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Lok Awaas Yatra Southern Region

by Bhairab Giri Goswami posted on 2010-12-21 17:58 last modified 2010-12-21 17:58
The fifth Yatra through the southern Region is being organised between 17th – 21st December 2010 covering Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Kerala. The Yatra large scale delivery of housing and habitat through local action. Ranging from proactive efforts of panchayat leaders, local groups as well as state machinery, the yatra includes experiences on the use of new and renewable energy sources for habitat and attempts to draw lessons from the linkage between habitat and livelihoods. The Yatra thus visits projects within the context of post -disaster rehabilitation as well as mainstream development context. It also visits centres promoting the development and commercialization of low energy and alternate construction technologies.

Kerala Trail

Posted by Bhairab Giri Goswami at 2011-01-06 15:55
Early today, we woke up despite the deep fatigue of last night’s dancing and singing. All of us were literally wrapped up into the bus and were driven out of Muthalamada. We did manage to take a group photo in our semi groggy states. The expedition was tremendous... a 250 kilometre drive with a planned visit in between.

We had breakfast on the way before reaching Palakkad town just as we hit the highway. A light decent breakfast and we continued for another few hours before a brainwave of tender coconut water hit some members of the group! Kerala just had torrential rains last week and most of the tender coconut would take another two weeks to come. But the brainwave just hit others in the group and the coconut fever was rising. The heat on the coastal route was quite high and people in the bus were nearly drenched. The first shop where we saw some coconuts outside, we stopped on the way and drank some coconut water and proceeded further.

Another hour and a half and we were all ready for lunch. We had strict directions to lunch at KTDC restaurants as the food over there were guaranteed to be good. At the next KTDC restaurant, we stopped to have lunch. It was a buffet vegetarian lunch and some of us ventured into uncharted territories of ‘Fish’. So far, all along the trip we were given only vegetarian food and some of us who were avidly looking forward to the sea food in Kerala were getting quite desperate. I must say that this lunch was the single most disastrous event in the history of our entire trip so far. Would you believe that the tourism department of Kerala would run restaurants whose staff had the same attitude as those in some of the government offices here? The lunch was ridiculously callous and a serious culinary disaster...

Speaking of disasters... we next headed out to a tsunami relief and rehabilitation resettlement colony in Karunagapally. I must say I have seen the best looking resettlement here. Exposed earth block exterior walls and concrete well drained streets welcomed our arrival here. The Panchayat president and a dashing young vice president joined our visit. The people soon gathered in larger numbers. During our interaction with the people they explained that they did not know many technical details about the house and yet narrated their problems with the houses in great detail. How the resettlement was into the same Panchayat and how the houses were far from the sea and how their livelihoods were affected in an adverse manner and how even the houses were made out of poor quality earth and the drainage within the bathrooms led to frequent water logging of the soak pits. I think there are three major problems that they have.

1. The people have been resettled from Alapad GP to, Klapana Panchayat without any formal understanding between the administrative departments.
2. The people are unhappy about not being involved in the decisions taken regarding the resettlement.
3. Finally, but above all, the people have been pampered too much after the tsunami and expect their lives to be run free of cost by the government. It was difficult for us to elicit any positive experiences from the people about their resettlement and neither had there been any effort taken by the people to alleviate any of the problems other than ask for free services.

It was sad to see that the resilience of the people was not enhanced with respect to any of the aspects related to rehabilitation or disaster.

The government had taken definite steps to augment the people through the Kudumbashree projects and women SHGs. Various enterprises of cloth and embroidery, coconut oil extraction and food processing had been set up with excellent market linkages. It was a blow below the belt when i heard the following quote from one of the people in the village.

“... we get very little money from fishing alone... it is not enough for even our basic needs! On an average, i get around 20,000 rupees and that is so less!!!”

I think this quote explains my deep resentment to what the rehabilitation processes has done to the tsunami affected people.

Well, as we delved further into the people’s social problems, the tempers were just flaring up at each question. The sad part of the matter was that the anger was being directed and Panchayat members who had come with us. We quickly decided to tour the village and analyse technical aspects of the houses. Diffusing the tempers for a while we also went to see the neighbouring mangrove forests which had been systematically been segregated with the help of the fisheries department for fish farming.

As it was getting dark, we made a quick exit and proceeded towards Trivandrum where we were supposed to spend the next two nights.

We all reached there tired and exhausted. The SEWA centre was quite a distance away from the city and up on a hill. A shoddy exposed brick building greeted us. What was waiting to amaze us was the brilliant archtechture and dorms in the landscape designed buildings on the other face of the hillock. I was amazed at the space efficiency of this beautiful building cutely nestled into the face of the hillock. My energies were rejuvenated after a light meal and an elaborate cold water bath... i really don’t know what to do... should I just crawl up in to my bed or should i just sit on the porch and soak in the beauty and purity of the air and surroundings?

I don’t know... I think I’ll balance the both. I’ll just take a stroll around and then come back and sleep off.... Goodnight.By the way, I have just come to know that our return tickets are all messed up. We have to make some major jugad to try and get ourselves back. Let me try pulling some strings here and there.
What an ironic end to the end that I had planned for today’s blog!

