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Volunteer using traditional folk theatre for his work

The traditional folk theatre form known as ‘therukoothu’ is an extant and powerful form of local cultural expression of Anakavur Block, which is believed to have had its origins in the hoary past of the age of the Pallavas, who ruled most of Southern India from their headquarters of Kanchipuram, corresponding roughly to the 7th century AD. The term ‘therukoothu’, which can be translated literally as ‘street theatre’, is actually an old form of street theatre of Tamilnadu, which tries to narrate mainly the stories of the great Indian Epic, the ‘Mahabharata’ to the rural audience. The heroine of the epic, Draupadi, is worshipped as a goddess in the villages of Anakavur Block as also in several other parts of Tamilnadu. The performances are held for several days as part of the annual ‘Bharata Kuthu’ Festival in several villages. The performance usually starts around 9 PM and goes on till around 6 AM the next day. Most villagers turn up for the performance which is usually held near the temple of the goddess Draupadi.

This form of street theatre has been found to be a powerful medium to communicate very intricate and even esoteric messages concerning righteousness and moral behaviour to simple rural folks in such a manner as to make them understand these tenets clearly. We have also used this art form to integrate messages relating to environment, health, education & literacy in to the storylines of their repertoire and communicated them to the villages of Anakavur.

The village Purisai in Anakavur Block can verily be called the Mecca of ‘Therukoothu’ which has two leading groups of this folk theatre. It is interesting, therefore, to note its influence on the children’s group of Purisai, as narrated by Babu, the local volunteer. Here is what he has to say:
Our village is quite popular for its traditional art form ‘therukoothu’. It has been practised for ages in our village. Even from my very young days, I used to love watching ‘therukoothu’, which used to be played very often in our village. Its audio-visual grandeur, its fast pace and its very powerful movements appealed to my young mind very much and impacted me with a desire to learn the art and play it myself.

As the years rolled by and after several more performances of ‘therukoothu’ in my village, my long-awaited opportunity came. I got for the first time the opportunity of donning the role of a female-friend of Ponnuruvi, a female lead character in the story of ‘Karnamotcham’ (an episode from the great Indian epic Mahabaratha). Seeing my performance, the local ‘therukoothu’ gurus M/s. Sambandam and Subramaniam enquired of me if I would be interested in playing such roles regularly in ‘therukoothu’. Unfortunately for me at that time, due to unfavourable family circumstances, I could not grab the opportunity of such an offer, which could have catapulted me in to a professional ‘therukoothu’ artist.

Once again, there was a long wait for the opportunity to come again. Eventually it did come when Dhanasekar, the son of the Master Subramania Thambiran, offered to train me in ‘therukoothu’. Though I was hesitant at first, I decided to take the plunge when my friends and others persuaded me in favour of accepting the offer. Accordingly, I went back to Master Subramania Thambiran and his son and opted to act in the play ‘Thugil’ (another episode from the epic Mahabaratha). What was interesting about this phase was that we went as a team of 13 friends for the training. Our masters wrote out the script of the chosen storyline and asked us to rehearse it. We did the rehearsals everyday from 8PM to 11PM. We were taught how to sing each song in its proper ‘raga’ (the tunes). We rehearsed accordingly. I was given the role of no less a character than the great Draupadi, the heroine herself! Initially, I felt daunted of donning this difficult role. However all my friends and my masters encouraged me to don the role saying that I was competent enough to do the role. So, I did ultimately take up that role and performed well. I could sense the respect that my village people showed me after this performance!
Some members of our children’s group have also been roped in to this art form. Sathyaraj has donned the role of Nakulan as also of Vikarnan. Now the storyline of Karnamotcham is being scripted and getting ready. I have been asked to do the role of Ponnuruvi, the wife of Karnan. Needless to say that I am thrilled about it!



From Chinna Sengadu village..

The following is a translation of a message sent in by Volunteers Ms. Gowri and Ms.C.M. Thangam:

We would like to share some information about a boy from one of the children’e group. His name is Salim and he is from Chinna Sengadu village and studying in Grade IX. He joined the children’s group two years back and has been a regular participant in the group’s activities. The good news is that this is the only group in my area which has 3 children, including Salim, hailing from the Muslim community.

