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.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Jasper Daniel: Lessons from the School of Joy.

‘Schools’, the one thing on top of our minds these days. 

Even as I’m writing this note, Bangalore, the IT capital of India, has come to a standstill. Social media sites are teeming with outrage and opinions. And protesters have united on the streets. All because of a school. I hope and pray that the six year old child who was raped, and her family get justice, and that the child finds the strength and support to grow out of the trauma.

As city schools are baffled over the latest developments; and as parents and the general public are scrambling to find justice and a way forward, I’d like to draw your attention to a tiny little school in a tiny little village in Andhra Pradesh’s Anantpur district. The picture and mood over here in Anandha Vidhyalayam (school of Joy)is completely different. Everywhere you turn, you find beautiful, confident smiles. In one corner, a little group is learning crochet from Natalie, a volunteer from Australia. One can see the exchange of information and ideas from two different cultures in that little group. Natalie too is learning. In another classroom, Claire, another volunteer from Australia is teaching the children a song. A group of older kids are having a discussion in the library. Another bunch is learning patience through fishing at the pond with Ronny, a friend of Manil and Rajen and an ex volunteer who’s visiting us from Belgium. There’s so much going on in this little school.

The children of Anandha Vidhyalayam are truly blessed. They get to meet and interact with new people, people from different cultural backgrounds every day. They’re encouraged to draw, paint, write poetry, take up crafts. It’s not just books and homework for them. Anadha Vidhyalayam provides a wholesome learning experience to these children. They are also given small chores to help them take responsibilities. They take turns to clean the school, milk the cows, give the dogs a bath, look after the little ones in their group. This brings in them a sense of communal living. They learn values and get a lot of opportunity to put them to practice. They’re not just taken care of but they’re also taught to care for and take care of things and people around them. It can come as a surprise to see how responsible and mature these children are.

As I watch and interact with these kids every day, I’m convinced that our city schools have a lot to learn from Anandha Vidhyalayam. All of these children come from poor families. Some families are broken. Some kids have lost their parents to alcohol addiction and HIV. For them Anandha Vidhyalayam is not just a school. It’s their hope and a passage way to the world outside. The teachers and Mr. Henry, the Headmaster are doing everything to make sure that when the time comes for the children to face the world, they would do it with not just confidence but also with compassion. These children know that the world needs compassion. They've seen darker days and now with the help of SEDS they’re getting prepared to bring their shining light into the world, to be useful and a blessing to society.

The children of Anandha Vidhyalayam need your help and attention. Yesterday we had put up a post asking for funds to buy a laptop for Madhan, one of SEDS students who is now pursuing his Bachelors in Electrical and Electronics Engineering. Many of you have come forward to help Madhan. Thank you. We need more hands to guide these lovely little children into a bright future. If you’re in Bangalore, you could also take a day off from work and drop by to spend time with these children and teach them something you’re good at. And you’ll learn a lot in return.

Photo Courtesy: Disha Kathuria