Thursday, October 27, 2011

Telugu, Forests, and Doctors

Our two day vacation ended too soon. It was back to work bright and early. We visited another settlement named Khamantogu, in which the tribals mainly moved to Andhra Pradesh for land. Within a few minutes of our arrival, Suresh had befriended a few of the IDPs and was cracking jokes with them. Is Telugu such a friendly language that it is so easy to build rapport with strangers? Either that, or Suresh and Naveen are both really good at talking to people. That is a skill I must pick up.

We were taken to this settlement through Venkatrao, a Cluster Coordinator, and Kamleshwari, his wife who was also a Health Worker with ASDS. The organization ran a Feeding Centre for the children who went to the Alternative Learning School in the settlement. We were fortunate enough to eat the same meal of rice and lentils for our lunch.

The Feeding Centre (Photo Credit: Naveen Ramisetti)

The villagers had cut more than 100 acres of forest and were continuing to cut large areas. Unlike other settlements we had visited, the community here seemed to have migrated before the violence of 2005. They had access to government services like ALS, ICDS, and NREGS. The Loyola Integrated Tribal Development Society (LITDS) facilitated the boarding of 9 children in a private school hostel in Katukapalli. The children got vaccinated for polio, DPT, Hepatitis B, and measles. While the villagers did not have a stable source of income, they had many options for earning money. Working in the chili fields of other landowners, cutting eucalyptus trees, and work through the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme was available, not to mention cultivation on their own fields where they cultivated crops such as paddy, cotton, red gram, sweet potato, corn, and some vegetables. Last year, many of their paddy fields yielded about 10 bags of rice weighing 50 kgs each. However, this year was different; Due to lack of rains, crops dried up. Nevertheless, choices were present, which was more than one could say for many of the other settlements. 

Forest Cutting (Photo Credit: Naveen Ramisetti)

Our next stop was Ramachandrapuram. Here too, it appeared as if the residents had come long before 2005. According to Suresh, the villagers raising pigs indicated that that this was a much older village. Sure enough, many villagers had settled here fifteen years ago. While we didn't get too much information regarding sources of income and government services, there was a metal board nailed to the trunk of a large tree which detailed the days when hospital representatives visited the village - every second and fourth Thursday. The board also listed vaccinations as happening every fourth Saturday. When asked about the consistency of these visits, one villager quipped that the doctors visit only once a month, and that their medications have no effect on the ill. While the ASDS Cluster Coordinator measured the heights and weights of the children of the settlement, Suresh and Naveen joked around with the residents of the area as I looked on, amused. More often than not, the camera has acted as an ice breaker rather than as a barrier to building connections. 

Breaking the Ice (Photo Credit: Naveen Ramisetti)

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