When we asked Salim as to what made him join the group. He said that once he saw some children of his village walking back from some event. He became curious to know from where they were returning. He continued:

“I asked them as to where they were coming from. They told me that they were returning after attending a children’s group meeting. Thereupon, I became curious and asked them to tell me more about the children’s group and its activities. They told me that they discussed and learnt a lot of useful things in such meetings, such as, literacy, life skills, preventive health care, nutrition, information on other countries of the world, environmental concerns, etc. I liked the subjects discussed. Therefore I asked them if I could also join their group. They responded positively stating that there should be no problem but that I had better met the local volunteer, Gowri, first and made a request to her. I did so and asked her if there was any fee to be paid. She said that there was no fee to be paid, that even her work was only as a honorary volunteer and she was happy to admit me in to the group.

Later, I had an occasion to meet Venkat Sir. I liked his approach of explaining things and then putting questions to the children. Whoever scored well, got prizes. I liked this method very much. I have now decided to learn more through the children’s group’s activities and I am determined to get prizes at the next opportunity. I am quite regular in attending the meetings of the children’s group.”

Our own assessment is that Salim is one of the most active kids of the group. He is regular in attending the group meetings. He takes down notes regularly during the group sessions and he also tries to practice whatever life skills he learns from the group.

Gowri & Thangam


Hoping for a better future..

The following is a translation of a message sent by R. Viswanathan of Thavasi Village of Anakavur Block

I have been a member of the children’s group of our village since two years now. I have come to know of several useful things in these two years from the group activities. I would particularly refer to the knowledge gained by me regarding other countries of the world and spoken English as two of the most important gains that I have had.

Unfortunately, I could not pass my X std. examination. My family members as also my friends suggested that I join the Polytechnic for my further studies. I also though it to be a good advice. However, on 06 June 2010 Venkat Sir visited Cheyyatraivendran village and I went there and met him. There were several children form the villages of Cheyyatraivendran, Tavasi and Melnemili assembled there. I felt very happy seeing so many children assembled there. He spoke to all the children. He spoke to me as well. On learning of my plans to join the Polytechnic straightaway, he advised me to re-consider my decision as that would be rather difficult for me to cope and score good marks; and instead, he advised my doing my +1 and +2 first (higher secondary) and then pursuing such higher studies. Shankar (another erstwhile volunteer) of our village also supported this advice. I felt convinced and then spoke to my parents, who though reluctant at first, later realized its practicality and agreed to my pursuing +1 and +2. Now I am thankful to Venkat Sir for this timely guidance.


Preparing for the theme day on Literacy

As one of the ongoing activities for children’s groups in the villages the ‘theme day’ concept has been introduced once again this year in several groups. The first attempt at such theme days was done in 2007/2008 where children developed the entire contents of a full length programme comprising of short skits, dance, songs, exhibitions revolving around a theme such as health, education, literacy, environment etc.

One such theme day will be taking place later this year in the village of Elaneerkundram. Children from this village are doing the programme in the area of literacy. Couple of weeks back they performed their skits to me and I gave many suggestions and they hope to get the entire programme ready by September.

Here are few stills from the rehearsal that took place couple of weeks back…




Trying to get to school when life falls apart!

Here is an account of how a poor boy whose struggle to pursue his study has been addressed by the Anakavur Process. This piece has been written by Thangam who helps Mr. Venkatesan who is the local volunteer for Thirumundi Village:

P. Sudhakar is from Thirumundi village and he is studying Grade X in Kizhkovalaivedu high school. He lost his father in the year 2002, while he was studying in the second standard. The family was deprived of its main bread-winner. Thereafter, his elder sister was married off even while she was very young and the other sister was sent away for work in Tirupur. These were done mainly in order to get them some wherewithal to live!

Now, Sudhakar has to do work on farms whenever he gets time off from his school in order to sustain his family. Whenever there is a children’s group meeting, the other members normally fetch him from his farm work. He has been an active member of the group over the last five years. I have found him to be a keen student with a very pleasant disposition and willingness to learn new things. His dire need to do hard labour in order to sustain his family sometimes came in the way of his attending his school and resulting in long absence from school. When Venkat Sir came to know of this predicament of Sudhakar, he immediately lent support by way of sending him for private tuition in order to make up for what he lost by absence from school. I was advised to supervise and support his efforts. When things were getting to fall in line for the pursuit of Sudhakar’s studies, another misfortune struck his family. This time it was in the shape of his younger sister suddenly starting to lose vision, which necessitated his mother to take her to an eye hospital in Chennai for treatment. Now, this again meant another blow to Sudhakar’s studies as he had now to balance the competing demands on his time for doing his household chores, doing his work on farm and attending to his studies! As one would expect, the casualty was his studies!

