RID POVERTY & HUNGER IN 50 INDIAN TRIBAL VILLAGES

by The Earth Trust
RID POVERTY & HUNGER IN 50 INDIAN TRIBAL VILLAGES
RID POVERTY & HUNGER IN 50 INDIAN TRIBAL VILLAGES
RID POVERTY & HUNGER IN 50 INDIAN TRIBAL VILLAGES
RID POVERTY & HUNGER IN 50 INDIAN TRIBAL VILLAGES
RID POVERTY & HUNGER IN 50 INDIAN TRIBAL VILLAGES
RID POVERTY & HUNGER IN 50 INDIAN TRIBAL VILLAGES
RID POVERTY & HUNGER IN 50 INDIAN TRIBAL VILLAGES
RID POVERTY & HUNGER IN 50 INDIAN TRIBAL VILLAGES
RID POVERTY & HUNGER IN 50 INDIAN TRIBAL VILLAGES
RID POVERTY & HUNGER IN 50 INDIAN TRIBAL VILLAGES

Carrying on regardless

The time frame for a viable Covid  vaccine is nebulous. At Earth Trust the emphasis is on building up immunity levels. Our Health  team has been on the phone, talking to our village women trainees, encouraging them to stay active, stay at home and eat healthily. The village Panchayat itself has strict rules for village people returning from elsewhere. They are made to stay in the community centre, cook for themselves for a minimum of 10 days. We normally park our sewing machines in the community centre for nearly three months while our programme is being conducted. Courtesy the Corona virus, our machines are also in quarantine in Kothumudi- the last village where we held our Womens' Programme. The village head has not given us permission to retrieve them.

To encourage local leadership we have been  planning to identify and train a person who can then be a resource person covering 4 nearby villages ( within 10 kilometres)  including her own. This whole concept has taken on a sombre urgency due to a new phenomenon - the Covid widow. With deep sorrow we share the tragic news of two of our trainees, one from Kothumudi and one from Kadanadu. The Kadanadu casualty -40 years old was a bus conductor. His widow, all of 28, is one of our brightest sparks. From being a secondary financial family supporter, she has to transition to being the primary provider. We have featured her in an earlier report to GG. The  Kothumudi trainee who lost her husband is just in her early 20s. Her husband worked as a mechanic in a Government Transport Corporation. He was all of 28. They are all so heartbreakingly young. There are not very many opportunities available in the hills. This has triggered a whole lot of brainstorming-- how to equip women to be able to have multiple revenue avenues. The main issue is always funding.

The  restrictions on inter-district vehicular movement has been lifted. Livelihoods have marginally improved. The concomitant Covid-exposure brings with it the inevitable increase in Covid positive cases. We have shared with you the direct effect on two of our trainees. Ah well, it is not just us but the whole world that is going through this. More and more it makes sense to grow one's own small patch of vegetables. Why is it that we as a species wait till a " if you don't quit smoking you will die in 2 months" moment happen?

We in the Nilgiris are blessed, we are relatively safe. So we have the physical and mental space to celebrate the wasabi that  have sprouted in our Resource farms. We are collecting seeds to give our farmers to grow small patches of high value vegetables. We discovered  that they are horseradish, not the Wasabi Wasabi of Japan !!!. Potent nevertheless. On that note of celebration and hope--- Adieu.

Malathi Mittal, Managing Trustee
I am attaching the photographs
Captions for the photographs:
1. (Flags) Gifting seed carrying Flags on Independence day
2. (Youngster) Marathon runner/UG student harvesting rhubarb,earning.
3.Planting paddy-  traditional Adiken variety in Gudalur   



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KEPPI WITH KALA
KEPPI WITH KALA

We at the Earth Trust have been in quiescent mode over the last 2 and a half months. We worked for three weeks in March of this year and since then we have been  waiting. The Nilgiris have been relatively safe. The District Administrators closed all the roads coming up to the hills. Migrant labourers here were amongst the lucky ones, the tea estates and the contractors took care of them.

