Connecting local responses around the world
In February 2011, I visited a Sri Lankan Refugee camp located in Kadayanallur block in Tirunelveli district of Tamil Nadu state along with a team of four Community Outreach counsellors. This camp was established nearly 20 years ago for the Tamil people who migrated from Sri Lanka due to civil war. As part of the Rural Youth Project being implemented by SIAAP, we organised a meeting with young men in this camp with an intention to educate them about STIs, HIV, sex and sexuality. During the meeting, I observed certain unique traits such as hospitality and respecting the team leader among this group of young men.
In this village, our counsellors approached the Sports Committee President to organize the meeting. One of the unique features of this community was that they had formed different committees such as Sports, Health and Cleanliness to address those specific needs. On the day of the meeting, our counsellors facilitated the meeting at the volleyball ground soon after the young men completed their sports activities.
During the meeting, our counsellors sat on the floor, while, the young men sat on the wooden log lying on the floor. I observed that the elders who sat a little away from the meeting location were very concerned about the hospitality provided to counsellors. They felt that the counsellors were made to sit on the floor but were not provided with mattress, tea or cold drinks. The elders went on to question the young boys saying, “You boys don’t know how to treat a guest, what were you taught about good habits?”
During play time, I noticed a young boy attempting to smash the ball; however, the ball did not cross the net. The team leader shouted at him and instructed him to smash the ball in the right place. Being a ‘Salty’ person, I was eagerly awaiting his response to the team leader, as we believe that every individual has the capacity to respond. The small boy quietly responded, “Sorry brother, I have attempted a wrong ball, hereafter I will play carefully and not commit the mistake again”. During the meeting, I also noticed one of the young men informing the team leader whenever he needed to go home in the middle of the meeting. After observing all these amazing aspects of their community life, I was curious to interact with young people. I wondered about their upbringing, especially in the context of respecting the words of their team leader.
At the end of the education session, I expressed my observation to the group and elicited their response regarding hospitality, respecting the leader and adhering to community regulations. The group shared that elders always taught younger generations about good habits. They shared that they strongly believed in collectiveness which would support one another in the country of asylum to safeguard their lives. I explored about their achievements resulting from this cohesiveness; they shared that they restored a similar refugee camp which was devastated in a recent storm and heavy rainfall. I shared with the group that I could see unity as their strength and appreciated them for their collectiveness. At the end of the meeting, one of the young men stood up and said that he hadn’t fully realized their strength; that the observations and sharing of an outsider would help bring changes with respect to their collective as well as individual efforts. He went on ask us to come after three moths to witness their collective growth. The group agreed to transfer their experiences to nearby hamlets.
Thus, I witnessed that the power of appreciation brings changes in the life of the people and in this specific instance, an immediate impact. I also understood that appreciation based on the evidence stimulated people. Personally, I learnt that every human being has a story to tell.
In the preceding experience, one can understand that appreciation helps people think and motivates them to move from one level to the other. I have also witnessed another dimension of appreciation. As part of our SALT visit, a team of us from SIAAP visited a village called Moopanpatti Colony in Kovilpatti block of Tuticorin district in southern Tamil Nadu. We held a meeting with a group of 20 young women. Most of the women in the group had been educated up to 5th standard. These women articulated their concerns and dreams in relation to their life, especially with regard to their children. Being aware about the educational status of the women, I appreciated the group for their capacity to articulate and communicate and shared that I saw this as one of their strengths.
Suddenly, a woman in the group spoke up. She shared that children of this area were discriminated in the school; they were not allowed to sit along with children from other castes and asked to sit in one corner of the class-room. A young girl, aged about 18 years shared her story with tears. She lost her mother at a young age, while her father had been unwell for the past three years. She lived with her father, brother, sister-in-law and their two children. She wanted to be a lawyer and scored above 80% in her higher secondary examination. However, family circumstances forced her to work with a cooperative bank for monthly salary of Rs. 1500/-. With this salary, she was spending Rs. 1000/- towards repayment of loan borrowed for her elder sister’s marriage, Rs. 100/- towards education of her brother’s children and Rs. 400/- for their living expenses. She was concerned that her strengths, dreams and hard work would be suppressed and requested us to help poor children to study when we reached higher positions in our profession.
I learnt that appreciation has the power to liberate people from the shackles of life experiences and motivate them to move to another level.
I would like to thank Maya Ramachandran, Joint Director, Siaap, for her valuable contribution towards editing and proof reading.