At this, I consulted Venkat Sir and as advised by him, I met Sudhakar and spoke to him at length. I found that he was hesitant to write the X standard examination particulary for fear of failing in Maths. Therefore, I gave special coaching to him in Maths. He has since written the examinations and is now awaiting the results. When I asked him recently as to how much marks did he expect to score in Maths, prompt came his reply that he would score about 60%! I also feel hopeful of his getting that score! I must admit at this point that Sudhakar has come up to this stage in his studies only due to the encouragement and support that was constantly provided by Venkat Sir during his vicissitudes and I must thank him for that!

(As this write-up is being posted on the website I have received the good news that Sudhakar has passed his Grade X exams!)

Taking children to the nutrition/pre-school centre

The following is a translation of a note received from Ms. C. M. Thangam, a senior volunteer of the Anakavur Process regarding her taking the children’s group members of her village to the local nutrition and pre-school centre (anganwadi centre):

I took the members of the Cheyyatraivendran Children’s Group to the local anganwadi (nutrition & pre-school) centre last month. There were 15 children in the visiting group.

I requested Ms. Rani, the anaganwadi worker, to show the children round and explain to them the activities of the centre. Accordingly she showed them round and explained the following activities:

For 0-3 year old children: weighing and supply of supplementary nutrition to those who were found to be losing weight. (I explained to the children as to how weighing was the only reliable indicator that was locally available in the village in order to know the health and nutrition status of the children.)

For 3-6 year old children: provision of noon meal and pre-school education

For pregnant women: weighing and counseling about ante-natal care

For lactating women: advising on the importance of breastfeeding; both exclusive and complementary

Other Women: gathering them in groups and holding periodical meetings to discuss important aspects of nutrition and health

Adolescent Girls: counseling about need for taking iron tablets

Some of the visiting children evinced interest in finding out their own weights and the anganwadi worker readily obliged them.

Winding up the visit, I once again explained to them the activities of the anganwadi centre and added that the worker also helped the local Female Health Worker (known as the Village Health Nurse) in her activities, particularly those relating to immunization, distribution of tablets for filariasis, and counseling the pregnant women on ante-natal care, etc.

The children spent over an hour in the centre and were able to get an overview of the centre’s activities.

C. M. Thangam
Cheyyatraivendran, Anakavur Block



Attending a medical training for the first time…

The following is a translation of an interesting account Ms. C. M. Thangam, volunteer of the Anakavur Process, regarding her attending for the first time a medical training programme on Primary Prevention of Renal Failure which was conducted by eminent renal expert in India:

I attended a training programme on ‘Primary Prevention of Renal Failure’ conducted by the Kidney Help Trust of Chennai in March 2010 in Sriperumbudur (a small town on the way to kanchipuram from Chennai). Even though the medium of training was English and I was aware of my lack of proficiency in the English language, I still evinced keen interest in attending the programme because of my perception of its importance to my work and the kind of exposure that it would give me.

When I reached the training venue, namely, the Coromandel Club Hotel, I realized that this was perhaps my very first occasion when I went to such a place all by myself! I met a senior-looking person there, who asked me about my background and was kind to me. Later, I realized that it was none other than the very senior and well-known nephrologist, Dr. M. K. Mani of the Apollo Hospital, Chennai.

At the start of the training, when everyone introduced themselves in English, it was to my great relief that I could also do so, thanks to the training that I had received in our office on such self-introduction in English. The morning session was taken by Dr. M. K. Mani and it was a technical session. It was followed by group discussions, in which I made some points in Tamil, which was translated to English by another participant.

Dr. Appa Rao, an experienced Statistician, took a session in the afternoon on data management.

After dinner, I retired to a single-occupancy room which had been allotted to me. Being a holiday resort, the room allotted to me was very comfortable. However, since I was staying in a room all by myself for the first time, I felt it as an unusual experience and was a bit scared!

