Saturday, December 03, 2005

My Mission to Tsunami stuck Tamil Nadu

Following the recommendations and contributions that came out of a meeting that I attended in Bristol in July 2005 that was set within the context of Aubrey Meyer's "Contraction and Convergence" Schumacher briefing, the next step was to explore ways to establish a mutually beneficial set of co-operative relationships and projects between the community in Chew Magna, West England, UK in the "developed" world and two communities in Tirunelveli District, Tamil Nadu, India in the "developing" world. The goal was to use and build upon ongoing, long term activities between these villages to illustrate how contraction and convergence principles can be implemented, practiced proven and adapted on a local scale illustrating global possibilities. The purpose of my mission was to identify some on going activities of an NGO working in the area called Social Change and development (SCAD) and also to propose other possible tangible projects that could be implemented following the principles of contraction and convergence. A challenge paper was prepared to identify the hurdles, capacity, resources, skills and strengths that are needed to bridge these communities across the miles. This paper will later develop into a "Plan of Action" with a set timeline and budget once the priorities, goals, target groups, needs, networks, partners and core groups on each side have been identified. The goal is to develop some social, economic, environmental and cultural links between these participating communities both in the UK and India. To begin it is important to know and understand what kind of support the people from Tirunelveli would need from the people of Chew Magna. Therefore we need to identify what role each community would play in this partnership and find out what kind of exchange of ideas and initiatives would generate win-win outcomes on both sides.

During my one week visit I stayed at the SCAD guesthouse located at the SCAD 200 acres beautiful campus. I was taken for a tour of the campus in Chernmahadevi where I visited a special school for physically disabled, mentally challenged and gypsy children. A mentally challenged girl welcomed me with flowers and I spent some time with the children there. There were only 7 teachers for 50 kids. They need more. I then visited the SCAD ITI where student are trained in automobile repair, drilling and fitting. Then I saw the SCAD Polytechnic College where student are taught printing technology and computer desktop publishing. Later that say I attended a core group meeting at the SCAD office in Tirunelveli where I met all the dynamic field officers who are the backbone of the organization. It was their quarterly meeting and they came to report about the on going activities and projects inn all the 380 villages that they operate in.

On the next day I was taken for a field visit to five tsunami hit villages in two districts. I was traveling with Catherine Slater from Salt of the Earth and two other SCAD field officers. We drove to the Fishermen Colony and visited the temporary shelters build by the government, which were made of tin. It was like living in an oven in the summer heat and after the monsoon the area was flooded and the drinking water contaminated. We then when to see the boat-repairing project on beach which SCAD was supporting to benefit the 250 Hindu fishing families. We went to Punnakayal, which had 10,000 people to visit the tailoring training centre and fish preservation unit.

SCAD provided the tailoring machines for the 60 women in the village. Anna Nagar was next and we visited the children care centre and children park where 75 families benefited from SCAD. We then went to Pattinam a village of 6000 people to see their seashells crushing projects. Lastly we visited Amalinagar to see the Women Self Help Group making balm, washing power and candles. In the evening we had a core group meeting at SCAD tsunami rehabilitation centre Tiruchendur to evaluate the on going activities in the coastal villages.

I visited also the SCAD College of Engineering and Technology and the SCAD Community College where we later celebrated International Elders Day on 19th October. The Superintendent of Police of Tiruneveli was the Chief Guest and he distributed presents to all the 100 plus elders that came to the event that evening. The following day I drove 40 km to see the largest wild farm in Asia with Cletus and his wife Amelia. I have never seen so many windmills in my life but it was a spectacular to see all these white towers with blades spinning in the wind with the Western Ghats in the background. Later I was taken to see the SCAD school of leprosy and gypsy children. I also visited the gypsy colony and later when to see some leprosy infected people in the leprosy colony where SCAD had build homes for them. There were 96 households in the gypsy colony and 52 households in the leprosy colony. SCAD also build permanent homes for the nomadic gypsy people.

On my way back I stopped in Chennai and I met the Executive Director of the world famous MS Swaminathan Research Foundation and invited him to collaborate and provide technical support for SCAD. I visited their mangroves greenhouse where they grew different species of the plant. In coastal areas where mangroves still exist, the destruction from the tsunami was very less and they acted as a natural barrier from the big waves.

My role is to be the go in between and facilitate the link between the two communities. As a the Youth Employment Summit Campaign advisor I will also continue to catalyze the development of programs & policies in India to ensure that the rural youth have access to the training programs, skills development, credit and other resources which they need to build sustainable livelihoods. After my field trips to the different villages followed by discussions with Cletus and his amazing team at SCAD, we have come to the conclusion that there are so many ways in which we can create a community link between the people of Chew Manga through the Converging World Group and the people of Tirunelveli through SCAD.

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