Social Organisation extends financial help to Villupuram district’s flood-hit Irular tribals

 - Sakshi Post

In the big narrative about climate change, it is often easy to lose sight of the fate of indigenous communities that depend on forests and balanced ecosystems for sustenance. Social organisation Grow-Trees website is acutely aware of the connection between thriving forests and the well-being of tribal and rural populations. Since 2010, the pioneering, web-enabled social organisation has led several planting initiatives across 23 Indian states, with the intention of not just restoring the environment but also helping indigenous populations to thrive. And their latest endevour is to help the Irular tribals in Villupuram District, Tamil Nadu in the aftermath of devastating floods. Grow-Trees website has been extending support to the local community through plantation activities and also with material help and through a tangible support system they can rely on.

Bikrant Tiwary (add designation) says, “We have generated thousands of workdays this year alone for indigenous communities but the Irular tribals, we felt, needed more. It is not enough to just create employment for them but to show them that they have something to fall back on during the ongoing crisis. Our initiative has been guided by the sole intention of adding greater value to their lives. By offering direct monetary assistance to undo the financial distress  caused by floods,  repairing their eco-system and offering them employment opportunities, we are taking care of multiple aspects of the crisis they are facing currently.”  
The Irulas are one of the most vulnerable groups and have been marginalised economically and socially by caste hierarchies, shrinking habitats and environmental calamities. They do not even own the land where their multiple generations have lived for years. They mostly work as bonded labourers or earn their livelihood by catching  snakes and killing rats.  V Kanniyappan, President of the Irular body says, "  We're very happy with the help extended to us and with the plantation activities that have been done for us here. These trees on maturity will provide us with  shade during the harsh heat and also give us multiple livelihood resources. The flood relief done by Grow-Trees websites also extended essentials like rice, salt, bedsheets, beds and soaps to more than 350 families and we could not be happier."

Aarthi from Melma Koot Road says, "I am the first person in my community to pursue a Bachelor’s degree in Nursing but since the time I was born, we’ve been living under the same conditions.Things have not improved even a little bit and every time heavy rains come, we start worrying about what will befall us next . We have no access to electricity also and till date, I study using only an oil lamp. Rains at times take away whatever little that we own, including our possessions and a shelter. This help has been timely and most welcome."

Anjala from Melama Koot Road  adds, "We have been adrift after our shelters were destroyed by the rains. Even though, for over 200 years, we’ve been inhabiting this village, we own no land or even have a permanent home. This is why this help has come as a great relief at the right time."Mariyamma from Velliyampakkam shares, "We are always struggling to find work and during the floods especially, our survival becomes difficult.My hut was flooded with water and we had no idea where to sleep or what to eat. There was hardly any hope but now, we feel someone is looking out for us.

Bhavani hails from Senkattur Malai and has a one-year-old baby. She says, " It was so difficult to keep my child safe during the floods. She developed a fever and cold, and I was so worried about her. We hope, with the help that we are getting, things will change for the better for the community." Like Bhavani, Vizhiyan  from Senkattur Malai also struggled to survive the floods and says, " The roof of my hut was entirely blown off and everything was swept away. We didn’t know where to go or how to manage."

Grow-Trees website hopes to continue working with many such communities that need a helping hand.   Be it afforestation projects in the periphery of the Similipal Tiger Reserve in Odisha,  or around Sariska Tiger Reserve in Rajasthan, in Arunachal Pradesh, Thane, the Delhi-NCR region,  or  Zuluk, in Sikkim’s eastern region, where 30,000 local trees are being planted, the direct beneficiaries of  Grow-Tree website's initiatives have always been the locals.

The organisation's work is a counterpoint to urbanisation and industrialisation activities that are swallowing green belts,   large tracts of forests and making locals vulnerable to extreme weather events like floods while eroding their natural resources.  For now, Grow-Trees website has created a flood relief fund to help the Irulars through this time and the money will be used for buying dry rations and medical supplies. Grow-Trees website will also continue to also work with them to nurse their land back to health.

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