Almost time to wrap up our stay in Gudalur. I think my only regret is that we can’t stay longer.
The Ashwini organization was started in 1990 to fight the social injustice and exploitation the Adivasi (tribal) people were suffering. The Adivasi are traditionally aboriginal hunter-gatherers that live in scattered, small villages throughout the forest. After vast influxes of immigrants (starting with British colonization) and legislation banning people from entering the forest, the Adivasi became the lowest members of society and could only work as bonded servants or unskilled laborers.
The Ashwini organization first facilitated the formation of village level sangams to prevent any more of the Adivasi land from being taken away. The Adivasi were taught how to plant permanent cash crops like tea and pepper. More people joined the Ashwini effort and eventually a school and hospital were established. Today, the infant mortality rate has gone from 25% to better than the national average. Illiterate tribal girls were trained and have become nurses in the hospital. The hospital ownership and administration has been given over to the tribals, thus enormously elevating their status in society.
On wednesday, we headed out into the field and visited two villages. The hospital serves ~300 villages in the area. Each village is visited once a month to deliver medications and nutrition supplements for the children. All infants and children are monitored for malnutrition by tracking weight and height. The entire population of tribals have been screened for sickle cell trait. A mental health program is currently being established.
Today we visited the school. It served up to 10th standard until last year, when the law changed. Now it serves children up to 5th standard. It also serves as a bridging center, helping children who dropped out get to a level that would allow re-entry into regular school.
We topped off the day with a short safari in the Mudumalai tiger reserve and going to the Elephant camp to watch them being fed.