Disabled Children's School AidCamps

India - Jan - Feb 2008

These two AidCamps were held in conjunction with our partner organisation Social Change and Development (SCAD) at Vagaikulam, a small village in the saltpan region of southern Tamil Nadu, India.

SCAD works with the poorest of the poor amongst the low caste dalits ("untouchables") and runs a residential school that provides specialised education and health care facilities for children affected by physical and intellectual disabilities, including polio, autism, down''s syndrome, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

These two projects financed a new building for the school, which provides the training and special treatment facilities to help disabled children and their families work through their physical, mental, social and cultural problems, enabling them to develop a means of living independently within their own villages.

The volunteers plastered, painted, decorated and generally finished the block, with the first group completing one half and the second group completing the other. The volunteers were also taken on quite a few visits to see SCAD''s work for the rural poor in the area, as well as on several local and regional sightseeing trips.

The following report about the first AidCamp in January was written by Laura, one of the volunteers:

"Doing an AidCamp appealed to me because I wanted an opportunity to see the real India, not just the more accessible tourist spots, and get involved in a community, and it certainly surpassed my expectations.

Having enjoyed a relaxing first weekend in Kerala acclimatising on the sandy beach at Kovalam, we were keen to arrive at the project where we found the breezeblock shell of the building; there was certainly plenty of work to be done. The project was to build a new resource centre for a Disabled Children's Primary School to improve the level of support given to the children and their parents.

Our first task was to shift piles of rocks and sand to fill the hole that would be the veranda of the building, quite heavy work in the heat but luckily India is one place where you are guaranteed a good cup of tea and our mid-morning tea breaks kept us going. We later graduated to mixing plaster and applying it to the walls, and painting in the final stages.

I was struck by how few tools they have, making the work very labour intensive and quite crude compared to western methods. They seem to have built the entire building armed only with some wooden scaffold, metal ‘woks' and a few heavy mattocks, needless to say there was not a cement mixer in sight.

Our visit coincided with the annual Pongal harvest/New Year festival in Tamil Nadu and we were fortunate enough to be invited to celebrate with a village. The welcome we received in this, and every other, village was overwhelmingly warm and it was a great privilege to join them for the traditional Pongal games and food. We were even asked to judge the rangolli art competition!

This hospitality was a taste of things to come as we went on to visit other communities to give us an insight into the work of SCAD, the NGO that we were assisting in the project. They are achieving a great deal in this region through a broad, sustainable approach to social change including initiating self-help groups, building schools, restoring village water supplies and more. The welcome we received from the communities testified to the gratitude the people feel. For me it was inspirational to see how these simple but well thought through schemes have helped people to improve their prospects.

It certainly wasn't all hard work and at weekends we fitted in trips to more typically tourist destinations including the most southerly point of India at Kanyakumari, a popular spot for Indian pilgrims and holiday-makers, the temples at Madurai and Tirenelveli and the Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary in Kerala. There I enjoyed an oily ayurvedic massage before watching some traditional kathakali dance, a spot of shopping, and, most impressively, trekking to see a family of elephants.

All in all, the experience was incredible and I certainly hope to embark on another Aidcamp in the future. Despite some slightly unpredictable workmen, power cuts and more than our fair share of cold showers, we successfully completed our part of the project which will hopefully help SCAD to continue the great work they are doing."


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