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, September 9, 2014

Volunteer Say: DREAMCATCHER WORKSHOP by Natalie Owens

Dreamcatching at Lilani with some lovely ladies.

Photo Courtesy: Natalie Owens

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For those who know me well, I am at my happiest at home with a can of paint and something old to transform. Creativity and traveling are my two favourite vehicles of inspiration and expression. So it wasn't surprising that I was drawn to spend my days at SEDS’s business venture "Lilani" that comprises of all of the above. Lilani is a tailoring centre based at SEDS and produces incredible up-cycled, recycled and handmade clothing, accessories and homewares. It is run by Rashna (Manil and Rajen’s daughter) and employs 5-6 individuals from the surrounding areas as well as outsources work to people in their own homes. 

Lilani provides an alternate means of livelihood and income for the rural agrarian people of Anantapur District. By building on self-confidence through employment and vocational training, individuals may use their acquired skills to some financial and independent benefit to ultimately become self-reliant. Rashna and I are in discussion around ideas on Lilani’s growth and development that will ultimately generate much-needed funds for SEDS that can be sustainable, eventually breaking some dependency on foreign aid. 

There is something special about adorning yourself and your home with pieces that have been hand-stitched and woven with love from afar. I have had the privilege over the last week of working with some amazing rural artisans. I have seen first hand groups of women and men whom gather sitting cross legged sharing laughter and stories sipping on masala chai while working their creative magic into each thread. There is such an energy buzz here and it’s inspired me immensely. In preparation for Lilani’s market stall at The Green Bazaar I made a sign out of salvaged materials from the farm. Rajen has given me free reign to rummage the farm for materials to up-cycle, quite like my personal playground of rustic tools and materials. I also made a big dream catcher out of an old wooden hula hoop, its colours inspired by the amazing Indian scrap fabrics that were at my disposal and its end result has generated some interest in holding a workshop in the local village. 

The Green Bazaar was held on Sunday in Bangalore and is a collective hub of individuals celebrating eco-friendly living- from DIY up-cycling workshops to composting demonstrations. It’s a bi-monthly event and its theme this month was “Let’s Recycle”. It is not hard to notice the piles of general mixed waste that accumulates in random pockets in the city and in the villages. We are really blessed to have a waste management system in Australia that is all done for us we just need to separate our materials into the different bins provided. Here however it is reliant on personal agency to act and unfortunately with millions of people in Bangalore alone it is a challenge to manage this without governance or social order. Therefore it was evidently reinforced among the younger people present at The Green Bazaar that a change in their attitudes and behaviours of waste management is necessary as they are the future leaders of India. 

Lilani’s stall at The Green Bazaar marketplace was a great success. It showcased a range of eclectic handmade and up-cycled fabric bags, rugs baskets, yoga mat bags, cushion covers, beanbags and more. Demonstrating the art of utilising locally available resources such as fabrics and materials to create new products. It was also a chance to promote Lilani and SEDS and raise awareness of its sustainability ventures including its “Eco-tourism” farm stay, which already attracts many a weary souls from the cities to rest and rejuvenate while also learning about the rural lifestyle and its benefits. Fundamentally this day for me represented the art and benefits of living self-sufficiently. It demonstrated a community banding together with a common goal to raise the consciousness of individuals to adopt sustainable living practices, which in affect has social impact to inspire a new way of thinking and make lifestyle changes.

“In order to make progress or to do anything a man [sic] must awake from his sleep. A community must likewise awaken from the sleep of backwardness, of living day-to-day without concern for the future.” ~ Bogaert

Photo Courtesy: Natalie Owens

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Volunteer Say: struggle and freedom by Natalie Owens

"These two words are inextricably linked; one can not exist without the other. Withoutstruggle, freedom can not be gained, and without freedom our struggles become meaningless. “ – as quoted by a past SEDS volunteer.

I have learnt that 'freedom' is a complex concept open to interpretation. On the surface, the meaning of freedom is 'the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants' and ‘the state of not being imprisoned or enslaved’. However, scratch away the surface and you can start to discover it’s complexities and contradictions depending on the social, economic and political fabric of a country and its citizens. Words are socially constructed to describe ones experiences. In India, you learn from a very young age that freedom is something that you possess.

“People will not struggle if they believe they are already ‘free’“.

On August the 15 we celebrated the Independence Day of India. The children of SEDS Ananda Vidyalayam school put on a delightful performance of song and dance. The Indian flag was hoisted with the children saluting it with pride, a tradition passed down through generations. This day marks 68 years ago when India declared its Independence from the British colonial rule but not without a brutal fight where many lives were lost in the struggle for freedom. It is a proud day for the people of India that continues to be celebrated with grace and dignity. When the children are asked ‘What is the meaning of this day’ the children all sing out proudly “FREEDOM". To some the word freedom means freedom in every sense of the word.

Colonial invasion and rule, however, leaves a deep scar on a country as it assaults its citizens' identity and leaves an insidious trail of oppression. I can only begin to relate this to the injustice of our Indigenous Australians, land of which our ancestors also colonised. Through discussion and dialogue individuals have expressed a crisis of identity as they naviagate their way through the layers of poverty, gender, class, status, caste systems, religion and seek to adjust to India’s emerging weternised progression in the cities….rural communities are being overlooked and the uneven distribution of wealth ensures that they remain at the bottom of the socio-economic chain.

Caste systems for example have provided individuals with instant identity, one which you inherit by birth. This class and status discrepancy is highly evident here. It is believed that if you are born into a lower caste and experience poverty, physical disability or disadvantage, acceptance of this struggle will bring you better fortune in your next life. Your gender, caste and religion all determine access to education, health care and your overall position in society.