Kerala Trail

Posted by Bhairab Giri Goswami at 2011-01-06 15:52
The second day of the Lok Awaas Yatra of the southern region of the Kerala trail revealed to us an enhanced version of the first day’s exposure. We were woken up early by the peacocks in the beautiful training centre of Maitri. This centre is virtually right in the middle of nowhere! A stroll to the highest point in the centre which was a cliff face facing the high rising of the Western Ghats in the soft gentle sunlight kick-started the day through a very intense personal experience with nature.

A light breakfast and brief orientation of the day’s activities set us all on track and enthused to visit the places. We boarded the bus and were taken to the office of the Erimayur Gram Panchayat. We were welcomed by the President, vice president and around 10 ward members of the Gram Panchayat. There we were informed about how the community got together and decided that the situation regarding their drinking water supply. In this region, the people had experienced severe droughts due to which their drinking water had been affected. Even the government drinking water was not sufficient for most of the families. The community divide themselves into neighbourhood groups, drew out plans and estimates and contributed 15% of the total expenditure of the plans. There was a project at that time called the ‘Jal Nidhi’ supported by the World Bank which helped the government provide for the rest of the funds. This Gram Panchayat has collected over three and half crore rupees till date for this purpose and all the houses have safe drinking water owned and managed by the community. The sum of money that the community contributed for this purpose is the single largest amount that any community has contributed towards any development activity in the nation and is a record till this date. In addition to this unique project, the GP also implements the EMS housing Scheme in which houses of 1 lakh rupees each are built by the GP and provided free of cost to homeless persons. This GP also attempts to converge several schemes together.

Another interesting feature of this GP is that all the masonry, plumbing and the electrical work associated to the drinking water project was done by a task force of women who were trained for this purpose and are still functional to this day.

We had lunch with one of the SHGs, the treasurer of which is a yatri along with this trail. It was a traditional vegetarian lunch which recharged our batteries after out interaction with the GP members. Post lunch we interacted with the neighbourhood group that hosted us and understood the processes that were a part of this Jal Nidhi project. We also visited their well, bore well, centralised tank and saw their plumbing systems.

We soon proceeded to another Neighbourhood group in the same GP which had de-centralised ferrocement tanks constructed by women masons from the community. Here too we visited the well, bore well and the water distribution systems.

On an average each family in this Panchayat, irrespective of poor or rich, lower caste or upper caste contributed around Rs.2500 for their respective projects and till today pay a monthly sum of Rs.40 for the regular maintenance and have access to safe drinking water. There are stories in this village where a widow was not able to pay the required sum and the entire neighbourhood group pitched in to pay up for this family.

We then hurried and boarded the bus to reach a tribal village where a similar project had been undertaken. This village was on the banks of the catchment area of the nearby dam in Muthalamada. It would have been an even more wonderful drive an experience had we reached there before dark. We only had a brief interaction with members of the tribal group and saw that the women masons were trained here too and drinking water supply was ensured to all member houses in the village.

For all the talk about tribal village, there were a majority of ‘pucca’ houses with 2 or more bedrooms and attached toilet facilities! The only admitted source of income was through gathering mangoes when it was season from the more developed regions. I find this hard to believe! Mangoes ripen once in a year! And that one time income will suffice this plush a house is difficult for me to digest. Caste and class politics is possibly most visible in these areas. There is a single ‘kutcha’ house right in the middle of the village. Even among the tribal members, they are of a lower caste and hence they are the last to receive a ‘pucca’ house. Both Mohak and I shared a joke which proved to such a valuable thought later on...
“Is this the hungry and poor India?”
I guess it was to cut out the cynicism in us that Mr. Vinod arranged for a cultural performance of local folk musicians who came in with their families and instruments. The music was so intoxicating that even the most uptight persons were found dancing!!! – not just tapping their feet or rocking their heads.
By the end of the day we were pooped down dead tired and just crashed. We have a long day of travel ahead of us tomorrow!

Kerala Trail

Posted by Bhairab Giri Goswami at 2011-01-06 15:50
It is indeed a pleasure to be in a land that you call your ‘homeland’ for work. The ‘normal’ and mundane things while I lived and studied here as a young adult, suddenly turns out to be a gleeful wonderful experience. Coming from a place of exquisite architectural tastes (Delhi), the serenity of the green here is relieving.

On the flip side, I was looking for a rural set-up here and I surprisingly found none. Every few kilometres, there is a junction and there is a small township around it. If this was the definition of rural life in India, we would be far more than a developed country. It was interesting to note that despite the discussion of abject poverty and its eradication, there was very little evidence of its existence along any of the ways that we went so far. I am curious... where is all the work that people claim they do?

We reached the Socio-Economic Unit Foundation late last evening. Backend organisation kept me awake quite late but I slept in peace for about 4 hours. I was very kindly awoken by Mohak who finally (after listening to at least 4 sets of my alarms) decided that i was just sleeping through it all and not waking up to the alarms. We were introduced to some of the Yatris over a hurried breakfast. We were also told that it would be an ever-changing group with 11 permanent members.

