If (roughly) the world population is 7,000,000,000, and the population of India is 1,200,000,000, then India is about 17% of the world’s total population. If Dalits, or those of the lowest, formerly untouchable castes, comprise about 15% of the total number of peoples in India, or 180,000,000 (sixth largest nation if independent!) then Indian Dalits are 2 1/2% of the world’s total population. Or one out of forty humans experiences life highly stigmatized, reviled and socially shamed just because of an accident of birth.
When Sonny Saravanan, my partner from Tamilnadu Village Outreach, and I went to inspect the finished electrical remodeling of the Anandapuram Community Center we were met by the informal so-called young men’s Youth Group of the village. They were very grateful for the work we had done to make their village community center useable again after so many years of neglect and were very appreciative of the professional quality of the rewiring, the high levels of lighting and the three high quality fans that we had installed.
As is quite common in the villages where SAVE-INTL is active, there is a youth volleyball team in Anandapuram, and it is our policy to support these teams with free volleyballs and nets when requested. The Anandapuram Youth Group asked me for some help with a new net and some volleyballs, as they had none, and I remarked that there was already a good net strung up on their steel volleyball net standards in front of the community center and wondered why they needed another one. They explained that the net I was looking at actually belonged to another village and that their own net was badly damaged. I asked that it be brought out. While the net was in bad shape, I said that it could be used as a practice net with the purchase of some fishermen’s string and rope and a little work but that we would immediately provide them with some quality volleyballs which I had in my office in Mamallapuram. A committee from the Anandapuram Youth Group soon came to see me in Mamallapuram just before my departure for a two month trip outside India.We gave them a couple of quality branded volleyballs (see photo) and I promised on my return to provide them with a tournament quality net. They then told me the following story which I feel is illustrative of the problems faced by India’s Amateur Sports Groups.
Their village fielded a youth volleyball team two years ago which participated in a Tamilnadu State-wide tournament of villages. In their own District of Kanchipuram, which has a population of over two million, they managed to attain the rank of SECOND best volleyball team, despite the small size of their village of just 274 inhabitants, and a handful of young men.
This is a truly remarkable achievement for a poor rural Dalit village, yet no Gov’t Sports Authority, Private Business or NGO has seen fit to help (at least to date) them continue to pursue their excellence by supporting them with volleyballs or nets.
I promised to help them with volleyball equipment as long as they continued to aspire to be the BEST village volleyball team in Tamilnadu. They also asked for uniforms/jerseys for their team, a request I promised to consider.
Work was completed today on the repair and remodeling of the electrical lighting and ventilation system at the Anandapuram Community Center.
We completely rewired the center using wall mounted conduit and copper wire, new fuse board, two new switchboards, three branded ceiling fans, six fixtures for 2o watt CFL bulbs, two 4o watt tube light, and proper ground or earthing capable of handling a computer or two (some day). In addition we installed three exterior lights, one over the staircase to the roof and two on the front of the building which faces a small plaza-like public area. Total cost was 19700 Rs or about $450. The work was completed and guaranteed by a certified electrician with whom we have worked before.
A gallery of photos of the completed work and also the final work contract and original estimate can be seen here.
The Center was originally constructed in 2002 by an Internationally known NGO but not maintained by them or the local government. In the past few years it had fallen into serious disrepair and became essentially unusable by the community due to the failure of the wiring system, and lack of lighting and cooling during evening hours. It has still been used to store some empty rice bags, athletic equipment and to shelter pre-school children during daylight hours who were eligible for the Government supplemental feeding program, but that is all. Besides the failure of the electrical system, the flooring of the center, just thin poured cement, has started to break up and leaving sandy patches, which will worsen, and both the exterior and interior paint have faded, peeled and been covered by black mold. The building is however structurally sound, with a strong foundation, walls and roof and of an expensive and desirable construction. Therefore SAVE-INTL and its partner TVO have undertaken to bring back to life the Anandapuram Community Center, and with it, the fallen esteem of this poor Dalit hamlet. Now that the building is illuminated from the interior and exterior we are currently holding and sponsoring a free after-school evening Tuition school with a local paid part-time teacher, who holds a B.S. degree and who is currently studying for his teaching certificate. Additionally, the building can now again be used for village functions such as marriages and engagements, birthday parties, community meetings, etc. In the immediate future we hope to begin women’s vocational programs, such as sewing and tailoring, and start a community library. We have already begun sponsorship of the villages championship volleyball team, see a subsequent post here. We still need to repaint the building and repair the flooring, preferably with quality glazed tiles, and for this would very much like some financially help and sponsorship from a private organization or individual donor. Please look into your heart.
