Deaddiction in Kerala by American University students

Two PreMed students from the USA chose to spend part of their summer break doing a rural internship project organised by Amrita University. Roshan Nair (Siena College, New York) and Divya Ramachandran (Loyola University, Illinois) spent 3 weeks, from mid July 2014, learning about the problems of alcohol addiction in Kerala. The students set a list of objectives and created a Powerpoint presentation on the dangers of alcohol addiction before setting out. They visited Njaarackal, Kalpetta, Mananthavaady and Pulpally areas to learn how the coastal and the tribal people are affected by alcohol, drugs, and tobacco. The team explained about all this with the help of some videos.

Together they all pledged not to use alcohol and quit smoking.

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“It was shocking to see that even students in first standard are aware of most issues dealing with alcohol, because they see it daily in their own family and around” says Divya.

“At the end of each class period, the children understood that they could trust us, so many of the students spoke to us freely about their family problems. I was extremely moved by all of the stories that I heard: each one left a deep impression on me while constantly reminding me that the topics we were discussing were the harsh realities that these children faced each day” said Roshan.

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Reflecting on her experience, Roshan Nair related, “In the past three weeks, I feel that I have learned more about life, the world, and myself, than I have in the past two years at college. I was able to experience and understand the pain and misery of the underprivileged tribal people who are addicted to alcohol and tobacco. Additionally, I saw on a daily basis, how these substances have torn families apart and destroyed their peace. In retrospect, I feel that perhaps Amma directed us to do this project to identify with their pain and understand how deeply rooted these problems are in their society. I am inexpressibly grateful to Amma for this invaluable opportunity.”​

– Dass

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Amrita SeRVe snapshots

Nearly 11 months have passed since Amrita SeRVe was officially launched during Amma’s 60th birthday celebrations. Village clusters have been identified in 27 states of India and work has begun in the seven focus areas of Health, Education, Water and Sanitation, Agriculture, Eco-Friendly Infrastructure, Income Generation and Self-Empowerment.
Many activities are ongoing in all states. Below we provide a snap shot of some of these activities.

 


In Sawai Madhopur district in Rajasthan, as in many other parts in India, women will often not sit on a chair when men are present. They will keep their faces covered with veils. Amrita SeRVe is endeavoring to empower them through forming self-reliant groups or SRGs that will tackle problems in areas of Health, Education, Agriculture, Water and Sanitation, etc.
In rural India, there are few doctors and nurses. In our villages in the Kondagaon district of Chattisgarh, as in some other states, trained health workers are now regularly conducting medical camps. Training at the Amrita Institute of Medical Sciences will empower more SRG members focusing on health so that they can themselves solve basic problems in the community.
Open defecation, where it exists, contaminates the environment and causes many health problems. And where toilets exist, often the waste water ends up polluting water bodies. Our goal is to address these issues as we begin to solve the problem of sanitation. In our villages in Khurda district of Odisha and in some other states, the quest has already begun.
In many rural places, women and children have to fetch water from faraway places. In our tribal villages in Wayanad district in Kerala, for instance, people needed to haul water from the bottom of a hill for their daily needs. Now wells have been dug and Amrita SeRVe has made arrangements to bring relief to this community.
Planting trees, making check dams, and digging ponds – all these help to harvest rainwater and recharge ground water. In Ransai village in Maharashtra, the goal is that the well that now dries up during the summer season will have water all year long. The first step is to raise awareness, so that all villagers enthusiastically come together and participate in watershed projects.

 


Raising awareness is also the first step to making the transition to organic agriculture. Farmers from many of our villages, such as in Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat, are being trained to adopt natural ways of farming. How wonderful it would be, if the whole village completely stopped the use of expensive and harmful chemical fertilizers and pesticides.
Over 30% of the people in Bihar are illiterate. The Amrita SeRVe education team is committed to changing that. It is focusing both on adult literacy and back-to-school camps especially for children who have recently discontinued studies. For those in school, free tuition support is being provided so that they may do well in studies.
Free tuition classes are also on going in Madhya Pradesh and many other states. The tuition teacher is often a young graduate from the village itself, and sometimes has students from many different classes. Innovative learning programs on tablets help as the students are empowered to learn together in groups and on their own.
For youth who have no jobs, Amrita SeRVe is providing support through vocational training. The goal is to check migration and provide opportunities for income generation in the village itself. Using local resources and making value-added products, especially from agricultural produce has begun in our villages in many states such as Tamil Nadu and Karnataka.
In villages such as Udalaka and Asthal in Uttarakhand, Amrita SeRVe is continuing the work of the post-disaster reconstruction and relief teams … re-building communities and lives. Several people from these villages met Amma for the first time when they traveled to Amritapuri during Amma’s 60th birthday celebrations. Amma continues to remain a strong presence in their lives.

