence of this kind in the Hampton Wick community, and an excellent start.

KCafe in Bushy Park

In Tamil Nadu, you can’t get further south in the whole huge Indian sub-continent than the districts of Tuticorin, Tirunelveli and Kanyakumari – home to some 2.5 million people in about 550 villages who are supported in terms of access to water, health-care, education and livelihood by Jeevika’s Indian NGO partner Social Change and Development (SCAD), founded and led by Dr Cletus Babu with his wife Amali.

SCAD’s work over the past two decades and more with these villagers has made a huge and irreversible impact on the grinding rural poverty which 60 years of independence have allowed to persist: SCAD’s philosophy has always given special attention to minority groups like salt-pan workers, gypsies, leprosy-sufferers, as well as young and adult people who suffer from mental and physical disabilities.

Jeevika is proud to have funded SCAD and collaborated with them in both water and livelihood projects – including the restoration of oorani ponds like the one you see below – and is now planning to expand this collaboration with focus on water and women’s livelihood projects during the coming year.

SCAD and Jeevika in Tamil Nadu

And then this past Monday morning you’d have found Cletus and Amali, with their UK host Katie Allen, round a table in Hampton Wick sharing some strategic thinking and plans for this new work.

They then rushed off to try and fit in a visit to the Olympic Park before their next engagement. The Paralympics express much the same lively sense that motivates Cletus of the potential for disabled people if one concentrates on what they can achieve – not what they cannot do.

Ravi RavindraThe final point in this hidden link is Professor Ravi Ravindra, who spent his early years in India before moving to an eminent career as a thinker and teacher in Canada – currently Emeritus at Dalhousie University in Halifax. He’s a frequent speaker in the UK and those who’ve heard him recognise they are in the presence of a rare and wide-ranging intellect spanning comparative religion, philosophy and physics – but having a special profound identity with the Indian scriptures.

On Monday evening, it just so happened he was speaking in north London on ‘The Heart of the Spiritual Quest in India,’ particularly about knowledge and ignorance in the context of self-knowledge and the great Indian metaphysical question KO HAM? – Who am I? When we say “I” do we mean body, mind, ego or spirit? The universe outside, and the universe within. 

He can always be relied on to send one home with unanswerable questions in mind as well as a feeling of being a little wiser each time! For Jeevika’s founder E.F. Schumacher, the spiritual dimension was also always integral with his economics and his humanity.

And of course by now you’ll have guessed what was the link between the skate-boards, the Tamil villages and the Canadian professor: could the link be India?

Of course it is – but it’s also someone who was present on all three occasions over these last 36 hours…

That’s me, Andrew – and I’m glad to have a chance to share these exciting updates with you. As always, please feel free to leave a comment below if you have any questions about our work or our upcoming plans!

Image of Professor Ravindra courtesy of Quest Books.

Hidden Tamil Nadu: Diane’s Perspective

In April, we shared with you about Hidden Tamil Nadu, a unique trip to India this autumn that includes both delicious cooking lessons and thought-provoking village visits. To tell you a bit more about the tour and what it entails, we invited Diane to tell us about her experiences – as she’s been on it four times so far!

My first visit to Social Change and Development (SCAD) was purely moral support for my sister Trish, who had discovered the charity the year before. I had never been to India before and to say I felt out of my comfort zone was an understatement.

However I soon discovered what SCAD was about and that slowly returned me to my comfort zone. My first visit included a comprehensive tour of SCAD’s activities. These included visits to schools, a village for Leprosy sufferers, and a Gypsy village. I witnessed real poverty but also real hope. Social Change and Development truly at work.

Cooking Tour to India

Women’s Groups exist in most SCAD villages and they take responsibility for maintenance of finance, etc., for the village. The health care system delivered by SCAD is evident.  Education is seen as a way out poverty.

This sounds very serious but I have never had such an exciting and humbling experience. So much so that I shall be making my 5th visit this autumn. The visits now include a week of Southern Indian Cooking. Not your usual take away but the real thing.

Cooking tour in India

I made a good mushroom curry with chapattis [made not bought!]. We shopped at local markets much to the delight of the villagers, as in this rural area of Tamil Nadu Westerners are not usually seen. We were treated with warmth and respect. The visits also offer the chance to catch up with projects seen previously and to meet once again with local friends. So much is achieved with relatively little and with very little fuss.

Last year there was a late monsoon. The Indians were delighted at the arrival of the much-needed rain but were sorry we kept getting wet. It was not at all like the UK cold rain and truthfully we thoroughly enjoyed the adventure! We even showed them how to make vegetable soup English-style to make them feel better.

Cooking tour in India

There is little evidence of affluent India in this area. We were miles away from the normal tourist route so I have not really experienced large cities or famous sites and am not sure what my reaction would be. I do know how much I look forward to returning annually for as long as I can.

I return to England with a greater appreciation of what I have and a genuine affection for all the people I have met. It is an unbelievable experience which I hope has made me a much more tolerant and understanding person.

While Jeevika is not directly involved in this trip, we do support it and encourage you to consider signing up for it. If you would like further information, please contact Trisha Roberts by email at hiddentamilnadu@hotmail.co.uk or by telephone on 01787 238360.