Cutting The Ribbon, from the right, Tiruporuur Union ChairwomanVijayLakshmi Krishnan, C. John Degler, President of South Asian Village Empowerment Intl and Uscha Nagarajan, Tiruporuur Union Vice Chairman
On February 13, 2011, we officially inaugurated the Mundiritoppu Village Community Center, located in Amuur Panchayat, Tiruporuur Block, Kanchjeepuram District Tamilnadu India.
The Completed Mundiritoppu Community Center
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Present were the Tirupuur Block Union Panchayat President Ms. VijayLakshmi Krishnan, Mr. Kuppan, Amuur Panchayat President, Uscha Nagaranjan Union Vice Chairwoman of Tiurporuur Block, Steve Mills Of Prime Trust, C. John Degler, President of SAVE-INTL, S,V. Saravanan, Managing Director of TVO and other dignitaries, foreign guests, local officials and leaders and many Mundiritoppu Villagers.
Assembled Gov’t Officials, Foreign Guests, Villagers and friends
With little more than two months to go before the crucial multi-day S.S.L.C. (Secondary School Leaving Certificate), coaching in test-taking and remedial instruction in math continues at the Community Center in Ellandoppu Village under the direction of Mr. Gnanasekharan. The class is offered at no cost to local students, with poor students being offered the incentive of reimbursement for transportation costs and the distribution of free notebooks, pens and test taking materials and guides.
The class is open 5 hours a day on all Saturdays and Sundays, and extra guidance is available on the weekdays during regular evening Tuition class hours. The class, seen as a pilot for a more extensive program to be launched in several villages in June 2011, we hope will help the poor rural student better compete with the urban middle class student whose family can afford to send them to special and often very expensive examination coaching classes. If the student is able to score in the upper ranks, he may be able to obtain a scholarship to attend a higher ranked 11th and 12th standard academic institution, pathway to admission to a Public University or school of engineering. If the student is merely able to pass the exam, itself not a mean feat, they will have an opportunity to be admitted to a vocational or technical school and able to obtain permanent employment in a factory or office.
Math seems to be the weak point in most student’s skill set and is the focus of much of the teaching. First Mr. Gnanasekharan demonstrates the method of solving past exam problems,and then poses a similar test question which the student has to solve on their own, which he then grades and reviews.
The S.S.L.C pilot coaching program is generously funded by the Malar Trust of Italy but managed by SAVE-INTL and TVO.
Cataracts, a clouding of the optic lens in the eye, are common among the majority of the older people who live in rural villages in Tamilnadu, and the most common cause of non-congenital blindness. Villagers, who have labored most of their lives since they were children doing field work, planting, transplanting, and harvesting rice and preparing fields by plowing, repairing irrigation works etc., do so without any eye protection from the strong, hot solar rays of the long summer in Tamilnadu. The result is a high incidence of cataracts and blindness among the aged. While easily treatable with modern opthalmic procedures, the condition often goes uncorrected among the older residents of Tiruporuur Block in Tamilnadu India, where our project is located.
The costs of private cataract surgery are ordinarily far beyond the means of most landless villagers in the district where SAVE-INTL operates. However the Government of Tamilnadu has a social welfare program whereby private and charitable eye hospitals and clinics receive a fixed amount of reimbursement from the government for each cataract surgery that they perform. With this government assistance, plus private donations, eye clinics are able to offer free cataract surgery to the poor rural population of Tamilnadu.
