Well, it's one week into my trip to India to visit one of the NGOs that the innocent foundation supports, and what an incredible week it's been.
After 2 days in the noise and heat of Chennai (which used to be named Madras), on Monday morning I travelled south for about 2 hours into rural India, to the ITWWS campus, which is where I’m spending 2 weeks working with the team, learning all about what they do as well as sharing some of the things we've learnt at innocent.
ITWWS is the Irula Tribal Women’s Welfare Society, and is one of the NGOs that the innocent foundation supports through WOMANKIND Worldwide in the UK. ITWWS work with tribal women in the Tamilnadu region of India. The Irulas are a semi-nomadic tribe and until about 50 years ago they got all their food and medicines from the forest. However, a number of wildlife and forestry protection laws have been passed in recent years, which has forced the tribes out of their natural habitat. This means that many of them have lost their homes and their livelihoods, and as a result they have to move around for work and for food, with many of them suffering from extreme poverty.
ITWWS is working with Irula women to give them an income by teaching them to use their traditional skills. For instance, because the Irulas have traditionally lived of the land, they have a huge knowledge of plants and herbs which are known to have medicinal properties. ITWWS has set up a number of nurseries on the campus where hundreds of different plants and herbs are grown. These are then picked, dried, ground and packaged, and sold as herbal medicines to generate income for the Irula women.
As well as learning all about ITWWS, I’m also here to share some of innocent’s experiences with ITWWS in terms of business knowledge, as they are hoping to be able to sell their herbal medicines under the Irula brand throughout India and possibly internationally at some point in the future.
I’m staying on the ITWWS campus and it’s absolutely beautiful. It’s in a forest area, 10km from the nearest town, so pretty remote. It’s on 10 acres and contains the plant nurseries, herbal production unit, a handicrafts centre, and arts library. It’s dry season at the moment so it’s scorching – somewhere around 35-40 degrees.
Yesterday I went on a field trip with the ecology team to a town called Tiruvannanalai which is famous for its Hindu temples. The ground is very dry so the team were there to test the soil in the temple grounds to try to work out which plants and herbal medicines they could grow there. It was a great experience for me, especially as they took me round the temple, explaining all the rituals and meanings.
The team that I'm working with are some of the loveliest people I've ever met. They've made me feel really welcome and I'm feeling quite sad that I've only got 5 days left with them.