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: 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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