Action Village India’s Founder-Advisor, Ivan Nutbrown’s Visit to Partners in India

During January 2024, my partner Jennie and I visited of all Action Village India’s south Indian partners, starting at Chennai with CRUSADE and visiting ASSEFA and Ekta Parishad,before departing from Madurai having met remarkable people I have known for at least 20 years as friends and colleagues.  We were met with generosity, kindness and warmth throughout which was so appreciated and humbling.

CRUSADE – People Living With Disabilities – Jothi Ramalingam

Jothi Ramalingam, the founder of CRUSADE, took us to their training centre at Pudupakkam for the belated 2022 AGM of Vallamai (the CRUSADE promoted Federation of People with Disabilities).

This involved food for all the hundred or so participants, honouring particular people living with disabilities, children’s performances of cautionary tales related to looking after the environment and then the dangers of alcohol. These were pupils from 2 schools that CRUSADE has helped repair and  then the finale was an amazing Bollywood dance performance by a one-legged dancer who had ‘rebuilt’ his life after an accident.

We followed that with a short interesting  and engaging meeting with CRUSADE’s Cluster Coordinators, health volunteers and other staff.  This included  some feedback on the recent AVI Partners Forum in Odisha from the three women who attended – Dr Haripriya (Doctor), Cluster Coordinator, Ruthmani, and Rekha. They were animated by their experiences and keen to keep in touch with other participants by WhatsApp.

ASSEFA – Women & children’s Health & Education Puducheri, Marakkanam & Villupuram – Dr Rani

We then visited the remarkable Dr Rani at the ASSEFA school on the East Coast Road that is her base for work in Marakkanam.  It was the important Pongal festival, so all schools and health programmes were closed. AVI has supported Dr Rani’s work in this coastal belt ever since the 2004 tsunami.

On the 2nd day she took us to the school/health centre that is her base in Gingee.  The school was closed but the headmistress met us and Dr Rani prepared lunch for us all during which we were presented with woolly hats  for our return to UK. These had been knitted by Dr Rani when she had the chance to sit down and relax. The previous day the school had been the venue for a half day women’s health training session attended by 156 women from surrounding villages.

ASSEFA Women’s Economic development – Thonugal (Kariapati block, Virudhunagar District)

We moved on to ASSEFA; they have constructed a market yard and well stocked supermarket on the roadside at Thonugal to give farmers access to wider markets. Their daily market was for produce produced by local farmers.

ASSEFA was AVI’s only partner for its first 5 years. 30 years on, some members support ASSEFA’s economic development work in Lathur Block in Kancheepuram District where for 20 years or so AVI enabled ASSEFA to pilot approaches to poverty reduction and women’s economic and social development through farming and dairy.

The learning from that earlier work can now be seen in the work with women in the Kariapati area.  Through its climate adaptation programme ASSEFA is promoting crop diversification.  That could be seen at the small centre we visited where millets were being grown as they take less water than rice.

There was also a Reverse Osmosis water purification plant and a milk cooler at the centre which stored surplus milk from local farmers from where ASSEFA collects it and takes it to their dairy processing plant.  We also visited  a ‘mini dairy’ farm; ASSEFA is encouraging farmers to keep 5 or more cows rather than 1 or 2 as income is proportionally higher and more evenly spread through the year.

On our 2nd day we went to see Mahendran (who has visited the UK through the now defunct WestDen led Rural Links project) in the Natham dairy plant, with Loganathan, Kumar, Chris Wilde and Loganathan’s French friend Tarek from Karuna.  Mahendran, the plant manager, was our guide round the campus with its production of milk and yoghurt. Our evening meal was with the lively Thonugal panchayat president who had ‘cleaned up’ the village pond so that people would not get sick from polluted water.

Photo: Ivan, Loganathan, Kumar, and Chris Wilde

Kumar, AVI’s main contact at ASSEFA enthused about the  Partners Forum and is keen on the possibility of ASSEFA working with other AVI partners on climate adaptation. He also mentioned that the following week he was due to go to Malaysia to deliver a paper on the ASSEFA model at a Malaysian NGO forum.

Ekta Parishad/CESCI – Rajagopal PV & Jill Carr Harris CESCI is Ekta’s base in south India. Both Jill and Rajagopal were there for our visit. Due to Pongal the only activity at the centre was an external CSO which had booked CESCI for a programme with teenage children of prisoners. We were asked to speak to them and over their first afternoon we were able to observe a remarkable transformation of the young people: from silent shy youngsters they became animated, interactive and relaxed.  As Rajagopal and Jill were there local activists dropped by and we had a very interesting time!

From CESCI our hosts were going to their home in Kerala and then to the Nepal border where Ekta Parishad was organising a march at the India/Nepal border for the opening of the World Social Forum in Nepal on 15 Feb.

Photo: Jennie, Jill, Ivan, Raj and other friends at Cesci

During our stay, there was some discussion on the possibility of ‘old’ Ekta Europe members and others about forming an Ekta support group and picking up Jai Jagat 2020 activities.  Back in 2002 foreigners, especially Europeans answered Rajaji’s call and formed Ekta Europe to support Ekta’s Jal Jangal & Jamin (Water Forest and Land) campaign.

That forum played a useful role with Ekta up to 2020 when it was subsumed into Jai Jagat 2020.  The situation in India now is difficult for CSOs and Raj wants friends to support and show solidarity with Ekta.  To move that forward, Rajagopal is coming to France, Germany and Switzerland in the first half of June.  They are not able to come to the UK at that time but are open to the idea of stopping off on their way back to India from Canada in the autumn.

Ivan
24 Feb 2024

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