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: A PARTICIPATORY APPROACH- PART ONE by Natalie Owens

I say part one as we have only been living at SEDS for two weeks now and it feels like we are only scratching the surface of the interconnectedness of community life in Anandapuram. Slowly, finding our way through the layers of community organisation and its complexities of history, culture, caste systems, gender and poverty, that have all molded a way of life that exists today. I only attempt to understand it not to be an expert. It has been such a pleasure and priviledge to sit and hear the stories of these people and hope that I can share some insight of our global brothers and sisters who are doing it tough and contribute purposefully in some way, for "we are all waves"- Hindi proverb.

Since 1980, SEDS has been working with the local communities to improve the livelihoods of families, by providing a range of social and environmental initiatives. However SEDS discovered that by providing its services and resources for free, they were not being valued by the communities. Therefore, in 1990 SEDS realised that a more sustainable approach was to involve the community members as much as possible through participation. Each target community has since been required to contribute a small amount towards the facilities, whether it is the installation of a water pump or a biogas fitting. This two-way process has had positive outcomes as the people become stakeholders in the development process of their community.

In the last week we have gained exposure to some of these exchanges where SEDS is called to do a biogas fitting or maintenance. We entered a village where there were people living out of tents in poverty. A farmer expressed his sadness that someone had accidently split the water pipe while digging, thus cutting off the village water supply. The SEDS field worker obviously took this seriously, however it was requested that a small contribution of 200INR be paid to SEDS for the repair, ($3.50 Australia Dollars). It appeared to be an unexpected amount that the community would have to pay for, however they would need to accommodate for this. SEDS encourages this contribution in order to empower communities to take ownership of these processes and their resources, this deters a sense of dependency on the organisation.

Another story of reflection was one of a small community that was fitted with a biogas system by SEDS. Workers have reported difficulties in shifting some of the perceptions and processes of community members and farmers who are set in their ways. While communities see the benefits of biogas, it is a task to change traditional attitudes and behaviours that have been used for hundreds of years. An example of this was when a community faced financial concerns they were forced to sell their cows, thus the manure  (fuel) for biogas was not available and as a result people returned to their traditional ways of cooking on an open fire. One lady though decided that she would collect cow manure from neighbouring fields and through her actions and personal agency she was able to demonstrate a shift in thinking.

We also recently attended our first community organisation meeting of local farmers who are participating in the Low Carbon Farming (LCF) initiative. This involves the use of no chemicals and fertilisers which helps to generates carbon credits ie. money from Developed Countries such as Australia. The farmers reported that they are very happy to be involved as it reduces the costs of buying chemicals and fertilisers and provides a much-needed income. While the organic farming process is more time consuming they can see the benefits in the long term. The only problem that was communicated by the farmers was the lack of rainwater in the area which causes substantial delys in the process.

To be continued.... ~~<3~~

Photo Courtesy: Natalie Owens

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Volunteer Say: Welcome to SEDS by Natalie Owens

SEDS- Social, Education and Development society, is located about 180kms (2.5hr drive) from Bangalore in the Anantapur District of Andhra Pradesh. As we turned off the main road we noticed a large rock face in the distance with the word SEDS inscribed in large white letters like the Hollywood hills we joked. As we drove towards our new home filled with anticipation and excitement we passed through rocky terrain and beautiful overshadowing mountains. The landscape was dry and barren of water. We then passed through a bustling small village of shops and local action called Penukonda, this would be our closest town to buy goods. 20kms later we arrived at our beautiful organic farm home-stay, the surroundings were evidently greener with palm trees and plants everywhere.

SEDS was founded 30 years ago by Rajen and Manil (husband and wife) to address the environmental problems of the area as Anantapur was the second most drought and desert prone area in India with an agrarian economy.  The drought has caused many social issues in the area including a high-rate of school drop-outs, unemployment, increased crime in the area, migration to urban areas, Indebted farmers commiting suicide, lack of food security and high rate of deforestation.
"You can't change people’s minds until you feed them" ~Rajen~

SEDS now works in 5 mandals covering an area of 5,400 sq. km. with a population of around 300,000 across 180 villages.  Its aim is to empower communities and improve their environment and livelihood through sustainable projects such as bio-gas, low carbon farming and water storage methods. SEDS also facilitates community support, self-help groups, skill development, and education programs to the nearby villages, with an aim to particularly empower and upskill the women.

