Tamil Nadu

Posted on October 12th, 2009 by

Here what the other half of the group was up to last week

Monday, October 5, 2009
Today I, along with seven other students and two Visthar staff members traveled to the state of Tamil Nadu, the most southern state in India. We left at 5:30 am and had a beautiful two and a half hour train ride. When we arrived in Tamil Nadu, we boarded a bus and drove up a long, windy road up a small mountain (3,500 feet above sea level) in the Yelagiri Hills to the Centre for Rural Health and Social Education (CRHSE) where we are staying for the week. It is here that we will start our next class, Globalization and the Ethics of Development.
In the Yelagiri Hills there are 14 main villages and some smaller hamlets that are home to many indigenous people. The indigenous people in India have been continuously forced into forests and mountains. This first occurred 3,000 years ago when the Aryans came from Central Asia and established the Maurian Empire, then when Persian Moguls invaded and destroyed the Maurian rule, and then again when the British Empire took over. The indigenous people now depend on agriculture, fruit, nuts, timber and meat to make their living. In the last 50 years especially there have been new settlers in this area and the forests are being depleted. This area has recently been named a tourist zone by the government, which has led to many indigenous people losing their land and livelihood.
Today we traveled to an indigenous village and our breath was taken away by how beautiful the landscape is! The mountains, the large trees, and the green everywhere is spectacular. We saw people working in their fields or rice paddies and saw many cows, sheep, chicken and pigs. We went to a home and talked with some women who lived there. While this family was by no means wealthy, they were better off than many of the people we met in the slums and in the Dalit villages in Koppal. They had a fairly large home that was clean and they had a television. They offered us sweets and refreshments. They told us that they were involved in a women’s self-help group that is generating a lot of income for them. Before the self-help group, they felt that they did not have enough to take care of their family through agriculture and now they are doing much better since they have a store. Their conditions were probably better than others in the village, however, since the mother was the leader of the self-help group.
When we returned to CRHSE we attended a festival where objects such as vehicles and knives are blessed. They ask the gods to ensure that these instruments, which can cause harm, do not end up hurting anyone.
It is absolutely beautiful here and we are excited for the week!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009
We started our morning bright and early at 6:30 for a walk around the village. We walked to a gorgeous park and around a beautiful lake surrounded by green hills. It was a refreshing way to start our day. Each morning after breakfast we have “personal study time” and we have been using this time to exchange books with each other. We are enjoying sharing some wonderful literature. The ones most popular in our circulation are currently Blue Like Jazz, This I Believe and Anthem and History of Love. It is a peaceful time of the day where we can be outside in nature and read. My favorite place to spend my “personal study time” is on top of the roof of the dining hall, where I can see the lake and the hills.
In class today we talked about globalization and how it is being used as a method for economic development and then we studied alternative livelihood options for the poor. We looked specifically at Self-Help Groups. SHGs are a group of 12-20 women who are given training in entrepreneurial or vocational skills, receive bank accounts and loan money to people in their villages at very low interest rates. This provides them with economic, as well as social and political empowerment. After learning about SHGs we walked around the village and saw different examples of them. We encountered women running saree shops and pharmacies, making and selling honey and incense, and running the gate, shops, and boats and the local park.
At night we had another short class on caste, had dinner and headed to bed.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

This morning we woke up early at 6:30 again and went on a trek into the woods. The woods were absolutely gorgeous, filled with eucalyptus trees and bushes full of flowers. We stopped by an old lake and got to sit and enjoy nature for a while. Spending your morning in nature is the perfect way to start your day! Getting up early is so worth it.
After breakfast and time for reading and journaling, we headed into the villages to do some case studies with women involved in SHGs and men involved in Youth Groups (the male equivalent to SHGs). We spent a couple hours talking to them and learned a lot. Their lives have improved so drastically since getting involved in these groups. One woman we talked to works in the park renting and rowing boats in the lake. She said that before the SHG she ate one meal a day and was beat by her husband. Now, she has enough money to send her two children to college and her husband now has respect for her and has stopped beating her. Everyone we have talked to seem to have much more stability than they did before the SHGs, and much of this is possible because of the tourists that come to the area.
After lunch, we started on an amazing adventure… we climbed a mountain! We started at about 2:00 in the hot, afternoon sun. It took us about an hour and a half to climb the mountain and it was so fun! We stopped along the way to climb boulders and periodically look at the view around us. The view from the top was absolutely amazing! We could see for forever, mountains and villages. On top of the mountain was a temple built into the rocks. We spent about an hour on top, just enjoying the view and feeding biscuits to the monkeys. It was a lot of fun and wiped us out for the rest of the night!

Thursday, October 8, 2009
Today we started our day going to an incense making facility. We talked with the women and found out how they make the incense step by step. We also got to ask them questions and find out how much the SHG’s has affected them for the better. One woman told her how her confidence had improved. She said before the SHG’s she didn’t even have the confidence to ride the bus to Bangalore. Now, she travels by herself, meets with people and is respected by people in the community.
In the afternoon we traveled to the village to paint a school building. We had a lot of fun singing, painting the walls, and painting each other! It was nice to have an opportunity to give back to the village that has been so welcoming toward us.
In the evening we went back to the village for a cultural exchange program. The men in the village did a tribal dance for us, and our own boys in our group got to join in! There was drumming, dancing, whistling and it was great entertainment. After they danced for us, we sang a few songs for them and Kim and Ben did a little swing dance after requests from the crowd for us to dance. After we were invited to a home for tea. We love tea!

Friday, October 9, 2009

We started our morning with a talk about “alternative medicine”. I use this term in quotes because what has recently been labeled alternative medicine has been the practice among the indigenous people in this area for centuries. The form of medicine that is practiced in Yelagiri Hills is called Siddha. It is reliant on nature, not technology, and anyone can practice it, so the practice of medicine does not rely on having doctors in the area. Siddha is preventative, and is more of a lifestyle than western medicine, which is mostly focused on curing ailments.
After learning about local medicinal practices, we traveled into the village and talked to a woman who practiced tribal medicine. She showed us lost of leaves and herbs and told us what each one was used for. This practice of medicine was passed down to her through her family.
After a wrap-up discussion about our amazing week in Tamil Nadu, we boarded the train and headed back to Bangalore. We were a little sad to leave the beauty of the mountains, but were excited to head to what now feels like another “home” to us.


One Comment

  1. Tracy murn says:

    wonderful info! Love you PatrickG. Work for school is done. Love, MOMmurntmm1@aol.com