Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Another days training in Mettupalayam

Much of the work of IRDT happens without fuss. Today our social worker Gomathy has been running a days training workshop for 75 self help group (Sanhgam) members. This has been sponsored by the NABARD Bank, a government bank which sponsors agricultural and rural development training. The women have learnt about administration, basic accountancy, group dynamics and leadership. This training will be disseminated to other group members, meaning that many more will benefit.

Sanghams are vital for both economic and social development and are a powerful method of bringing women together and promoting social cohesion.

Friday, 14 November 2008

UK News

Friends of Mettupalayam not only raise funds to support rural development work in Tamil Nadu, South India, we also work in our local community helping to promote understanding and build links. This is illustrated by the work we have recently been doing with the Forest School in Knaresborough. This is a school for children with special learning needs, and following an initial contact, we have helped a Young Enterprise Group to design and implement a small business, packing and selling our tribal necklaces and bracelets to raise funds. We have also been into two other classes with our powerpoint presentation about life for a child in our village.
This is only one example from many of how we are able to tell a real story to children who sometimes have little initial understanding of life in a developing country. So often we are amazed at how the children's imagination is stimulated and the quality of the questions that we are asked.

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Helping hand

This is Anusuya, a 14 year old schoolgirl who lives near Mettupalayam. About 3 years ago, she had a cycle accident, and had to have her hand amputated. IRDT have paid for her to travel to APD in Bangalore to have an artificial hand fitted. This has cost some 4000 rupees (about £50), we have paid 1500 rupees (about £19) with APD paying the remainder.

Our cooperation with APD makes a very significant contribution to the amount of help we can give to the 530+ disabled adults and children in our two project areas. We are also very grateful to all our UK supporters whose donations allow us to expand this work. We are planning a major expansion in our disability project in 2009 and are already training extra physiotherapists, selecting suitable girls from among the villagers.

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Turning waste into wipes

It is impractical to inform our supporters of the many small enterprises that we organise through our 150 or so womens self help groups (sanghams). However, having been part of the negotiations last year in Kancheepuram, I was delighted to have received this picture of one of the groups with some cotton waste processing machines. The groups have entered into a contract to receive cotton waste from a manufacturer, and turn it into useful cotton cloths for resale. The machines cost 32000 rupees (c£400) which the women borrow on a special, low interest scheme, repaying at a rate of 50 rupees/day. Depending upon their effort, each woman can then earn a minimum net 150 rupees/day- much more than the daily agricultural labourers rate they receive. The Indian Bank have paid for the womens training and the scheme is sponsored by the District Development Agency, enabling the machines to be bought at cost price.
In addition to the income, this scheme also empowers the women and increases their status and self esteem.

Saturday, 11 October 2008

Old age peoples day 8th October

In Mettupalayam and in Bedale, old people share a special meal and celebrate their lives. Thanks to the owners of The Millings Residential Home in Bedale, 150 elderly people in Mettupalayam are presented with a new set of clothes and enjoy a special meal together. In Bedale, the residents of The Millings celebrate with an Indian style meal of chicken curry, poppodums and pickles and special Indian sweets, followed by a slide show talk about the similarities and differences in their lives. The whole world over, we recognise the contribution that our parents, and grandparents have made, and continue to make in enriching and enhancing the lives that we lead.

Thursday, 2 October 2008

Teacher training

This current academic year, which started in India on the 1st June, we have 5 new teachers at our Mettupalayam School. I am delighted that we currently have 3 male teachers, as often in the past we have mainly employed female teachers. All 5 new teachers are Government trained, but for various reasons, have been unable to get a post in a Government school. Venkat will train them and provide experience and at some stage in the future they will move on, earning a much higher salary than we can pay. At first sight, this high teacher turnover may seem wasteful and inefficient, but as Venkat explains, many of these newly qualified teachers are either of the wrong caste or are unable to pay a bribe to get into a Government school, and we are able to give them an opportunity that would otherwise be unavailable, and it doesn't affect the quality of the education provided- just the opposite in fact, as they are very motivated.
Student numbers have increased to 148 on the role, with a regular daily attendance of around 125.

Monday, 22 September 2008

Disability work in action

Firstly, to all my readers, sorry for the long gap in blog postings whilst I have been on holiday!
Venkat continues to expand the disability work of IRDT in both our project areas and always has a story to tell every time I phone. Today he has been telling me about two 9th standard schoolgirls who are studying at the high school in RN Kandigai, close to Mettupalayam. One was born without a hand, the other had a bicycle accident, and because her parents lacked sufficient knowledge about hygiene, she developed gangrene and had to have her hand amputated. The girls have both been taken to APD in Bangalore for measurement and assessment and their artificial hands are now ready. Venkat hopes to be able to take them back to Bangalore for fitting next week. Total cost for both hands is 4500 Rupees, of which we will have to pay 1500 Rps, APD and the manufacturers subsidising the remainder. I hope to have photos shortly which I will post here.
The sterling equivalent of 1500 Rps is about £19, so for to our donors, thank you- this is typical of the way that your money is making significant improvements and helping some of the poorest and most disadvantaged people in India.

Wednesday, 6 August 2008


One of the women's groups main ways of instigating change is to demonstrate. Individually, they have litte influence, but when they demonstrate as a group, people take notice. Here, Gomathi, our main social worker (and much more besides!) leads a group demonstrating outside the police station against illegal arak dealers. Many poor people use arak to drown their sorrows and to gain respite through oblivion. However, arak leads to many problems, not least taking what little cash is available and which should have been spent on food or other essentials. A significant contributing factor in Valli's suicide was depression compounded by arak. Her friends are able to channel their grief and anger as a group, hopefully encouraging the police to take a firmer line with the criminals who make and sell arak.

