His dream was to create a happy village where rural settlements had no source of livelihood and tribal families had a hand-to-mouth existence. One day, one of his Rotarian friends, A G D Durairaj from RC Chengalpet, RID 3231, took PDG Abirami Ramanathan, film distributor and owner of the Abirami Mega Mall, to the Kuyil Kuppam village in the Kancheepuram district of Tamil Nadu.
After visiting this hamlet in Oct 2017, “I approached the district collector for a housing project approval at Kuyil Kuppam. Within no time, a bhoomi puja was done at the site on July 1, 2018 by my club RC Madras Central (RCMC), RID 3232, for the construction of 64 houses in two phases,” said Ramanathan.
While the first phase comprising 32 units of 2BHK houses of 600 sq ft with concrete roof will be inaugurated in June, the surprise package is that “all the houses come equipped with gas stove, fridge, wet grinder, mixer, TV set, steel cupboard, a set of kitchen utensils and two mattresses with pillows, besides all the electrical fittings including ceiling fan and tubelight,” said V S Raghavan, the chief project supervisor.
A big responsibility
So far, 33 non-saleable pattas have been received and the title deeds each measuring 3.5 cents will be given to the heads of the Irula families who work as farm and construction labour. “We have selected six clubs, namely RCs Eagle Town Thirukkazhukundram, Chengalpet, Maraimalai Nagar, Mammandur, Kancheepuram Temple City and Mahendra Industrial City, to maintain the houses and educate the Irulas on the upkeep of their prized possession,” said P B Ravi Kumar, Project Secretary.
With the aim to usher in behavioural change, “we have chosen a woman village leader as the change-agent.” She convenes weekly meetings and monitors the progress of preventing alcohol abuse by the men, which is a big evil here. Regular health camps are conducted by these six clubs which are also educating the Irulas on hygiene and sanitation practices,” said Dr Manoj Rajan, past president of RC Madras Central.
Major sponsor Ramanathan has donated ₹2.5 crore, including a Term Gift of ₹65 lakh. RCMC has mobilised ₹60 lakh through its members, 25 Rotary clubs in the extended areas have pitched in with ₹75 lakh, few other NGOs have contributed ₹25 lakh and many non-Rotarians have donated in cash and kind for this project valued at ₹8 crore. “We are laying a black-topped road, installing solar streetlights and a 3,000 litre-overhead tank for water storage and supply. Besides, we have planned a community hall and a Dhanvantri temple for the happy village,” said the main sponsor.
Chengalpet-based Gosamrakshana Trust which is into rearing milch cows will be helping the club set up a dairy farm in this village. “To begin with, 10–15 cows will be donated by Rotarians and the Irulas will be trained in nurturing the cows. The goshala will help the families to sell the excess milk after their consumption,” said Ramanathan.
A cooperative society will be formed to take care of the dairy farm and a general provision store that is being planned at the village.
Winds of change
Village leader Latha Ravi is all smiles as she says, “We can’t ask for more. The beautiful houses are a boon to us and we are excited to start our dream life. We won’t forget this great help from Rotary for generations.”
Echoing the sentiments of Latha, her friends R Anjali, V Vasuki and R Sangeetha, all housewives, said they would maintain their shining and colourful houses well and feel blessed to start a totally different lifestyle. A far cry from present existence for all the 64 families in mud and low-thatched houses with no basic amenities.
Pictures by V Muthukumaran