Our fields have been fallow by default. Which is of course good for them. No farm labourers, no vehicular movement. How does one prioritize between lives and livelihoods? We are indeed passing through and existential crisis moment in the history of our species.

Agricultural activities come under essential services. So we could function. But choose not to. The safety and health of our staff many of whom are single parents - women, came first.

The last village we went to was Kodhumudi. Such a bright bunch of enthusiastic and enterprising village women. We had started a project to teach them to do job-work for another NGO-  in Coimbatore; it involved using bits of cloth,  No- waste principle. The NGO had sent all their left over pieces. They are sitting here at home. We cannot conduct on-line teaching as many of the women do not have smart phones. But the few who do, learnt to make masks and taught others. We asked them  to make masks for their village people and cover only costs. This is going to be the way ahead, inter-dependence and community living . As always it is the women who hold the whole fabric intact.

Our farmers have been calling us and telling us about elephants destroying their crops and produce going waste. The roads have been empty and animals feel safer encroaching. We could not take the risk of exposing our field staff.  We have just started operations in very low-key mode.

As a small NGO, we are having trouble meeting our basic requirements as all available funds have been diverted to the Covid-19 requirements and rightly so.

Gowri a student from Madurai,  interned with us for a month in February/ March. She had finished her first year of her Masters degree in Social Work (MSW), from The American College Madurai. She came she saw and she was conquered! She was brilliant with the school children of Iduhatty, teaching them about Solid-waste management. Not just the kids but the school teachers also enjoyed themselves !

Mukesh our techie turned organic farmer bought a native-breed cow. He named her Keppi after his grandmother who brought him up. Keppi had Kala, who was named after Mukesh's aunt !! The cow-dung of the native cows is far more potent for the soil and for preparing Panchakavya a soil micro-organism enhancer.

Ramani and her husband, - our farming couple from Gudalur brought their first Vanilla harvest- totally organic needless to say. Small events , but ones that keep us going.

Covid-19 has driven home the fact that safe food spells better immune systems. We are getting more and more enquiries from new customers. It will be a good 3 months before we settle down to a new rhythm. 

What is a source of great concern is how to balance lives and livelihoods

SCHOOL KIDS AND SOLID  WASTE MANAGEMENT
SCHOOL KIDS AND SOLID WASTE MANAGEMENT
RAMANI'S NIMBLE FINGERS HELPING THE VANILLA PLANT
RAMANI'S NIMBLE FINGERS HELPING THE VANILLA PLANT
MODELLING HER MASK, RITA FROM MELKOWHATTI
MODELLING HER MASK, RITA FROM MELKOWHATTI
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Sangeetha at her machine.
Sangeetha at her machine.

Another three months have passed. Our activities at Earth Trust can be summed up by the Zen proverb "Before enlightenment chop wood carry water, after enlightenment chop wood carry water". Before the GG report, go to the current village where our women's programme is being held, visit farmer's fields, collect produce and sell and pay farmers. After the GG report, go to the current village where our women's programme is being held -------------------. As  we often reiterate, our programmes run  throughout the year.

November 2019. The biggest challenge in our Skill Development programme  has been to take the women to the next level of independent functioning. They all knit and crochet garments  wonderfully, their tailoring skills need to improve. But enthusiasm makes up for lack of expertise. We have been telling them that if they learn to follow instructions in English, then they will become independent of Lalitha their teacher. Most of them have smart phones and the internet would open up a whole world of handicrafts for them. They have their own methods of interpreting instructions in Badaga, their language. The only disadvantage in this is that they are able to make garments or sweaters only for themselves. We are ethical middlemen for our farmers produce. We wish to become ethical middlemen for our women's handwork products too. This can happen only if there is standardisation.  Well, Lalitha our teacher, has finally managed to make a small dent. We decided that the women would make Christmas tree decorations . These were small projects the women could finish in an hour's time. The stars managed to look like visitors from a different galaxy, the trees looked like hats and the hats looked like  baby caps!!! BUT, BUT, the women followed instructions in basic English! There was a Christmas sale in Chennai which Lalitha and Jaya attended between 5th and 8th December. Out of 400 pieces made, we were able to sell 250. The rest we gave as gifts to the students from Cornell  University, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences who visited us on January 7th. What an achievement for Lalitha our Women's programme Teacher. This is also the first step taken towards identifying and encouraging local leadership. Eventually, one woman will be able to routinely visit and take charge of 4 villages near where she lives. You should remember that these villages are far flung in the Nilgiri Hills.

