Jeevika Project Update

AWG has received the second report from the Jeevika Trust about the Narikuravar (gypsy) project in Kalmedu (or Karadu) village, Madurai District.  This settlement houses about 40 families, with 250 individuals.  Of these, about 120 are women and adolescent girls.  Narikuravars are nomadic and travel away from their settlements on a regular basis for 2 to 3 days at a time to sell the jewelry that they make, and cosmetic and personal care products.  When the Jeevika representatives visited, there were only about 25 to 30 individuals present, mostly women and children.

 The project’s primary aim is to educate the gypsy population about the importance of nutrition and hygiene via kitchen gardens, vegetable cooking skills, and soap-making.  The project manager saw several kitchen gardens, and a group of Narikuravar women who were cutting and cooking vegetables from the kitchen gardens they cultivated.  She reported seeing a woman making pickles from her kitchen garden vegetables produced as a result of this project – onions, tomatoes, gourds and garlic.  She saw people making soap, to which they added basil, aloe vera, lime, and neem (Indian lilac) for color, scent, and medicinal properties.  The people no longer have to spend money in the market in order to have soap.

 Chickens had been provided to add eggs to the gypsy diet, but empty cages were the only evidence that there are or had been chickens.  They are locked up at night, but during the day they are let out to find food for themselves.  The project manager had to trust that they still exist.  One young boy had (non-chicken) feathers sticking out of his pocket, which is a sign that the group’s hunting tradition lives on.

Women proudly displayed tattoos of their husband’s names and other symbols on their arms. They have been made aware by the visiting medical team that the same tattoo needle must not be used twice for HIV/AIDS reasons. 

Housing consisted of small brick houses provided by the government, although there were still a few families living in tents.  The government also provides an allowance of approximately £6 to women for each of their first two pregnancies.  After that, they are provided with an IUD or condoms, and following a gap of three years, they are paid another £6 to have their tubes tied.  Two visiting government nurses arrived while the Jeevika representatives were there, and said that the addition of vegetables to the community diet was helping to improve health.  The weight of the women in the community is measured on a monthly basis, as well as hemoglobin and sugar levels in adolescent girls and boys.   The group has received tetanus vaccinations and information about HIV/AIDS.

 All key activities have now been implemented, but there is a need to continue to improve understanding of the importance of hygiene, diet, and preventive health measures within the target group, and to monitor their health and responsiveness to the change in their diet.