We first went to the Kerala Institute of Local Administration (KILA). I think this place was chosen because it was government place and we were getting prepared to welcome the principal secretary into our midst. The ‘sarkari’ bureaucratic system was at its peak when we were not allowed to use an LCD screen to make a presentation because the person who switches it on was not there. All of these grievances was forced back when the Principal Secretary, Local Administration, Mr. Vijendran IAS arrived and took over the session. We were told about the basic concepts of self-governance as practiced in Kerala. It is a very successful model and the PRIs seem to be doing very well for themselves. The success of the Kerala Model of Self Governance lies not in the franchise model or in bureaucracy. The fact that all – village, block and district Panchayat administration has been flattened and crystal clear clarity about the role of each level of governance is central to this model. The clarity is not only in the roles, but also the fact that the administrative cadre of the government is directly linked up to the Local Self Government and are made accountable to the people directly has greatly helped this process. The government itself leverages substantial amount of funding and seeks models of convergence to various Civil Society and other public institutions.

After this the participants were formally introduced to the Lok Awaas Yatra concept and were charged with the responsibility of identifying and documenting good practices in each of the places that we were to go.
Then, we went to Wadakancherry. We were told on the way that the block of wadakancherry is one of the largest blocks in Thrissur District of Kerala. There, the Block Panchayat realised that due to extensive land filling of paddy fields, the local water table was depleting. Therefore, they decided to revive paddy agriculture in the block. But, since there was an acute scarcity of agricultural labour, (which was the original reason why people abandoned farming) they decided to form and regularise labour force. They started building an “Army for Total Food Security” in the Block. This army then became the Green Army Labour Bank. Due to scarcity of the scale of manual labour necessary to cultivate over 57,000 acres of land, they mechanised the labour and trained unskilled labourers to operate these machines.

The labourers are associated with a bank which has autonomous administration and is linked to the Gram Panchayat. They have fixed rates for each kind of activity and extent of land. Now, if a farmer has to do paddy farming and needs labour to assist this process, all he has to do is go to the nearest Panchayat official and state his needs. The labour force is arranged from the labour bank and the work is done.
In the past two years of its existence, the labour bank has trained and has at its disposal a cadre of 700 labourers. They have revived 57,000 acres of paddy which were fallow. There is safe drinking water available at each Panchayat. There is a plan to regularise the labourers to monthly wages and social security benefits.

I must say that i am impressed by the scale at which this success has been drawn. We are used to seeing small demonstrations of some models and then we are running behind the government to replicate it. Here, the converse has happened. The government has demonstrated a model which is not only innovative but is also feasible at large scale! Somehow, I am afraid it will take a long time before it can find its way into public policy.

Lunch was a vegetarian delight!

Post lunch we went back to the SEUF campus where we visited JEEWOMS.
The Jeevapoorna Women Masons Society was started under the Socio Economic Unit Foundation (SEUF) in 1989 to meet the shortage of skilled masons for construction work and reduce the disparity between the wages of men and women in the sector. It trains and equips women to become skilled masons and build houses.

Most of the women started as helpers to male masons. It was only when JEEWOMS intervened - with the aim of training those women who had an interest in learning a higher order of construction work to earn better livelihoods - did the women start training in masonry. They were initially trained in latrine construction, and slowly graduated to making cement blocks and house construction. Today, however, the demand for women masons in Kerala has increased considerably.

In the beginning, the work that the women were doing under JEEWOMS was initially allocated to the society by the Panchayat and the government. The society in turn distributed the work amongst the women and they handled the work themselves.

Over the years, 1300 women have been trained in Thrissur district in cement block-making, pre-fabricated door and window frames, paving tiles and flower pots. Some of these trained women went to Tsunami rehabilitation sites of Tamil Nadu to train the local women in those areas in house construction, as the Tamil Nadu government specifically requested for these women masons as trainers.

The life stories of each of these women are inspiring stories of change and achievement.
At the end of the day we left Thrissur and headed out to the Maithri campus in Palakkad. We were psyched out sufficiently about the place being remote and forested and indeed it was scary from the moment we left the main road.
A scrumptious dinner literally lights out of all of us. We were all too exhausted to carry out any further explorations.

Kerala Trail

Posted by Bhairab Giri Goswami at 2011-01-06 15:47
The TN team finally came to Trivandrum at 4 am. I went with the drivers to the city centre to collect them because the route from there was too confusing to explain to a totally non-malayalam speaking crew. When they eventually reached the SEWA centre, it was 5am. I have effectively spent the entire night awake. After introducing the members to the living arrangements, it was 7 and the programme was set to begin from 8.30am. Final arrangements were underway and we got news that a train had derailed on the route that some key members were taking to come. They would join us only by 11:30am. We decided to begin the programme by 9am itself as the guests were expected then. Mr. Chandran, and Mr. Satheesh, local Panchayat members graced the occasion. Mr. CP John, ex member of the planning board in Kerala joined too in some time.

Mona madam was full swing facilitating the discussions between the different trails inside the beautiful conference room. Outside, the scene was a fiasco! Some people had tickets, some did not! Finally we had to pack off three members from the team including both editors and Akash. Some tickets were getting confirmed and still left us all in a big mess!!!

