We worked for the welfare of disadvantaged children for many years, since 2006 the strategy changed to focus on child rights and mainstreaming children’s concerns throughout all our work. Another strategy is ‘child focused community development’ - unless the community is developed the gains for children will not be sustainable. This community development is in the form of promoting women’s self help and village development groups, assisting linkages for government benefits and livelihood opportunities and ensuring that families have the documentation to access these schemes. We also mobilise credit from reputable government owned sources. We work with the most marginalised children.
The Arunthathiyar are marginalised and discriminated by other Dalits so it was inevitable that Arogya Agam would work with them. Children are formed into groups and given inputs on education, self respect and self image, early marriage etc. The groups exert peer pressure and after 5 years 90% completed full secondary education (12 school years) whereas very few did so before and many now go on to higher or technical education. Girls marrying before they are 18 has almost been stopped in the villages where we work. Evaluations have shown that the children’s group model is most effective where there are strong women’s self help groups in the villages, these are being encouraged to take a leading role in the work with children to make the programme sustainable.
The children’s group leaders met regularly and decided upon the need to federate the groups to increase children’s participation in addressing their issues. Thanambikkai (Self Confidence) child rights federation was started in 2014 with a view to secure rights, health and development for marginalized children including education, health, protection, and equality for marginalised children. HIV affected children are included, and linkages with Palliar tribal children are being formed. They have a blog at www.childrenofthanambikkai.blogspot.com
This project was upgraded in 2016 from 9 Palliar villages to 25 in Dindigul District and new work in 12 villages in Theni has been started. Palliars are the most disadvantaged people in the region. Visitors to these derelict villages even express doubts that we could be in a relatively better off state such as Tamil Nadu! Facilities are few and far between, few children progress at school and many work in dangerous occupations. There is gross labour exploitation and a number of forms of bonded labour. Palliars receive low seasonal wages and cannot sell the forest produce they are allowed to collect except through middle men. This programme has the highest component of child focused community development since Palliars lack even the most basic facilities. Children’s and village groups are being formed on the models already used. Increased school going, delayed marriage of girls, better health and better care in pregnancy are major objectives.
Work with HIV positive children has being functioning in Theni District for a number of years. Now that HIV infected children survive there is more emphasis on adolescent HIV affected children since they have very special needs. The main focus is to ensure HIV infected children access care and that HIV positive pregnant women use government services to ensure that they do not transmit HIV to their newly born children. The work is done through HIV Positive women’s networks. Due to this work hardly any children are now born with HIV in the 8 districts where we work. We found that we could cut the morbidity and mortality rates of HIV infected children drastically. A life saving strategy is to provide temporary financial support to families with sick HIV infected children or children who need to start on antiretroviral drugs. This encourages and enables guardians to take the children for treatment - this support can make all the difference and it can cost as little as £20 (Rs 2000) to save a life!