The SEDS farm itself, where we are living is a bustling community that operates it’s own projects including a private school and English lessons, a hostel for children who are homeless or unable to remain with their families, a sponsorship program, and much more. Claire and I have begun to work in the school in our spare time providing tuition to some of the children who are struggling with their English.

Yesterday, in our lunch break, the teachers gathered in the staff room and started painting Henna on one another in preparation for Ramadan festivities tomorrow. On our way to school we were surprised by the head chef Gangama who bounded out of some thick plantation with some herbs in her hand. Most of the workers on the farm speak the local language of Telugu so we had some difficulty understanding what she had been harvesting. But later I found her grinding a green substance in a massive stone mortar & pestle and discovered she was making her own organic Henna paste for Ramadan. 

As I look out of the window of my humble room, beautiful green trees stretch for miles with abundant bird and wildlife, sunflower fields and farmland it is hard to believe this was once considered desert prone land, Manil and Rajen’s success is evident.

Anything is possible…

Photo Courtesy: Natalie Owens

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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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Jasper Daniel: A lonely road

‘One who’s poised on the edge of a cliff is wise to define progress as a step backwards’. I spotted this wise saying on a signboard while holidaying in the hills of Mussoorie and Landour a few months ago. Its meaning hit me tenfold when I stood at the edge of a cliff and looked around. The wise, old mountains kept a silent watch over the trucks winding their way up and down. The floating mist was serenading the flirtatious green of the trees. Birds and monkeys were living the high-life like a bunch of billionaires, singing and swaying with no care in the world. Of course progress, as we know it, would be a blunder in this God ordained perfection. But unfortunately, progress has already begun.

Every day hundreds of trees are being sacrificed on the altars of progress in our country. Officials at the top, planning these development projects, fail to consider the impact of their myopic approach on the eco-system and the future. They are also blind to the years of hard work, planning and labour of those who planted these trees. One such project is threatening the future of hundreds of trees planted by SEDS twenty years ago.

The Madakasira main road that connects Penukonda town to the SEDS farm and central office is a lonely one. All you have for company is rows of trees, performing a welcome dance to the whistling melody of the winds as you drive through. Pongamia, Neem, Bougainvillea and a host of other trees line this 20 kilometer stretch. They provide natural protection against pests for the farms on the sides of the road, and bring great relief from the scorching heat on summer days. Thanks to the new road widening project, these trees are on the verge of getting destroyed.

We all love tree-lined roads. But most of us are not aware of what it takes and how much they cost. The cost of a tree sapling today is Rs. 75. It take over 5000 saplings to cover a ten kilometer stretch. The cost of labour is Rs.100 per sapling. Add watering and maintenance and the rough estimate comes to around 35 Lakh Rupees. Driving down a tree-lined, shaded road is a pleasant and enjoyable experience. But pleasant and enjoyable experiences don’t come cheap.

It’s absolutely important for all of us to understand that it takes a lot and costs a lot to grow trees. Even with all the money pumped in, there is no guarantee for the trees to grow as desired. Natural conditions play a huge role. Drought can stunt growth. Cattle can graze away the saplings. The next time you see a tree on the side of the road or take shelter under one, say a silent thank you to those who made this miracle happen.

The trees of Madakasira are under threat. Twenty years of hard work is going down the drain right in front of our eyes. It is a tragedy. But we at SEDS believe that this is not the end. It’s a tragedy only if we give up. Only if we stop doing our duty.

Development and progress are inevitable. It is up to us to find a way to balance development and conservation. It is up to us to keep planting more trees. And for that we need your help. Can you help in some way? Can you donate the cost of one sapling (Rs.75)? Or the cost of labour per sapling (Rs. 100)? Can you share your ideas and suggestions? Can you spare some time to join us in the plantation drive? Can you spread the word about this project? It’s a lonely road that leads to change. We need you to walk this road with us, to create a change, to put back the trees on the lonely Madakasira road again.

