We have previously made two films about Divi Seema (both on this website) .…….. The first showed how a community of nuns helps poor people improve their lives and how we (Divi Seema Foundation) are involved. ……………The second showed the everyday lives of these people and hinted at some of the underlying difficulties of living in Divi ………With this third one we wanted to go deeper over the threshold, into the houses of remote villages and hear how the women cope with their everyday difficulties, in their own words, and, what future they hope for, for themselves and their families.
Divi Seema is an island created by the Krishna Delta
Our procedure was to ask two questions in an “interview”:
- What has improved in your lives in the last few years?, and,
- What still needs to be improved?
A typical village in Divi Seema – a mixture of mainly traditional houses of mud brick, bamboo and palm leaves and a few Gov’t concrete houses.
The film we are going to make is based on these interviews…. Over the period of the interviews old difficulties reared their ugly heads, such as access to health care, education and water. But we were also able to uncover other subjects, like local government failure and corruption, half hearted Non-Government Organisations (NGOs), forced marriages and AIDS. This piece sets out how we went about the process.
My daughter Nancy the camera woman, Ram the DSF manager and I arrive at Machilipatnam by night train for Secunderabad, then to Nagayalanka for breakfast after which we go to the village of Dintimeraka to see how Sharada’s little nursery school is getting on; still no shelves or cupboards but Sharada oversees the ten very deprived children who attend.
Sharada and Ram outside the nursery school
The nursery is still in the same unfinished state as it was a year ago. She wont take any more money from us because it arouses the hostility of the other villagers. “Why does a foreigner give you money and not us?“. Sadly, this spotlights one of the most pervasive undercurrents in this society – jealousy. We leave the situation as it is.
Sharada”s nursery schoolchildren at Dintimeraka
We get to know Sr Celine who is Director of the the Cluny Andhra Rural Development programme (CARD). We explain what we want to do. Ram returns to Hyderabad by night train.
Day Two – morning
Nancy and I go by auto scooter with our faithful and trustworthy auto scooter driver Ragi (the same one as for the other two films) to the first village accompanied by Celine on the Cluny scooter.
Our plan to is give a small camera to a woman and ask her to take photos on her own of what she thinks best answers our two questions….. We will then print them out and film her telling us why she had taken their photographs and what issues they represented. Celine explains that we want her to photograph things that answer our questions and we discuss some of the problems facing her before she goes off to photograph.
It becomes apparent during the discussion that the woman was aiming her answers to what she thought I would like to hear …. So from now on Nancy goes out without me either with Celine or a non-sister interpreter and takes the interview.
Day Two – afternoon
Nancy and Celine go back with the prints and interview the woman again …. She is a savings group leader and deeply concerned about two perennial problems in her village – water supply and roads. Sometimes there is no water in the wells, sometimes there is but access can be barred. …… She was very strong on roads and for good reason ….…. In the rainy season the roads are like farm tracks and the remoter villages are cut off and inaccessible except by foot ….the nearest market town is 10 miles away ..
A typical side road in any village
They line up tomorrow’s interviewee (no 2) and give her a camera.
Day Three –
The interviews revealed that her initial answers to the questions leading up to taking the photographs were more interesting than what she said at the “interview”. So we change tack; from now on we film women’s immediate responses to the questions and then ask them to take the photos.
This woman’s whose main concern is the need for a nursery school in the village…..She talks about the danger of snakes. Nagayalanka in Telegu means the “Place of the snake”, and half the cases dealt by the sisters in their dispensary are from snake bite, mainly women working in the fields who have to leave their babies somewhere. They hang them up in a sari in the trees while they work in the fields…….So nursery schools as crèches are very important……
Keeping a baby away from snakes:
She is also concerned about the lack of a safe water supply. There is lot of typhoid around caused by polluted drinking water.
Day four – morning
Sr Grace comes back from Chennai for a short visit and first thing convenes a meeting with her old savings groups leaders. Grace was transferred in May so she is keen to see how they have got on …..
Sr Grace with a meeting of leaders of womens savings groupss
Celine also attends and then she and Grace spend most of the day swapping information before Celine goes off to Warangal.
