High up in the Western Ghats, the pristine Wayanad District in Kerala is home to tribal population. It is the least populous district in Kerala and is also considered as one of the most backward districts in India.
“The concept of tribal development was always very confusing for me,” conceded Parvathi S., first-year student of MSW (Masters in Social Work) at Amritapuri.
Parvathi was one among a group of 30+ students who chose to spend their vacation in December, living among the Wayanad tribals. The week-long student camp was organized by the Department of Social Work, Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham.
Parvathi explained further. “I had this notion that tribal people have a different way of life, which is in harmony with nature, and which doesn’t seek to exploit others. So why should we go to them, disturb them by asking questions, and force our models of development on them?”
“As a result of participating in the camp, I have now understood that they face a lot of problems. These simple folk are easily exploited by others. They may be employed on tea estates where they may receive alcohol instead of real wages.”
“The Government of India has made available funds for tribal development. But correct interventions are needed to ensure that the money reaches the most deserving people. The needs of the tribal people need to be correctly identified.”
Parvathi and her classmates gained these insights in meetings with district officials and representatives of several NGOs, as well as in detailed talks with the tribal folks themselves.
Some of the NGOs they visited included Uravu, which encourages bamboo cultivation, the Swami Vivekananda Medical Mission in Muttil and the M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation in Kalpetta.
Kalpetta, which is home for the district headquarters, also has an Amrita outreach clinic, the Amrita Kripa Hospital run by the husband-wife team of Drs. Sanjeev and Ajitha.
“A visit to Amrita Kripa Hospital helped us become familiar with the tribal welfare activities ongoing there. The hospital contributes to creating awareness about alcoholism through posters. Anemia is also a big problem among the tribal community,” shared the camp participants.
The students spent a good part of the week interacting with the tribals. They were careful to not assume that they knew what the real needs of these folks were; they asked several questions, evaluated their modes of living and then pondered on steps that could be taken to improve their living conditions.
For instance, they first arrived at some understanding of the problem of alcoholism rampant in the colonies of Vellamunda Panchayat; it was only after this that they embarked on a program to sensitize the tribal people to the dangers of alcoholism.
P. K. Anand, faculty member in the Department of Social Work, who led the camp, worked in the area for a year a half, before he joined Amrita. He was especially motivated to see the students respond with such enthusiasm.
“The enthusiasm the students have shown, and the support the management gave me, made this camp a great success,” he summed up.
February 3, 2012
Department of Social Work, Amritapuri