Shaping lives via self-help

Written by Tashi Tobgyal | Updated: Feb 24 2008, 04:36am hrs
Padavedu, located in the Thiruvanamali district of Tamil Nadu is an exceptionally lush and tidy countryside. And here, between the Vanniya and the Malayali populace, the Srinivasan Services Trust (SST), a well-respected and recognised affiliate of the TVS group, is shaping lives for a better tomorrow. En route to Padavedu, the Santhavasal reserve forest is dotted with 140 hectares of tamarind, lime, amla trees besides quick growing fodder grass which the SST, along with the locals, worked on for three years. The aforestation effort is not only added to the green but is estimated to produce saleable forest products, gradually benefiting the locals while preservation and respect towards the environment is maintained.

Since 1996, when the SST was formed, the trust members at various levels and groups have tremendously transformed education, self employment and the surrounding. Notes K S Krishnan, a retired IFS officer who is now a consultant with the trust. Indeed, for me a lifelong dream of working independently on something that I loved has been fulfilled and I am passionate about it, he adds.

Krishnan, with his team of educated members tour the region coordinating issues that need redressal. Be it noting appeals for more constructions and repairs of home, speeding issuance of bank loans, or getting the bridge built on the Kamandala River in the Javadhu hills. Above everything, the most exemplary trait to be witnessed here is of how the trust has invoked a sense of confidence, pride and responsibility among the dwellers. More than investing money, the moral of self-help and sustenance is being instilled by the trust. Women are in the forefront in this, divided into numerous self-help groups and with support and care from the trust. They have excelled in adding upto Rs 2,000 into their monthly income. This comes from producing handicraft from banana and palm fibre, sheep rearing and jungle products. The Sri Koottamalaigo-palaswamy women self-help centre is an index of this venture.

At the same time, education is also being given impetus. A number of schools have been given reasonable financial and logistical support. The Santhavasal higher secondary school, started way back in the 60s, was recently upgraded by the trust providing better lavatories, boundaries and notably a chemistry lab. The Aangan-wadi at Kesavapuram is a quaint little space for younger children, where facilities for a small playground along with quality study materials, a biogas kitchen and a childrens bathroom have been added. Among the Malayali tribals, a number of students are already pursuing subjects like law and commerce. Even young members of the trust are engineers and anthropologists. Getting to work and live in my own region is the best employment I could have got, says Senthil Kumar, the engineer in charge of constructing homes for the tribals.

Higher up in the region, towards the village of Malsenbagai, the trust, along with the villagers, has already completed a two-kilometre jeep track from the nearest motorable road. SST has already evinced an interest in developing this area as a rural tourism spot and Rs 84 crore is awaited for the development of the region. The Vandil nature trail is already a part of it and is set in motion by the logistical support of the SST.

The SST also runs the only health centre in Padavedu. Even though set up for diagnosing minor ailments, the only doctor, Balamurugan, is also constantly on visits to the 33 tribal hamlets advising and training necessary health methods and practices. In the whole region, anaemia is severe, so we have started a programme called the Feast, whereby, every 15 days we organise a mass meal, where the tribals cook for themselves, says Balamurugan. We have also started to train some members in performing roles as health workers or guides he adds.

Through the region, one thing that is commendable is the degree of cleanliness the roads, backyards and the town square are remarkably neat and tidy. Garbage is rather invisible. If not whole, an impressive faction of it can be attributed to the Trusts Vermi Compost site. This site turns much of the garbage and waste into natural manure, which is again sold.

Indeed the SST has devised a unique and special way of improvisation, all through simple techniques and holistic approaches. Surely, they have affirmed money is real, but not without the mind. Padavedu isnt a metropolis, but surely it is a model the country ought to follow.