Meanwhile inside, the videos were about to begin when we realised there is no way to connect the laptop to the amplifier systems. So we eventually had to hold microphones on top of the laptop to increase audibility.
Mr. CP John spoke about the concept of a homestead as opposed to the concept of a house, the former of which was practiced by the housing schemes in Kerala. It was an interesting learning experience for all of us.

All of the participants shared their take home messages. I was busy designing a feedback form - graffiti style at the back of the hall. Soon, the sessions came to an end, the participants were asked to leave their feedback and join the lunch. Another sumptuous lunch and the participants soon departed for their respective homes in vehicles that had come from there. The departure was a sad occasion for many people as the participants had grown close together as a team during the entire process. I hope this will facilitate greater consorted action among all of them for the greater common good.

The day did not end there... our tickets were still in a bad shape. We have to spend the entire night there and catch an early morning train tomorrow from a satellite station at least 35 kilometres away from where we stay. We decided to go out to the city to do some more shopping and have a good meal outside with fish. We hired another bus and told them of our plans. They took us for shopping and stopped the perfect places. They also took us to a decent restaurant which served the most exquisite fish. I still am on a high after all that fish and crabs! And at such cheap rates!!! I think that was a fitting end to the 5-day long Yatra that has kept all of us on tenterhooks since the very beginning.

Some more tickets have been confirmed and I think now all of us can board the train safely now. Some of us will have to travel for two full days and more on sleeper class tickets which would otherwise be alright had it not been so cold in the north! Anyway all this can wait for tomorrow to settle. And a long trip to go.... I desperately need some good rest. Goodnight folks!

Kerala Trail

Posted by Bhairab Giri Goswami at 2011-01-06 15:43
For the first time since this trip stared, we woke up refreshed by a good night’s rest. The best part of it all was when we woke up in the morning to the gentle morning light streaming in through the jails in the wall of dormitory. It is such a pleasure to wake up when you feel well rested and know that you have a little time to laze around on your bed. I could smell Appukuttan Chettan drink his black coffee on the bunk next to mine. I think it was a perfect morning. I got up, freshened up and soon got to the mess hall for my own coffee. I was so allured by the outdoors that I took my coffee and walked barefoot out into the farm that they had. All this bliss kick started my day.
The first visit was the Laurie Baker Centre for Habitat Studies. The centre was the next door campus and was practically an extension of the early morning bliss at the SEWA centre. I am a Psychiatric Social Worker by training and spent the past two years of my life working behind the dingy walls of a mental hospital. To know that Keith, the owner of the property, had initially got this made by Baker Sahib to help rehabilitate chronically mentally ill persons, it touched my heart to see the efforts these people had taken for this purpose. Nevertheless, it also burdens my heart to know that not enough people had made use of the facilities of the centre. Nevertheless, the centre is put to good use as a training facility for low-cost based habitat work. I think this is the best tribute to the master architect - Mr. Laurie Baker to have some of his last buildings dedicated to continuing the legacy of his work. It was a pity we had to leave in such a hurry from there.
We went to see the slum rehabilitation centres in Karimadom. This was the largest slum in Kerala with a total strength of 560 households. This number, in my opinion, is not comparable to the number of families in any of the other states of India and further, the quality of the slums is in no way comparable to any other slum in India. Nevertheless, the exposed brick pyramidal buildings were an innovative way to help resettlement. The neighbouring compressed cement block building built by the PWD stands in stark contrast to the brilliant new buildings. I think that the most sensitive part of these new buildings was the respect that it gives for the open spaces available to each residential block. Let me explain what i mean. Each slum dwelling would have a small open space in front or in the back of it which the people use to dry their clothes or store currently irrelevant materials or alternate livelihoods. While attempting to resettle slum dwellers in to multi-storeyed buildings is that this space is reduced to a small balcony or worse, access to the terrace. In this pyramidal structure the open space is conserved by a wide, large terrace available to each apartment. It was disappointing to see that the government rules did not approve of cost effective technologies such as rat trap masonry for public housing and the beautiful buildings were made spending so much energy and money while there were cheaper and more energy efficient technologies.
After this visit, we went to the International Institute of Social Entrepreneurs. This was a school for persons with visual challenges. This complex set of buildings, on the banks of the backwaters was not only a visual treat but a story of inspiration by itself. Mr. P.B. Sajan, one of Laurie Baker’s disciples and founder director of COSTFORD designed these buildings made out of mud mortar alone. This was not just a visual treat but oozed with splendour around every nook and cranny of the campus. I find it difficult to believe that this entire campus was built on low cost models using locally available materials. I find it strange that the architecture of the building be so complex considering the inhabitants are blind. The explanation for that, I thought, was even more ridiculous. The explanation was like this, “the outside world is very complex and hard to get around. It is better to get all that exposure here and get used to the complexities outside”. While some may agree philosophically, I think it was ridiculous to throw persons with special needs into the deep end of things... especially in a training venue! Nevertheless, i am impressed b y the building and would love to come for a vacation or a long term training programme here.
That was the last ‘visit’ of our Yatra. We then headed out to the Shankhumukham beach. The time out there was brilliant as we were there to witness the sunset at the western coast of India! Beautiful!!! I don’t want to leave this place....
Nevertheless, we scurried back to the vehicle to get to do some shopping. Being a local and male among other female non-locals can be a pain especially if you share my feelings towards shopping!
Another day gone, we reached back to SEWA. Tomorrow is the big day. The Andhra team had already come. The tamil nadu team is on the way and is hopelessly delayed. I don’t know whether they should travel so much and come to attend a programme that starts at 8 30 in the morning! I’m going to stay up awake and wait till they come... till then, let me go and set up some of the logistics...
Goodnight world... I don’t think there will be any sleep for me tonight!

