Vazachal is a small rainforest in Kerala near the Anamalai hills. Home to the tribal population of Kadars, it provides forest produce to this primitive tribe. First-year students of Master of Social Work (MSW) at the Amritapuri campus recently had the opportunity to learn more about the Kadars, when they visited Vazachal.
“We organized a tribal camp at Vazachal titled Vongal after the tribal name for a hornbill. Our aim was to bring students closer to nature and observe the life of Kadars,” stated Dr. Renjith Pillai, Head of the Department of Social Work.
During the camp days, the students observed tribal folks going deep into the forest, for collecting timber, honey and other forest produce.
“In the past, these folks used to cultivate food grains like Ragi but after the Government intervened, asking them to grow cash crops, and promising free food grains, the cultivation patterns changed. The sad thing is that this venture didn’t really help these folks,” the students shared.
Students had the opportunity to attend Oorukuttam, with forest officials and the local councilor. Similar to a community meeting, this provided a platform for the tribal population to share grievances and talk about their needs.
“Alcoholism is very prevalent here and the money they make, goes for buying alcohol. Both men and women consume alcohol almost daily. This has become a part of their culture now,” stated Ms. Veena Suresh, Faculty, Department of Social Work.
The students provided awareness about the dangers of alcoholism to the tribal folk.
Interacting with the Public Health Centre officials, they learned about the common diseases, the available facilities, provision of health camps and awareness programs.
Medical facilities are provided for free by the Government, yet problems persist. “Tuberculosis is very common. The victims often don’t realize the seriousness of the disease and neglect taking proper medication,” stated Mr. Joby T. Lal and Ms. Jasmine R. Pereira, first-year MSW students, who helped coordinate the camp visit.
In addition to Vazachal, students also visited tribal settlements in nearby Vatchumala and Pokalpara, in different forest divisions. Everywhere they went, they also led a plastic-free campaign.
“It was truly an amazing experience. This camp opened our eyes to the hardships that these simple folks face. They are naïve, so they are easily oppressed by others. They are vulnerable to many diseases as they lack awareness about health matters,” the students later opined.
During the camp days, students also had the opportunity to interact with Dr. Amitha, Research Scholar, Hornbill Foundation; Mr. Tiju Thomas, Senior Program Officer, World Wildlife Fund and Mr. Prem Chakravarthy, Senior Project Officer, WWF, Tiger Conservation Project.
They enjoyed a trek to Adichiltotti, which is home to numerous species of flora and fauna.
“On the whole we had a fun-filled and adventurous learning experience,” the students later shared, with joy.