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

Supporting youth in accessing job opportunities in Gughwa Tolla

Students attending the coaching center
The village of Gughwa Tolla in Madhya Pradesh, one of the target areas of the SPED III program, is home to people belonging to scheduled tribes and scheduled castes. In the field of education, primary schools are present in the community, but students must travel to the city for higher education, which is very far from the village. As a result, most of the students discontinue their studies after completing plus two (Grade 12). There is no public transportation in this village and most of the private bus owners do not make concessions for students, so the youth are unable to continue their higher studies due to the economic situation of the families. Since communication facilities like radio, newspapers, television and the internet are not available in the villages, the students have no awareness of job vacancies that are published through the media after they complete their studies.

The local field staff, the Village Action Team, and other community members selected the issue of unemployment among youth as their prioritized issue. During micro-planning, the beneficiaries discussed possible activities to increase young people’s access to employment opportunities with the help of SPED III staff. They planned to start a three month special coaching center to prepare educated youth for competitive public exams. Before starting the coaching center, the students were forced to depend on resources and facilities from the city to build career opportunities. The special coaching center is focused on building the capacity of 20 educated youth to write public exams, like public service examinations, Vyapam (the official recruiting body of the Madhya Pradesh government for government-related jobs), and the centrally sponsored examination for the students from rural village. Since most of the beneficiaries belong to tribal communities, they have special considerations for examinations and job opportunities and their involvement in the center will help remove the barriers for them to access these positions.

The classes, which are being taught by the Director of Institute of Professional Skill
Academy from Sidhi, are provided to prepare students for arithmetic tests, IQ test, and general knowledge, and to develop students’ awareness of the procedures to apply for different vacancies. The local field staff has created a notice board at the coaching center to post job vacancy notices that are published by government and private sectors for new recruitment.

A notice board is used to provide information about job opportunities to youth.

A notice board is used to provide information about job opportunities to youth.

• Educated youth are developed confidence to attain jobs from community
• They are more aware of existing resources to increase sustainable income source to the families
• Through the establishment of notice board, the youth have reduced their dependency on travelling to the the city for collecting information which related with different vacancies

A big thanks to our partner organization, the Samaritan Social Service Society in Satna, Madhya Pradesh for sharing this story and to their committed staff members for their efforts in making the SPED III Program a success.

Partnering with the Khasi people in Meghalaya, India

Visiting School Children in Meghalaya
The Madonna Missions is a committed group of people who partner with Save A Family Plan to carry on the work of the late Father Richard Saldanha. Their generous support is helping to promote education and infrastructure development in a rural area of Shillong in the north-east of India. Mr. Jack Geerts, Chair of the Madonna Missions Committee, shares a reflection on his experiences in Meghalaya.

The year was 2009 when my wife, Julia, and I had the good fortune to travel to India in a group of 20 with our parish priest, Father Richard Saldanha, who was born, raised and spent the bulk of his life there. He had started several small missions in India and he raised funds for them by taking small groups there annually. Though excited, my fear was that I would witness abject poverty and not be able to turn away from it and put it out of my mind. In other words carry on my cozy life as if nothing had happened, like nothing had affected me. But I couldn’t and it did.
Women handwash their clothing at a nearby water source
There began some serious soul searching because I couldn’t turn away. My fears had become my reality, a reality that stayed with me each waking hour. I had to act. So in 2011, I returned alone to the one place that had affected me the most, the small state of Meghalaya in the northeast of the country. This area is inhabited by mostly tribal peoples and in this particular area the Khasi tribe. Missionaries of different Christian faiths had started arriving here in the nineteenth century and a strong Christian belief was present.
Children attend school with support from Madonna Missions
I had the good fortune to connect with some of the Visitation Sisters of Don Bosco and from here was able to visit their far flung missions where they administer to their own people. In each mission centre, four or five sisters who are trained as nurses, teachers, evangelists and social workers live in small convents. There they teach school and run a dispensary with medications for malaria, diarrhea, etc., for many of the local people still succumb to these treatable diseases. If ever there could be “angels” among us, I felt it certainly would be these little nuns. They are totally committed to their calling of service to others, while themselves enduring the ravages of malaria, homesickness, loneliness and extremely primitive conditions with a sweet smile.
The dispensary run by the Sisters is an integral part of the community
I returned home with a new zeal, determined that I would do all in my power to continue to provide funds for their mission. What started as an apprehension has now become one of the greatest joys of my life. We are extremely grateful to Save A Family Plan for partnering with our Madonna Missions Committee. In the meantime, I have fallen in love with the Khasi people! Their warmth and welcoming spirit has touched me deeply and I have come to the realization that the poor are the true heroes of this world. In the quest to help them, I feel it is I who has received the greatest blessing.