Our CFDRT Director Mr. Subramaniyam called me over my mobile just to enquire about my day in the training and he reassured me that it was a safe place to be in where even Dr. Mani was staying in the room next to me, that everything should be alright and that there was really nothing be scared about! I felt reassured at this and in a little while, fell asleep.

Next morning, I woke up nicely, felt fresh and got ready for the field visit. Our group was taken to Ramanujapuram Village where we could see for ourselves how Benedict’s test was conducted by the health workers on urine samples taken from the patients assembled there. We also observed the entire process of positive cases being taken in for further examination of blood pressure and for distribution of medicines. We were also shown the various records maintained at the centre. Dr. Manjula Datta of the Kidney Help Trust was there with us handy to answer whatever doubts we had.

In the post-lunch session on the second day, we were asked to share our experiences. I explained our Anakavur work, particularly about Venkat Sir’s demonstration to our women’s group to find out if the salt they used contained iodine or not by using a solution. It led to our village women buying thereafter only iodized salt.

Mr. Subramaniyam joined us in the afternoon and briefly explained about our efforts to start a similar effort for the primary prevention of renal failure in Anakavur.

When I returned to my village after the training, I called a meeting of our women’s group and explained to them whatever I had learned and observed in the above training.

In conclusion, I must say that I liked this opportunity of attending this training immensely and I have greatly benefited by this training both in terms of gaining knowledge as well as getting a rare exposure to a technical workshop on preventive health care! I thank Venkat Sir for facilitating such an opportunity for me.

C. M. Thangam
April 2010, Cheyyatraivendran, Anakavur Block.


Training Volunteers in Anakavur- a brief report

An important hub on which the Anakavur Volunteers work hinges upon is the process of transfer of knowledge to them. Right from the start of the process about a decade ago, a lot of attention has been paid to transfer knowledge to them on the basics of nutrition, health, education, hygiene and sanitation, environment and empowerment. In addition, information on the resources needed to tackle the local problems and where and how to access them have also been conveyed to them regularly. The volunteers in their turn take the initiative to prioritize their local problems and try to access the resources needed to remedy them.

Periodical refresher training programmes are also conducted in order to update the volunteers’ knowledge on the technical aspects of the contents of the training. There was one such refresher training held on the 20th March 2010 in Anakavur Block which was conducted by Mr. Subramaniyam, Director, CFDRT, Chennai. A total number of 23 volunteers attended this training programme.

The broad subjects covered were:

Protein Energy Malnutrition: Broad causes of PEM, their indicators, data on weights and heights, data on nutrition intake, maternal malnutrition, malnutrition in children, growth faltering, infant mortality, perinatal mortality, neonatal mortality, breastfeeding in the first hour, exclusive breastfeeding, complementary feeding from the sixth month onwards, the role of ICDS in combating malnutrition, the important role of weighing-growth monitoring-and referral, importance of infection management in children and the important role of communication in bringing about behaviour change and the concept of life cycle in addressing the problem of intergenerational gender-based nutrition and health gaps.

Micronutrient Deficiencies: The causes and effects of micronutrient deficiencies and how to prevent them through proper dietary patterns, indicating the low cost sources of availability of foods which contain them, were explained. The discussion included iron, iodine, zinc, calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, copper, potassium, Vitamins A, B1, B2, B3, B6, B12, C, D, E, K, P and phytonutrients. Vitamin A Deficiency Disorders, Iodine Deficiency Disorders, Iron Deficiency Anaemia and Zinc Deficiency Disorders were dealt with at greater length in view of their importance to the local context.

The participants evinced keen interest in the training and there was good participation by way of questions.

There was a brief test, on the topics discussed during the training, which was held at the end of the training. The participants were divided in to two groups and three prizes were awarded to the participants in each group based on the marks scored.

The general feedback from the participants was that the training was very useful to them. They preferred longer time duration for such technical sessions as well as greater frequency of such trainings.

Celebrating International Women’s Day in Perumbalai Village

A Brief Report on the Celebration of International Women’s Day in Perumbalai Village of Anakavur Block as “Safe Motherhood Day” on 08 March 2010:

Motherhood is not yet totally safe in all parts of India. There are several hurdles, particularly in the rural areas – e.g., inadequate ante-natal care, inadequate maternal nutrition, under-nutrition in utero, unsafe home deliveries, low birth weight babies, hemorrhage, sepsis, hypertensive disorders, obstructed labour, unsafe abortions, birth asphyxia and infection. The most affected, as usual, are the most disadvantaged populations.

