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Tribal group in India battles extreme poverty

Presbyterian Disaster Assistance works with partners to improve quality of life

by Rick Jones | Presbyterian News Service

Disaster risk reduction training in India conducted by PDA partner Society for National Integration Through Rural Development. (Photo courtesy of SNIRD)

LOUISVILLE — Off the grid, non-existent, outcasts. Those are some of the words used to describe a tribal group in southern India struggling to survive with little food, no homes and little opportunity for improvement.

Presbyterian Disaster Assistance recently traveled to the country to assess how the people are living after years of struggle following the 2005 tsunami. The government of India has no records on the tribe. The group travels from community to community, working fields and taking what little they can get, moving on to the next community and opportunity.

Luke Asikoye, PDA’s associate for international response says the people have no place to call home.

“These people have no bedding and are sleeping on the dirt floors. They are the outcasts of outcasts,” said Asikoye. “But despite their extreme poverty, they shared with us what they had. There is a high illiteracy rate among the tribes and they have no hope of breaking that chain unless they are able to settle somewhere.”

Asikoye says the children don’t go to school because they don’t stay in one place long enough to find one.

“We are dealing with a group that is living way below the caste system. They live as scavengers,” said Asikoye. “They don’t own anything and move from place to place, working the fields. They collect leftovers of food that people give them and they also have no documentation.”

PDA’s partners are working with the tribal group in hopes of providing them with opportunities to build homes and form a community.

“We’re working on a housing project that would allow them to settle down and hopefully, send their children to school,” said Asikoye. “The continuous travel with little or no money, clothes or food have left the children malnourished because they are not eating properly.”

Part of the ongoing strategy includes providing entrepreneurial opportunities for the people.

“PDA supports the region’s efforts to build new hopes, with hopes it will lead to providing a livelihood for people. For instance, we are working to train them to make their own bricks versus buying them,” said Asikoye. “We’re also working to bring groups together to learn how to be contractors or buy tools and supplies like scaffolding and rent it out for income.”

Asikoye says the Indian government is trying to help by providing water in an effort to encourage them to plant roots. PDA partners are also working to provide documentation for the people.

“The women marry at very young age. I saw women, 17 years of age, who were already married and had children. The system is not working with them,” said Asikoye. “If you are born in a particular caste system, you have no hope of getting out of it unless you leave the country. We are trying to empower people to get an education and seek a better life. They are very depressed and have accepted this as their fate.”

PDA is working with its partners on housing opportunities and a watershed development program. As part of disaster risk reduction, partners are working to encourage people to leave homes built in flood areas and build new homes on higher ground. Infrastructure development and maintenance work provided wage employment for 16,142 mandays (a measure of how much work or labor is required or consumed to perform some task.) Low-level areas were raised and drainage repairs are being made, which will help to stop the flooding of villages and provide an agricultural water supply. Work continues to help the Indian government establish records for tribal members.

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