Photo Courtesy: Jasper Daniel and Disha Kathuria

SEDS: Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) Project

A Zen temple located in northwest Kyoto, Japan is known for a rock garden of fifteen boulders, placed so that, when looking at the garden from any angle, only fourteen of the boulders are visible at one time. According to the locals, only the truly enlightened are able to view the fifteenth boulder. Thousands of kilometers westwards, amidst the baking boulders of Anantapur, fifteen SEDS staff members watch a group of masons put the finishing touches on an igloo made of bricks. An enlightened effort was required to see a possible connection that would benefit all those involved.

In 1997, the Kyoto Protocol was drafted to help reduce the effect of greenhouse emissions. The Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), defined in Article 12 of the Protocol, allows a country with an emission-reduction commitment under the Protocol to implement an emission-reduction project in developing countries. SEDS is the link between such international treaties and local development on the ground through its Biogas CDM Project. The project activity is to set up 5000 biogas plants (digesters) of 2m3 capacity each for single households in the 5 divisions of Anantapur District in which SEDS operates, and in this way replace Non-Renewable Biomass with biogas for cooking and hot water heating. SEDS links carbon credits traded in the Euro zone to non-polluting cooking fuel for villages, benefiting all those involved in the project.

A truly creditable venture.

[The article originally written by Amit Manikoth, for SEDS's 30 years celebration. This is simply a reproduction.]

SEDS: It's only right to stand up for your rights

1984. A young Rajen Joshua crouched behind a tree, lying in wait for the landlords who beat him up the previous week.

Rajen had come to the wilderness that was the Anantapur of the 70s as a part of the Young India initiative. He had been encouraging the villagers to stand up to the local landlords and claim what was rightfully theirs from the land that they worked on. This didn't go down well with the local landlords who had the authority in the region for decades.

The story of SEDS is often the story of opposition. Opposition to outsiders, to a different way of development, to a different way of thinking. Over the years, Rajen and Manil have had to deal with hostile farmers, corrupt bureaucrats, an apathetic officialdom, false police cases, thieving employees, naxal threats, and even short spells in jail. SEDS is certainly the only NGO that has even run on the proceeds from motorbike rallying, thanks to Rajen's race wins during times of fund shortages.

The success and development that you see around you came about not only with hard work, but with several hard knocks. Looking at the results, we must not forget that the journey has been far from easy and far from complete.  

Rajen never got to confront the people he was waiting for on that evening in '84. Someone had warned them to avoid that route and a few days later, the village brokered a compromise. 

[The article originally written by Amit Manikoth, for SEDS's 30 years celebration. This is simply a reproduction.]

SEDS: High yields of Low Carbon Farming

Decreased tilling + decreased fertilizer = increased crop.
If that sounds a bit counter-intuitive, then you should hear about Low Carbon Farming (LCF).

Most modern agricultural practices are caught up in the ever-increasing cycle of chemical fertilizers. A farmer who uses a certain amount of chemicals on his fields, finds that the quantity required increases with each year, to ensure the same yield. LCF promotes sustainable forms of agriculture using practices like reduced tilling, minimal or no usage of chemical fertilizers, planting multiple crops for biodiversity, and anaerobic composting. Two main sources of carbon related to agriculture are the use of chemical fertilizers and tilling the soil which releases trapped carbon. LCF practices preserve the carbon content of the soil that would otherwise be depleted by the more traditional methods of modern farming.   

SEDS and 4 other NGOs make up the 'Fair Climate Network-LCF' group that aims to implement sustainable agricultural practices over 8,000 hectares of land. In a historic first, this 1-year pilot project also aims to quantify and translate the amount of carbon reduced or preserved into Verified Emission Reductions (VERs) that can then be traded on the Carbon Credit market. Out of its target of 819 farmers, SEDS has already reached out to 620 farmers through farmer field schools.  

With a lot riding on the success and lessons learnt from this pilot project, this sustainable venture looks set to yield results next year. 

[The article originally written by Amit Manikoth, for SEDS's 30 years celebration. This is simply a reproduction.]

SEDS: Communities shape societies

Going by definitions, there are more than 94 for the word 'community'. Communities can range from a few mud huts on a single patch of ground to a trans-continental virtual Internet group. A community can refer to a centuries-old business partnership, or to the temporary kinship felt by fans at a football match. What is common though, is the sense of belonging.

