Cleanliness is next to godliness, they say. For social activist Uma Preman and her initiative Santhi Gramam, the tribal hamlets of Attappadi is a thrust area with vast opportunities to expand their vision of healthy lifestyle.
The tribal belts of Attappady has always been in news for epidemic outbreaks, malnutrition deaths, anemic attacks and the like. But this time around, the village of Mattathukadu in Attappady had reasons to cheer when it made headlines. 'Santhi Gramam', the medical rehabilitation center, had turned a gracious host to civil rights activist Irom Sharmila.
Team Santhi Gramam's selfless efforts and fruitful initiatives are worth a mention when we propound the journey of Attappadi's tribal population towards self reliance, financial independence and cleanliness. “The increasing rate of infertility and ovarian diseases among tribal women as a result of unhygienic practice of daily chores and unhealthy methods of dealing with menstrual waste came to our notice,” says Uma Preman, “Following this, volunteers of Santhi Gramam, along with Dr Prabhu Das, conducted an awareness program to wipe out their misconceptions regarding menstrual hygeine.”
Santhi Gramam also runs a sanitary napkin manufacturing unit with the help of native volunteers. 'Santhi napkins' are distributed free of cost among adolescent girls in the tribal high schools every month.
“We aim to teach the tribal adolescent girls and women the importance of menstrual hygiene. The production unit will also serve as an income generation method to the poor women in locality. We distribute the napkin and incinerator in tribal hostels and schools free of cost. We also give an enlightenment class on its usage and benefits. Slowly, schools began to ask for it, so we plan to expand our distribution circle to the remotest of hamlets,” she says.
Santhi volunteers face a lot hurdles when they approach the tribals to distribute the napkins. “Most of them are averse to foreign health care methods and many others refuse to divert from the traditional practices regarding menstruation,” says a volunteer. Despite this, Santhi Gramam persevere in their mission to create a healthy tribal belt in Attappady.
Palm-leaf instead of plastic
With a destitute- rehabilitation center, a free medical information center and physiotherapy unit, Santhi project struggles to find funds for the smooth functioning of their development initiatitves. “We don't have a specific sponsor for our projects. Our expenses are met by crowd-sourced sponsorship and donations from well wishers. We do have a palm leaf plate production unit and agricultural farms where we grow papaya, banana and drumstick,” says Preman.
The palm leaf production unit at Santhi Gramam is an ideal eco-friendly income generation method any social movement can adopt. Santhi volunteers collect dry leaves from areca nut palms in the locality, wash them in fresh water and dry them in sunlight. Later, they cut and hot-press the leaves with the help of customized machinery.
“We trip the uneven edges with the help of fixed trimmer and pack the plates for market,” says a staff. Leaf-plates from Santhi Gramam are increasingly purchased by event management groups, organizers of marriages and festivals, and the like.
The remaining plates are sold in Coimbatore market and are circulated around south India. Palm-leaf manufacturing unit at Santhi Gramam promotes a plastic free environment.
“We started it off as a mere income-generation method. But later, we realized its huge environmental potential, which motivated us to expand its production and philosophy,” Preman adds.
Santhi Gramam looks forward to broaden their horizons by endeavors such as tailoring, diary farming, fish farming, poultry farming, mushroom farming and wormy compost ventures. “This is to train the tribes of these concepts and make them to practise in their fields and wash out tribal proletarianisation,” says Preman.
Preman also dreams of establishing an International Residential School for the tribals in the name of late APJ Abdul Kalam, former president of India. “We believe that education is the strongest weapon of social reform and the right move towards a bright future. This is a platform to facilitate the capabilities of tribal students by exposing them to vast opportunities and quality education. The first batch will be enrolled by next year,” says a hopeful Preman.