Sunday, July 25, 2010

Pride & Safety

This blog is a continuation of the situation and stories of Sikkavalam village I visited several weeks back. As I wrote in the earlier post, many of the villagers were not available to be interviewed the first time around because my friend and I had come to visit just minutes before the work and school day was about to start.

Although there are many similar stories that can now be told as a result of LAFTI and Krishnammal's work, this story was the first and somehow stuck with of me for the rest of the morning and afternoon. Although I will get into the details of their housing situation in relation to LAFTI later on, I must first give adequate background information for you to gain an understanding of them as a family. There are four individuals living in this house, although only three are shown in the picture above. Mother and father, T. Aravalli and R. Thakaraj respectively, T. Bhuvaneswari the couple's younger daughter, and finally Bhuvaneswari's older brother T. Logeswaran who is commonly called Vinoth by his friends and family. The family lives approximately 10 minutes away (walking) from a government pipe where they collect most all of their drinking water. Their daughter is 13-years-old and studies at the public school in 8th standard (which is what they call grade levels here), and Aravalli and Thakaraj's son has now been able to move on to higher education.

Although it may be obvious now that I have written so much about Krishnammal and her own past, this family along with all others who own LAFTI-built houses in this village are part of the Dalit community.

With regards to income generation, both the mother and father work in agriculture approximately three to four months out of the year (June-September) depending greatly on the drastic changes in climate. The family owns one goat and one cow. The goat is kept in the family until it is able to produce offspring at which point it is sold for a profit and the cycle then repeats. While the cow is able to produce around five liters of milk per day which can be sold for around 100 rupees (roughly $2.20), the cost to feed and care for the cow often only allows the family to break even. In addition to agricultural work, the father cuts and sells coconuts from March to May sometimes making up to 100 rupees daily as well, but he says that this job is not nearly as consistent. During the other five months of the year, the family participates in the government's 100-Day Scheme. This basically means that Aravalli and Thakaraj are nearly guaranteed some type of work 100 days out of the year. The trouble with this is that it often takes them away from other things they need to be doing (caring for the family, farming, etc.) because it is not always a continuous 100 days and it consists of random jobs such as cleaning the railroads or restoring roads.

Now to discuss the main reason for this blog = the family's house. When I asked them what it was that they valued so greatly about their new brick house as opposed to their old straw hut the list was neverending, but two words in particular serve as an overall description. Pride and safety, these were the two worlds that came up nearly every sentence when asked this question. "We feel much more financially safe because we are not spending 4,000 rupees every year to replace the straw that held together our hut." That family's safety is completely intertwined with their pride, as feeling continually safe financially allows them experience a sense of pride socially within their own community. Building the house by hand also provides the family with a sense of accomplishment and instills a certain amount of pride. They feel safe from the sun and rain, two forms of weather that frequently destroyed their previous hut. Aravalli and Thakaraj feel extremely proud that they are now able to buy their children necessities because they have just recently been able to save. When I asked their daughter directly, she said that having a quiet and comfortable place to study has helped her stay ahead in school, an area in which she was often behind because her homework would take her three times as long on a rainy night living in the hut.

With the help of Gandhi as my translator, this was the overall message I took away from this family and every other one like it. "We are so very happy that, with the help of Krishnammal and LAFTI, we were able to help ourselves. Although we continue to work the same jobs as before even if they are unorganized and inconsistent, we are no longer struggling to stay above water. We feel safe and proud that we have built our own home, a home that our children leave from in the morning and return to at night to complete their homework. We now live in peace and safety from the rain and sun that used to make our lives such a struggle."

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