January is full of festivals, the Harvest festival, the Festival of the Honouring of the cows/cattle used by farmers , Jalli Kattu the Tamilian version of a bull-fight. Basically we celebrate the (apparent) return of the sun from the Tropic of Capricorn to the Equator.

On the 7th of January 2020,, The Cornell-Sathguru Foundation based in Hyderabad organised a visit by 50 Cornell University students to Earth Trust. They were from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. They were accompanied by faculty , Dr. Marie and Dr. Tucker. They were visiting various organisations in the South. Officers from the Agricultural Universities of  Telengana and Kerala also accompanied them. Half of them came to us and the other half went to the Central Wheat Research Station in Coonor. They were given an introduction to the many methods of  farming practices taught by us to the farmers here, including bio-dynamic composting.  We understand that Bio-dynamic farming practices are not taught in Cornell.

We took them to Kengumudi, the village where our women's Skill Development and Health programmes are being run at the moment. The village had a festival dedicated to Hetthai, the mother Goddess. Some of the students joined in the dancing. Basically it has been business as usual for Earth Trust. The one special moment was when Sangeetha one of our trainees called up Lalitha the teacher and told here-'Akka, I made Rs10,000/- from stitching 40 blouses !! She is the mother of a very active 1 year-old !!  What better affirmation  do we need that we are doing the right thing, this programme is not merely about numbers. Thank you , The Earth Trust Team

Our visitors from Ithaca, Cornell University
Our visitors from Ithaca, Cornell University
Our Christmas Offerings!
Our Christmas Offerings!
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Vasanth explaining the importance of wetlands
Vasanth explaining the importance of wetlands

One of the many concerns that occupy us at Earth Trust is the need to have a 30-year road map to navigate by. Far-fetched and futuristic as it seems, it will act as a base plan to guide our actions now. Climate change predictions, climate-refugees, strained and dwindling natural resources, changing demography, all this has to be factored in. At the core are the women of the world, who have to pick up pieces, hold their families and communities together, keep everything going without falling apart themselves.

One of the first things likely to happen may be the decrease in rural inter-connectivity. The prohibitive costs of transportation as fossil fuels become scarce and therefore more expensive will necessitate a shift in the locus of activity. In the hills here, the basic unit is still the village, hattis as they are known. This long-winded stating of the obvious brings us back to the women and our women’s programmes.

We are now talking to the women about these serious issues. They of-course are only concerned about educating their children and sending them down to the plains to take off on their personal upwardly mobile trajectories. In many hattis, half the houses are empty. What is worrying is the fact that politicians are buying up properties here. This does not bode well for the Nilgiris.

In the meanwhile, as part of our regular women’s programme, we have included the cleaning up of their local water source and planting grass in their wetlands. We work with Cleancoonoor.org, another small passionate NGO involved in restoring grasslands. We are talking of barter of vegetables and have assured them of our help and guidance growing them.

August and September saw a decrease in vegetable production of our farmers because of erratic and unpredictable rains. We are working on trying to get them subsidies or low interest rates to put up small green houses. Our customers patiently wait for things to improve because they too support our mission. Shivakumar, in charge of our resource farms went off to Madurai to go on to the next level of AHA (International) training. Sanjay our farm outreach Supervisor stepped in beautifully.