Kerala Trail Day1

Posted by Bhairab Giri Goswami at 2010-12-21 17:57
It is indeed a pleasure to be in a land that you call your ‘homeland’ for work. The ‘normal’ and mundane things while I lived and studied here as a young adult, suddenly turns out to be a gleeful wonderful experience. Coming from a place of exquisite architectural tastes (Delhi), the serenity of the green here is relieving.

On the flip side, I was looking for a rural set-up here and I surprisingly found none. Every few kilometres, there is a junction and there is a small township around it. If this was the definition of rural life in India, we would be far more than a developed country. It was interesting to note that despite the discussion of abject poverty and its eradication, there was very little evidence of its existence along any of the ways that we went so far. I am curious... where is all the work that people claim they do?

We reached the Socio-Economic Unit Foundation late last evening. Backend organisation kept me awake quite late but I slept in peace for about 4 hours. I was very kindly awoken by Mohak who finally (after listening to at least 4 sets of my alarms) decided that i was just sleeping through it all and not waking up to the alarms. We were introduced to some of the Yatris over a hurried breakfast. We were also told that it would be an ever-changing group with 11 permanent members.

We first went to the Kerala Institute of Local Administration (KILA). I think this place was chosen because it was government place and we were getting prepared to welcome the principal secretary into our midst. The ‘sarkari’ bureaucratic system was at its peak when we were not allowed to use an LCD screen to make a presentation because the person who switches it on was not there. All of these grievances was forced back when the Principal Secretary, Local Administration, Mr. Vijendran IAS arrived and took over the session. We were told about the basic concepts of self-governance as practiced in Kerala. It is a very successful model and the PRIs seem to be doing very well for themselves. The success of the Kerala Model of Self Governance lies not in the franchise model or in bureaucracy. The fact that all – village, block and district Panchayat administration has been flattened and crystal clear clarity about the role of each level of governance is central to this model. The clarity is not only in the roles, but also the fact that the administrative cadre of the government is directly linked up to the Local Self Government and are made accountable to the people directly has greatly helped this process. The government itself leverages substantial amount of funding and seeks models of convergence to various Civil Society and other public institutions.

After this the participants were formally introduced to the Lok Awaas Yatra concept and were charged with the responsibility of identifying and documenting good practices in each of the places that we were to go.

Then, we went to Wadakancherry. We were told on the way that the block of wadakancherry is one of the largest blocks in Thrissur District of Kerala. There, the Block Panchayat realised that due to extensive land filling of paddy fields, the local water table was depleting. Therefore, they decided to revive paddy agriculture in the block. But, since there was an acute scarcity of agricultural labour, (which was the original reason why people abandoned farming) they decided to form and regularise labour force. They started building an “Army for Total Food Security” in the Block. This army then became the Green Army Labour Bank. Due to scarcity of the scale of manual labour necessary to cultivate over 57,000 acres of land, they mechanised the labour and trained unskilled labourers to operate these machines.

The labourers are associated with a bank which has autonomous administration and is linked to the Gram Panchayat. They have fixed rates for each kind of activity and extent of land. Now, if a farmer has to do paddy farming and needs labour to assist this process, all he has to do is go to the nearest Panchayat official and state his needs. The labour force is arranged from the labour bank and the work is done.

In the past two years of its existence, the labour bank has trained and has at its disposal a cadre of 700 labourers. They have revived 57,000 acres of paddy which were fallow. There is safe drinking water available at each Panchayat. There is a plan to regularise the labourers to monthly wages and social security benefits.

I must say that i am impressed by the scale at which this success has been drawn. We are used to seeing small demonstrations of some models and then we are running behind the government to replicate it. Here, the converse has happened. The government has demonstrated a model which is not only innovative but is also feasible at large scale! Somehow, I am afraid it will take a long time before it can find its way into public policy.

Lunch was a vegetarian delight!

Post lunch we went back to the SEUF campus where we visited JEEWOMS.

The Jeevapoorna Women Masons Society was started under the Socio Economic Unit Foundation (SEUF) in 1989 to meet the shortage of skilled masons for construction work and reduce the disparity between the wages of men and women in the sector. It trains and equips women to become skilled masons and build houses.

