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FRIENDS OF METTUPALAYAM TRUST

REGISTERED CHARITY NO 1054673

www.irdt.co.uk

Facebook– Friends of Mettupalayam Community

November 2020

Hello Friends,

As we look forward to a rather uncertain Christmas period, we hope this newsletter makes you proud of the support your charity has provided to so many people around Mettupalayam during this global crisis.

The Pandemic

The restrictions on work and travel in Tamil Nadu have meant that many breadwinners have been out of work and without the money to feed their families – unlike here, working from home is rarely an option. The government has provided some very basic food aid (rice, dahl, cooking oil and sugar) for those with ration cards, but as you know, many of those we support are from communities and castes who do not have the necessary papers.

So, with Venkat’s expert local knowledge, we have targeted those in need with our Food Aid programme. Initially, this was through the supply of vegetables. Queues would form several hours before delivery times. Since September, as the situation has stabilised a little, we have cooked and delivered daily lunches to a carefully selected group of around 350 of the most vulnerable people in five local villages. Designed and coordinated by Venkat and his son Anand, the programme has been supported by our teaching staff. We can only imagine some of the logistics and challenging decisions on priorities that they had to overcome. It is something that only a project with the level of longstanding local knowledge, respect, and relationships like ours could have achieved.

Our photos here capture how your support is making such a positive difference at two ends of the age spectrum. Kanakavalli is five years old and joins our 1st standard class this year. Her older sister has just finished our 7th standard. Kana has a dream that she will become a teacher. Muthammal is believed to be 85 years old. She has had a hard life doing rural labour and has depended on our food aid during the current crisis

Unfortunately, the extra financial support required for the current programme is not something FOM can maintain into 2021. But there is good news. A general election is around the corner!! (May 2021) and local politicians are introducing an increased level of guaranteed rural employment work at an improved daily wage rate. In addition, they have pledged to provide a mobile ration shop van to deliver to Mettupalayam and local villages every two weeks. We are also encouraged to hear that Covid 19 cases and deaths are presently falling in Tamil Nadu and the local area. This has resulted in the re-opening of our local Manampathi market, which has been closed since April.

All this means that Venkat will be able to refine the food aid support yet further as we move towards the end of the year and into 2021

 Education

State schools in Tamil Nadu have been closed, but we are delighted that Venkat and the teachers have kept our classes running with the agreement of the local education officer. This has been done to avoid large groups and travel by delivering lessons in three local villages as well as at Mettupalayam. Where there’s a will, there’s a way!

Fundraising

The pandemic has made some fundraising events impossible, so we have a new idea this year – a Prize Christmas Family Quiz! We hope this will add some fun to a Christmas time which we know will be different this year. Please pass this on to your friends and neighbours too. The money voucher prizes have been donated by a very generous friend, so that every suggested £2 entry fee will go straight to the charity. To access the quiz please go to the attached link to our website at http://irdt.co.uk/fundraising/ If you cannot access the internet, please contact any of the Trustees and we can provide a copy for you. Please email or post your completed quiz to Adele Eldridge (details below) by 5 January 2021. Good luck and thank you.

The beautiful greeting cards produced from the paintings of our dear friend Susan Sands are blank inside, so make an ideal Christmas or New Year card. Please contact Francis (contact details below) if you would like some. The cost is £5 for a pack of 6 assorted cards, plus postage, with all the proceeds to the charity.

Adele has told us that the members of a book group she belongs to save through the year for a Christmas lunch. As they will not this year be able to meet as a group, they have decided to donate their savings (£400) to FOM. Wow! If you have any ideas of your own for fundraising please let us know and we can share these on our Facebook page.

We all want to support our local shops, but if you decide to use amazon please use smile.amazon.co.uk and nominate Friends of Mettupalayam as your chosen charity.

We often speak to Venkat and thank him and his team for their wonderful work. However, he always says that without his friends in the UK nothing is possible.  Your support and friendship keep the project going and is more appreciated than ever. Thank you and we wish you and your families a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Contact us:

Adele Eldridge
The Coach House
Bainbridge
LEYBURN
DL8 3EE
01969 650618
adeleeldridge@gmail.com
Francis and Rosie Muncaster
The Rowans
Exelby
BEDALE
DL8 2HF
01677 425961
fmuncaster@hotmail.com
Hugo and Jean Welsh
16 The Avenue
Haxby
York
YO32 3EQ
01904 769248
hugo.welsh30@gmail.com

February 2020

A new year, a new challenge!

