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VILLAGE NAME: Echankaranai

The Karma Yoga project is a unique opportunity provided to each of us to discover the skills of leadership by adopting a village and introducing positive changes in it. Our initial visits to the village were aimed at understanding the focus areas for initiating the change process. As we tried to gain better insights into the nature of the problems, we had a growing realization that becoming a part of someone's world is the key, and the most significant aspect, before we start to transform it.

Through intensive interactions with the villagers and through our observations, we drew up an action plan to put into effect our objective of empowering the villagers. Our first focus was the young enthusiastic children in the village with whom we had established excellent rapport with a friendly cricket match which we played within the first few visits. We organized a painting competition and a skit. With this we not only got to know the children better, we also utilized the opportunity to educate them about the importance of good education and preserving the environment for a sustainable future. A few movie clips proved instrumental in delivering inspirational messages to these young children. We found that 6th and 7th grade children are able to read English but they do not understand what they are reading and so we started helping them to understand and to comprehend what they read. We also began conversing with them in English. The enthusiasm and eagerness in our later visits cemented our belief that we had been successful, to an extent, in making friends with them and that we as a group and as ambassadors of the Karma Yoga project had touched their lives in a positive way. This was just the beginning.

After acquainting ourselves with the children through weekly classes, the next step was our involvement in the Independence Day program by facilitating children’s performances in various events like poems, skit, etc. We also organized sports events for the school children -running race, lemon and spoon, tug-of-war- as a part of the Independence Day fest. The children dazzled everyone with their brilliant performance in front of a large audience. This program actually helped us get in touch with the adults of the village. We also started moving to other parts of the village to meet all the people and understand them. This went along for a while, wherein we came to know the actual life style of the people and particularly their source of income. Then we had the annual Karma Yoga convention where some of the adults were brought to our institute to discuss issues in fields like agriculture, health, education and self-help. Some of the experts gave inspirational presentations and methods to tackle difficulties. This event was our humble attempt to give wings to their dreams, and hope to their goals. It was aimed at informing them about the broad spectrum of jobs that could be pursued after a good education.

With an improved relationship with all the people in the village, we involved ourselves with helping them improve their way of life. As a start, the two major areas that we identified for intervention were organic farming and hygiene. To create awareness about these two themes, we facilitated the kitchen gardening project wherein the back yards of households were used for organic farming. Ladyfinger, chillies, beans and lettuce were planted and they have started giving a good yield. This is being done with the help of Swami Arul from CCD.

To improve the health conditions, a blood camp was held in the month of October through which we identified around 120 villagers who were affected by BP or Sugar or both. After knowing this, we started to approach each and every individual to know their health status. As a majority of them are not taking the blood sugar level seriously, we educated them regarding its future implications and future cost if they fail to cure it at an early stage. We are also planning to follow up on other health concerns with the help of RUWSEC hospital.

A Self-help group, Tamilnadu Grama Vaalvadhara Iyakam (TGVI) has been nominated by the Government to advise every village regarding the job vacancies / opportunities in government / private institutions. The team is led by government personnel, with the team visiting the village once a week to interact with the people. As we can be a medium of contact between the self-help team and the villagers, we are planning to involve ourselves in working with this team to provide maximum benefit to the villagers. As we look back at all these memories, we hope to make the last few months of our association with the people of Echankaranai just as productive and as rewarding as before. We sincerely hope that our presence and interaction made some positive difference to the lives of these people and that the batches after us will continue to cement the relationships we have nurtured and continue to make a positive difference.