The sense of belonging is what's integral to the SEDS definition of a community. And the community development program itself is the umbrella under which all SEDS activities are organized. The basic unit of the community-based organizations (CBOs) is the women's self-help group (SHG). SHGs generally consist of ten to fifteen members who organize savings and loan activities. SHGs also spread awareness of various social issues. One or two women of each SHG are nominated to represent their group at a village organization (VO) that handles village issues. VO leaders then become a part of a mandal samakya which deals with things at a mandal (akin to a county) level. Finally, there are mandal facilitation centres (MFCs) that take up legal and government programs, with lobbying and advocacy issues at the Divisional level.

SEDS is involved in each stage of the community organization, delivering facilities and training a village staff of about 400 people, including volunteers, health workers, and teachers. From the mid-1980's when SEDS started Sanghams in the villages, the main effort has been to make the community organizations efficient, sustainable and, in the long term, independent.

[The article originally written by Amit Manikoth, for SEDS's 30 years celebration. This is simply a reproduction.]

SEDS: Walking the path, Roger Griffiths lit.

Roger Griffiths had a passion for cars. He maintained his antique cars beautifully and participated in an annual drive along the coast of Australia. As his battle with Parkinson's disease weakened him, he asked a friend to drive one of his cars so that he could still participate.

Roger worked through Rotary and many other social development groups in his local community of Frankston. As an Honorary Director with Action Aid Australia, Roger was also connected with SEDS, visiting the SEDS campus twice, in 2003 and in 2005. Action Aid still sponsors several children at the SEDS school. His skills at driving local development activities ranged from organizing plays for fund raising, to visiting underprivileged children. With the money collected in his memory, SEDS launched the Roger Griffiths Driving School in 2009. The driving school aims to teach unemployed village boys how to drive a vehicle, expanding their employment opportunities in the transport sector.

A 10th grade certificate is the minimum requirement to join the school. The students attend daily practical and theory classes, learn basic vehicle maintenance and simple repairs. They learn traffic rules in addition to learning about parts of a motor vehicle. After 45 days, they are eligible to take a driving test at Hindupur, an hour's journey away from Penukonda.   

Mr. Griffiths passed away in 2008. His name and legacy live on here at SEDS.

[The article originally written by Amit Manikoth, for SEDS's 30 years celebration. This is simply a reproduction.]

SEDS: Technology for rural transformation

What does SEDS have in common with a 25-billion dollar petroleum giant, the largest Indian private insurance company, a pharmaceutical multi-national, and the third biggest steel company in the country?

They are all winners of the Silver EDGE award at Interop, a renowned information technology conference and exhibition held at several global locations every year. Past awards have been given to the likes of Hindustan Petroleum, ICICI-Prudential, Allergan, and Jindal Steel. SEDS is the first NGO, and Manil is the first woman to win this award which recognizes enterprises that use IT effectively to drive growth.

SEDS collaborated with Wolf Frameworks to put a Census Information Management System in place. The system that took just 120 hours to implement, maintains details of thousands of people from the 250 villages that SEDS helps. Using this system, SEDS can track and effectively direct development effort in each of these villages. The technology used also makes it easier for supporting organizations all over the World to contribute to the various development projects in Anantapur.

While Silver EDGE winners usually harness the power of IT to drive their capital inflow, SEDS uses it to nurture a far more valuable resource, human capital.

[The article originally written by Amit Manikoth, for SEDS's 30 years celebration. This is simply a reproduction.]

SEDS: Trees are the source of life, the beacon for future.

Baba Fakhruddin Suharwardy was the king of an Iranian province, before renouncing his kingdom and becoming a Sufi saint. After several years spent serving his spiritual guru, he sought a place to settle in. According to an old tale, his guru gave him a dry twig and directed him to travel till he found a place where the twig would bloom into a big plant. Baba Fakhruddin travelled far and one day, he planted the twig and slept under a tree, only to awake and see that it had become a beautiful plant. That place was Penukonda.

Like the dry twig of the legend, the once dry hills of Penukonda have been transformed into a sea of green through the re-forestation efforts of SEDS. Planting and helping plant over 2 million Tamarind, Neem, Pongamia, and Jatropha trees, SEDS has effectively converted barren land into a veritable forest. Supporting the planting activity, SEDS's watershed management techniques ensure that the water stores remain even during seasons of drought. SEDS pioneered the restoration of old tanks and traditional water bodies such as farm ponds, as well as creating new watersheds in the area. Villagers who once cut down trees indiscriminately have realized the importance of the green cover and have become the best guardians of Penukonda's trees. 