The Women’s skill development programme has been successful in imparting knitting, tailoring and crochet skills in Kattabettu and Billicombai villages over the last three months. Many of these women though are still dependent on the teacher-Lalitha, to tell them-Now do this , next do that etc. It has been our ongoing efforts to help them follow instructions in English. This would make them independent and open up the whole world of internet patterns to follow. We should not forget that the smart phone in India is very affordable.  Finally, finally, this is happening. Our efforts to make them form small groups in far flung villages are bearing fruit. What is interesting is how one woman exhibits natural leadership qualities.  This Is also part of our long-term strategy to develop local leadership.  We are teaching them to make Christmas tree ornaments as these projects are small and they are slowly learning to follow patterns. Later, in Chennai, for the first time, we are going to be part of a yearly December sale. For the sake of these women we hope the whole venture will be a success. So, for the last fortnight, they have been happily making Christmas bells in improbably bright colours and sizes. The colour combinations leave us speechless but their enthusiasm is infectious!! 

Au revoir for now, and wish our women luck.

Thank you,

The Earth Trust Team  

As colourful as can be
As colourful as can be
Making Helichrysum oil
Making Helichrysum oil
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THE ET TEAM AT THE FARMERS' RALLY
THE ET TEAM AT THE FARMERS' RALLY

The skies have opened up with a vengeance. It is pouring fit to launch an ark from the Nilgiris!! The monsoon is a month behind schedule, but the thirsty ground is being quenched. Our farmers will put in the seeds for winter crops. At Holabettu our resource farm, we are trying to quantify the average yield of different vegetables per cent- one hundredth of an acre. Barring major natural catastrophes, we are trying to fine-tune crop planning and harvesting quantities.

The highlight  of the last quarter was the mass rally organised by the State Horticulture Department to create awareness about the need to make Nilgiris District Organic. Nearly 5000 farmers joined. ET has been at it for over 15 years now. Finally, finally awareness is spreading. The Et team was naturally there.

Our women's programme was held in Kattabettu this time. We had invited Mr. Santhosh from The Employees provident Fund Office to give the Certificates to our graduates! He was touched he said, at the invitation and he was completely taken aback by the energy and enthusiasm of the women. He spoke to them about government saving  schemes in the 'unorganised' sector.  Meetings were held with the women, to discuss the need to take them to the next level of economic activity. We are planning to have them make/knit/sew items for a Christmas sale. Our women have participated in native grass planting on World Wetland Day. Why wait for a designated day we decided. We will introduce this activity as an integral part of our Women's programme. When a Badaga dies, before he/she is buried, the village folk take turns to ask for forgiveness for all that the deceased person may done. One of their prayers goes something like " If she/he has defiled the waters, please forgive him". It is the loss of this sacred connection to every activity of ours that we have become insensitive to the world around us.

If there is one predictable fact in the life of an NGO working with Nature, it is unpredictability!! Every day is thronged with activity, our staff seem to be going round like headless chickens, but there is a tremendous multi-tasking going on which comes naturally to our predominantly women staff. The chaos translates to targets achieved, accounts submitted and reports reluctantly written. These are wonderful people who "DO" stuff on the ground but do not have the time to sit and use words to describe their days/weeks/months.

It is left to us collating the report, to fill in the emotional blanks, the joys, frustrations and love that goes into their days. We have to translate unarticulated emotions and try to present an encapsulated version of ' targets, target beneficiaries, programmes, project proposals and ultimately home in the raison d' etre of such a report which is financial support. But we at Earth Trust want far more than that-- we want you dear reader to be hooked enough to participate in what we are doing, to invest yourself in our efforts and share in the satisfaction of knowing that we are doing our bit to make a difference. You can do this even sitting thousands of miles away .Everything is not about money. Even wishing us success in our efforts adds to our good-will corpus! We need help from all directions.

EBBY T OUR GINGER FARMER AT GUDALUR
EBBY T OUR GINGER FARMER AT GUDALUR
SANTHOSH HANDING OUT CERTIFICATES
SANTHOSH HANDING OUT CERTIFICATES
HAPPY STUDENTS DISPLAYING THEIR WORK AT KATTABETTU
HAPPY STUDENTS DISPLAYING THEIR WORK AT KATTABETTU
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The Earth Trust

Location: Nilgiris, Tamil Nadu - India
Website:
Project Leader:
Vanya Orr
Ketty Post, Nilgiris, Tamil Nadu India
$21,650 raised of $88,200 goal
 
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