Where college students grow vegetables These Rotarians have got students all excited about organic farming, while also educating tribal children.

The ITI students display their basket of vegetables.
The ITI students display their basket of vegetables.

Fousya H, a student of the ITI for Women in Kazhakuttom in Kerala, is all excited as she shares the good news that her family has reaped a rich yield of tapioca, plantain, pepper and chilly this season and she is doubly happy because their vegetables are devoid of pesticides and chemical fertilisers. She has distributed her home-grown vegetables among her neighbours and also taught them to cultivate them in their homes.

For Ayana Vijayan, “cultivating such vegetables in our backyard is an effective confidence-building and family bonding exercise.”

Fousya and Ayana are part of a team of students who were trained in organic farming by Rotary Club of Kazhakuttom, D 3202. “We launched this project — Mukulam — last year to get youngsters interested, in a small way, to plant vegetables in their backyards.  We were certain that this will create a ripple down effect and we want to ­promote organic agriculture for a healthy life,” says past president Meenakumaran Nair. Krishi Bhavan supports the project by sharing gardening practices and seeds.

From left: IPDP Coordinator J Mary John, Club President S L Raj, Roynold J Gomez, IPP Meenakumaran Nair and Balan Baskaran with the Apollo Colony children.
From left: IPDP Coordinator J Mary John, Club President S L Raj, Roynold J Gomez, IPP Meenakumaran Nair and Balan Baskaran with the Apollo Colony children.

The farming project was inaugurated by the State Agriculture Minister K P Mohan at the Government ITI in Kazhakuttom, in Thiruvananthapuram. The Rotarians cleared a portion of the college ground for cultivation and conducted workshops for 700 students. They distributed seeds of ­spinach, beans, chilly, tomato, okra and brinjal. S S Jeeva was the man behind the project; “he is there at 6 am every morning and tends to the saplings lovingly,” says Nair.

“It was totally organic; no chemicals were used. We prepared the soil with vegetable juices, cow dung and neem leaves as fertiliser and coconut fibre was spread as a bed to retain water. Red ants, found naturally on this soil, killed the insects,” says Jeeva.

Last December, the harvest was celebrated like a festival with fanfare in the presence of the Mayor V K Prasanth and DG John Daniel. The huge yield was distributed among the college staff, students, club members and nearby orphanages.

“We had baskets full of variety of vegetables and all of us were super excited,” recalls Seena S G, a student. “As soon as we come into the college, we would visit our little garden every day. It was like watching a baby grow up, and in front of our eyes we saw the plants bloom and give us the gift of vegetables,” says Liji R, another student.

The field is now ready for the next crop of vegetables. Some of these students have taken the project home, cultivating vegetables in their backyard.

Educating tribals

Apollo Colony, on the other side of Thiruvananthapuram, is a tribal belt with 300 families living in dire poverty, yet it shares its borders with Techno City, the IT corridor of Trivandrum. The club has adopted this colony under its integrated development programme and educating the children was its first agenda. “It was disturbing when we found that many of them were aimless, unruly and committing petty crimes. So we decided to bring some discipline in them,” says the Programme Coordinator J Mary John.

Thirty students are being trained by Rotarians and their families. They assemble in an anganwadi on weekends and classes in English, Math, yoga, moral education and skill development are held. The project also included a four-week training in computers at the TechnoPark. The children are a refined lot and it was amazing to hear them introduce themselves in English with a lot of confidence. Five of them participated in the IRYLA conducted recently by RC Trivandrum.

Sharing their dreams, Asha says she wants to be a nurse; Vidya a teacher; Abhil Krishnan and Anju aim to join the IPS. While Vidya teaches Malayalam for 20 villagers, few others are teaching their parents to read and write.

“This programme will continue for another five years; we will target the adults next,” says Nair. The club members construct a house a year for the underprivileged. Ten houses have been constructed so far with TRF support, says this silver jubilee president.

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