Meeting some shy children
A big thanks to Jack for this reflection and to all those who support Madonna Missions and make this work possible.

Change of mindset leads to new opportunities for families

Farah and her family

Farah, being a Muslim woman, was never allowed to go out for work and earn a living, but she always dreamed about owning her own business. Both her and her husband wanted to educate their four children, but due to their situation they could not afford to.

When she began participating in the Family Development Program, she attended all meetings and trainings regularly. She felt empowered through this new knowledge she gained, as well as through her participation and relationship with other women in her local Self- Help Group. Her husband, Hassan, also saw the value of her attending these meetings and saw a change in her attitude. Yet he still saw Farah as “useless” and unable to contribute to the family income. As well, he did not want her to leave the house for work.

To address this situation, SAFP local staff went to visit the family frequently, discussing with Hassan the importance of earning a second income so that the children could go to school. Slowly his attitude changed towards her as he saw her active participation in the community and with other women. He saw that she had new found skills and knowledge which she could use.

Farah in her shop
It was in November 2011 that she made her first withdrawal from SAFP and began a small shop and goat rearing unit. She started with 2 small goats and today that number has grown to 9. Originally her shop was in the house itself with some sweets and other snacks. She wanted to build a small room for shop and expand it with some more items. In November 2012, she withdrew a second amount of money and expanded it to a separate room in the house. Now Hassan sees the value Farah and what she can contribute to the family (she is earning more than him daily through her shop). Farah’s next goal is to buy their own land and build a new house for her family.

Working together to access safe drinking water in Tikratola village

Accessing water in Tikratola

Tikratola is a small part of Bhagdu village in Mandla District of Madhya Pradesh that is home to about 80 families. The majority of these families are scheduled tribe (ST) and agriculture is the only choice for livelihood in this area. The people of Tikratola face many challenges in their daily lives and have difficulty meeting their basic needs. Like so many communities in India, they have been unable to make much improvement in their standard of living, despite the many resources and programs available to them through the local government.

The people of Tikratola began partnering with SAFP through the SPED III Program and Jabalpur Social Service Society in 2011. The community actively participated in the process of gathering information about their village, analyzing the key issues they face, and planning for solutions. Through SPED III intervention, they also developed awareness about the importance of forming Self-Help Groups, accessing government schemes, and demanding their basic human rights.

As they progressed in their planning, the community identified drinking water as their most important issue. They were collecting water daily from Mandratola hamlet, which is about 2 kms away from the village, or digging a pit near the stream to get water for drinking. This water was unsafe for drinking, but the community continued this practice since they did not have any other water source available. Due to the consumption of unsafe water, they were victims of many health problems like diarrhea, vomiting, skin infection, typhoid, cholera, and stomach pain. The children and elderly people in the village were the most vulnerable groups for these diseases.

The community originally planned to solve this problem by cleaning and deepening the nearby pond with a contribution of Rs. 3000/- ($60 Cdn) from SAFP and CIDA. However, due to the severity of the drinking water problem, it was decided that a better solution was to repair the well in the village. The Rs. 3000/- was not sufficient for this project; the work was estimated at about 15 to 20 thousand rupees to make the necessary repairs to the well. It was discussed in a community meeting and villagers were motivated to put their need forward to the local government and ask for some help. The local government representative, called the Sarpanch, was aware of the seriousness of the problem and he agreed to support the community in completing the work.

The problem with the well was that the rain water was entering into it directly, which made the water unsafe for drinking. Therefore, the goal of the work was to stop the rain water from flowing into the well. The community contributed two days of labour towards the project and the Sarpanch contributed one trolley of sand and some of the labor charges. From SAFP’s contribution, cement and stone were purchased and the charges for a diesel pump were covered. The total contribution from the vernment was Rs. 6000.00 ($120 Cdn), with the community contributing Rs. 8000.00 ($160 Cdn) and SAFP contributing Rs 3000.00 as planned. Altogether, Rs. 17000.00 ($340 Cdn) was spent on the project and 25 families are now safely using water from the well for drinking.

A wall was constructed around the well with stone, cement and sand and hard soil was added around it to stop the rain water from entering inside.