Most of the women started as helpers to male masons. It was only when JEEWOMS intervened - with the aim of training those women who had an interest in learning a higher order of construction work to earn better livelihoods - did the women start training in masonry. They were initially trained in latrine construction, and slowly graduated to making cement blocks and house construction. Today, however, the demand for women masons in Kerala has increased considerably.
In the beginning, the work that the women were doing under JEEWOMS was initially allocated to the society by the Panchayat and the government. The society in turn distributed the work amongst the women and they handled the work themselves.

Over the years, 1300 women have been trained in Thrissur district in cement block-making, pre-fabricated door and window frames, paving tiles and flower pots. Some of these trained women went to Tsunami rehabilitation sites of Tamil Nadu to train the local women in those areas in house construction, as the Tamil Nadu government specifically requested for these women masons as trainers.

The life stories of each of these women are inspiring stories of change and achievement.

At the end of the day we left Thrissur and headed out to the Maithri campus in Palakkad. We were psyched out sufficiently about the place being remote and forested and indeed it was scary from the moment we left the main road.
A scrumptious dinner literally lights out of all of us. We were all too exhausted to carry out any further explorations.

Kerala Trail-Day1

Posted by Bhairab Giri Goswami at 2010-12-21 17:55
Kerala. India’s latest tourist hotspot does not disappoint. Although we’re not here as tourists, we don’t need to ‘visit’ places to experience its beauty. It’s all around us, any square inch of land left unpaved is green. There’s a jungle in every house it seems. I have to say, the place is hot. Unfortunately, this time I’m not talking about beauty. It really is hot down here! And humid. The sudden move from the numbing cold of Delhi to this hot and sticky weathers has not been too well received, and the weather is a tad bit annoying.

In God’s Own Country, even the water is medicinal, slightly warm and coloured a pale pink and you realise you will not find plain water around, unless it’s bottled. You find that the ‘South Indian’ that you so loved at Sagar Ratna in Delhi, was really a rather Northernised version of South Indian food, and cannot, in any way whatsoever, compare to the original. Nor can eating it in a thali in a restaurant compare to sitting on the floor, eating food with your hands off a banana leaf.

The only problem we faced, which is a rather severe problem, and will continue to be for the remainder of the trip, is language. Few local people know English well enough to converse and most conversations happen in Malyalam. So every time you need to ask a question or get some information you need to look for some guy who can act as translator, which in our case mostly ends up being Sudeep. Even when you do find someone to translate, the conversation becomes too formal and mechanical.

Despite all this, we had an interesting day in Thrissur. Reached the Socio-Economic Unit Foundation late last evening and had a simple dinner. Slept well and had an early start today. We were introduced to some of the Yatris over breakfast and were told that it would be an ever-changing group with a few permanent members.
We first went to the Kerala Institute of Local Administration (KILA) where we were introduced to the basic concept of habitat and self-governance as practiced in Kerala by the Principal Secretary, Local Administration. It is a very successful model and the PRIs seem to be doing very well for themselves, and for the janta. There is not a hierarchy as we move through the different levels from Gram Panchayat to Block Panchayat to Zila Panchayat, but more of an inter-linked network. Scope of work to be done by each is well-defined and each body has complete autonomy over the funding and implementation of its projects. The government leverages substantial amount of funding to these institutions and they are making good use of it.

We visited the Wadakancherry Labour Bank, an interesting initiative (called GALASA) by the Block Panchayat, for reducing unemployment and reviving the paddy fields of Kerala. These fields were lying fallow because interest in this practice had waned due to dwindling profits and scarcity of labour. By training marginal farmers and unskilled labourers and introducing mechanization of the entire farming process, it became possible to revive cultivation in these lands, while in fact increasing the productivity of the land. Labourers who were once unemployed found employment at decent wages, and in the long run this would ensure food security for the state and also help avoid the environmental losses associated with losing fertile land. The funds for this project were initially provided by the Panchayat and were later leveraged through a variety of other local institutions.

We were then taken to the Block Office of Wadakancherry where we were (in a lot of detail) told about the tremendous success of this particular Bock Panchayat as compared to any Panchayat all over Kerala, or even the country for that matter. GALASA has been one of their most successful interventions and they hope to be able to spread the concept across other areas as well. The actual workings of the self-governance system, as at the practical level were also discussed.

After the meeting we were taken for a traditional Kerala-style lunch which was very interesting and quite tasty. Almost all the people from Delhi were trying it for the first time, and everyone was very impressed with the preparation.
Post lunch, we went back to the SEUF campus where we met women masons from JEEWOMS – Jeevapurna Women Masons’ Society. At present, they were engaged in building material production rather than actual masonry/construction work, but it was encouraging to see an all-women team run the enterprise so effectively. It has resulted in significant results in the form of alleviation of their socio-economic and technical capabilities.

Finally we left from Thrissur for the Maithri campus in Palakkad. A short-drive which took a long time, thanks to the jammed Kerala ‘highways’, brought us to the campus, in the heart of the beautiful jungles (beauty most of which I couldn’t make out because it was dark, but beauty that I’m sure was there nonetheless). Dinner again was very simple and delicious; the building is small but quite nice.

We are told that venturing out during the night without any light could result in interesting encounters with snakes and a variety of other animals and the morning call here is delivered by peacocks. Decided not take chances with the former and wait till morning for verification of the latter. How it turns out, morning will tell. Sure seems like an interesting day ahead. Updates tomorrow.

