Tsunami victims of Devanampattinam owe it to self-help groups

REAPING SUCCESS: Devanampattinam women harvesting organically grown mushrooms. — Photo: M. Vedhan

REAPING SUCCESS: Devanampattinam women harvesting organically grown mushrooms. — Photo: M. Vedhan  

Vani Doraisamy

CUDDALORE: They call them the flowers of fortune. For the women of Devanampattinam, hope springs in the form of mushrooms and jasmines.

A year after the tsunami, self-help groups (SHGs) among former agricultural families are reaping the benefits of organic farming. Their success stories are stuff based on which the history of post-tsunami reconstruction in Cuddalore will be recorded.

The waves laid waste crop on about 317.93 hectares and horticultural produce on about 199.26 hectares, not to speak of 1,592.98 hectares of land that turned saline. Along with fisheries, agriculture also bore the brunt of the disaster. That was when community-level organisations sprung into action. Of the 732 SHGs in Cuddalore, 503 were formed after the tsunami. They have 13,316 members engaged in activities ranging from making pickle to masonry.

With the district administration agreeing to micro-finance the groups, small beginnings have been made. "We found the women more flexible and open to work with. They readily sought out loans and subsidies," says Collector Gagandeep Singh Bedi.

At Devanampattinam, Satyavani earns Rs. 50 a day selling organic mushrooms at the uzhavar sandhai. Two SHGs here with 20 members each — Komatha Magalir Sahodhara Vaazhvu Sangam and Sonia Gandhi Magalir Sahodhara Vaazhvu Sangam — are into jasmine cultivation through vermicomposting. "The SHGs have inculcated the habit of saving in us," says Satyavani.

Kodhai, leader of the Arokya Madha Sahodhara Vaazhvu Sangam, earns Rs. 30 a day selling stuffed toys and handicrafts. "I feel empowered," she says in broken English. "With more marketing support, we can do better."

At Sonankuppam, the Vetrimalar Women's Production Group makes exquisite candles and bagged a sizable export order recently.

Apart from the empowerment, the SHGs have put several families back on their feet.

The community saw a steep increase in alcoholism and domestic violence as out-of-work fishermen hit the bottle with vengeance. Now, with the women coming into their own, things are changing, albeit slowly.

The booming construction industry here with thousands of permanent houses coming up for the tsunami-affected has also had its spin-offs.

The Annai Suya Udhavi Kuzhu in Pudhukuppam, after a crash course in concrete block making, is now adding more members to handle an increase in orders. Still, savings continue to be meagre, hardly Rs. 200 a month per person. But hope is not dead for the likes of Radha of Kannagi Samooga Nala Kuzhu.

"With our men afraid to go back to the sea, were it not for the SHGs, many of us would have been destitute now. We will learn and we will grow."

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