Raising Awareness through Street Plays

The city of Alappuzha in Kerala, South India, is widely known to outsiders for the beautiful backwaters and scenic houseboat tours. For many of those who call this area home, however, life is filled with many challenges to be overcome.

Near Alappuzha, the Women’s Initiative Network is partnering with SAFP and the Government of Canada to help 20 communities to solve their poverty related issues. This year, nine of these target villages identified ‘lack of proper health care’ as the problem to be addressed, since they did not have proper access to healthcare or information about health issues. It was found that pollution was contributing significantly to the health problems for the villagers. In order to raise awareness about this issue, it was decided to create a street play to perform in the target villages.

The idea of a street play was discussed during the meetings of the Village Action Teams in these communities. One difficulty they faced was finding someone who was willing to write the script and direct the play. The Program Animator discussed this in the villages and found that one of the VAT members in Veluthully village, Mr. Surendra, had experience directing plays. He agreed to take on this role and write the script and within a week, the script “Jagratha” was completed.

Another challenge was finding people to act in the play. The Animator and VAT members talked with many people in the nine villages, but the villagers were not available to participate. Since the people in these communities rely heavily on daily wage labour for their incomes, they could not take the time to rehearse the play and perform it at each of the villages. The Animator spoke with the VAT in one of the other villages that had selected a different issue and found that the community members were interested in participating. Five people were selected to perform and one man volunteered to play the drum. They rehearsed for a week and then they were ready to perform.

rehearsalThe group started by performing in just one village and eventually showed the play in all nine villages. It was presented in the crowded junctions of the villages, where the team was warmly welcomed and many people attended. Through the play, the team was able to create awareness among the people about pollution and the related health problems.

This initiative was unique and deeply meaningful, as the play was created and performed through the efforts, talents, and cooperation of the VAT members. The script writer, director, actors, and drummer were all members of a VAT. The banner for the play was even created by a VAT member. This activity required some time and creativity to complete, but they were able to generate awareness in an engaging and memorable way.

performing A big thanks to the staff and volunteers at the Women’s Initiative Network for sharing this wonderful story and for all you do to make the SPED III Program a success!


An Inspiration to the Community – Overcoming Disabilities

The Salim FamilyIrfan Salim is from the Puthenjunnu village in Bathery, Kerala, South India. He is a shy but determined man who was born physically disabled and has no use of either of his legs. To help earn a living for the family, his wife Hafsa cleans houses. They have two children; an elder daughter, Tahseen, who is studying fifth grade and a younger daughter, Asifya who is studying second grade.

Both daughters suffer from tuberculosis and need expensive medicine and treatment, which the family cannot afford. The FDP staff members have worked with the family to find a suitable income generation project for Irfan that would give the family more financial stability.
Repairing Bicycles

Irfan was able to attend a bicycle repair workshop and was motivated to begin a small business using his new skill. As he gained momentum and excitement, he expressed his desire to start a small snack shop near their house as well, as there were none in the neighborhood. Now he is successfully operating both of his businesses and has accessed a government resource that provided him with a three wheeled motor bike, allowing him to complete his tasks more quickly.


He is not only an example of how this program can allow a family to become self-reliant, but he is a source of inspiration for others in his community. He does not allow his disability to limit him.

Three Wheel Motor Bike

Accessible Medical Care at Kovanur

The rural poor in India face many obstacles to their development, including the challenge of accessing health care. In addition to the lack of health care facilities, equipment, supplies, and drugs in rural areas, there is also a shortage of medical experts and staff. Many organizations avoid investing in rural health infrastructure because of low returns and few highly trained medical personnel wish to provide services in such remote areas because of low wages. Medical camps have been demonstrated as a model to surmount these obstacles to health access.

People arrive at the Medical Camp in Kovanur

Kovanur is a remote village near Kumbakonam in Tamil Nadu in the south of India. The people lack transportation facilities and their economic condition prevents them from travelling to the city to visit a doctor or buy medicine. When the SPED III Program was started in their village, the community selected the issue of health and hygiene and organized a medical camp in collaboration with a hospital in Kumbakonam. It was a great blessing to the people who were suffering from various diseases, especially the old and the underprivileged. All villagers, including the infants and the aged men and women, participated and benefited in the medical camp.

Villagers receiving health check Two doctors and the team of Nurses and lab technicians performed health checks and diagnosed patients. Common conditions such as skin diseases, orthopedics, and simple diseases like fever and headache were treated. The lab technicians also conducted blood tests and urine tests for the adults to identify diseases such as diabetes and blood pressure problems, and the doctors prescribed medicine for the people and gave them instructions on how to take care in the future.