A New Year brings a new challenge! During a recent trustees visit by Hugo, Jean and myself to Mettupalayam, we went to a small Irula tribal settlement, about 1/4 Mile from our farm. There we found 21 families, many of whom were originally linked to the debt slaves that we freed some 15 years ago. They had previously moved on to Kancheepuram, to work at a rock breaking quarry works.  However, this work proved to be both unhealthy and little better paid than the debt slaves work that they had been freed from. On promise of free houses given by the Government, they have moved back into our project area. Some infrastructure has been put in place, for example, a piped water supply and a paved road, but housing is still awaited, meantime, the families are living in mud walled, palm leaf roofed huts, little better than animal shelters. As quarry work isn’t available, some of the men are doing wood cutting, supplemented by agricultural labouring.

With little work available during the monsoon season, income has been minimal and most of the families have been existing on rice only! Having identified that all the children were both anaemic and obviously grossly underweight, I managed to complete a survey to calculate their BMI.  Incredibly, these were all so low that they didn’t even reach the lowest levels on the graphs! Similarly, their upper arm measurements were off the scale. It was distressing to see the affects of such abject poverty still existing, despite all the excellent work that Venkat and his team have done over the last 35 years.

We immediately agreed to start a nutrition programme to address these problems and are now providing a range of fresh vegetables to each family, every week. We have provided the appropriate cooking vessels and drinking tumblers to every family. We are also encouraging them to use our free weekly health clinic. The four youngest, school age children are coming in to our Crakehall Primary School in Mettupalayam and they are having a nutritious breakfast and lunch, as well as healthy snacks. We are supporting the older children going to the nearby Government school and Venkat is providing a cooked lunchtime meal to the two oldest people in the village. Very sadly, our support was too late for one other elderly man who passed away shortly after our visit. All the 68 villagers will be assisted and helped in whatever way we are able. We are currently committed to running this programme for six months and will then assess its impact.. We also need to try to improve the tribe’s income generation and have offered work on our farm. Additionally Venkat is paying a small daily wage to Selvi as coordinator. Venkat will make sure that all the adults are registered with the Government, for ration cards and any benefits that are available.

Funding for this extra commitment will initially be around £500. This is a big additional challenge to Venkat and his team but we know that, with our support, they will be successful in making a real difference for these very disadvantaged and needy tribal people.

Farming

Following a reasonable monsoon (Venkat estimates around 70% of normal) we have planted six acres of paddy, a quick growing variety that should be ready to harvest in 3 months. Although this is of lower quality than we would like, it would be too risky to have planted rice which took longer to grow as water scarcity may well be seen later in the growing season. This paddy will be followed by pulses, vegetables such as drumstick, and groundnuts. The farmers’ co-op is continuing to trade successfully and they have recently opened a shop on the main road near Mettupalayam. Government funds are still awaited to build the new oil processing unit but meantime they are very happy utilizing one of our storage buildings on the farm.

UK Support

We are often moved by the support that we receive, both from individuals, and from schools. Before our last visit, Ravensworth Primary School invited us in and presented us with several large bags of good quality school uniforms, including dresses, T shirts and shorts. We have taken most of these out to our project and after sizing by Venkat, these were handed out to children at the school. The excitement had to be seen to be believed! Some of the girls were so thrilled that they rushed onto the school roof, changed into their new dresses and came down with huge grins on their faces. We so often forget how little these children have and how much they appreciate everything that Venkat and the IRDT team do for them.

On our return, we were very happy to be invited back and give an assembly talk with photographs to all the pupils at Ravensworth, and to add our thanks for their support and generosity.

Fundraising

Recent events, including Christmas fairs and coffee mornings have been very successful, raising much needed funds. In particular, Crakehall School, near Bedale, has been amazing with their Cookie challenge and Christmas cards raising almost £500. Material brought back by visitors has again been sold this last year through Artison Workshops in Masham, and we thank them hugely for their continuing support. We have another coffee morning planned for Sunday the 23rd February at the Muncasters and we are pleased to invite anyone locally to come. We are also appealing for further financial help with the Ullampakkam project, and any additional donations will be gratefully received.

Our newsletter has been mainly relating to this new project, but please be assured that all our other work is proceeding well, with Venkat and team as always, very busy! Some of you may know that he has just had a cataract operation and he is making a good recovery and will soon be driving again! Meantime our neighbour Karen, and Venkat’s daughter, Ramya, are at the project and trying their best to make him take rest whilst recuperating!

Once again, many, many thanks for all your support and interest.