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: 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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