Nancy and I go with Grace go to a village where she started a tailoring centre about six months ago, with DSF funding. Its a good system – the women pay the teacher, we supply the machines. Two batches have been trained – thats about 30 women, half of them unmarried girls. This skill is a vital asset for women with families who save money by making their own clothes; for the unmarried ones the skill increases their “bride price” and when they go to another village on their marriage they can make a bit of pin money and new friends.
Graduates of Barankala Tailoring Centre
Church service in the morning. Nancy and I later go down to the Nagayalanka and its waterfront to capture some shots.
Sunday morning service at Nagayalanka
Jessy (the Superior) and I have a chat – the shopping list: what else do you need here apart from our committed funds. How can we help? .….. In the afternoon Nancy and I go round the “countryside” in our always available auto-scooter to capture “wild sound”.
This a a poor village and this woman has to go a mile or two to get safe drinking water.
The woman talked about the same problem as the previous interviewees ..…..water supply ……..and how crucial it was to have an assured supply of safe water; definitely a failure on the government’s part – lack of funds – indifference – incompetence? – any or all of these – What makes it worse is that she lives in a very remote village, so why should the government bother?
Nancy and I and Jessy (a medical sister) and the other medical sister Amala, go to Nali in a jeep piled high with medicines and equipment. Nali is a fishing village about 20 km from Nagayalanka and 5 km from the coast and is one of the six villages where the sisters hold a fortnightly “medical camp” and reach about 100 – 200 people per village.
Nancy and Sr Jessy in Nali
The sisters dispense mainly pain killers and medicines, measure blood pressure and look out for symptoms of typhoid (prevalent), malaria, anaemia and tell-tale signs of malnutrition and other debilitating diseases………….but that’s all. They try and persuade the people to eat better. Many of them have thyroid problems, a consequence of not eating vegetables, but the message doesn’t seem to get through .
Sr Jessy attending in the medical camp
A major problem is that it is extremely difficult to get any (good or not) government doctors to come to the rural areas. Another problem is that the sisters’ dispensaries are not permitted by law to carry out many procedures, many of which the sisters are perfectly competent to do, without a doctor in attendance, and people wont go to places without a doctor. The women buy medicines from the sisters way below the shop prices. The pharmaceutical companies give the cheapest medicines to the sisters but not the more expensive ones and antibiotics, so they have to buy them over the counter and we subsidise those.
The next woman woman’s family had been hit by AIDS. Her daughter married a man with AIDS. They both died. There is a lot of AIDS around despite government denials; treatment is prohibitively expensive and can cost a family’s entire income for 6 months or more, as will even minor surgery, and put families into debt for years, so hospitalisation is definitely a last resort. There is no NHS out here.
Another perennial problem for the poorest families is old age and what to do with old people. Some families just abandon them because they can’t afford to look after them; others keep them but treat them badly. No care homes here. Possibly a distant relative? Perhaps not!
Once a daughter leaves her home on her marriage the decision to look after her mother rests with her mother in law who may well decree that the welfare of the girls mother is not her concern.. The mother is ignored.
Another issue is the sporadic government house building programme and its endemic failure to follow up virtually on anything; plenty of promises, particularly at election time but no monitoring ….. the curse of local government …….. disinterest ….. indifference
A house finished by the owner; a traditional one pole house. Photo by by the owner
Celine has called a day long meeting with the 300 savings groups leaders to the CARD headquarters on the Nagayalanka campus. Its much easier and less consuming for Celine if the women come o the Nagayalanka campus. She has been warned off having womens’ meetings in some villages because the national government has made it clear that since this is a Hindu country minority religious groups like the Catholics are infringing the Hindu way of life and their activities should therefore be restricted.
We came across the classic but now familiar story ……….a oorly educated but intelligent woman, the wage earner in the family, a sick husband, perennial debt, another broken promise – financial help for the house…….. a perpetual struggle. But this woman is enterprising; she went to the best training NGO at her own expense to improve her life chances and her community some good, but other things prevailed and she can now only help herself by making fish traps from home.
This was the last interview and we got it all. The woman below talked about the charade of the political system and how at voting time the politicians come to the villages and make lavish promises. They bribe the men with alcohol and give the women a little money. After that they disappear for the next five 5 years. In between times requests for safe water, toilets or even pension payments are ignored. Apparently even when people die an official wont be bothered to come to a village and ascertain the cause of death.
