Wednesday, October 12, 2005

New Projects in Porkkulakudi, Updates on Housing Program, New Correspondent (Tatsu)

Two nights ago, I arrived at the LAFTI headquarters here in Kuthur. After a night’s rest, I accompanied Amma (Krishnamal) and some of the staff out to a village where LAFTI had erected new homes for people and is helping with the acquisition and distribution of fertilizer.

We then traveled to another village in which many people had lost their homes to the tsunami. Amma is bringing the home building program there with the ambition of providing people with solid homes made of brick to replace the thatch and mud huts they lost in the disaster.

We then made a whirlwind tour of the area that I assume was for my benefit. I was shown homes that LAFTI has erected and many more that are still in mid construction; vast expanses of rich green fertile lands Appa (Jagannathan) freed up through a titanic struggle that he won only after a climactic fast that lasted for 13 days; the area where the terrible massacre of dalit women and children occurred that prompted Amma and Appa to move here; the hostel which LAFTI maintains for roughly 80 girls who would otherwise be unable to attend school because of the remote locations of their homes; the huge tracts of land that continue to be used illegally as prawn farms despite an order from the supreme court for their dismantlement; and the 5 kilometer long wall LAFTI mobilized people to build in order to protect farming land from the devastating floods caused by the presence of the prawn farms.

Before I continue any further, I should introduce myself. My name is Tatsu. I am originally from Japan, but from the age of four, I was raised in the United States (Seattle and Oakland/San Francisco). I returned to Japan immediately after graduating from college and worked for the past seven years as a teacher and administrator in the public school system. At the end of this past school year in March, I left my job to see some of the world. My travels have thus far taken me through Malaysia, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Singapore. I arrived in India for the first time in my life two weeks ago.

I was introduced to LAFTI through David (Willis) and it was his encouragement that prompted me to come here. David (Albert) and Aliyah have entrusted maintenance of the blog to me for the duration of my stay here. To my surprise though, it looks as if this will be my only entry.

Shortly before leaving the ashram for the tour, Amma told me that she had plans for me. The next morning (today), I was to be dropped off in a small village called Porkkalakudi. There, it would be my task to work with a LAFTI worker already posted there to set up (1) a nursery school program, (2) a baby chick(en) inoculation and distribution program and (3) a drumstick plant cultivation program.

This morning, I got up and hopped on the back of a motorcycle with Veerasami who took me out to Porkkulakudi. I was introduced to the woman who is to be my partner in this project, Kanakhi, who has been posted in Porkkulakudi since early September. Veerasami explained that I was to be her new partner. She explained that someone in the village had passed away the previous evening so she was postponing the launch of the nursery school program for a couple of days and thus my presence was not yet needed. Inside, I breathed a guilty sigh of relief.

Up until today, my entire vocabulary in the Tamil language has been only nunri (‘Thank you’), vanakam (basic word of greeting) and the names of several basic food items (idly, dosa, sambar). As I understand it, pretty much nobody in the village speaks either English or Japanese, the only two languages in which I have proficiency. As for plant cultivation, I am renowned far and wide only for my ability to inadvertently bring an early and painful death to any plant placed under my care.

I am hoping that my saving grace will be the extensive experience I’ve had with working with children of all ages in Japan. It’s hard, however, to not feel like I’m being asked to jump out of a fast moving vehicle on the highway; gotta hit the ground running or else fall flat on my face.


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