When french journalist and filmmaker Sandrine Lopez visited her friends Nathalie and Eric Ajorque, who work as volunteers for Sharana in Pondy, in late 2011 she took the opportunity to produce a little movie featuring the school of Mathur. Mathur is a small village remotely situated about 20km north of Pondicherry. Sharana is supporting this school since the year 2008. With the help of Sharana about 100 children receive not only education in the school, but also a daily warm lunch meal. Have a look how it looks in Mathur School.
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Sodhanaikuppam is a fishing village in a suburb north of Pondicherry that was particularly affected by the late 2004 tsunami. Sharana initially participated in post-tsunami relief efforts, providing fishing nets, repairing boats, and organizing general rehabilitation programs. The organization also focused the enrollment of all village children in schools for three years. Thanks to the very important financial support of Aude Solidarité and Sharana France, Sharana built a community center in Sodhanaikuppam to assist with:
- emergency aid, food and small equipment distribution;
- the establishment of a psychological counseling center;
- distribution of food supplements;
- medical screenings; and
- medical camps
Since that time, however, Sharana has mostly withdrawn from Sodhanaikuppam for several reasons. First, the village was obtaining help from several other organizations as part of wider tsunami relief efforts, and residents’ demands to identify sponsors for private school educations were becoming financially untenable. Second, the housing rehabilitation schemes proposed by local authorities would have resulted in a loss of livelihood for the people involved, but settling the matter was becoming a political issue in which Sharana could not get involved. Third and most important, Sharana adheres strictly to the principle that social programs should not be duplicated, so that when larger and more financially able NGOs began work in the village, Sharana elected to focus energies on other areas not similarly serviced by other organizations.
Even after Sharana’s withdrawal, however, 120 Sodhanaikuppam children continued to benefit from Sharana’s sponsorship programs (receiving bags, books, uniforms, and fees). Only recently, financial difficulties have compelled Sharana to trim its sponsorship activities in some areas until such time as funds become available. The center built by Sharana in Sodhanaikuppam is currently used for local women’s organization meetings and other community activities.
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.