The bus drops me off at a dusty road in Thennamanallur. The village seems empty, except for two elderly women standing by a shop near the bus stand. I approach them for directions. “Could you tell me where I can find Dr. Meera of Chinmaya Organisation?” They appear clueless. “The doctor's clinic?” I repeat. “Oh! Yes, doctor! You can find her at the next turn,” says one of them.
Not everybody in Thennamanallur knows her name or where she's from. But they're sure of one thing — ‘doctor' is someone they can turn to, no matter what. There is only one clinic in the village. There are no crowded waiting rooms. A Ganesha statue stands at the centre. There is a blackboard in one corner with benches facing it. Kids play carrom in an open courtyard. Meera Krishna sits at a table overlooking the courtyard.
She is the project coordinator for the Siruvani branch of Chinmaya Organisation for Rural Development (CORD). A few years ago, illiteracy, poverty and alcoholism prevented development of any kind at Thennamanallur. Most houses did not have toilets. Women rarely stepped out of their homes. But things changed once Meera set up a CORD office in the village.
“I've always wanted to serve in a rural set-up,” says Meera. “After 16 years of practice in Chennai, we moved to Coimbatore for my daughter's education. She studied at the Chinmaya International Residential School in Siruvani.” Meera passed by Thennamanallur whenever she visited her daughter. She thought it was a perfect place for her clinic. “I volunteered here for a year,” she says, till CORD identified her in 2006.
Bringing people together
Meera has been on her toes ever since. “At CORD, we empower the rural population by integrated and sustainable development,” she explains. It's all about bringing people together. Self Help Groups (SHGs), magalir mandrams and farmers' clubs have been formed. “While we work with other panchayats, Thennamanallur is our focus. So far, we have 19 SHGs and three farmers clubs in Thennamanallur, S G Palayam, Kallimedu and Puthur, all of which come under Thennamanallur panchayat,” says Meera. Farmers clubs have been particularly successful, she says. “It's a platform for farmers from around the area to meet regularly, share their experiences and learn of government schemes.”
Magalir mandrams meet every week to discuss issues pertaining to their village. For the women, most of whom are uneducated, being able to save money and maintain accounts is an immense confidence booster. Meera invites resource persons from various fields to address the women.
I watch one such meeting unfold on a Sunday afternoon in Puthur. Members of Thiruvalluvar and Roja magalir mandram are gathered under a neem tree. Advocate Janaki and Ravi, the Thondamuthur coordinator of ‘Vazhikattum Thittam', are the guests. Ravi talks of the various Government schemes for the differently-abled.
The ladies also discuss the location of a TASMAC outlet close by. “The shop is nuisance,” says Jothi. “Girls are afraid to walk by the road in the evenings. Our husbands head straight there after a day's work. Is there any way to shift it elsewhere?”
Meera and Janaki suggest they prevent their husbands from drinking instead. “There is an alcoholic's anonymous meeting next week in Coimbatore. Why don't you attend with your husbands?” asks Meera.
Meera takes down names of students who need tuitions. Math, Science and Computer tuitions are offered at the clinic by volunteers. Through CORD, Meera has also facilitated additional income generation activities for the women. In Puthur, for example, Angathal makes winnows and Devi makes paper covers. Old Kannamal and Palanichamy mix phenyl.
A shop in Thennamanallur is dedicated to products made by the women. They sell homemade pain balms, handmade sanitary napkins, paper bags, paper packets, wire baskets and vegetables straight from farmers.
Villagers have also been taught to segregate biodegradable and non-biodegradable wastes at home which Residents Awareness Association of Coimbatore (RAAC) collects. In fact, Meera received the ‘ECO award' from RAAC and the Association of British Scholars for encouraging eco-friendly activities in Thennamanallur.
With loans from local banks, over 170 families have built toilets at home after Meera has told them about the importance of hygiene. She speaks to adolescent girls about menstrual hygiene. Back at her clinic, she has pictorial guides on breast cancer and self-examination. There are charts and cards about the human body, symptoms of diseases, treatment options, etc. Says Meera, “I try to show as many cards as possible to my patients when they come for consultation.”
The 48-year-old is always busy. When she's not chairing a magalir mandram meeting, she's filling out a pension form for a patient. And when she's not organising a trip for the ladies to Gandhi Ashram, she's clipping the nails of an old, old lady in the village.
In response to readers' requests, we are adding contact details for Dr Krishna:
CORD Siruvani Office, 4/109, Boluvampatti Main Road, Thennamanallur Post, Coimbatore - 64110.Email - firstname.lastname@example.org