Checking healthy weight This medical camp brought awareness that there are many in the villages who are diabetic and also several infected by skin diseases. Health committees were established by the SPED III Animator in the village and the committee played a major role in the follow up by taking these individuals to hospitals in the city.
The Medical camp was ably supported by Village Action Team, the local field staff, and the Health Committee. In addition, the youth of the village and the self-help groups pitched in to help. They raised awareness about the event by distributing pamphlets and informing the people ahead of time about the Medical Camp. On the day of the camp, they also took care to prepare the site, to bring the people to the camp, and to organize those who attended. In all a total of 180 men and women, young and old benefited from the medical camp.

Providing medicine for patients

A big thanks to our partner, the Kumbakonam Multi Purpose Social Service Society for providing us with this story and for all their efforts in making the SPED III Program a success!

New opportunities for families by accessing government resources

Mrs. Sheela and family in front of their home
Mrs. Sheela Kurian and her family come from Kottayam, Kerala in the south of India. When the family joined SAFP’s Family Development Program in March 2007, they were unable to meet their daily expenses, and their children’s education was at stake as the family could not afford to send both their son and daughter to school. Mr. Kurian was unable to work as he suffered from severe pain in his lower back.

At the time of selection, the family owned 0.03 acres of land and they were able to mobilize both government and local resources to reconstruct their house. Through monitoring visits, local SAFP staff identified Mrs. Sheela’s motivation and enthusiasm in starting an income generation project and encouraged her to attend driving school. She was able to graduate from driving school and wished to start her own taxi service, but did not have the funding to purchase a vehicle. With the support of SAFP staff, and through networking with other community organizations she was able to access a grant subsidy from the Kerala State Government of $2098.00, under the Women Taxi Promotion Program.
Mrs. Sheela receives a subsidy to buy a taxi
On November 17th, 2012, her taxi business was officially inaugurated by the Honorable District Collector. Through this business, she is able to make a profit of $104.00 a month. Her husband is very supportive of her and now he is also able to work by driving an auto rickshaw. Their son Ajmal has completed 12th grade and has applied to take computer technology courses in college, and their daughter Ashna has successfully completed 6th grade.
Mrs. Sheela with her new taxi

Increasing Food Security in Illikkananam village

Distribution of Seedlings
Illikkananam is a small, remote village located high in the hills of Kerala’s western ghats. Agriculture is the main occupation in this fertile area. Since some families have only a very small piece of land of their own, many people depend on daily wage labour in local cardamom plantations to support their families. Heavy use of pesticides in cardamom production is very harmful to the workers’ health and many families still struggle to meet their basic needs.

When Illikkananam village became a partner village in the SPED III Program, the community came together to identify and analyze the issues affecting the village. They noticed that many villagers had access to loans through the bank as members of self-help groups and were incurring high levels of debt just to meet their basic needs. By using tools to analyze this problem, they learned that many families buy the majority of their food items from the market, which are more expensive and less healthy than locally produced food. In Illikkananam village, there is a heavy focus on cash crops and only 15% of the community’s food needs are met by their own land. The community decided to prioritize this issue and take steps to make a change.

Members of the local Village Action Team took the lead by raising awareness about the issue and organizing village-level planning. As a result of their efforts, the community gradually developed awareness about the problem and started to take action. They decided to try growing their own vegetables. Two members of the local self-help group took responsibility for planting vegetable seeds and creating a nursery with the support of the SPED III Program.

Community members are eager to plant seedlings

The seedlings from the nursery were distributed to 45 families in the village. In order to promote eco-friendly practices, the families decided to use only organic manure made from kitchen waste. They watered the plants regularly using kitchen waste water to conserve water, since the area faces regular scarcity.

This action provided a successful model, which encouraged another local self-help group to start a group farming project of tapioca, yams, and bananas in the village. Now more community members are inspired to cultivate at least few types of vegetables in their own yard and they are requesting more seeds to start own kitchen garden. To respond to this need, the community is planning to start a seed bank for their own use and also for their neighboring villagers, instead of buying seeds from the market.

The initiative taken by these community members to solve their issue had a big impact on the village. Here are some of the changes they experienced:

• Increased unity among the community members.
• Change in attitudes around agriculture practices and a gradual movement towards more eco-friendly farming methods, including using organic manure
• 45 families developed their own kitchen garden, leading to increased food security and food safety
• Reduced dependence on the market for buying vegetables
• Decreased food costs, increased savings, and improved income among community members
• Reduced use of chemical pesticides and fertilizers for cultivation
• More families are inspired to start own kitchen garden
• Provided opportunities for local self-help groups to develop a nursery, start a group farming unit, and create a seed bank
• Children were also interested in helping to care for the gardens

This story offers an example of the power of an action to spark new ideas and inspire others to take action as well. SAFP extends our most sincere congratulations to the community in Illikkananam for working together to make change and address the issue of food security and low income in the village.

