Our journey

Almost 30 years ago, there was not that much deep thinking and debates in Tamil Nadu about what appropriate development paradigm would be most relevant. It was a period the pathway of development had its transiently by-pass from what it was commonly known as Faith-driven and/or Church-centric charitable mode. Charity begins at home but development begins at the community – the core idea being how communities respond to their issues and problems and their own measures in overcoming their constraints and challenges. This is an area where ‘SPEECH’ being unique with its distinct identity in which all developmental inceptions it designed accrued fulsome consultations and participation of the communities.

SPEECH actively involves the intended stakeholders in thorough consultations and participation. This ensures flexible and responsive project designs meeting the horizontal stake and decision making throughout. SPEECH has its strategic relationship with the Government line departments particularly our early interventions had proved its efficacy in structural works and water tank maintenance.  The developmental process such as our experiences in working through the Government had largely benefited the resource poor agricultural communities particularly resulted in dissemination of various Safety Net schemes and programs of the Government.  The Organization always fosters an enabling environment wherein capacitating skill set and knowledge of recipients constitute core aim. Our strategic partnerships with Banks and Financial Institutions led many self help groups run by women secure lending support for poverty reduction and economic enhancement.

Action Research Initiatives and Studies

In 1990s, SPEECH had graduated to the level of conducting its own SWOT which underlined the strategic re-visioning both for the Organization and its committed team.  As responsible civil society institution, SPEECH was pro-active in unfolding an experimental study on eye care services particularly with niche on community ophthalmic care covering the desperately poor region called Tiruchuli. Another study had a focus on Sustainable Agriculture and livelihoods associated with it.  SPEECH had its bottom-line share in Coral Reef researches in the Bay of Mannar as part of an international research team.  With an advent of International Institute for Environment and Development [IIED], SPEECH had partnered with them in number of grassroots researches using innovative technique appraisal called Participatory Rural Appraisal [PRA].

In 1999, SPEECH conducted an extensive PRA in 121 villages and documented the life history of each village, which is a useful document for Extension. The Document contains Forgotten Methods of agriculture, the seeds and the life pattern itself. Another Study was done on the Chain of Tanks with European Union assistance. It did a study on Farmers Market particularly on its rural-urban interface.

Land Development

Main area of intervention of SPEECH was the Land Development of the Poor. At Villages, SPEECH identified Community Lands which have been kept unproductive and barren for years.  As a result, 150 acres of such land track was identified in order to collectively benefit Scheduled Caste communities in Kottam who undertook renovation works on tanks and barren well. With biological perspective of land development, SPEECH had achieved in empowering the communities of Kottam in improved agriculture, resulted in food production and food security. Several such land development measures were undertaken and this leverage effect had benefited neighboring villages towards achieving self reliance and sustainable income prospects.

Campaign on Water Conservation and Management

First of its kind in Tamil Nadu, SPEECH had pioneered formation and strengthening of People’s Federation at the village level fostering ground works under the scheme called ‘Joining of South River with Guntar River’. 18 reservoirs or tanks were renovated as part of the drought relief process with an active participation of the Federation. This Water Action motivated and united people of the area who concentrated in Charcoal making to think of water shed with Strong Water Scheme to combat drought. This aroused the interest of all communities of the area and they, as a result, organized themselves and took up a massive Rally in Aruppukkottai, a nearby town in 1992.  The Federation also took up a Signature Campaign and submitted to a Member of Assembly.  Federation looks for more training in the field of Natural Resource Management to youth. They look forward for a larger pressure force to protect their vulnerable resources both from the drought and from any exploiters from outside.

Movement against Land Alienation

The Globalization and the Structural Adjustment Policies of the Government prioritized industrial development and in 1996, there were widespread changes within the cropping patterns and the small and marginal farmers were challenged on cultivation of cash crops and tree varieties. The process of industrialization thus forced many households surrounding Tiruchuli region lost their life-roots. SPEECH therefore sensitized the local communities affected negatively by land alienation to take up massive rallies and pollution and with coordination of NESA Network and their Nyayasangamam [Summit of Justice Movement]; SPEECH was perhaps responsible for key role provider to the campaigns against sand mining and exploitation of ground water potentials.

Campaign against polluting Industries

SPEECH, through the Federation, had launched massive campaign against a Chemical factory which made the local area into poisonous land which invariably killed plants and animals. The struggle made the factory get closed with subsequent closure of similar other 25 factories in Virudhunagar.

SPEECH as an Expertise Institution in PRA Training

From the late 80s and early 90s SPEECH was one of the pioneers of PRA methodologies.  Later it emerged as a Training Organization in PRA, partnering with International and National Organizations.