A wall was constructed around the well with stone, cement and sand and hard soil was added around it to stop the rain water from entering inside.

Many thanks to Jabalpur Social Service Society for their committed work and for sharing this story of success!

Towards Equality

“Men and women ought to recognize their intrinsic unity and should be able to cherish a life of mutual love, service and respect, togetherness, cooperation, and reciprocity rooted in human dignity and based on equal partnership. Only then will true progress, peace and development be brought about.” – Kerala Catholic Bishops Council of India (gender policy, 2009)

“Men and women ought to recognize their intrinsic unity and should be able to cherish a life of mutual love, service and respect, togetherness, cooperation, and reciprocity rooted in human dignity and based on equal partnership. Only then will true progress, peace and development be brought about.”
– Kerala Catholic Bishops Council of India (gender policy, 2009)

“A woman is now raped in India every 20 minutes…” A statistic from the National Crime Records Bureau of India, which made international news this year with relation to the horrific cases of rape and violence towards women in India. Sources show that rape cases in India have doubled between 1990 and 2008 and that 24,206 rape cases were registered in India in 2011. The real situation in India is that the number of cases of gender-based violence is much higher, it just goes unreported.

The issues around why this culture of abuse and violence towards women exists are extremely complex. This is not a recent trend but one that stems from a deeply rooted and inherent preference for boy children and an undervaluing and lack of appreciation of girls and women. These statistics are more than just numbers to Save A Family Plan (SAFP), as the women and girls within our programs face this discrimination on a daily basis. We have seen the faces and heard the stories of those who have very real experiences with acts of emotional, physical and sexual violence.

SAFP is committed to the empowerment of the poor and marginalized people of India, and to promoting a society where women, men, boys and girls are valued equally. We recognize the important role that women play within their families and communities. Our programs encourage and support them to become decision makers within the social, political and economic spheres of their lives. As women gain confidence to fully and meaningfully participate within their families and communities, they can no longer be seen as objects of burden.

Women participants of the Family Development Program in Hyderabad, Andra Pradesh celebrate their strengths and success through song and dance at an Annual Family Gathering.

Women participants of the Family Development Program in Hyderabad, Andra Pradesh celebrate their strengths and success through song and dance at an Annual Family Gathering.

Our programs also show that women are more likely to give back to their families and communities once they feel they are contributing members. Statistics show that when women can make an independent income they will give 90% of it back to their families and communities. The story of Kavitha shows the personal change and growth that is possible through SAFP’s Family Development Program.

When Kavitha was born, she became the youngest of four girls in her family. Her parents were faced with the burden of paying a dowry for all of their daughters. At the age of eighteen Kavitha’s marriage was arranged, but after three months they had to separate. If she stayed in the marriage her life would have been in danger. Her husband was an alcoholic who physically and mentally abused and tortured her. After her separation, she became depressed, her community ignored her, and as a result she did not have the confidence to leave her parents’ house. She was traumatized by her experience and could not work or speak to anyone.

One day a social worker came to the village and gave an awareness training on the economic and social program available to the community. From this, she was motivated to join her local self-help group where she heard about SAFP. She became excited by being a part of this community of women and attended the meetings regularly. After some time, she was selected by the group to become a participant of SAFP’s Family Development Program. Through financial support she received from SAFP, she was able to begin her own clothing sales business, where she went door-to-door in the village to sell clothes. Kavitha explains how these small successes began to motivate her: “From this business I received a good income, which boosted my confidence. I received training in tailoring, and with all of these skills I planned to start up a tailoring unit.” Slowly her business grew. Initially, she used her home for a shop but eventually she had saved enough money to rent a store front nearby and purchase two more tailoring machines. She is now running her own small business, continuing to sell clothes within the community, and earning approximately $140.00 a month.

A participant of the Family Development Program from Marthandom, Tamil Nadu co-owns a tailoring business with her husband, which they named after their daughter.

A participant of the Family Development Program from Marthandom, Tamil Nadu co-owns a tailoring business with her husband, which they named after their daughter.

Kavita expresses the change in attitude and confidence she has experienced and how she hopes to help others in the community do the same: “I am proud to say that through my small business I’m able to employ another girl from my village from a very poor family background. I am now able to help people who are also in difficult situations. Through my experience, I wish to teach tailoring to other widows and abandoned women in our community, so that they feel the same confidence and pride that I do.”

By Laura Stinson
SAFP Canada Staff