Baba Fakhruddin's mausoleum still stands in Penukonda today, among all the trees.

[The article originally written by Amit Manikoth, for SEDS's 30 years celebration. This is simply a reproduction.]

SEDS: Localise to stabilise

It used to take the villagers of K.Maruvapalli more than half a day to obtain basic provisions. Dependent as they were on the nearest town, Hindupur, they needed to spend money on transport just to get there. Hindupur itself was not the most fortunate of places. With scarce groundwater, prices of essential commodities are usually higher, especially for villagers without any other options.

The SEDS village organization realized that a local solution was required. They started setting up their own shops to make basic provisions easily accessible to the villagers and thus, ensure food security for the rural community.

SEDS helped the village organizations manage the shops. The women were given training in accounts, book-keeping and how to forecast and plan for purchases in advance. Not only did the villagers savings on transportation costs, but the advantage of buying wholesale actually gave them access to goods at a lower cost than before.    

The local village shop model fits into the sustainability principles of localization of economy. Today, there are three shops running in the area, with plans for several more.

[The article originally written by Amit Manikoth, for SEDS's 30 years celebration. This is simply a reproduction.]

SEDS: Sustainable engagement for sustainable living

Take a walk to the play area in front of the SEDS office, and you may catch the dogs Zizu and Bacchi at their favourite game. The two boxers love playing with the see-saw and the enthusiasm with which they pull and push the seats has to be seen to be believed.

Balancing the demands of a rapidly growing society against the need to sustain our natural resources is no easy task. On one side, the mounting demands of an urban-industrial lifestyle always threaten push resources right down to depletion. SEDS is tipping the balance towards sustainability and conservation. Watershed management and tank de-silting replenish the water. Sustainable agriculture and vermiculture preserve the soil. Reforestation and clean development cleanse the air.

By training and involving the people of the villages in the areas around Penukonda, SEDS ensures that development is participative and continuous. SEDS brings the expertise and implementation strategies to essential areas and to programs that are on par with conservation at the highest levels the World over.

All aimed at maintaining the delicate balance of sustainable development.     

[The article originally written by Amit Manikoth, for SEDS's 30 years celebration. This is simply a reproduction.]

SEDS: Hostel the homeless

"In the first place men should have a fear of the gods above, who regard the loneliness of the orphans." - Plato

Asha (name changed) was a bright girl who used to attend the SEDS school on a sponsorship program. All of a sudden she stopped attending classes. When she returned after a couple of weeks, she was four months pregnant. At the age of 12. Another disappearance followed, and this time Manil sent the reluctant SEDS staff out to search for her. When she returned again, there was no sign of her pregnancy. Patient inquiries revealed that she had been 'sold' to a group of men by her own mother, who had also arranged for the abortion.

Arun and Deepa were found living alone in an empty house. Their parents had died a few months previously. Arun used to dance on the streets, Deepa would try and do odd jobs to make money. When they were found, their hair was lice-infested and living on rice that Deepa would cook at night.

These are just a couple of the stories from the SEDS hostel. Started with the aim of providing shelter to children who needed shelter, the hostel has met with mixed success. Even though it is SEDS that cares for and tries to help, the ultimate authority over the child's future always remains in the hands of the child's relatives, sadly often the very people who look to exploit the children rescued by SEDS. Sponsorship for the hostel has been sporadic. One bright instance came in the form of Belgian funding for a dedicated block of rooms. 

But much can be, and remains to be done.

[The article originally written by Amit Manikoth, for SEDS's 30 years celebration. This is simply a reproduction.]

SEDS: Lending a helping hand in healthcare

Rajen Joshua's compound fracture, in a way, formed the basis of the SEDS Healthcare program. After that, it was a dog who needed stitches after getting into a fight. And then a child who had a bad fall. Soon, the need for healthcare infrastructure was felt and the healthcare program began to develop.

A lot of the initial training was provided thanks to Dr.Ashley D'Cruz of the St. Johns Medical College, Bangalore. Village Health Workers (VHWs) were taught basic healthcare and now form the backbone of the program.