Therefore, this year’s international women’s day celebration in Anakavur block focused on the theme of how to ensure safe motherhood particularly to the poorer and disadvantaged groups living in rural areas.

The lead in organizing this event was taken by our senior volunteers – Ms. C. M. Thangam of Cheyyatraivendran Village and Ms. Abirami. The latter hails from Perumbalai village itself. They were supported in their efforts by other volunteers – Ms. Jeeva from Tavasi Village, Mr. K. Muniyandi from Akkur Village and Mr. Gunasekaran from Tethurai Village.

Ms. Thangam and Ms. Abirami were earlier trained for two days in Chennai specially on the technical inputs for the event.

There were about 50 participants – about 33 women in the reproductive age group and about 17 adolescent girls, all hailing from Perumbalai Village.

The function started in the afternoon at about 02.30 PM with the traditional lighting of oil lamp (kuthuvilakku) by local women and volunteers and went on till about 04.00 PM.

The discussions were facilitated by Ms. Abirami and Ms. Thangam, who used the several charts prepared earlier for the event for purposes of explaining the focus points. Ms. Jeeva, another volunteer and Ms. Mahalakshmi an adolescent girls group member also facilitated this activity. The discussions covered the topics of: safe motherhood and new born care, evidence-based pre-natal care and counseling, iodization of edible oils and salts, distribution of iron and folic acid tablets, and Vitamin A, screening for blood pressure, distribution of antiretrovirals where voluntary testing and counseling are undertaken, advice on proper breast feeding practices, tetanus toxoid immunization, treatment of urinary infections, how to ensure/obtain skilled attendance at delivery, how to take proper care of obstetric complications and emergencies (the participants were given information on the names and locations of CEmONC and BEmONC centres in the neighbourhood and their contact numbers in order to call for their help), post-partum care, safe abortion and post-abortion services, information on family planning and where such services are available and information on adolescent reproductive health and information on the availability of such services. There was good participation by the local women and adolescent girls in the discussions.

There was a brief quiz at the end of the programme.

Ms. Thangam did a post-event evaluation of the programme on the 9th March by re-visiting some of the participants. Her assessment is that most of the key messages have in fact reached the participants. She feels that many of the local women have now known many of the discussion points and the information on CEmONC and BEmONC centres for the first time and they have found the same useful. She proposes to follow this up by periodical re-visits. She and Abirami would like to ensure that there would not be even a single case of maternal or child mortality in the coming years in the villages from which volunteers participated in this programme! Let us also hope so!

Celebrating International Women’s Day

In the little village called Perumbalai which is tucked away few kilometers away from the main road, several women gathered yesterday 8 March to celebrate International Women’s day. The theme of their gathering was safe motherhood. Our volunteers Abirami, Thangam, Jeeva, Muniyandi, Gunasekaran and others spoke about the various issues related to maternal and child health. To conduct this programme volunteers were given training in Chennai. They went through a short training programme of familiarization with the concepts relating to Safe Motherhood. The training focused upon maternal mortality and to how to control and eliminate it. The terms – maternal, perinatal and neo-natal mortality – were explained to them. The focus conditions relating to the mother were identified and explained to them as: haemorrhage, sepsis, hypertensive disorders, obstructed labour and unsafe abortions. As for the baby, these were identified and explained as: low birth weight, birth asphyxia, and infection.

The topics that they discussed at the meeting are as follows:
The essential components of Safe Motherhood Strategy were explained to them in terms of the following:

•Community education on safe motherhood and new born care,
•Evidence-based prenatal care and counselling,
•Nutritional advice
•Iron and foliate supplements (multivitamins and micronutrients)
•Iodization of edible oils and salt and Vitamin A in areas of endemic deficiency
•Blood pressure screening
•Screening and treatment for syphilis
•Antiretrovirals, where voluntary counseling and testing undertaken, and breastfeeding advice
•Tetanus toxoid immunization
•Treatment of urinary tract infections
• Skilled assistance at delivery
*Care of obstetric complications and emergencies
•Postpartum care
•Safe abortion and post-abortion services
•Family planning information and services
•Adolescent reproductive health education and services

Details about this meeting and pictures from this event will be posted soon…