Niranjan Bose, Foundation Board Member reflects on his volunteer mission trip working in the Model Villages of the Jawadhi Hills below.
This time around we partnered with CMC Vellore’s Community Health department (CHAD) and the CMC Vellore Foundation (USA) to contribute to the Model Villages project in Jawadhi Hills (in Tamil Nadu). Mark, John and I were the only ones to physically make it down to the build but everyone from Team Eclectic contributed to the fundraising campaign and we raised nearly $13,000 for the ongoing project.
Christian Medical College (CMC) in Vellore is one of the top medical colleges in India, and their hospital in Vellore is a fantastic example of how one can deliver top dollar services to the rich & wealthy and at the same time keep your doors open to the ultra-poor and the lowest quintile populations to address their healthcare needs. I learned about the Jawadhi Hills model villages project about two years ago, and reached out to the CMC team to explore whether Team Eclectic could play a role in one of the construction projects. Dr. Anu Rose (CMC/CHAD), the project lead welcomed the offer and was our main point of contact to plan the trip.
The people of Jawadhi Hills are primarily tribal folks and thought to belong to two primary tribes. There are about 100+ villages spread across these hills and not all of them are reachable by road.
Mark, John & I reached Vellore on the 12th evening. We were given accommodations at the alumni guest house on campus. The next 3 days would be spent at Jawadhi Hills and Dr. Anu Rose carved out time to be with us all three days.
We traveled from Vellore to Jamunamarathur (the largest town in Jawadhi Hills) by road and it took us about 2+ hours to get to the Don Bosco facility in Jamunamarathur. This was our base for the next couple of days. The Don Bosco fathers have been running this facility for quite a long time, and the primary purpose of the facility is to serve as a lodging facility for boys from the various villages who are attending the nearby Forest Service run school. This concept was thought through to prevent drop-out from school since the daily commute for some of these kids could be as long as a day given the remoteness of some of their villages. The facility has their own organic farm, which provides the vegetables and rice needed for their own consumption. The kids help maintain the farm as well as keep the premises as clean as possible.
CMC/CHAD have partnered with Don Bosco on the model villages project. The multi-pronged approach of delivering education, sanitation and livelihood options are split among the two partners. In addition, the CMC run hospital in Veerapanoor delivers healthcare for the surrounding villages.
Day One in Jawadhi Hills
Koiloor is about 20 minutes away from the Don Bosco facility, and we had chosen the school toilet construction project in Koiloor as our first choice for the trip. We were greeted by the school principal (and her husband) and a team of contractors and volunteers assembled to help begin the construction. A completely different set of materials for the construction – bricks, sand and cement instead of the lumber & nails (in Roatan).
We got to work and the one thing that never escapes any of our projects….”moving the materials” was the first task. In Roatan, we move lumber from one place to another and here…we moved the bricks. Thankfully we had a masonry crew helping us out as well. The plan is to construct two sets of toilets – one for the boys and one for the girls. The waste would be routed to a pit.
The housing structure for the toilets was in place, but the interior had to be torn down before any construction could begin. The boys toilet side had been cleaned up prior to our arrival, but Mark went to work on the other side with a sledge hammer….and took down the interior single-handed. I tried my hand at brick laying – to build single column walls to serve as the separations for the stalls. Nearly 3 hours later, with a lot of help from the professionals and the crew of volunteers, the first set of interior walls were up and we were ready for lunch! All of our meals were provided by the Don Bosco staff – every single meal was delicious. We took a stroll to a nearby temple site (perhaps this is how the village gets its name – Koil-oor; loosely translated means temple town) and soon it was time to head back to the school for part 2 of day one to clean up the second room.
We finished the day with a walk around the village. Approximately 95 households in this village and almost all the houses are clustered next to each other. Farming is the primary occupation and the farm lands are a bit spread out from where the houses are. CMC/CHAD has constructed a toilet for each household in this village and they have also provided a “reverse osmosis/RO” filtering unit for the village water tank, so that all of the drinking water is clean. From what we could tell, these toilets are all in use and are not used as storage units.