But this is not enough to solve the problem of the prevalence of rural blindness in Tamilnadu. Suspicion of those offering free allopathic medical care is widespread due to previous bad medical outcomes experienced by themselves, relatives and friends. Additionally, illiteracy and ignorance are widespread. Many cataract sufferers do not know the cause of their declining vision, are unaware of the availability of the free eye surgery, or are afraid there are hidden costs. Some are fearful of being away from their homes and village for a night under strange circumstances, concerned they might be experimental subjects, or not certain how to go about obtaining the sight saving procedure.
This is where SAVE-INTL and its local partner, Tamilnadu Village Outreach (TVO) are able to help. With our history of sustained involvement in local village social programs for over six years and excellent reputation, local villagers have a high level of trust in projects we undertake. To reach out and inform villagers of the one day event, we are able to utilize our local level contacts that range from village headmen to the teachers we employ to run our Tuition Schools and women’s vocational programs. Additional we paid for spots on local radio, distributed flyers announcing the time, date and location of the eye camp and finally hired a small sound van to go through the local villages and announce the eye camp on the day of the program.
We investigated several eye clinics and hospitals that offered free eye care and cataract surgery to the indigent and decided upon the Sankara Eye Hospital in Pammal, Chennai, Tamilnadu. They gave us a comprehensive tour of their large facility and were very impressed by the cleanliness, organization, attitude of the staff to patients and the overnight dormitory and cafeteria provided to indigent patients. Then it was the turn of Sankara Eye Hospital to inspect our clinic in Amuur and satisfy themselves that we could satisfy their space and amenity requirements. They also provided us with a list of items and provisions that we would be required to provide including food and snacks for their staff, tables and furniture, drinking water, and local staff.
On the day of the clinic, TVO used its small Omni Maruti van to help shuttle patients with mobility problems to Amuur or from villages that have no bus service.
The Eye Clinic was judged by all to be a resounding success.
A total of 124 separate patients were evaluated by an opthamologist and their vision tested for glasses by an optometrist.
Some basic eye medications for dry eyes and simple infections were distributed for free.
Ten cataract patients were immediately taken for free cataract surgery in the Sankara Eye Hospital bus and all subsequently reported on their return that their vision was restored and that they were treated respectfully and satisfactorily.
Some patients were asked to come to the Sankara Hospital at a later time for a more thorough examination including dilation, glaucoma screening, etc. The charge for this is only 100 Rs or a bit more than $2.00.
Some of the villages whose residents participated were Amuur, Siridhavuur, Panjanteertee, Mundiritoppu, Vellankadu and Kazhanipakkam among others. The cataract patients who have had only one eye repaired at a time will arrange for subsequent treatment of their remaining cataract.
If you would like to help, we need donations of old usable eyeglasses and frames and especially eyeglasses that can correct presbyopia or near sightedness, which are sold in the USA without prescription. Of course money would also help! We hope to sponsor future eye camps in other village networks where we have schools and programs.
About the Clinic in Amuur: In 2007 The Arbiter Samariter Bund of Kiel, Germany donated money for the construction of the clinic through SAVE-INTL and we SAVE manages the clinic with our partner, TVO. There is a paid staff nurse in attendance 4-5 hours a day, 6 days a week and also a paid assistant janitor. The clinic has two rooms and two toilets, two beds and basic medical clinic and a supply of medications, bandages, etc. All medical waste is promptly burned and used needles are destroyed in machine designed for this purpose. Emphasis is on treating women and young children, detection and preventive care. Our nurse evaluates all patients and either provides treatment or refers them to a local Doctor or hospital, such as Chettinad Hospital, with whom we have a liason relationship. All visits are free as well as medications suggested for treatment of such common ailments as joint and muscle pain, high blood pressure, the common cold. Cuts and scrapes are evaluated, debrided and dressed and we also provide initial screening for diabetes.