“I have only one desire now – to meet Amma soon,” say others, like Neetu Devi. Perhaps the opportunity will come soon – during Amma’s 61st birthday celebrations. Amrita SeRVe is now serving in 27 states of India. Villagers everywhere are making plans to come to Amritapuri for Amma’s darshan. The miracle of Amma’s love is starting to change their very lives.

When Amma visited Ranchi in Jharkhand in 2006, the villagers in Dev Gain met Amma for the first time. “Not a day goes by when I don’t remember Amma,” says Bharath. Today Bharath coordinates all Amrita SeRVe activities in his village, chosen as one of Amma’s 101 villages from all over India.
– Dass

Employment, medical care and clothing for tribals

19 August 2014 – Amritapuri Ashram

This past week more than 70 tribals and villagers from remote areas — all living below the poverty line — came to Amritapuri Ashram for Amma’s darshan. Inspired by Amma’s efforts to uplift the remote village populations throughout India, devotees and ashram residents helped to bring the villagers here to meet Amma.

Feeling compassion at the sight of their innocence and deep economic plight, Amma offered 20 of them — who had come from Eastern Kerala — employment at Amrita Hospital in Cochin. There, they will receive free room-and-board as well as salaries for assisting in offices, delivering meals to patients and serving as orderlies. Amma also offered to sponsor the higher education of one girl who, having recently completed her 12th standard studies, was amongst the highest educated in her village.

Many of the villagers had never left their panchayats (villages) before, not even to go to nearby cities. Having never interacted with the world outside their village, the tribals from Dummiragunda Mandalam (Visakhapattinam District, Seema Andhra) even had to be shown how to dress in a manner suitable for modern society.
They also had to be taught how to use showers and toilets at the ashram, as they had no previous experience with such amenities. In fact, because their village’s nearest source of clean water is three kilometers away, they were not even used to regularly bathing.

Much of the poverty and lack of resources in villages like these stems from their remoteness. With schools providing education beyond 7th standard being as many as 50 kilometers away via forest roads, few are able to attend.

When a husband and wife from Kallar (near Adimudi in Idukki District, Kerala) came for Amma’s darshan, the husband complained to Amma that his wife was so obsessed with cleanliness that she forced all their guests to take a bath before entering their dwelling, and she would spend hours in the bathroom washing her hands. He told Amma that he thought she was arrogant and he had begun twisting her arm to try to stop her behavior. Amma explained to the man that the woman must be suffering from an obsessive-compulsive disorder. Amma then arranged for the woman to see a psychiatrist at Amrita Hospital and get the care she needed to treat the disorder.

This past June, devotees had already arranged a medical camp in Badimela (Visakhapattinam District, Seema Andhra), with doctors providing totally free checkups and medicine there for more than 500 people. On August 27th, a similar camp will be held with doctors from Amrita Hospital in Kattamudikad (near Munnar, Idukki District), the home of another group of villagers who happily visited Amma this week.

“Even though many of them lack education and are not civilized by our standards, they have the culture of spirituality within,” Amma said, as she watched the group from Badimela offering a tribal dance during darshan. Afterwards, Amma lovingly embraced every one of them and personally handed each woman a brand-new sari and each man a brand-new shirt. The organizer of the villagers’ trip presented Amma with indigenous seeds and plants from the tribal regions.

More such villagers from Mankulam Puram (near Munnar) will arrive tomorrow.

—Tulasi

Amma’s Women Empowerment Project is Role Model for Entire World says U.N.

3 May 2014 – Amritapuri Ashram

More than 1,500 women from various parts of India poured into Amritapuri for the two-day event “A Celebration of Empowerment.” This was the capstone event of AMMACHI Labs’ Women Empowerment project, co-funded by the United Nations Democracy Fund (UNDEF) and Amrita University. The participants all shared one thing in common: they were graduates of AMMACHI Labs’ unique computerized vocational education and life-enrichment education courses.

Video: Amma talks about the plight of women and relates a heartrending true story that illustrates why programs like AMMACHI Labs’ Women Empowerment project are so important. This project successfully trained more than 3,000 women with vocational and life skills in less than 18 months.

The chief guests of the celebration, who graced the dias along with Amma, were Her Excellency the Governor of Kerala Smt. Sheila Dikshit; the Head of the United Nations in India, Ms. Lise Grande; and renowned film actor Kunchacko Boban.
 

 
Ms. Grande praised the AMMACHI Labs’ Women Empowerment project, saying, “[The United Nations] scours the world looking for the best projects, the most innovative projects, the projects which will have the highest impact. The one we’ve chosen for India is this project, and we chose it because AMMACHI Labs is the most creative way of empowering women. Of all of the projects which the UN funds around the world, this is the one dearest to our heart. It’s the one were most proud of. And it’s the one that we intend to take to the rest of the world so that they can learn from what you have achieved.”