Tamilnadu Trail : Day2

Posted by Bhairab Giri Goswami at 2010-12-21 17:53
Bang…goes my alarm at 6:15 A.M. and am up on my feet. After we had our breakfast we straightway shoot for Karaikkal. A village called Kotaicherrymudu. It’s a long journey journey of three hours.
Once there we saw initiatives taken for Reconstruction of Habitat by Development Alternative. They have worked not providing just the houses for the people dislocated due to Tsunami, but also developed sustainable livelihood for them.
Then we visited the nearby beach there. Me, Thiru and Praveen we opened and stretched our bodies by some running.
We left for Trichirapalli at 4:30 which is a longer journey of 6 hours. Reached Trichirapalli at 10 P.M. and are very tired. Going to sleep.
GoodNight and Goodluck –
Aakash Goliyan

Tamilnadu Trail

Posted by Bhairab Giri Goswami at 2010-12-21 17:52
Got up at 6:30 after a not so good night’s sleep, because I was not carrying any sheets with me and it was cold at night due to the rains. But the morning was fresh and it was drizzling again. We set up ourselves for the day’ task. We met Mr. Sam Peters of Habitat for Humanities, had our breakfast and gathered in Village Panchayat. There was an introduction by Elango Ji how, the Kutumbhkkam Panchayat which is a prospering, developing and trusted Panchayat today, He told us how he left his job as a Chemical Engineer and came back to his village in 1994. Since then he has been working for the developmentTuesday of his village and people as Panchayat President. Since he himself is from a Dalit Family and has seen the caste system prevailing for so many years, so he understood the problems of Village completely. He has worked in providing “Pucca House “ to almost every villager and has been also successful in removing the caste systems from his village. Today almost everybody lives in harmony and “Pucca house”. All the houses were mud block houses with blocks build by people themselves.The drainage and sewage system was built using waste Granite Tiles. He also enlightened us how every development process is approved and applied with the consent of the Gram Sabha i.e. involvement of local people.
We then visited the Trust for Village Self Governance campus. We saw how employment is provided to women there through setting up of Micro-industries. We also saw some samples of Pre-cast Toilets-cum-Bathrooms made of Ferrocemet Panels. All in all this was a very good example of institution based local development. The most important charecterisric of development of this village was that all the development was very eco-friendly and nowhere environmental non-friendly technologies were being used.

Next we left for Villupuram where Habitat For humanity has been working for many years with local Self Help group Organization ‘Kalvi Kendra’. After a brief introduction and lunch we left for the field visit in the village of kondampatti,Pudducherry. It’s a small village which every 2 years gets floods and all the houses in the village are washed away. We were led there by Mr. Sam and Mr. Jagdish to the houses which they have built to prevent from floods. These were houses that were built on a high plinth to prevent the flood waters from coming in. In addition there was an external staircase attached to every house to be used in case of emergency. For further emergency there was the Rescue Centre which can be used as shelter in case of floods. This Rescue centre also acted as the Community cum Resource cum Training centre. Almost all the Self Help groups in the Village were run by women and they were responsible for every development.
In the end it was a little chit-chat session with local people who were almost all women who shared with us how they formed these self-help groups and what role Kalvi Kendra played in the development of the village.
All in all it was tiring and resourceful day for us. As all this were not enough our bus got stuck in mud while leaving the village. It took us 12-15 minds and 1 hour to get of that situation and come back to our resting place. Now, after dinner and the tiresome day I will have a good night’s sleep.

ShubhRatri.

- Aakash goliyan

Tamilnadu Trail-Day1

Posted by Bhairab Giri Goswami at 2010-12-21 17:50
Visit to Kuthambakkam

The first village of the Lok Awas Yatra was to Kuthambakkam, a dalit dominated populated village which is 30 km away from Chennai towards Bangalore. The village is peculiar in the sense that the whole village development revolves around the strength of Panchayat system. Mr.Elango who is a practical gandhian, took charge of village president post from the year 1996 till 2006. We are totally amazed by the changes that he has made in that village in these 10 years which is continuing even today though he is not the current president of the Panchayat. He being a chemical engineer came back to his village to transform it to what it is today after throwing away comfortable and lucrative scientist post in Center for scientific & industrial research (CSIR). The village has been transformed to a model village for the whole country, which was notorious for illicit arrack and communal violence 15 years before.

Though the village has been a pioneer in so many arenas of a human life, the housing part in that village holds a special significance. Mr.Elango conceptualised the concept of “Samathuvapuram” (Habitat of equananimity) much before the recognition of the importance by the state government of Tamilnadu. The then chief minister scaled up Mr.Elango’s concept of “Samathuvapuram” throughout the state as a state government scheme. Samathuvapuram is a residential area consisting ‘twin houses’ separated by a single wall where two different caste people live together in harmony. This has helped the villagers to understand the sensitiveness of other caste people and has been instrumental in mitigating communal clashes between castes. Now, after 15 years of hard work and persistence, Kuthambakkam stands proudly as a single matured village devoid of communal violence. The core success factor in the Samathuvapuram concept is people were involved in building their own houses. Mr.Elango who is from the same village has very deep understanding of behavioural aspects of people and their needs.