Tuesday, 15 July 2008

Sonja- our Tamil/English rose

I am delighted that Sonja is still able to study at Mettupalayam School. She arrived in January with her family who are staying in the Mettupalayam area. She is an albino girl, whose parents and sister are very typical Tamils. According to our doctor, Paramasivam, albinism is more comon in India than here, and brings with it a host of problems. The most obvious is that, without skin pigmentation, Sonja must stay out of the sun, so studying at school can be quite difficult. We are arranging to send out sunblock, which is impossible to find in our rural area, and also some sunhats.
It is very surreal for us to see Sonja with her family and to hear her speaking Tamil. She looks just like a beautiful English rose!

Thursday, 10 July 2008


Valli, a tribal woman from the Mettupalayam Quarry community, wife to Gopal, mother to Canaan and Mari. I know very little about Valli's life before we first found this small group of people during our visit to Mettupalayam in August 2004. At that time there were 14 families working as bonded labour (slaves) to a quarry owner next to our farm. Thanks to the generosity of Sadeh Lok Housing Group, Huddersfield, we managed to buy out all their debts, freeing them to find alternative employment. Some of the families left, however, 6 families stayed behind and we built houses for them, employing them in a communal quarry at much higher wages, provided good food and employment on the farm when quarrying was not possible due to the weather, and of course, took all 4 of the children into our Mettupalayam Primary School. We have also given them access to medical care.
Just last month, Mari graduated to the High School, a marvellous achievement for her and for her teachers.
This week was the 10th anniversary of Valli's father's death. He hanged himself from a tree near to the quarry settlement. We believe that Valli had been depressed and drinking. At the weekend she was found hanging from the same branch.
Life for Valli has been profoundly difficult, as it is for the vast majority of India's tribal people (dalits, untouchables). Our hope is for the next generation and we will continue to support Gopal Canaan and Mari.
Gopal Valli and Mari are pictured in the previous blog.

Wednesday, 2 July 2008

Mari at the High School!

Three years ago, Mari was working all day with her bonded labour parents, breaking granite for a pittance. She was suffering from long term problems due to inadequate food and little or no healthcare. After we paid off the family debts ( Thanks to the generosity of the directors and staff at Sadeh Lok Housing Group Ltd, Huddersfield)Mari started studying at our Mettupalayam Primary School. In the 3 years since, she has worked very hard and recently passed her High School entrance exams. IRDT have paid her annual school subs (about £4!), paid for her uniform and bought her a bike to travel to school. I dream that one day she may go to college!
In 2006 when she passed through puberty, her parents arranged a marriage for her with a 17 year old boy in the same tribal group. However, he very sadly died shortly before the wedding and so Mari was able to stay on at school. We have encouraged Mari's parents to delay any further arrangements for marriage whilst she is studying and continue to provide them with well paid work and healthcare support.

Tuesday, 17 June 2008

What goes around, comes around

We see many examples of the way in which our primary school education forms the foundation of future lives. On our visit in 2006, we attended the pre wedding ceremony of one of the teachers, Indumathi. She had been a Mettupalayam pupil, went off to secondary, and higher secondary school, completed her basic teaching qualification, and returned to work at the school. On marriage, she left, as is the custom, and now has 2 young children. Today she visited Venkatachalam to ask about the possibility of attending college to study for a BA Ed degree! We will encourage and support her- it is rare for a married women in our rural area to have the opportunity and the support from her husband to do this. She may possibly return to teach again at Mettupalayam School- a great example of the wheel turning full circle.

Wednesday, 11 June 2008


Weddings always cause much excitement, and Vernkat's extended family in Dharmapuri are preparing for one! Our very good Friend Kahli (far right) is to marry in August, with the betrothal ceremony due to take place tomorrow (12th June). Kahli and her sister Sakthi have worked at IRDT Mettupalayam for a long time, Venkat helped them to finish their college education, and also helped Sakthi study for the police entrance exams. Kahli has been working at the Mettupalayam School and helping with the accounts. She will be very difficult to replace when she goes up to Dharmapuri to live with her new husband. Sakthi has been staying with Venkat for the last few weeks whilst he recovers from the operation on his spine but is now back working with the police in Chennai.

Kahli has looked after everyone who has visited Mettupalayam over the last two years, cooking delicious food and making them feel comfortable. We will be thinking of her and wishing her all the best for the future.

Thursday, 5 June 2008

New school year starts in Mettupalayam

Ist June is the official start date for the new school year in Tamil Nadu. At Mettupalayam School, we have an initial enrolment of 105 children, but will undoubtedly find another 20 to 40 children joining later. There are 17 children moving on to the Government secondary school. Tomorrow Venkat will be going to pay the fees for the gypsy children- 12 at 300Rps each (about £45 in total). Mari, the tribal former bonded child labourer, has passed her entrance exams for the secondary school and starts later this week. We have given her and her family a lot of support over the past 3 1/2 years, and it is wonderful to see the results.

Nambikki School still awaits the official licence, and is restricted in numbers but we continue to press for it to be issued, knowing that at least 100 children are expected to come.

Wednesday, 4 June 2008

Welcome to our new blog!

This is your new source for regular updates on the IRDT Mettupalayam project in Tamil Nadu!

We hope you enjoy reading it and sharing in the excitement of the project. Please visit our website at for further information.