Caring for Plants Many thanks to the Highrange Development Society in Idukki for sharing this story!

Sustainable Change through the Family Development Program

SAFP began with the inspiration of Pope Paul VI at the International Eucharistic Congress in Bombay (now Mumbai), India in December 1964. Monsignor Augustine John Kandathil (Father Gus), a priest from the Archdiocese of Ernakulam, South India, heard the appeal by Pope Paul VI to the world to join him in a non-violent battle against poverty and hunger in countries like India. SAFP was born in 1965, through the partnering of supporters in North America with five families in the southwestern state of Kerala, India.

Since then, more than 50,000 families have completed the Family Development Program and more than 11,800 families are currently partnered with supporters in North America. The program continues to be our core program and allows local grassroots self-help groups to select the most needy families in their communities based on criteria set out by SAFP (must have children under 13 and demonstrate striking poverty) to receive support for 6 years.

When families in India join the program, they are guided in setting up a bank account and $20 is deposited each month through the support of the partner in Canada. The family is assisted in critically analyzing their problems and making yearly plans and budgets to use the funds to overcome their problems. They are encouraged to start an income generation project (a small business) to help improve the family’s income in a sustainable way. This program also allows families to address basic-needs issues such as housing, health problems, education, indebtedness, sanitation, food security, etc. Families are encouraged to take an active role in the development of their families and communities though receiving training to increase knowledge and confidence. They are also supported in joining the local self-help group, participating in their local government, and accessing government grants and schemes.

Reena starting the programReena’s story of change and transformation is one of many examples of how families’ lives are impacted through this program. Reena and her family are from Alappuzha, Kerala and have successfully completed the Family Development Program through a Save A Family Plan partnership.

Before taking part in this program, the family struggled to meet basic needs and keep their small grocery store open. Their health was poor, they were malnourished, the children could not go to school, and their home was an unstable, one room hut.

Six years later, things have drastically changed for Reena and her family. After taking out micro-loans from a local credit union and accessing government social programs, they were able to expand their store and purchase a scooter to help with delivery of goods which has greatly increased their business’s success. By taking part in skills training that was offered by local staff members, they were able to access health insurance and start an organic kitchen garden. Finally, they saved enough money to begin the construction of a new house. The local government was able to give them a subsidy allowing them to complete the project. Things that were only dreams 6 years earlier for this family are now a reality. Reena expresses: “We cannot think of what our life would have been like without SAFP.”

For more information about Save A Family Plan’s Family Development Program, please visit our website.

Protecting the Forest in Raipur, Chhattisgarh

The SPED III Program acts as a plaform for communities to organize themselves, make connections with local leaders and institutions, and address a variety of poverty-related issues.  Here is a wonderful story of a community defending the environment from one of our NGO partners, Raipur Diocesan Social Welfare Society, in Chhattisgarh, India.

In the village of Attarahgudi in Chhattisgarh, the villagers regularly meet to discuss their problems as part of the SPED III Program. During one meeting, the community examined a serious issue that emerged. The trees in a nearby forest were being cut down regularly, which was leading to environmental damage to this important resource. The villagers identified that those responsible were members of their own community.

After some serious reflection, members of the village committee, sanghams, and the local government decided to form a Forest Protection Committee. This committee was given the power and responsibility to safe-guard the trees in the forest.

However, even after taking action, they found that trees were still being cut down. This time, those responsible were coming from another village and could not be caught.

Once again, a meeting was called in the community to address this issue. With the support of the local government officials from the nearby villages, the community members decided to impose a series of sanctions. Anyone caught cutting down the trees would be penalized Rs. 500, their bicycle and axe would be confiscated, they would be socially isolated within the village, and any wood collected would be auctioned to support the Forest Protection Committee.

A few weeks later, a powerful person from a nearby village sent five of his thugs to cut teak from the forest. When the Forest Protection Committee came to know about this, a group of women went to protest their action. But the thugs would not stop and threatened the women with terrible consequences from their powerful boss.

The women returned immediately to the village and shared the story with the community. Together with the local government officials, they took up sticks and succeeded in chasing away the thugs. The next day, they registered the incident with the police.

The women were so affected by these events that they wanted to take some meaningful action to protect the forest in the future. In India, it is a tradition for girls tie beautiful silk threads called Rakhi on their brother’s right hand as a symbol of their emotional bond and their commitment to protect and care for each other. The women decided to tie Rakhis on the surrounding trees as a symbol of their solemn promise to protect the forest as a part of their own family (see above photo).

The action taken by the community of Attarahgudi village provides a wonderful example of environmental protection at the local level and the power of communities to make change when they act with unity and determination. The community did not give up when difficulties arose, but continued to work together to solve their issues. This provides a strong foundation for this village to continue making change in the future and a great example to inspire other communities to take action.