Azmin’s Trip to Tamil Nadu

I was moved and inspired to have joined SOTE’s visit to Tamil Nadu, India, in January 2017. During this trip, we met the people who are involved with and benefit from the projects that SOTE supports. Prior to joining the visit, I had travelled in India for three months, but had not had the opportunity to meet communities living in such rural and isolated areas where travelling any distance requires good transport and which are often not accessible.

The first project we were taken to was at CRUSADE. At CRUSADE, SOTE supports the empowerment of women, as well as the elderly and disabled.  By supporting the work here, I could see that SOTE’s funding is helping the vulnerable of Indian society, those who are considered to be at the bottom of the caste system. SOTE’s support raises their self-esteem, which creates a platform for good mental health  where the whole family, especially children can benefit  and flourish. 

We then met women who had already been involved in CRUSADE’s training as well as those currently in training. The role of these women is to go into the villages and talk to other women about a variety of issues, mostly health and money related, but not confined to these subjects. It seemed the biggest need for them was to get reliable transport to the villages, as distances were too great for walking or there were no clear roads to travel on.  

We also met women from villages who said they had benefited in many ways from CRUSADE’s work such as support for transport for hospital appointments, getting a government ID card and learning to read and write. One of the most emotional things for me was meeting the disabled and elderly in the villages. For me, it seemed that there is still a lack of understanding about learning difficulties and mental health needs generally in India, which I found difficult to comprehend. However, the CRUSADE staff were full of good intentions with progressive thinking and Jothi, the wonderful Director of CRUSADE, was open to hearing how they could work less discriminately in these areas. Lastly, for me, the monthly homeopathic team that visited the villages was also of real help to villagers. Without CRUSADE these villagers would not have access to healthcare.  

It was a real privilege to be able to meet, talk to and see for myself how the local villagers lived, and I felt even more honored when we met with the amazing Peter and his team at the CARE Foundation who support the poor Londor begging community. Where do I start? So much good work is being done here. First of all, building relationships of trust with these communities, especially the begging community, takes time and dedication. Seeing how the families lived, some in plastic tents, and understanding how hard it is to break begging patterns so old that it is as if they are engraved in their bones, is not easy for SOTE to overcome. Alcohol problems within the community are an obstacle that will take time to resolve, but I got the impression  there was a real desire on the part of the families for a better future for themselves and their children. 

They had allowed Peter and his team to come in and support them to build better structured housing  after the flooding they experienced a few years ago and also let the children live in homes where staff took care of them and took them to school. The children we met were joyful and all looked well fed and happy. We understood that education of girls meant a decrease in child brides and this meant less abuse of girl children. A wonderful young girl  whose poor widowed Mother had asked Peter for help took us around. Peter had made sure the girl had an education and she was doing her Masters in social work and working on a dissertation when we met her. She wanted to work for CARE Foundation in the future as she and her family had benefited so much from the charity. What better endorsement.

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Adam Dickens