News from ASSEFA Desk – June 2022

News from ASSEFA

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………. June 2022 Issue No: 13


I am sorry for this delayed communication since it connects me with hundreds of ASSEFA friends. I deliberately kept me away last month from usual routine work so as to know where I am.

Marjorie Sykes, a Quaker and an admirer of Gandhi…

In nineteen sixties, as a young volunteer I participated in a short training course at Kothagiri, Nilgiri hills in Tamilnadu. The trainer was Sister Marjorie Sykes, a Quaker, an admirer of Gandhi. She moved down from England to India and became a disciple of Gandhi. Considering her health, Gandhi suggested her to establish an Ashram at Kothagiri, a hill resort. This Ashram later became home and school for the tribal population in Nilgris.

Two weeks ago I happened to be there and could not find out the location of the Ashram. Enquiring to locals became vain. An old man said that there were Tiled roofing buildings, down towards valley, we considered it as a sacred place. There are now skyline of buildings. But we don’t know who are the owners?.

Christ made me to take this risk….

In the evening, a young man, friend of Kumar met me. He is a Baduga by tribe, got university education and served in TATA company. He resigned the job and constructing a Tea factory for his community.

He raised loans from various sources but still he is at the half way. He is enthusiastic and confident. His steadfast faith to travel with his community for their betterment is commendable.

Mr. Santhosh, you are taking a high risk, I commented.

He said no. The Christ made me to take this risk.

We wish his mission to liberate his community by his new initiative be a success. His need is about Rs. 5 Million. It is too big for ASSEFA to be with him.

The following day, we met the Women groups, neatly dressed with smiling face they received us. The lack of material well being is not a hinder being happy and joyful.

In the evening I came back to the plains. Some stars are brighter even the clouds passing across the stars.

Too old to do any work…What to do?

It is usual to invite beneficiaries also to attend the review meetings. In one such meeting an old man raised a demand. It was a simple demand. Finding out a reasonable conclusion, took two sessions, but the solutions proposed didn’t satisfy him.

He stood up and said, “I am in ASSEFA Family for nearly thirty years. My wife was in women’s group and availed assistance to buy a cow. My children had been in ASSEFA schools. I was looking after a piece of land, raising fodder for the cow and growing vegetables for us.

Everything went well. Children got married and migrated to other villages. My wife died recently due to snake bit.
I sold the cow and its calf for funeral rituals of my wife. I am alone. In all practical purposes I am an orphan. I am too old to do any work”.

He wiped his tears and sat down.

His question was so simple and solutions are much complicated.

We deliberately postpone this issue for the next meeting but never came to an acceptable solution.

During Gandhi’s 150 celebrations Mr. Mahendran of Natham Milk Producers Union and Mrs. Subbulakshmi of Kariyapatti Sarvodaya Mutual Benefit Trust took it as challenge and supported widows and deserted women by providing pensions. They did it, having concern for the vulnerable. But in a short period of 6 months, the reserves in their respective organisations were dried up.

They realized that the sympathy and concern is not the answer. Adequate resources and managing it is an answer.

Security for Vulnerable…

Since such pathetic condition prevails among the unorganized sector in rural areas, we came up with two options to address this issue. 1) Food security to vulnerable and 2) Pension for the seniors who don’t have any other support.
The fruit bearing tropical trees, which start giving yield in 5/7 years, require Rs. 1500 per tree as investment and maintenance for 5 years. 25 trees will ensure an income of Rupees Hundred and thousand every year.

The other option for Milk Producers is earn to save for the pension (ESP). The producers save one rupee per litre, deposit the same with their association and arranging matching support by the dairy producer company. After five years the producer will get Rs. 1000/- per month provided their production, in total, is about 50,000 ltrs. If the production is more the pension will also be more accordingly.

The Natham Milk Producers association is planning to introduce it during this year.

The women headed daily wage earners find it difficult to make both ends meet. We initiate new proposal in four SMBTs under ‘TAKE NOW ….PAY LATER’ (TNPL). The value of essential food materials comes about Rs. 3000/month per family.

ASSEFA procures locally grown food materials and process them for distribution. ‘Local food for local population’ (LFLP). The four units of SMBTs have already identified four thousand families.

Each village will have one woman being as coordinator. The cushion fund about Rs. 2000/family is needed for procurement, processing and distribution.

Promoting a micro level sustainable community…

ASSEFA is proposing a Micro Local Initiative in collaboration with Karuna-shechen, a French organisation promoted by a Buddhist monk, Sri. Matthieu Ricard.

