Recently we visited SCAD (Social Change and Development) for the third time as part of our South India tours. The NGO was founded by Dr. Cletus Babu, a former catholic priest who became a social worker in order to serve his people in better ways, together with his wife Amali. In 1985 they purchased some land in the small community of Cheranmahadevi, about half an hour’s drive from Tirunelveli, in Tamil Nadu and started building the campus and offices. It is a holistic and visionary project that aims to reach the most marginalized sectors of the society, all those parts of the populations who have been deprived of their voices: rural artisan communities, gypsy communities, people sick with leprosy, the salt pan workers of the coast, orphans, abandoned elders to name a few.
As always we stayed in the homey guesthouse on the SCAD campus and were spoilt by Vimala and the staff members with the most delicious home-cooked Tamil meals, all vegan and very healthy. We spent our five days there visiting different areas of the impressive work that SCAD is putting into the community, guided by my friend Charles, our lovely affable host and SCAD Project Manager.
We learned about ‘Anbu Illam’, the school for differently-abled children and spent time playing and interacting with the friendly children and teenagers there. Prema, Vidya and the other staff members teach the most challenged children basic communication skills, using educational materials and toys, and provide physiotherapy, speech therapy and other support, including rehabilitation programs. We also called in on some advanced classes of maths and met a couple of students studying computer technology. We loved the warm supportive environment of the school which was reflected in the openness and enthusiasm of the interaction shown by the children and students.
On the SCAD campus there is also an organic garden with a bio-digester converting organic wet waste into methane gas for cooking and for electricity production. Therte is also a production lab of effective micro organisms for soil amendment that are sold at affordable prices at outlets frequented by the local farmers.
Due to the introduction of microloans and help with the marketing of products to local communities traditional artisans like potters and weavers are able to make a continued income with their wonderful pottery, mats and sarees, whilst self-help women’s groups have experienced real empowerment providing the national market with sanitary pads and tailored garments.
At the Leprosy Rehabilitation Center the patients are fully reintegrated with their family and community life after the contagious phase of their disease has been halted with treatment. They live in housing provided by SCAD and their families have ordinary jobs whilst their children often study in one of the SCAD schools. Formerly people with leprosy had been outcasts of their communities for fear of contracting the disease.
We also visited the Gypsy School where children of the gypsies (some settled, others semi-nomadic) have the opportunity to assist clases. The traditional life style of the gypsies has become threatened due to habitat destruction (like hunting resources) and other problems all over India now, so social change will be inevitable for this sector of the population.
We also visited the School of Engineering and the College of Education on the SCAD Campus.
Although we only had time to visit a few projects, we are certainly aware of SCAD’s important work in other areas, like healthcare, creating access to clean drinking water in rural locations and tree planting to name a few. As always, we thoroughly enjoyed our stay with our friends at SCAD and were deeply moved by their incredible dedication to help people to live a dignified life.
Visitors can stay in the SCAD guesthouses and volunteers can often find placements.
Donations are also welcome: plant trees, sponsor a child or project or help with the purchase of special equipment. Another way of getting involved is to organize your own fundraising event in your country.