Covid 19 has had a big impact on mental health and well being all over the world but in particular people from marginalised communities. Here in rural Tamil Nadu, where we in Thamarai Educational Projects work, many people are at home now without work, concerned about the future. Families are together in small spaces where physical distancing is very difficult and the previous normal social activities such as education, sports are now limited. During our women’s group meetings, mothers are reporting increasing levels of tension, alcoholism and domestic violence affecting the whole family. A recent survey by the Tamil Nadu Women’s Collective in 62 villages in our state indicated that at least 81% of rural families reported some form of domestic violence (ref -The Hindu June 25th).
Since the beginning of lock-down, we have been reaching out to the children through learning calls each evening that are designed to connect children, check-in on how they are doing, and to have an interesting learning experience each evening. As restrictions are now lifting, we are ready to start small group classes in the local community center and other locations as our learning center is currently being built. We have designed 1-hour socially distanced classes that rotate with different children throughout the day and they will also have their evening calls as usual.
It is an exciting time for us all as we are building a learning center, sports ground, and a small children’s play area. This has been delayed with lock-down but we now plan to be open by October. This development is bringing hope to Annai Nagar village as you will see from the voices of youth and children in our annual report attached. It has always been important to us not just to identify needs and respond with services but to constantly ask how can we realise full potential. The most important thing that has helped us is a design tool called the Conscious Full-Spectrum Model that has come to us from the work of Dr. Monica Sharma and the Radical Transformational Leadership program, We see our work is about creating a counter-culture of health and well being and the thread that runs through all our work is this leadership program which is translated and delivered in Tamil. We see our work now is about enabling the incredible children, youth, and adults we work with to get in touch with what they really care about and supporting them to find their own agency to solve problems. The children in our after schools programs can each tell you what they stand for and are all working on projects that they care about and are delivering results.
It is wonderful to see how children, youth and adults come together on these programs and how equality is established in a non-hierarchical space where the child’s voice can be as powerful as the village elder and how both can design equally meaningful projects. Recently a young boy took the courage to stand up in a session to tell the adults how difficult it was for him when he is asked to go to the liquor shop to buy drink, this really moved his parents who were present. This boy is creating well being as he is on the team designing the new sports ground in his village. Participants see themselves as instruments of change and apathy & resignation transform into possibility. Village committee of children, youth, and adults has been established and we are working on numerous projects for the improvement of education, sports, clean water, and health in a mixed-gender, intergenerational setting where each one’s voice matters.
In this time of COVID-19, the only immunity is community and we have to collectively find what we stand for and courageously create a future of thriving communities and a world that is lead by equity, fairness, and well being for all. Thamarai Educational Projects is committed to this.