Over a span of 18 months, 3,136 women were trained via 28 of Ammachi Labs’ Women Empowerment Centers across Kerala and Tamil Nadu, both permanent and mobile. In the process, they set up 30 Self Help Groups, seven small businesses, and earned a collective income of more than one million rupees [Rs. 10 lakhs] within 3 months of completing the course. Courses included plumbing, fabric-painting and jewelry-making. Furthermore, the graduates also led more than 70 community awareness and action campaigns, ranging from alcohol abuse to environmental protection.

“Empowerment to us is more than mere economic success. The goal is to equip women with an enhanced ability to participate in the democratic process and increased capacity to make decisions at the individual, family and community levels,” said Director of AMMACHI Labs, Professor Bhavani. “Economic and socio-economic empowerment of women were achieved simultaneously through the delivery of AMMACHI Labs’ cVET and LEE program, both tailored to the participant’s specific needs.”

Governor Dikshit praised Amma as both a humanitarian and a spiritual leader. “Amma, in the spirit with which she works—with love and compassion and an ever-smiling face—gives us all the courage to stand up and live by the ideals that she has taught us. … My congratulations and grateful thanks to her for having given confidence and equality to our women.”

Both UN Representative Grande and Governor Dikshit, together with Amma, then awarded prizes to 23 women who’s AMMACHI Labs’ Self-Help Groups have excelled since their training.

Award-winning actor Kunchacko Boban offered his support of the project and said, “Women Empowerment … is something the Mata Amritanandamayi Math understands, not just in words, but in deeds.”

The program concluded with a short talk by Amma. “Today is a day of joy and satisfaction,” Amma said. “Women face many difficulties and challenges in daily life. It is good if we can help inspire them. The difficulties that the common woman faces in her family and social life are not small. There are economic problems, family problems, safety problems… For women in such circumstances to be able to find a profession and thereby stand on their own two feet comes as a great source of relief for them. That said, even then, problems persist—problems at home, problems with their children, problems at work… When these combine, it can be a tremendous weight to bear. When such women are provided with self-confidence, training and wise-counseling, their lives develop new meaning. In reality, the key to woman’s liberty lies in her own hands. In order to realize this, women need determination, forbearance and constant effort. On our part, we need to provide them with a little encouragement and guidance. If provided with the right opportunities, any woman can become a role-model for society.”

Amma then gave darshan to all the women and to their families. These ladies had put up stalls in the ashram to showcase their achievements. The stalls contained artwork, jewelry, painted fabrics, bags, pillows and other products they had produced. But when visiting the stalls, nothing shined brighter than the confident smiles on the faces of the Women Empowerment graduates.

– Kannadi

Japanese students bring warmth to Uttarakhand

February 2014, Uttarakhand

A group of 73 students from all over Japan came together and travelled to India to help take part in Amma’s rehabilitation of the areas devastated by the 2013 floods in the state of Uttarakhand. Amma pledged to rebuild 500 homes in the area. The first phase of that work is going on in and around the village of Chandrapuri in the district of Rudraprayag, on the way up to Kedarnath.

Students from the IVUSA (International Volunteer University Student Association) organization have collaborated with Embracing the World since 1998, participating in projects to build homes for tsunami refugees in both Kerala and Tamil Nadu after the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami, and more recently in 2011 and 2012 in Raichur, after devastating floods in Karnataka.

Many of the volunteers in this group were coming back to India for the second or third time for this purpose.

Remarkably for many of the students, these few weeks of time they spent volunteering, involving long days of hard physical labor, is their only vacation for the year. Inspired by Amma’s own life of dedication and service, they choose to spend this time not for their own enjoyment, but to do something for the benefit of the less fortunate.

Upon their arrival, the students were given a formal welcome and honored as official state guests by Chief Minister of Uttarakhand, Shri Harish Rawat. When addressing the students the Chief Minister said, “Amma is doing wonderful work and if you are with her your path in life will become clear.” The Chief Minister spent some time interacting with everyone and expressed his admiration and support for the students’ efforts.

Over the next several days the students were involved in all aspects of the construction work, including concreting, assembling the metal foundation beams, and transporting building materials from the riverbed up steep hills to the sites. The students are an extremely well organized group and divided themselves up into smaller teams, spreading out to work throughout the valley at all the different construction sites.

Each day when they showed up to do their seva they were met by scores of local villagers who were swept up by the Japanese students’ enthusiasm and compelled to join in the fun. With their open heartedness and spirit of selfless service, the students created joyful interactions, much to the amusement of their local Indian co-workers. Despite the work being very hard on a physical level no one minded. It was really like a party and everyone could be seen smiling and laughing as they worked.