A lack of basic facilities and superstitions used to plague village births. Female infanticide was an issue and even breech deliveries or the occurrence of twin births were considered unlucky, leading to the death of several babies. An important start was to train village midwives.

SEDS organizes health and awareness camps, implements and monitors government campaigns, and operates mobile clinics. With the basic infrastructure already in place, the focus is now on capacity building. The aim is to supplement government healthcare initiatives, till a time when villages can develop and support their own healthcare programs.

[The article originally written by Amit, for SEDS's 30 years celebration. This is simply a reproduction.]

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Jasper Daniel: Help us get young Madhan a laptop.

(Before you proceed with reading the post, we'd like to tell you that Madhan's laptop has been sponsored. Thanks to some of our generous donors.)

Hello friends, we are raising funds for Madhan, A SEDS sponsored student. He's just completed his 2nd year Mechanical Engineering and will be starting the 3rd year in a month. The laptop he needs costs something around Rs.35,000. It would be great if you could help buy this laptop for Madhan. Kindly send us a message on FB if you're willing to contribute and we'll share the bank details with you.

Disha Kathuria: SEDS from the eye of a volunteer (Volunteers @ work)

It's been almost 3 weeks since we introduced you to our two volunteers from Australia. Natalie and Claire are not new to social work. Back in Australia they have been extending their love and care as social workers for a while now. The proof of it is evident when one watches them teach the little ones of Anand Vidyalayam, SEDS school. It warmed the proverbial cockles of my heart, when I watched them in action. Here's a glimpse.

The kids were learning to sing - itsy bitsy spider, a nursery rhyme. The teachers handed over sheets to the students who traced the rhyme before proceeding to sing it along with them.

It was refreshing to see teachers who do not make the blackboard their home. Claire and Natalie made it a point to be among their students. Walking, talking, smiling, clapping if not always mutually uderstanding, the teachers and the students sure seemed making that moment their own.

'Goodmorning Missy', hollered this little one who couldn't afford to miss getting clicked.

Natalie looked over one half of the kids, while Claire took over the other. Here Natalie is helping the students work on their pronunciation. The children listened and learnt in earnest. 

Claire making sure her students get it right, now and forever. Indeed a day when learning brought down walls and tresspassed borders. A prototype of the world as it's meant to be. 

Photo Courtesy: Disha Kathuria

Disha Kathuria: SEDS from the eye of a volunteer (Anand Vidyalayam)

There are many things that make me laugh. Few that make me smile. Fewer still that do both. Keeping up with the children of Anand Vidyalayam is one of them.

It's a school run by SEDS in their premises for the local bundles of joy. In sync with SEDS's aim - towards a greener tomorrow, the students wear green and look every bit the wonderful creation they are. Here's a glimpse of the school and the surrounding area. So let's get ready! It's time to go to school.

That's the school building. Red and majestic, it has stood tall for the last 14 years filling hearts young and old with a sense of pride and nostalgia. 

Lovely isn't it? What you saw is an extension of the school. A lovely tree-lined pathway, a once hale 'n' hearty fountain most adored by the kids, a lunchtime space with uninterrupted view of the surrounding greens. Sadly, that's all I had the time to capture before my camera gave way to my eyes.

Who knew tires could be put such magnificent use? And this one of many pomegranate fruit lay hanging waiting to be plucked. I did wonder when was the last time I saw this little peace of beauty right in its element. 

To walk this path every day of your amateur life must be such a blessing. I don't think I go too far when I say, sometimes I envy those students. The little they have is all we need. 

Kids are often seen fishing in this pond. Many a fish have been caught by many a gentle hands. The pond is a part of the farm many hold very, very close to their heart.  

Anand Vidyalayam is a school that's truly striving to make a difference. Yet it's future is always dangling by a thread. Paucity of funds and teachers often prove to be a roadblock. Therefore we, the people of SEDS alongwith the children of Anand Vidyalayam appeal to you to help us continue our effort to teach and learn. 

Hoping that most of you must seen our post where we tried to raise funds for Madhan's laptop, an ex student of AV, we'd like to tell you that people have come forward and offered help, but our job is far from over. And therefore we request you, dear reader, to help us raise the required sum of 35,000. It will be really helpful. And every aid will be rewarded with a smiling face.

