Radha Parthasarathy bags the FLO award under the Social and Humanitarian category for transforming a dusty little place into a village throbbing with life. She talks to Sabita Radhakrishna about her decade-long efforts to bring about change in Thandalam

In 2004, it was a dusty, deserted place with overgrown thorny bushes. And today, it is a bright little village. The change began with Radha Parthasarathy, the moving spirit behind the flowering of Thandalam near Arakkonam.

To make the village habitable, Radha decided to adopt it and offer a sustainable means of livelihood to 3,000 villagers, mainly agricultural labourers. It was an uphill task, since it is difficult to introduce change in a rural environment — difficult to break the mindset and adopt a different way of life. However, the positive response helped push Radha into chartering a better life for them.

Sanitation was one of the earliest accomplishments. As many as 260 toilets were built for individual houses in 2006-7 at Rs. 15.60 lakh. The village was awarded the Nirmal Puraskar Award (for total sanitation) by the President of India.

For most rural communities in India, spirituality and unconditional faith are part of daily living. And, this helped Radha in her mission. The dilapidated temples strengthened her resolve to change the scenario. She began work on renovating a 700-year-old Adhikeshava Perumal temple. In 2004, its kumbhabhishekam was performed and a Srinivasa temple built alongside, and a Siva Temple renovated. Today, pujas are performed regularly, the gardens round the temple maintained; people visit these temples on festival days. The villagers excitedly reported that after the kumbhabhishekam, there was rain and that the wells were full. The villagers are trained in rainwater harvesting; the village has street lights, pumps and two cement roads.

Next, the focus was on health, as the centre there was dysfunctional. A health centre was set up with a generous donation. The doctor who comes in twice a week sees 60 to 70 patients. Free medicine is given to the village patients. For serious illnesses, Radha has a tie-up with hospitals to treat patients; medical camps are held around Thandalam. Veterinary camps too are conducted.

The village school, originally dilapidated, has been rebuilt with clean toilets for the 330 children. The noon meal centre has been renovated, and a compound wall built for the school. Computer training has been included in the new curriculum. Where the quality of learning was on the downslide, trained teachers have now been appointed to teach full-time at the school. Evening classes have been introduced, where a retired principal and assistant take on extra coaching.

An agri- horticulturist has been employed to enable the greening of the land. By March 2014, about 600 saplings will be planted. Production of organic manure such as panchakavyam, bheemamritham, and gana bheejamritham have been mapped. On the new product list, vermi pellets (a mixture of vermicompost and panchakavyam) are on top, along with bio-pesticides, agni astra and neem astra.

The women of the village were brought together into forming self-help groups. One group is trained to prepare spice powders and ready-mix preparations, based on traditional recipes; the women wear gloves and masks, and the powders are prepared in hygienic conditions. Named Annapoorani Public Charitable Trust (APCT), they make, under Radha’s direction, sambar and rasam powder, tamarind rice powder, vathal kozhambu powder, a multi-purpose curryma powder, paruppu podi, karivepillai podi, milagu kuzhambu podi, sathu maavu and many other varieties.

Research has led to ready mixes for idlis and dosais using millets; there’s more on the cards. Part of the proceeds from the sale of these powders is used for purchasing raw materials, and the profit is divided equally among the women.

Radha’s aim is to make the women self-sufficient, and training is on to help them handle orders and execute them independently. “Since they are enthusiastic to learn, I plan to teach them to make pickles from organically grown vegetables by creating infrastructure that will support it. They will be trained in vacuum packing too.

Plans are on for ordering through Thandalam. The women have stalls at temple fairs and nearby villages. The products are available at their office — No. 12 / 25, Srinivasa Perumal Sannithi Third Street, Royapettah, and at the likes of Nilgiris, Besant Nagar.

With a view to celebrating 30 years of its existence, FICCI Ladies Organization (FLO) felicitates 30 of its members for excellence from different walks of life at the Interstate Meet in New Delhi today. Radha Parthasarathy wins the award this year in the Social and Humanitarian category. The award is in keeping with FLO’s core objectives to act as catalyst in entrepreneurship, development and professional excellence.

Radha Parthasarathy, former president and active member of the Ladies Circle, is also an executive member of the Crafts Council of India. Her contributions include organising the fund raising for many of CCI’s projects, and being part of its education programme, where children of craftspersons are educated and also given training in craft.