The students attending the Amuur Village School will soon see a large improvement in the sanitary facilities available to them during school hours, thanks to the generosity of the Malar Trust of Italy who have agreed to fully sponsor their rehabilitation, pledging one Lakh (100,000Rs).
The current Amuur school toilets have become virtually unusable and the facility entry wall is in serious danger of collapse, plus the currently facilities are not designed with separate areas for boys and girls.
The availability and condition of toilet facilities in Indian Public has long been a problem that affects primarily girls, especially those who are near maturity. Some of the consequences of substandard or non-existent facilities have been an increase in absenteeism or dropping out by girl students and an increase in urinary tract infections.
This problem is well recognized by the media in South India. See the article (link below) from The Hindu, an English language newspaper published out of Chennai and one of India’s oldest and most respected news journals:
Some photos of the Amuur School Toilet facilities.
Here some photos of the boys and girls attending the school whose access to education will be enhanced by the repair and remodeling of the toilet facilities.
After consulting with the Amuur school officials to determine their requirements, an estimate and plan to remodel and rehabilitate the Ammur School Toilet was provided by Mr. Viswanathan of VVN Construction who has previously worked with us on several projects. The new toilets will have four toilets each for boys and girls, the facility will be divided by a common wall and the entry way will be demolished and separate entry ways for boys and girls will be provided.
But before we could proceed further we required an official letter from the Amuur School Officials Requesting that we remodel the toilet and giving permission for same.
TVO and SAVE-INTL really needed some independent financial help to accomplish this project which brings us back to the beginning, namely our good friends at the Malar Trust, who after carefully reviewing the plans and my report have most generously agreed to fully support this project financially which should enable SAVE-INTL and TVO to ensure that the students of Amuur Elementary School will have with safe, sanitary and functional toilets and an improved educational experience.
Construction should begin in a few weeks at most once the winter Tamilnadu monsoon season is over. We will post the contract once that has been signed.
With the full financial support of the Malar Trust of Italy, SAVE-INTL and its local partner TVO inaugurated a new experimental pilot program on December 4, 2010 at the Ellandtoppu Village Community Center. We will be offering free coaching for 10th standard (grade) students who will be required to take the Secondary School Leaving Certificate exam given at the end of February and the beginning of March 2011. Coaching classes will be held every Saturday and Sunday for 5-6 hours until the exam date. Participating students will be given free notebooks and pencils, plus we will have available special coaching books and texts and other materials as well as practice exams that can be taken on the required paper using special fountain ink pens. All students in the 10th standard are invited to attend. Mr. Gnanasekharan is the teacher conducting the class with C. John Degler also present at the inauguration. For our first class we had six students present but expect more tomorrow and in the future as the word gets out and also as the weather improves as today we are having heavy monsoon rains making transportation difficult.
If the free coaching program proves to be a success, increasing the pass rate for weak students and getting top scores for strong students, we hope to expand to other village areas in the 2011-12 school year and also include 12th standard exam preparation.
Students who score high marks in the S.S.L.C., but who are financially unable to attend a school with standards commensurate with their abilities and potential, may be able to secure a scholarship for tuition expenses from the Malar Trust, along with room and board at one of the Malar’s hostels if their chosen school is distant from their home.
In 2002 the International NGO World Vision constructed a Community Center for the Dalit Village of Anandapuram , located in the Manampathi Panchayat area of the Thirupporuur block. Since that time the Anandapuram Community Center, unsupported by either the founding NGO or the local Panchayat Goverment, has deteriorated to the point where it has become virtually unusable with damage to its flooring, no functional electrical, lighting or ventilation system and is also in very bad need of both interior and exterior repainting.
This is a pity since the building remains structurally sound with no leaks or cracks or serious problems with its doors or windows and would cost over $8000.(US) to replace, an amount which this poor community could simply not afford.
The Village of Ananadapuram, located in the Manampathi Panchayat, is within easy bicycling distance of two other TVO and SAVE-INTL sponsored community programs in the villages of Kazhanipakkam and the Kunnapattu Irular Tribal Hamlet.