We selected 10 villages having 5000 family units. Engaging majority population for the betterment of the villages.

Situation assessment and Goal Establishment (SAGE) exercise is underway.

The broader outline is strengthening local governance, health care, life skill education, optimum use of local resources – land, water, livestock in addressing their priorities and environmental promotion. We are thankful for the visit of five member committed professionals, headed by Sri. Tarek Touble, from Karuna Shechen.

Changing the culture of people…

A family in Natham area hesitantly received me. They lived at the foot of the hill, grassing herd of cattle. How long your family lives here? I asked

I don’t know my great grandfather migrated in search of grass land and settled down here. Who support you?
The God and Goddess.

Who are they?
The mountain and land at the foot hill.

Are you happy?
No other way. We hope something will happen. When and How? We don’t know.

ASSEFA established 23 schools, built houses and supported to fulfil their other priorities. The culture and development are interlinked like twins.

It took thirty years to change of Goat/Sheep culture to Dairy culture in the Natham area. We started with providing cow to women groups collecting the milk, processing it at the factory established near Natham and marketing the surplus milk to nearby cities, Madurai, Trichy, Dindigal etc. The producers became the owner of the factory. It became a home centric occupation. Cash flow into this area is estimated about Rupees 450 million (Euros 5.6 million) every year.
We are taking up another endeavor in Virudhunagar to bring in Dairy culture. To start with heifer calves will be provided to the girl children so as to get used to take care of cow. We vividly remember Sri. Tim Broadhead, Mr. Paul Born and Inter Pares from Canada who are strengthening this action against dowry system. Tim Broadhead is a friend of ASSEFA and a renowned philosopher in Global Development – A Mentor to many seniors in ASSEFA.

Marketing the goods and aspiration of the people…

Ms. Esther, the dynamic spirit of Action Village India has come forward to support 100 girls during this year. If everything goes as per plan Dairy culture will emerge in fifteen years. Women in this area will practice a different culture which will be more congenial to their nature. ASSEFA has been marketing its philosophy for many years. Blended with philosophy, ASSEFA is now marketing the goods and aspiration of the people.

ASSEFA forms tribal groups in the Western Ghats and collecting their produces including organic coffee, spices, honey from the wild and eucalyptus oil. Mr. Franco Giordano, friends of ASSEFA Alessandria Group is assisting right from training to marketing.

Mr. Franco Giordano, formerly a railway employee, human right activist, embraced the philosophy of ASSEFA and assisting rural education in southern Tamil Nadu headed by Ms. Vasantha. The couple Franco and Rosanna are made for each other keep on visiting India every third year along with their dedicated team.

Voices with different tunes…

During my sojourn, I heard many voices with different tunes.
 Bringing all NOs together to fight for equality…..
A young man having university degree met me in a village. His voice was very strong. Sir, are we equal?
In what sense?

In all aspects.
What do you do now?
Asking the same question to youths.
What are their response?
Majority say, No.
What next in your mind?
I am bringing all ‘Nos’ together to fight for the equality.
Good luck, continue your journey.
Sorry sir, I don’t need your blessing.
He left me and proceeded towards west.

 The land is the mother of all living being…
In a rainy afternoon an old man wearing only loin cloth, covering his head with piece of cloth was intensely clearing the weeds. The goat in the shed looking at him waiting for its feed. The rain poured heavily, we stopped the vehicle on the road side.

I put a straight question to the man who came to greet me.
Why are you wetting?
He smiled and said..
Mother Earth is blessed with by Rain God. You see how the plants are joyfully dancing to the tune of Wind God. He went on saying “the land is the mother of all living being”. We have to care and protect our mother. He suggested to join him to be blessed by rain. I apologized and left.

 Sun and Moon are our companions…
A lady with her two daughters aged 15 and 18 met me. She is the helper in construction work for many years.
Do you have family?
Yes, 3 goats, 7 chicken and two daughters.

What about your husband?
I married to a mason. He was a drunker. My life was so miserable. Fifteen years ago on a week end, as usual, he started beating me for no reason and elder daughter tried to protect me. She was also beaten, we passively endured all the pain. He was tied and sat down. Holding his legs I wept and pleaded him “For the shake of our daughters give up the drinks or leave us alone”.

He left and never came back.
You don’t need a male companion?
She smiled and said
“Sun and Moon are our companions.”

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