News & Notes 645:Auroville Village Action Group (AVAG) Update
Auroville Village Action Group (AVAG) Update
Here are some highlights of our work for the past two months for Auroville in the bio-region, should you like to contact us please do so at avag (at) auroville.org.in. You can also see Thamarai on YouTube , Thamarai on Auroville.org, and Thamarai on Facebook !
Women’s and men’s group federation selections
AVAG has an affiliation of 5,000 women and 700 men in networks of 300 self-help groups in 80 villages surrounding Auroville, The federations has just elected the new office bearers for a 3 year period. for the general body, executive body and executive committee. These people will be the link to help AVAG manage this extensive network of self-help groups, partner in decision making and in planning all new activities.
AVVAI scheme extended and summer program
AVVAI, one of AVAG’s biggest schemes , has received a new grant for girls education from Motherson Sumi Systems Limited (MSSL) under their Corporate Social Responsibility funding. Last year the scheme has enabled 457 girls, selected by AVAG Self Help Group network from marginalised families, to continue their primary education or pursue higher education at a college or university. AVAG has organised a six week summer program that starts next week for some of these girls which is designed to give the opportunity to develop English and computer skills, health education and yoga, career guidance, cultural activities and leadership and personal capacity skills.
Paalam – youth empowerment
“Paalam” (meaning “Bridge” in Tamil) is a bio-regional youth leadership training programme that emerged from collaboration between AVAG, Youth Link and The Auroville Bioregion Action Group. The aim of this project is to establish links with youth from the villages surrounding Auroville in order to foster relationship and co creation and in particular:
- to identify the most urgent needs for the future,
- offer training in sustainable village development and
- initiate projects together that will benefit the whole bio-region.
Thirty five youth (including youth link members) from eighteen villages in close vicinity to Auroville have reflected upon the ideals of Auroville, the relationship with the surrounding villages and have had lectures and group discussions on the principles of development, the region’s water management, government schemes, coastal erosion and leadership/capacity training. Stage 1 of Paalam will be completed in June with 1) an exposure trip to best practice models in other villages and 2) a day of reflection for an action orientated stage 2 which will start youth lead development projects with the help of expertise from Auroville and Government of India funding schemes. New youth groups will be established in villages close to Auroville to strengthen relationship and develop infrastructural projects, environmental awareness and health-related services. Paalam also offers the potential of a much needed dynamic communications channel between Auroville and the villages.
Caste exchanges - fostering equality
Highlighting caste issues, breaking barriers and fostering integration is the basis that AVAG’s popular caste exchange program is built on. This program encourages members from Dalit areas to visit caste settlements and vice versa. Most of the time, this is the first occasion the caste member has entered a Dalit settlement and is invited into homes, temple and other common places. The women cook, eat and share life stories and this is also used as a chance to get ideas to improve the performance of the clubs. The program has been very successful in breaking up caste barriers, during the exchange women often refer to each other as sister or daughter and keep in touch afterwards,showing it is possible to change cultural norms.
De-addiction – fostering well being
Though alcoholism has been a prominent problem in Tamil Nadu, the habit of drinking had always been looked down on by the society. People, when drunk, were afraid to face families and friends. Now there is a big shift in the way the habit is viewed and people tend to accept it as normal – men drinking is quite a common event on all occasions. Mass media plays a considerable role in promoting liquor consumption which is a big source of revenue for the state government and is much more widely available than before.
But citizens are calling for a tightening of access and political parties with candidates running for the up coming state elections have responded giving commitments to reduce access by shortening opening hours and eventually closing many of the liquor shops.
During our interactions with the communities we hear stories from the people, particularly from women and children, which highlight the effects of alcoholism on individuals, families and communities. AVAG and Thamarai project teams have initiated several recent activities to address these issues such as:
- site visits to de-addiction centres in the region to identify best partner organisations for referrals
- awareness seminars
- a one-day wellness campaign that we can road show in other villages
- weekly support meetings at AVAG and village community centres.
AVAG and its members would like to develop its work in this area. We will undertake a survey of the current situation and then develop more extensive awareness programs and support services working directly with youth and AVAG federations.
In a recent AVAG seminar, rehabilitated alcoholics and family members spoke of the struggle of being addicted and the respect and dignity earned back once rehabilitated. The AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) and Al-Anon (AA family support structure) was described as a “fort to protect alcoholics and families”.
International Women’s Day celebrations
To commemorate International Women’s Day, AVAG Self Help Groups initiated different activities in their villages. While some of the women’s group’s organised games and dance performances for themselves and children, others chose to have village level gatherings of Self Help Groups to exchange gifts and speak about group experience. Quite a few went to the schools in their villages to happily distribute stationery to the children and a few other groups celebrated women’s day in the homes for the aged and physically challenged.
With best wishes,