You may not read Tamil, so let me translate what this says.
Bulletin Board – 2010
1. Total Families: 77
2. Total Persons: 277
Male :140 Female: 137
3. Ages 0-5: 24
4. Ages 0-36 months, (No entry)
We have already initiated a free Tuition school for children using as our teacher an Ananadapuram resident with a BS degree in Zoology who is simultaneously taking a degree course in Education. However they are unable to meet at the Ananadapuram Community Center since there is no electricity to the building, possibly due to damage to a power pole, and in any case all the lighting fixtures are bulbs are either broken or missing.
We are determined to rehabilitate the Anandapuram Community Center and more fully use this facility for the benefit of the over 270 mostly poor rural people who make this village their home. This would include continuing support for the Tuition school, starting a women’s vocational program and a children’s library, support for the youth sports teams and more.
The repair estimate from our regular and trusted general contractor totals 57500 Rs or about $1270 and includes replacing the floor with glazed tiles, rewiring the room with two fans and four or more CFL bulbs, and repainting both the interior and exterior of the building.
Once returned to its original condition SAVE-INTL and TVO pledge to continue support for the children’s free tuition school, establish a women’s vocational program and more and make sure the Anandapuram Community Center remains in good repair.
But we need financial help with returning this valuable community resource to its original condition.
On November 1, 2010 “Sonny” S.V. Saravanan of TVO and I were invited to the office of the Union Panchayat Chairwomen of Thiruporuur District, Vijay Lakshmi Krishnan to accompany her on a tour of two middle schools in two of the 51 Panchayats(or Institutional Democratic Village Governments) under her jurisdiction, which includes over 51 Panchayats, or institutional grass level democratic village governmental units.
Riding in her District car from Tiruporuur towards Sembakkam and then right, we were accompanied by several of her staff. Our first stop was the Nellikuppam Panchayat, Amapettai village. Here are a few photos of the Village’s defunct community center and the newly refurbished Vinayagar Temple, plus some typical housing.
It is in imminent danger of collapse as the walls were originally made using clay- sand rather than cement.
Because of the danger posed by this structure it is slated for demolition but VijayLakshmi Krishnan conveyed the community’s desire that it be replaced and suggested that SAVE-INTL and its partner TVO might be able to design and construct a replacement building. Presently the cost of a 25ft X 15 Ft (8m X 4.5m) building of reinforced concrete with a cement sheet roof is approximately $4500 – add a flat concrete roof with a stair access and it is $2000 more. Donors are invited to contribute to this future project.
Adjacent to the defunct community center is a temple to the God Ganepati sometimes known as Ganesh or Vinayakar.
Note the contrast in the condition of the two structures.
After examining the damaged Community Center the entourage proceeded to the Amapettai Government Elementary School, passing some typical village housing
At the elementary school we were surprised to be greeted by Mr. Ayappan, teacher in charge, who has “moonlighted” for TVO and SAVE-INTL as an after-school “Tuition” Teacher during the evening in nearby Mullipakkam Village. Amapettai is very lucky to have Mr. Ayappan working for them as he is one of our best and most dedicated teachers with a strong flare and dedication for teaching basic spoken English.
We then proceeded to the adjacent Melaiyuur Panchayat Village School, grades 1-8, which lacks any toilet facilities for the 200 6-14 year old boys and girls who attend. SAVE-INTL intends to remedy this glaring lack later this year as we have at Amuur Village Public School, whose damaged toilet facility remodeling is currently underway and progressing nicely.The original toilet facility, pictured below, was originally constructed with its septic tank on property owned by the Church of South India (CSI). When this error was discovered, the septic tank was demolished by the CSI, rendering the Melaiyuur School Toilet facility completely unusable. Presently the stalls are blocked with thornbushes (see photo below) and the structure is slated for demolition, as it is economically unfeasible to build an alternate septic tank.