A brave strong woman fighting against the odds but seemingly cheerful and surviving.
According to her the men drink most of their wages and are unconcerned with improvements to their village such as why the village is not developing, why roads are not laid, why people don’t get their pensions and why the available a drinking water is so unsafe that even the old people and small children have to go miles to get it. One of the reasons that is so is because in her village the water is located in an upper caste part of the village. The caste system (the traditional division of the population according to employment going back over 2000 years ) with its rigid demarcations of rights determines most things in India and particularly in the rural areas. In this case it determines who has access to water when there is shortage creating huge tensions between the upper castes and the Scheduled castes (ex Harijan – untouchables) and Backward castes (Tribals – in effect aboriginals). Here the upper caste prevents the other castes from getting to the wells located in or near their part of the village.
So what have we got from the women that I or the sisters didn’t know already?
Probably a better understanding of the depth of anger and despair of the village women at local government, and in some cases NGOs, all of whom ( Government and NGOs) flit in, leave something behind like a half finished school, or housing colony, or a village hall, then flit out again, ticking their lists as they go. The women we met are resigned to their situations and cope, but, given the chance to join up with the sisters they do and quite a lot become Christians, say about 50 percent. For those who might be critical of Hindu women embracing Christianity let me ask you one question……….. If you were on a life raft would you care what the name on the side was?
The sisters put us on the overnight train at Vijayawada to Srikakulam; hugs and kisses all round and something to eat on the train……….. Now to the very north of the state, to another Cluny community, in Kottur…. .
We arrive at Srikakulam at 6.30am and are met by the new superior Sr Elseena and Sr Christina, now transferred elsewhere. We arrive at the convent for breakfast. After a short (commanded) rest we get into the business of seeing what has happened since I was last here in January 2014.
First thing, the Tailoring Centre which has had about 100 women and girls through it since then. There is a full-time teacher (9 months) but Christina is a state medal winner in stitching so the work they produce is of very high standard.
The class of Summer 2015
Then we go into the slums of Kottur to meet several savings groups started by Christina in 2013. The members have accrued enough capital to apportion loans and have significantly improved their lives. From the 15 women we questioned who had taken loans a third had used them for crucial “rites of passage” ceremonies, a third on education, and the rest on animals.
A typical side street in Kottur
Kottur is very poor indeed. It is an urban area in a rural backwater, so if there is no work in the countryside there is no work in the town. But people try and make a go of something.
Up into the mountains – the eastern Ghats – to the villages where Tribals live and where the Clunys have two medical camps a week.
The land is very fertile and intensively cultivated. Every type of tropical fruit grows here and and there are two crops of rice a year. The tribals own the land by Government decree and they should be rich, but they are not…Why? Because they are uneducated and have no other skills such as managing and marketing their produce ,so the middle men of Kottur snap up everything they grow and sell it at a mark ups of anything from 10 – 20 times.
Filming in the Easter Ghats; Sr Christina, Sr Eleesena and Nancy
The Protestants brought Christianity to the tribals about 20 years ago; they built huge churches in every village where the vicar holds a service every week in turn ( 15 villages). The government built some houses and brought electricity. Only the Clunys do the looking-after bit – with their medical camps and taking the children in to their hostel at Kottur to ensure they get some schooling.
In the evening we attend a Childrens’ Parliament (one was featured in the first film). The topic this evening is how the members (children from 5 – 14) can help old people, and, how they should tackle the filth along the main roads and organise another “Clean up Kottur” day.
Last day; Meeting with the sisters – shopping list: what else do you need here apart from our committed funds. How can we help? ……Catch up on shots of down town Kottur (the bus stand is the centre of this universe) and various other things such as: rain, puddles, schoolchildren and so on. Three sisters take us to Srikakulam to catch the overnight train to Secunderabad…… . Hugs and kisses all round, again, and something to eat on the train..
The Secunderabad Club……… Translating session all day with Ram and Nancy …. Ram’s house for tea ……. early start …….. silver tubes ……. At Dubai Nancy goes to Paris and I go on home…… seamless.