Mathur is a somewhat isolated village 20kms north of Pondicherry, comprised of about 370 families and a total population of 1200. It is a multi-caste village, divided into three distinct segments. Basic infrastructure is rudimentary: there is one water point for the entire village and one light bulb per hut.
The village is close to Arul Ashram, run by the Brothers of St. John (Communauté des Frères de St Jean). Father Dominic, a long-time friend and associate of Sharana’s, initiated work in Mathur, building a center for adolescents with AIDS. The Belgian organization, “A Way with You,” which has also worked for many years jointly with Arul Ashram and Sharana, also built a community center that houses an evening school. Sharana began working in Mathur in 2008. Sharana’s sponsorship work is concentrated in the first of two Dalit segments of the village, while working jointly with Arul Ashram and AWWY in the provision of health, social, and educational programs for the village as a whole.
Before Sharana’s intervention, only 20% of Mathur children attended school. Today, Sharana’s collective sponsorship program, allows 400 children to continue their education. Sharana provides school uniforms, school bags, and books in addition to assistance with school fees. The children also benefit from nutrition programs, including spirulina food supplements at snack times.
Rajkala and Vetri have worked jointly to identify village needs, following from Sharana’s firm belief that social actions can only be successful if all beneficiaries are fully involved in decision-making processes. Progress in Mathur has been sometimes difficult and slow, owing largely to the varied economic statuses of Mathur residents, the presence of entrenched social and caste hierarchies, and to the size of the village—which is the largest Sharana has worked in to date.
For smaller children, Sharana built a nursery, which frees older children from childcare responsibilities. The building includes a small room, a kitchen and toilets, as well as spaces that can be used for community meetings. The nursery employs two village women, and hosts 20 children every day. A snack and meals are distributed daily, as in Angalakuppam.