Photo Courtesy: Disha Kathuria

Disha Kathuria: SEDS from the eye of a volunteer (The day volunteers from Australia arrived)

S.E.D.S. has been welcoming volunteers for many years. They come from all over the world and add much to S.E.D.S. ever growing table. And they have plenty to accomplish here. Like help the students of Anand Vidyalayam, contribute towards various on going projects, assist in the office etc. It makes us happy to say that we’ve made a few friends from the other side of the world and have found out that we all are more similar than not. From one person to another, there aren’t many differences and a genuine smile always gets rewarded. This week, S.E.D.S. welcomed two absolutely lovely ladies from Australia, Claire and Natalie (both from the University of Sunshine Coast). Jasper and I along with Manil and few more prepared their rooms, painted their chairs and their walls with a satisfaction that’s hard to describe.

While we were at it, we stumbled upon some great pieces of art done probably by one of the old volunteers. Oh, what sheer delight that was! But that wasn’t all, we also found a brilliant boat parked there in all its vintage glory that belongs to Rajen. With the white wall as canvas, Jasper and Rashna took to painting sweet little things to welcome the volunteers.

Not too long after, Natalie (L) and Claire (R) arrived. And gladly agreed to pose for us. We absolutely look forward to their company and hope we all can give our best to S.E.D.S. Natalie will be sharing her experience at S.E.D.S. in her blog. Once we have the content we would share it with all of you right here.

Photo Courtesy: Disha Kathuria

Jasper Daniel: A wedding and a funeral up in the hills.

Jaffer came into the farm office with a sunshine smile. Finally, after five long years, Farida, his wife was going to have a baby. Blessings and hearty congratulations flowed freely, drowning the feeble ‘thank you’s of the shy, soon-to-be-father. I too wished Jaffer and rushed to the jeep waiting outside to take me to the hills. I was late.

The jeep bobbed and swayed over the rocky road, through the trees, and up the hill. Peals of laughter and boisterous hurrahs spilt from the other jeep that was following the one I was in. A bunch of school children were having a party inside – students of Ananda Vidyalayam, the school run by SEDS on the farm.

The convoy and its mood resembled one that of a wedding gang. It reminded me of the trip we made to attend Jaffer and Farida’s Nikkah. A simple but gorgeous wedding followed by five years of hopeful longing. In a way, this trip too was to attend a sort of wedding. We were going to the hills to do seed dibbling (making a half inch scratch on the ground and dropping seeds in it). We were carrying the bride (seeds) to give her to the groom (soil). And hopefully, like how Jaffer and Farida are being blessed, this marriage too will be fruitful. Hopefully the seeds will give birth to healthy plants that will grow into trees. And so, with hope in our spirit and joy in our hearts we arrived at the top and started dibbling.

It takes a lot for a tree to happen. It takes years. It takes courage and relentless dedication. Rajen and Manil, the founders of SEDS have them in plenty. What they need is support. Support in terms of funds and labour - Two things absolutely critical to run afforestation and reforestation projects; and sadly, these two are the most difficult things to come by. It takes over Rs.25 lakhs to plant 5000 trees. SEDS, in the past 35 years, has planted over 10 Million trees spread across 40,000 acres, covering 350 villages. Today, schools and corporates come on invitation to lend a helping hand in tree plantation. A few corporates donate funds as a part of their CSR initiatives. SEDS needs more such helping hands and funds.

Coming back to the wedding (seed dibbling), we spent about an hour dibbling and scattering a variety of seeds on the hills. When the two boxes in which we carried the seeds were empty, we decided to get into the jeep and drive back to the farm. That’s when one of the boys spotted two men carrying a log on their shoulders. A healthy, twenty year old tree, a child of the seed and the soil, a labour of love was felled, brutally murdered. To me, the log looked like a lifeless body being carried in mourning. My heart was broken. A sombre mood came over our small group. It did not resemble a wedding party anymore. We were angry but helpless. The trees around Penukonda are the lifeline of the many hundred villages in this area. They maintain groundwater levels, prevent soil erosion and give the once barren land a healthy and beautiful green cover. A tree's life was cut short today. And it dampened our wedding cheer. but we will never cease to take the seeds to the soil. The wedding parties will go on. You're cordially invited.

Photo Courtesy: Disha Kathuria