A little more about the household toilets: they are constructed with concrete blocks and are approx.. 8 feet by 6 feet (if I can remember it correctly). They are sufficiently large for dual-use: a toilet as well as a closed area to take a shower. CMC/CHAD team leaned on Gramalaya (another NGO) to provide them the technical expertise on toilet design and construction. They landed on the dual-pit concept – two circular pits are dug out and a Y-shaped connector links the pits to the toilet/waste. There is a valve or closure that seals off the second pit until the first pit gets filled up, and then you divert the waste to the second pit. This dual pit approach allows one to get away without regular emptying of the pits. The pits are lined with concrete rings but have holes in them to allow the water/liquids to drain into the soil and just the solids remain. A sealed pit with just dry solids ends up becoming manure/fertilizer after a few years. We walked past many of these toilets and pits and couldn’t smell any malodors.
We closed out day one with a visit to a couple of the night schools. Night schools are an opportunity for these kids to get some additional help with their homework, reading, writing, etc. Night schools play a key role in these communities – they are completely optional but provide a venue for these kids to get some additional attention as well as some social activities to do in the evening (instead of watching TV or just sitting at home). Almost all of the regular schools are understaffed (even the one we were building toilets for had only 2 staff members for nearly 100+ kids across grades K-5) so these night schools are a catch up opportunity provided by the Don Bosco organization through their volunteers.
Day two – visit to Vallithathankotai (model village #2)
A completely different direction and a very different setting compared to Koiloor. The houses were not clustered together and almost every house was located close to where their farm lands were situated. One household lacked a toilet, so there we go! This time around we moved concrete blocks around and most of the time was spent moving the dirt out of the pits as they were dug out. We spent 15-20 minutes speaking to the village folks and their perspective on how the model villages project was helping them. They were thankful for the toilets, the livelihood help provided by Don Bosco and the support they were getting for their farming needs. Don Bosco has provided some of the families with cows, chicken and pigs as part of the livelihoods project. They have also helped convert some of their dry ponds into rainwater harvesting facilities and double up as fish ponds (for consumption).
They had three key requests – 1. A way to keep the milk cold at night so that they could take the evening milk to the milk collection centers in the morning; 2. A walkway/bridge across a small stream that typically floods during the rains and cuts off one portion of the village from the rest; and 3. A common meeting place for their village to get together for town hall style meetings.
We were extremely impressed by this multi-pronged approach to improve health, education and livelihoods – to provide these villagers options to remain in their community and earn decent wages while improving their health and nutritional statuses.
Day three – a visit to a different part of Jawadhi Hills
As I mentioned earlier, these villages are quite spread out geographically and not all of them are connected by roads (even dirt roads). We visited Peenjamandhai village on day 3, which was a 1.5 hour ride from Vellore and nearly 1 hour of that on dirt roads that could hardly be called roads. While there isn’t a model village effort being undertaken here, the CMC team is working to develop a community health worker model. High-school or college educated women who are assigned two or three villages each and their task is to enumerate the households (and residents) as well as to keep track of pregnancies, births and deaths in their villages. With this baseline information, the CMC/CHAD team can target interventions and deliver the appropriate care and educational messaging to these communities. The CMC/CHAD team has a mobile clinic that visits these villages on a rotational schedule basis – having the baseline information could help optimize that schedule as well.
We had a chance to catch up with some of my friends at CMC on day three with some customary Old Monk and Kingfisher! Always leave Vellore impressed by the commitment and dedication of the CMC folks. We hope our small role in these model villages project helped drive the project forward and look forward to seeing the impact of the project on these villages. A huge thanks to Dr. Anu Rose and the CHAD team as well as the Fr. Vinodh and the Don Bosco team for giving us this opportunity.
Bose (Mark and John)