Self Help Groups or Nanayam groups

By 1995, the concept of Self Help Group came into effect as part of women-in-development.  There was a gradual shift from the traditional village level Sangha to a more structured and refined self help group mode that gave disadvantaged women to gain greater stake in the process. Gender impetus and gender-centricity was the integral element in SHG approach resulted in increasing the savings and internal thrift abilities of many hundreds and thousands of poor women. SPEECH in consultation with women members had named ‘Nanayam’ which denotes couple of meanings – coin or integrity.

Being federated themselves, the women-led self help groups not only involved in addressing savings and thrift, but also handled other social issues such as violence against women, dowry harassments and debt traps. Since local businesses and earning economic income were priorities, these hosts of self help groups had also looked at issues relevant to sustainable markets. An innovative attempt was evident where Nanayam Credit Cards were in use by the groups of women to have fair price and access to doorstep credit facilities. A local business initiative called Nanayam Store was set up in Tiruchuli which enabled many poor women to gain access to procure essential goods for family running.

Debt trap and its serious consequences were the major issues being handled by the self help groups. There was a gradual disappearance of atrocities entertained by the local money sharks and money lenders resulted in increase in purchasing abilities of rural poor women. In addition, there were impressive social changes from within, where women from the self help groups had started realizing how important for them to provide school education to their children, with special attention to the well-being of girl children.

1987

  • Establishment of SPEECH/ Registration
  • District level random survey/ compilation/ analysis
  • Field office at Thiruchuli

1989

  • SPEECH was selected as the best NGO in Virudhunagar district
  • SPEECH was requested by the District Administration to run special school for working children
  • Survey – 100 child labourers were selected in Sivakasi area as the first batch in the special school - NCLP
  • 2 schools were started in Duraisamypuram village for working children supported by MINISTRY OF LABOUR GOI

1990

  • 5 villages have been selected and SPEECH started its community development work

1992

  • 90 children were admitted in mainstream educational system from special school.

1993

  • Intervention of CIDA - Non sponsorship program

1994

  • Establishment of non formal centers

1995

  • Sponsorship program with the children of 1000 by CCF, Canada
  • Increase in sponsor children (1100)
  • VANGA PADIKALAM Book production (3 levels of non-formal education materials)
  • Orientation on usage of VANGA PADIKALAM books to other NGO's and National Child Labour Project staff members
  • Formation of parents committees
  • Triparty seminars on child rights to factory owners, parents and Government officials.

1996

  • Skill training to child labourers – Screen printing, Simple wiring
  • Workshop conducted by Mr. Barry on MED – turning ideas into income
  • Child master software designed for sponsorship program.

1997

  • Formation of women self-help groups (Nanayam)
  • Common issues handled by Sangas

1998

  • Exposure visit by 18 TANZANIANS, (Government official and elected representatives)
  • Primary school Enrollment campaign (cycle rally)
  • Implementation of natural resources projects (Tank desilting,  check dam construction, water shed development)

1999

  • Formation of cluster level federation
  • Enrollment campaign by federation
  • Micro finance to Nanayam groups
  • Partners and trade selection using participatory methods for MED
  • Sponsorship program evaluation by CCFC evaluation team
  • Computer coachin

2000

  • MED loan extended to partners
  • 7 staff members attended health-training program organized by Dheenabandhu.
  • Mr. PETER HARRIS visit
  • Campaign on PRI and Land alienation
  • Govt. run NCLP school handed over to SPEECH

2001

  • Exchange evaluation by SPEECH and SEDP
  • Children parliament program
  • Entrance coaching
  • CCFC Partners meeting
  • Children’s camp jointly organized by SPEECH and Deenabandhu
  • Training to elected representatives of local body
  • Expansion of working villages in Alangulam area
  • Mr. Abeba and Mr. Barry’s visit to SPEECH
  • Involvement of women in Panchayat elections
  • Common activities done by the women groups through PRI 
  • South Indian meet for working children organized by SPEECH

2002

  • Skill training to child labourers – Carpentry, electronics, Two wheeler mechanic
    Mr. Jim Dhall and Mr. Bruce visit
  • International women’s day celebration at Alangulam
  • Children’s camp ,  Entrance coaching

One of our major break-through in the past years is the Federation of Grassroots association in Tiruchuli Union.  Strategic planning, capacity building and management skills were imparted to the local sangams and they are, presently, independent and legally registered under the society registration act of Tamilnadu.  They act as sounding board and watchdogs on all development issues in the area with special emphasis to gender equity, common property resource, democratic principles, child rights and natural resource conservation.  They raise their own funds from the local government by executing projects with local participation to a great detail.

We undertake consultancies and placement of post-graduate students from various academic and social institutions/Universities, both National and International. Our Training centre at Madurai and Kodaikanal are equipped with latest equipment, well-defined library, documentation and meeting hall facilities.  In addition they can accommodate about 30 to 40 participants with in house multi-cuisine and chef.  These centre serves as a platform to articulate the field learning to larger audians for scaling up and institutionalisation.

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