While building Samathuvapuram, Mr.Elango encouraged people contribute their share in the form of labour. So many families who cannot afford to contribute their share in monetary terms worked in groups to build houses for the group. For example, 4 families will come together and work together making ‘low cost mud block’ to build 4 houses. Some families even cemented their own building other than making compressed mud blocks.

We visited TVSG (Trust for self governance) which is run by Mr.Elango to sustain the livelihood activities that were created during his regime. This trust model takes care of people and their livelihoods irrespective of who is holding the president post. The trust building itself is constructed with ‘compressed mud block’ which welcomed us to the livelihood campus of Kuthambakkam villagers. Mr.Elango presented in detail on his projects, people, Panchayat academy, community participation and housing initiatives. We left Kuthambakkam after watching a beautiful 8 minute professional video about Kuthambakkam and after going around TVSG where people were working. TVSG and the village looked very vibrant and we all had a great of starting Lok Awas Yatra in this fashion. This visit set the tone of the yatra with very high standard of expectation.

Visit to Vizhupuram

We visited Kongambattu pachatyat at Kandamangalam area of Vizhupuram district on the same day after visiting Kuthambakkam. Habitat for humanity with the help of ‘Kalvi kendra’ provided us traditional Taminadu lunch before we started our journey to this village. People of this village greeted us warmly with their kids. Ms.Lakshmi, the Panchayat president took us to a home which was built with the help of Kalvi Kendra. There were 75 such houses (measuring about 250 sq.ft) which stood identical. These houses were built for the people who live in low lying areas and are seasonally vulnerable to the floods. We were happily taken around by the cheerful kids who said they awaited our visit from the morning. After having a loom at the houses we went to the community hall. On the way we interacted with farmers and other villagers. When we asked about the panchayat president and Panchayat activities, people said Ms.Lakshmi took much effort in helping the villagers get these houses though they expect lot more development in the village.

We visited the community hall where 30 women greeted us. We started our discussion in the community hall regarding the housing project. First the yatris introduced themselves, followed by a short talk on the housing project by Kalvi Kendra. Then, Ms.Lakshmi talked in detail about how Kalvi Kendra helped them form self help groups among the women though the women were very reluctant initially. She also explained about the economic process of the women groups, difficulties they faced when they started the project and the way they overcame all the odds. The yatris asked so many questions which were answered by Ms.Lakshmi with patience and enthusiasm.

She answered questions on the default rate of the women, how they overcome such issues, the pro-activeness that is needed to execute people projects especially when she represents a political party, issues related to allotment of houses, categorisation of beneficiaries and her experience as a whole being a successful women dalit panchayat leader. The discussion ended with a thinking of attaining self sufficiency in that Panchayat and how this success can be taken forward and further to other people who are yet to be taken care of.

Accidentally we had ‘extra time’ for interacting with the kids informally when our vehicles got stuck in the mud while coming back from the village. That was a nice discussion with the kids regarding their future aspirations, notions and perspectives on self image and dignity in society. Surprisingly many kids interacted well in English and unanimously promised us that they will come back to their own village and do good for the upliftment of the village even after becoming future professionals. The villagers helped us to get our van out of the mud with their farm tractor. We said thanks and goodbye to the villagers and kids to call it a good 1st day of Lok Awas Yatra.

Visit to Karaikkal

We started our second day with a presentation on ‘Habitat for humanity’ in Vizhupuram. After the presentation we travelled towards Karaikkal which is 140 kms away from Vizhupuram. Our brief visit to Karaikkal was very efficient and refreshing (Since it was very close to the coast line). Yet another unique experience! Here the houses were built for the victims of Tsunami with the help of “Development alternatives’. We visited on of the houses built to learn the concepts used in building the houses. Two of them are Rat trap method and curvy design of roads with houses on either side. While the ‘Rat trap method’ reduces the cost of the housing with additional benefits of better insulated housing for all weathers, the curvilinear roads were deliberately designed to avoid ‘straight sweep’ by wind and floods. The community were involved in the design of their houses.

One of the women was narrating how devastating Tsunami was and how animated those few days of Tsunami aftermath were. She appreciated the government for providing relief measures effectively. people travelled as far as 25 kms from their place fearing Tsunami and made ‘makeshift tents’ in the subsequent days till these buildings were built. The local NGOs have given training for making low cost fly-ash bricks, repair works and construction. A separate MoU was made with NLC (Neyveli lignite corporation) for purchasing their fly ash free of cost and using that in making mud blocks. The land for these 909 houses was procured by the government and the housing came free of cost to the people. People were given livelihood support too by payment of wages for their work in constructing the houses.

We spent little time on the beach which was 100 meters away from the housing and wet our foot. While we were calmly enjoying the sea and the waves, we were wondering how it would have been for the fishermen community who were born and brought up on the very same coast when they were washed away by the very same waves. We left the place with mixed feelings when the waves were mixing the sea water with the black sand of the coast.

By Yatri - Thirumalai
     
 
 
 
     
 
 
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