Relief Projects India launched the S·H·E (Services, Health, Eduction) to provide health and educational services in villages in Usilampatti Taluk, Madurai District, Tamil Nadu. This is an impoverished area that was infamous a few years back for poisoning unwanted female babies. Whilst the problem with infanticide has greatly diminished, gender discrimination has not and infanticide is often replaced by foeticide. The 2011 census reports a sex-ratio of children under the age of 6 as shockingly low--only 885 girls for every 1000 boys, and a 58% literacy rate for girls, compared to 74% for boy. Girls are simply seen as a financial liability.
In the last 10 years, Relief Projects India’s initiatives have grown and evolved. We started in 2009 with free tuition centres for government school children, along with awareness programs for the parents, aimed especially at helping girls remain in school and all children to obtain better grades. Awareness programs expanded to tackle social and health issues prevalent in this area, such as HIV, TB, healthy mother and baby meetings, haemoglobin checks for adolescent girls and even for children. Now we are frequently called upon by local government agencies, such as ICDS (Integrated Child Development Service,) the Family Planning Association of India, and the tuberculosis department, as well as local colleges, to help them animate awareness programs. We also organise and host an annual eye camp in conjunction with the famous Aravind Eye Hospital, which has resulted in many free cataract surgeries.
In 2015, we opened Mountain View Nursery and Primary School to give some of the poorer families the opportunity to provide a good English-medium to their children.
Read more about these programs below.
evening study centres
RPI works in a poor, rural area. We identified this pressing need for educational assistance for the village children, and established evening study centres in several villages. These centres create a healthy environment for children to do their homework and get additional support in learning from the tutors. The children are motivated to study well, and encouraged when they receive praise from their teachers and their grades improve.
In addition, we provide extra Saturday tuition in maths, English and computer skills.
Assistance for village nursery schools (anganwadis)
The foundations of a good education are laid during the preschool years.The Tamil Nadu govenment has set up nursery schools where a nutritional midday meal is provided. Good preschool activities and resources are still lacking in some of these village 'anganwadis' and resources are limited. RPI is providing educational items, such as flashcards, story books, puzzles, blocks etc for the 'anganwadis' and we regularly send a volunteer to the local preschools to do extra activities with the children and to train the staff. Co-operation between government programmes and NGOs has been encouraged by the government in India and can help extend the effectivness of government programmes. We presently assist 5 anganwadis. Please see our 'needs' page if you would like to help provide educational items for another nursery school.
English medium school now open!
We work with the world-famous Aravind Eye Hospital to conduct free eye camps once a year. The Hospital provides the medical staff and treatment while RPI organises the camp and takes care of advertising and logistics. As a result many villagers have had their sight restored through the free cataract operations conducted by Aravind Hospital.
Promoting the Health of Mothers and Babies
RPI conducts several activities to improve the health of mothers and babies in the area, to address the common problems of poor nutrition, anemia, and low birth-weight babies. These meetings help to make sure mothers get their medical check ups, register their births to avail of government support that is offered, such as cash gifts for female babies, and to make sure they give birth with medical assistance. We hold regular health-for-mothers programs and we also hold 'healthy baby' contests, where the health and progress of babies is monitored, encouragement given to follow vaccination schedules, breastfeeding etc.
Health Awareness Programs
We regulary conduct awareness programs in different villages to address serious and common health issues that affect the villagers, such as diabetes, HIV, and TB. (India is seeing a resurgance of drug-resistant TB. This is aggravated by the fact that illiterate and poor villagers often don't finish their course of medecine or don't take it properly.)
RPI is working to improve the quality of life of women and children in the community by providing the support in health and education. The recent news in the media indicates that harassment of women and children has increased. RPI had already conducted a child protection meeting for women in conjunction with the District Child Protection Department. To take this information to the grass root level of the community, we have started adolescent awareness programs in the villages where we have tuition centres. We cover relevant topics related to health and hygiene, safety and importance of education. For these meetings we have undertaken to translate into Tamil the Meena comic books produced by UNICEF. Meena is a fictional character who educates the children of South Asia on issues of gender, health, and social inequality through her stories in comic books.
Our study-center attendees, coming as they do from extreme poverty, grow up without books, toys, excursions and the many other blessings children from wealthier families enjoy. We regularly conduct special programs to give these children chance to participate in competitions and sports, and have fun! In addition, in an area which is deeply divided along lines of caste, children from different castes learn to associate with each other and form friendships.
Some recent activities include a sports day, two week long summer camp, celebrations for special festivals, Independance Day, Children's Day, etc. They have participated in drawing contests, essay-writing contests, local cultural dancing, art activities and sports. They also enjoy sports activities such as birdie, or football after their Saturday English and math classes.
RPI worked with the Claretian Mercy Home for abandoned babies from 2007-2012. The home, located west of Madurai, Tamil Nadu, was founded by the Claretian Missionary Fathers and rescues unwanted babies, mostly female, to prevent them from being killed. (Read more about female infanticide and feoticide in India.) The babies are placed for adoption with good Indian families through proper local legal processes. During our time working with the Home, RPI revamped the whole nursery operation, to bring in a higher hygiene standard and to reduce the death rate. RPI also established the Little Darlings group for older toddlers who had not been adopted, and brought in many other improvements.