South-South ICT-Enabled Traveling Workshop, India (5)

Connecting by teleconference... and note the Indian beauty too!

The day began on a very bright note, and one would think that the participants have been together forever – as you can see them networking and exchanging materials (a good sign of the beginning of the end of the workshop). Prof. Arunachalam welcomed participants, and introduced S. Balakumar who had to come from Nagapattinam as we would not be able to visit due to inaccessibility of the village by road (owing to recent rains). Nagapattinam is a coastal district with a population of 1,487,055 and area size of 2715.83m2. The village is one of the worst hit by the December 26 2004 Tsunami tragedy. 6,065 lives were lost, 196,184 people were evacuated, 11,122 boats and vessels were damaged, and so much agricultural land was damaged. Following the damage, village knowledge centers were set up by MSSRF: the Village Resource Centre is in Nagapattinam, and three Village Knowledge Centers serve the community – Akkaraipettai’s VKC was set up in March 2005 with support from the Tata Relief Committee (an initiative of the Tata Group, which is known for corporate social responsibility in India); Prathabaramapuram’s VKC was set up in June 2005 with support from the Rotary Club of Coimbatone Metropolis; and Poomphular’s VKC is about to be set up.

No one knows our village -- and its needs -- as we do!

S. Balakumar also spoke about Prathabaramapuram, which is 20 km from Nagapattinam, has a population of 8,396 people, a literacy rate of 80%, and an innovative local body leader. The village has 1,554 ha of land, of which 903 is used for agriculture. Livestock population is as high as 14,000 and there are 3 schools, among other available infrastructure. The President visited the center in July, and S. Balakumar proudly discussed the experience. At the center, computer aided learning programs are made available for children while an adult literacy program with the software developed by Tata Consultancy Services is also being delivered. Prof. Arunachalam spoke more about the need to act after the Tsunami tragedy, and invited questions from participants on the S. Balakumar’s presentation. Prof. Arunachalam explained some of the challenges that villagers had after the Tsunami, such as families who found it difficult (partly for economic reasons) to support or adopt orphaned kids. He stressed the need for team efforts and a holistic approach to development. He hinted that participants will visit a Tsunami-affected village later in the day.

How about some time with the Bollywood-fit young men?

After tea break, participants were treated to an interesting presentation on Tata Consultancy Service’s Computer Based Functional Literacy (CBFL) software. The software is available in six languages and has been used to transform illiterates into functionally literate person within 40 hours. The software has been used to train 56,348 people as at June 2005, and in about 140 centers. After the Tata presentation, Rinalia (GKP Executive Director) made a brief presentation on sustainability. She spoke about financial, social, and organisational sustainability; highlighting the fact that what participants have seen demonstrated in the last few days shows social sustainability – where the community buys into the project and ensure continuity. She also invited participants to send in brief comments on the sustainability experiences of their organisations, while also inviting participants to join the GKP in order to benefit maximally from the network.

Young man, use that pen to write me a letter ;-)

After lunch, we checked out of the Pondicherry hotel (in preparation of our relocation to Mandras) and traveled for about 3 hours to visit Kovalam, a village that was affected by the tsunami, and discussed with the villagers about how the tsunami affected their lives. They noted that they are still afraid, and when there was a signal during the week about a cyclone, they taught it was the tsunami coming again. Before the tsunami, they were fishing for 30 days without stress, but can only do the same for only 10 days now; and even at that, they catch less fish and the varieties are different. According to them, “Something has happened in the sea and we are looking for alternative livelihoods”. The village head has instructed that they must now live at least 5 meters away from the sea, and even offered to support with their houses if they can stay away from the sea, but they don’t even have the extra money to e able to acquire the land. They really want to change their livelihood support from fishing but don’t know what to do, the men only know about fishing and they have now come to the center for help.

Some weks ago, no one would dare come here.. the tsunami hit here :(/></div>
<p>They believe that they’re now so poor, and cannot even have any savings. In their words, “we’ve come to the center to tell us what to do”. Prof. Arunachalam responded that the MSSRF has concluded teaching the villagers about three different technology application, including making pesticides and growing mushroom. They have also been advised to consider the option of getting further education. A knowledge worker in the village asked if participants have knowledge workers like them in their countries, and how long such workers stay on the project. Due to the lack of computers, the knowledge workers move around with a laptop, with speakers, but allow the students to come to the center when they need to practice with the computer. In the private school, the knowledge workers teach the children songs, but teach the other students about computers. They have one machine dedicated to adult literacy, suing the Tata software – and five others are dedicated to children. Another village knowledge worker also asked how workers in our different countries are empowered to identify and tackle local problems. </p>
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Claudia (Paraguay) responded by saying that due to the low level of volunteerism acceptance, villagers usually have to conduct “needs assessment” by themselves and that even as a country of mostly Catholics, people mostly volunteer by visiting and offering quick help – but not necessarily staying with the people. One of the village workers stated that when she visits the people to complete her surveys, some people do not cooperate with her; and she asked participants about their own practical steps in solving a similar problem. Participants noted different approaches they have adopted, including making the purpose of the survey clearer, ensuring feedback after survey is completed, and repeating the visits until the villagers have a change of mind. The knowledge workers have also been able to open a register for villagers to lodge their electricity complains, which they in turn get across to the electricity board while the farmers are away at their farms; thus eliminating the need to travel one mile from home, and possibly meet the electricity board already closed for the day. The register, which was passed round for participants to see, reveals that from October 6 to date, there have been fifteen entries.

Yeah, that's me with the legendary Prof. Arunachalam of the MSSRF

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