On another note, representatives from PIA (Partners in Aid) an Australia-based organisation arrived last week. PIA manage the sponsorship of 500 children in this area to ensure their fundamental human rights are met i.e. have suitable access to education, water, healthcare facitilites and housing. On Sunday, SEDS facilitated a health camp where 250 children arrived from surrounding villages to have a head to toe health check by local doctors and specialists. Many health issues were identified such as poor dental health and eye problems that would otherwise go undetected and funds will be raised to be able to provide these children with the appropriate treatment necessary. Each child also received new uniforms, shoes, school supplies and a school bag. Please visitwww.partnersinaid.org.au for more information and how you may like to contribute through sponsoring a child in India 

I have scratched my head long and hard to understand the profoundness of the word ‘freedom’ and what it means and must conclude by saying that the experience of freedom is personal and contextual. For me, born into a life of privilege my experiences with struggle and freedom are different to the next person, however by critically questioning these social constructions through discussion with others from different cultures, enables a shift towards understanding social issues in systemic or structural ways.

Photo Courtesy: Natalie Owens

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Disha Kathuria: SEDS from the eye of a volunteer (Health Camp)

On 17th August 2014, a health camp was organised at SEDS. It was conducted along with Partners in Aid, Australia. Children aged between 10-14 years received medical check up by efficient local doctors. About 200 children were examined and precribed suitable drugs. Here's a glimpse.
Children waiting in line to register their name and age before being sent for check up.

Lyn Pikering from Partners in Aid, Australia registering the children.

Tags were issued to the registered kids.

Anji, a student of Anand Vidyalayam seen here helping Lyn with the registration.

The chlidren were then sent to get their basic physical examination done. It included checking their weight and height. Ranga, another student from Anand Vidyalayam offered a helping hand. 

That's Nandini, my favourite girl in the whole world. Isn't she beautiful? 

Children receiving an eye-check up.  

Laborious doctors examining the village children. They found that poor nutrition and scarce availability of the right medicine is among the few causes that lead to weakness, something that is all too common here. Lack of hygeine was cited as another major reason for their illnesses.  

Natalie, Martha and Claire during the hard day's work. 

Disha Kathuria: SEDS from the eye of a volunteer (Farm maintenence)

Jasper and I came to SEDS with a single-minded mission - create awareness about the NGO and its initiatives; because to us that's what it seemed to lack. Gradually as we began to spend our time at the farm and understand its workings, we realised that it needed a few repairs internally too. What does that entail, one might ask. Well, it's simple. To run a house, or a company or an NGO, there's one requirment that beats all. Meticulous organisaition or management. And this is what we found lacking. An important aspect that could no longer be ignored. We decided to discuss it with Manil. And she agreed with the loopholes we pointed out. But underlining the problem was only half the work done. An active solution was needed to be put into effect immediately. Jasper came to the rescue with an ingenious plan. He called it the Farm Maintanence Program. 

The best answers are most simple. Simple to devise, simple to execute and perhaps simpler to follow. To help SEDS maximise management, Jasper realised that one must first know all the ares that needed conditioning. The following areas seemed to cry out for such polishing -

1) Farm Vehicle Maintenence 
2) Generator Maintenence 
3) Keys Maintenence 
4) Kitchen Maintenence 
5) Livestock and kennel Maintenence 
6) Driver's Duty Maintenence 
7) Store Keeping and Maintenence 
8) Swimming Pool Cleaning and Maintenence 
9) Overhead Tanks Water Filling and Maintenence 
10) Office Cleaning and Maintenence Organize
11) Office/water/coffee/biscuits 
12) Medicine/Pills/First-aid Kit Maintenance
13) Guest Room Maintenance
14) Stock keeping of Diesel
15) Watering trees and plants

Once the problem areas were recognised, it was followed up by drawing out charts/forms that detail out everything that these departments must undertake to ascertain smooth functioning. Next, we chose a supervisor to represent each department and oversee its functioning. Once we had the charts ready, a meeting with the staff was called in. Here's a glimpse.

Jasper and Manil, informing the staff about the need of the hour.

Jasper explaining to the staff the current state of affairs at the farm and what needs to be done for improvement. In short, each man and woman was informed of their duties and their role as a SEDS's staff member.
Pallavi, an ex-student of Anand Vidyalyam, and the incharge of guest room maintenence seems to have struck a lighter note. 

Roja, incharge of store keeping and maintenence shares her point of view.

The meeting went well. Soon, the supervisors will be handed over the charts outlining their duties. We just hope our endeavour will help streamline such requirements for the future as well.

Photo Courtesy: Disha Kathuria

Disha Kathuria: SEDS from the eye of a volunteer (Independence Day Celebrations)

On 15th August, 2014 India celebrated its 68 years of freedom. A day to be grateful for, became even more special for us when we were invited to be Chief Guests at SEDS school, Anand Vidyalayam. We accepted the invitation with love and humility, that Mr. Henry, the school's principal, had sent for us. Handwritten and heartfelt, it became a moment we'd cherish forever. And when the day came, we were left wonderfully surprised at the performance this 'school of joy' had put to celebrate India's Independence Day. 

The school premises were modestly decorated and filled us all with a sense of pride and belonging. 

The lovely audience gracing the occasion. 

The students dressed as prominent figures from our history.
 Students getting ready to sing the National Anthem.

 Teachers and a few other elders teaching students what it means to be free. 

The students of Anand Vidyalayam put up a grand show for the audience. Spellbound, we enjoyed every moment as the students danced, sang, acted and more. Kudos to Mr. Henry and his team of dedicated teachers who do their best to bring out the best in their students.

Photo Courtesy: Jasper Daniel and Disha Kathuria