KHNA YOUTH Activities:
KHNA 2017 Youth Intern Report
Rohan Harikumar - this year's Kerala Hindus of North America (KHNA) Youth Intern from University of Toronto, who spent a month this summer serving in the hill/tribal areas of Attapady, Kerala, with Mission Vivekananda Attappady. Connecting with the land & its people. Rohan's internship report is as below...for those interested in the details of the work...
Attappadi is a mountainous region of Kerala, pressed up against the Tamil Nadu border, and features a mosaic of different microclimates and topologies. The towering mountains of the Western Ghats forces the moist air off the Laccadive sea to rise, condense and precipitate on the western side, leaving Tamil Nadu in an unfortunate rain shadow. Attappadi lies right at the crossroads of the precipitation shift, resulting in villages separated by only twenty kilometers having vastly different climates, and cultures. This also means the region is quite biodiverse, with the rainforests and scrublands home to elephants, leopards, tigers, monkeys, bears and many other recognizable Indian fauna. The area is also known for having a low HDI when compared to the rest of Kerala, with many of the inhabitants living in poverty. Cholera, sickle cell anemia, chronic alcoholism, rampant mental illness and various other disorders plague the tribal populations. The historic lack of infrastructure only serves to exacerbate the problem, and as such, little progress has been made in the region while the rest of Kerala progressed. Implementation of long term solutions addressing the underlying problems facing the tribal peoples of the area is required, but can only be achieved through exhaustive social work, and the involvement of organizations willing to supplement the progress being made locally.
KHNA has provided me with the opportunity to work with Dr. Narayanan, and the social worker staff present at Swami Vivekananda Medical Mission (SWMM) for a duration of twenty-eight days. My role during this internship was as an acting social worker, collecting and analyzing self obtained survey results, and generating possible programs to help address the issues which had presented themselves. I was assigned two villages in the Shoylur Grama Panchayat, named Kadampara and Keeripathy, both located roughly ten kilometers from the hospital itself.
The first part of the project was data collection, and was achieved primarily by going to the villages in person. A standardized set of questions were prepared and asked to each of the villagers. The questions explored various aspects of their lives, including income, heath, sanitation, infrastructure, employment, education status, and so on. Accompanying me was another social worker from SVMM, who helped break the ice between the villagers and acted as a translator, as the villagers spoke neither English nor Malayalam. Interacting with the villagers was a fascinating experience, and truly helped me forge a new perspective on life. These were people who were content with their lives, even if they don’t share the same material wealth we are fortunate enough to experience here in North America. Apart from individual data collection, group meetings were organized to better contextualize the issue plaguing the villages. After all the data was collected, I had to deconstruct the major trends persistent throughout. This process served as the anchor, from which the development of solutions can occur.
Lack of electric fencing prevents permanent agriculture, as elephants and wild boar ravaged their crops regularly. Intrinsic family values prevent young children from attending schools after staying home due to illness. Damage to water pipes has forced one of the villages to entirely rely on trucks dispatching their daily water requirements. Lack of vocational training among the adult population meant that very few people held stable jobs. The absence of an internet café nearby meant the college age children aren’t able to take advantage of countless opportunities present online. These were some of the problems that became evident after I had spoken to the villagers.
After presenting my findings to Dr. Narayanan and the hospital social worker staff, workable solutions were postulated. To truly address these issues, long term involvement and follow-ups are required.
My internship lasted twenty-eight days, with roughly three quarters of those involving active field work. Even when I couldn’t visit the two villages I was assigned, I often found it beneficial to follow the social worker team into the field to better understand the work SVMM does in Attappadi. These trips included nursery visits, where the hospital helps maintain an Ayurveda orchid, growing and distributing medicinal plants to the nearby villages, providing them with accessory means of income. SVMM itself hosted cattle, agricultural and vocational workshops, which provided the villagers from all over Attappadi with the knowledge to make the most of the resources they have at their disposal. Accompanying the team of social workers also allowed me to experience Attappadi in all its beauty. Riding up lush mountain slopes and across rolling plains, interacting with the peoples of various villages, it was all so fulfilling. There were days where I didn’t venture out of my boarding facility (Arsha Vidya Gurukulam), and my time was spent either compiling the data collected in the field, or simply relaxing. There were classes taking place at the Ashram throughout the day, and on multiple occasions I would sit through them, a rewarding experience.
This internship has a multifaceted approach to skill development and networking through a myriad of different venues. Flexibility is key, and as such, you can truly tailor this experience to your liking. Leaving you comfort zone is paramount to get the most rewarding experience. That being said, the staff at SVMM and Arsha Vidya Gurukulam are more than happy to help, alleviating any issues which may arise during your internship. Attappadi is a beautiful region, both geographically and culturally. The people and places will almost certainly leave a lasting impression, which will benefit you for years to come.
KHNA Youth Summer Internship 2017