SEDS, the Social Education and Development Society, was founded in 1980 by Rajen Joshua and Manil Jayasena as a grassroots development NGO, motivated by the desire to help the poorest of the poor in the drought-prone area of Anantapur District in Andhra Pradesh. In the early days, the main focus of the work was on community development by way of non-formal education and small loans to skilled target communities like cobblers, basket weavers, blanket weavers and others.

As Anantapur is the second most drought prone area in India and much of its natural resources are depleted, it soon became clear that environmental problems would have to be tackled first, if peoples’ livelihoods were to be made sustainable. Starting in 10 villages near the small town of Penukonda a scheme of pioneering work was developed which aimed to empower local communities and improve their environment. Initially small nurseries were started for homestead plantations and planting of avenue trees along village roads. Re-a-forestation and more sustainable agricultural practices were introduced. From 1990, SEDS started using a more participatory approach, through the formation of Community Based Organizations. Involving the communities more in the effort made them actual stakeholders in the development process of the region. Throughout the years the scope and area of the work increased and the fruits of the sustained efforts became visible in the greener environment and the enthusiasm of the communities.

Today, SEDS is working through an integrated rural development approach with an emphasis on women’s empowerment, watersheds, re-a-forestation and natural resource management. This is within five Mandals in the southern part of Anantapur District, in south western Andhra Pradesh namely, Penukonda, Roddam, Gorantla, Somandepalli and Chilamathur. In these 5 mandals SEDS currently supports 125 villages, being some 12000 women and their families, 980 Self Help Groups (SHGs), 120 Village Organisations (VOs) & 5 Mandal Samakyas (MMSs) .

Through its sustained efforts SEDS has made a significant impact on the lives of the people in the area and the local environment. The SEDS slogan “Towards a greener tomorrow” has become a reality.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Volunteer Say: Nothing goes to waste by Natalie Owens

Nothing goes to waste is a phrase said quite a lot around the grounds of SEDS and as we have explored some of the surrounding areas it is not hard to see why.  

The electricity at SEDS is powered by the grid in the area, however, it doesn't seem to kick-in until around midday with the farm being so remote. Therefore, on workdays (Monday-Saturday) electricity is powered by a generator. It is not unusual to go without power on a Sunday until the evening and it being our only day off provides a nice break from relying on electricity and we have taken to enjoying a book, crocheting or simply meditating/relaxing down by the pond.

The surrounding local communities have limited electricity too. It is something we take for granted in Australia, a couple of times we have mentioned to our friends here that our major cities leave their lights on in empty office buildings all night long as it makes the city look pretty at night….and have watched their jaws drop in shock that the Australian government allows this.

We have explored some of the local communities and I have been touched by the resilience of some of the families that live in tents in the middle of the desert, with no water pump or electricity for kilometers. The children still attend school despite their circumstances and learn to 'study by candlelight’ something that we have never experienced in Australia. The local government and SEDS have provided bore wells to be able to supply water to these areas. SEDS also has approval to fit 5000 bio-gas containers in the communities. We saw how large ditches were being dug to fit the large domes that create methane from a mixture of cow manure and water….this provides natural gas straight to the homes to fuel stove cookers. We were invited into one of the homes and drank coffee fueled by shit (so to speak). It was awesome!!

At SEDS our water is provided by a small tank that runs out on a daily basis as this area does not get much rain. It doesn’t take long for the many hands on deck to fill it up again. I have forgotten what a shower feels like for here we bath ourselves with a bucket. It saves so much water and there is nothing like pouring a small bucket of cold/warmish water over your head in the morning.The same bucket is used to hand wash our clothes. Claire and I have not quite worked out how we can live without toilet paper yet, however we have taken to burning our paper as a ritual to the distant drumming sounds from the nearby villages.

The farm has had some difficulty in maintaining a fruit and vegetable patch on the premises as large monkeys roam the rooftops searching for food, so food is purchased from the nearby markets or farms. Every little food scrap is kept to make compost or to feed the many animals who live at SEDS including 3 cows and 8 dogs…and so the cow manure is used for bio-gas that provides our meals. Everything is interconnected and nothing goes to waste.

SEDS fundamental aim is to empower the local communities to achieve sustainable livelihoods. SEDS provides a holistic approach to natural resource management that is based on the efficient use of limited land and water. Imagine the possibilities of what we could do in Australia if we applied this concept to every household and business!

Photo Courtesy: Natalie Owens

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