Most of the work involved bringing building materials to the hamlet of Batwadi Sonar where a community hall is being built for the villagers. All day the students and villagers together hiked up and down the steep hill to the hamlet carrying stones and sand that will be used to build the hall. At the end of each day, just before the sun went down everyone would gather together around a giant Pipal tree in the village and sing bhajans together. While there might not have been any professional singers or musicians there, the innocence and beauty of the singing directly carried over from the joy and cooperation the students and villagers had shared working together all day. {Read Blogs here}

On their final morning of work the Japanese students introduced the local villagers to the Amala Bharatam Campaign. Again working side by side with all the locals, the Japanese students fanned out and collected trash throughout the area. Dozens of bags of trash were filled from the riverbed, which is sadly still full of debris from the flooding many months before.

Before leaving the Japanese students took part in a formal cultural program held at one of the local schools just down the road in the town of Chandrapuri. The Rudraprayag District Collector, Mr. Raghav Langar presided over the festivities which included many songs and dances performed by both the Japanese and local students and was attended by hundreds of local people.

When it was time to say goodbye, both the students and locals were sad to bid farewell to their newfound friends. They Japanese students donated their time, energy, and enthusiasm, but the volunteers said that they received much more than we gave.

In the sharing of loving care across cultural boundaries and language barriers, the line between “giving” and “receiving” disappeared, and volunteers and recipients find that they are not so different after all. In truth, even though they spoke Japanese and Garwhali, they share a common mother tongue: the universal language of Love.

– Nath

Read blogs from Uttarakhand

Electrician course for tribals in Attappadi

In Attappady, an electrician course was conducted at Kottatara Karandara Community Hall for Adivasi youth. The 45 day long course was organized under the auspices of the Amrita Self-Reliant Villages program (Amrita SeRVe) in association with the Ministry of Micro, Small & Medium Enterprises (MSME), Government of India.

Amrita SeRVe is a program initiated with the goal of helping 101 villages throughout India establish their required infrastructure to become self-reliant role-model villages. The course was organized on the basis of requests received from the chiefs of the tribal hamlets, known locally as Mooppan.

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Electrician certificate is being given by Mooppan

The trained electricians performed the wiring of two homes and finished incomplete electrical works in other homes using the electrical supplies provided to them during the course and decided to perform repairs for free for all people in the hamlets.

Amrita SeRVe project launched in Attapadi

During Amma’s 60th birthday celebrations the adoption project of 101 villages throughout India was launched.

The village of Mulli in the Attappady region of Kerala was one among those chosen villages.

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Attappady is a tribal area nestled deep in the Western Ghats mountain range in the Palakkad district of Kerala. 85% of this pristine land are reserved forests protected by law and inhabited by the indigenous tribes spread over 189 hamlets. The earth is clean and rivers fed by sparkling mountain streams, enriched with herbal essences from plants the waters pass by in the forest. The village of Mulli in this forest is inhabited by the tribes belonging to the Kurumba clan.

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The Amrita SeRVe project was launched in this village on January 25th 2014. The De-addiction and Rehabilitation Centre were inaugurated and Amrita RITE (Rural India Tablet Education) project was also started. The recruitment camp for trainers for Amrita RITE and field workers for De-addiction and Rehabilitation Center began with a class on health and yoga.

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After the launch event, the coordinators visited various project locations and distributed rice, pulses and clothing to members of the community.

Financial support for Idukki landslide victims

MAM to give Rs. 100,000 to Families of People Who Perished in Idukki Landslide

The Mata Amritanandamayi Math (MAM) will be providing Rs. one lakh to families in Kerala’s Idukki District who lost family members in landslides that struck the region in early August.

The fatal landslides in the region were triggered by one of the heaviest monsoon seasons in Kerala in 20 years. At one point, the district experienced 17 landslides within 24 hours.

“Amma was deeply saddened when she learned of the tragedy,” says Swami Jnanamritananda Puri, MAM’s sannyasi in charge of Idukki District. “She wanted us to reach out to them to show them that we are with them during this difficult time.”

The families will receive the money on the 27th of September during Amritavarsham60.

On the same day, MAM will be officially launching its 50-crore relief-and-rehabilitation programme for Uttarakhand, through which it will rebuild 500 homes destroyed in 42 villages in the region’s June 2013 flash-flooding. It will also be adopting 101 villages throughout India in order to make them self-reliant.

“Whenever the people of India need her, Amma is always there,” says Jnanamritananda. “It doesn’t matter which corner of the country. Amma has responded to disasters in Kerala, Gujarat, Bihar, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Maharasthra. She feels the people’s pain as her own and reacts accordingly.”