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Annual Report

April 2011 – April 2012

TABLE OF CONTENTS
Introduction.................................................................................................1
• • • • • • • • • • • • Letter from the Directors.........................................................................................1 Who We Are............................................................................................................3 What We Do............................................................................................................5 Exchange Programmes...........................................................................................5 Work Camps............................................................................................................7 Service Camps........................................................................................................7 Community Celebrations.........................................................................................7 Government Linkages.............................................................................................8 Summary of Community Building Activities 2011/12...............................................9 Microfinance Programme......................................................................................10 Livelihood Training................................................................................................13 Social Enterprise Creation....................................................................................13 ◦ Eco Femme......................................................................................................14 ◦ EcoLife Store...................................................................................................16 ◦ Entrepreneurship.............................................................................................16 Federation Strengthening......................................................................................17 Leadership & In-Service Trainings........................................................................17 Exposure & Educational Trips...............................................................................18 Strengthening & Cluster Meetings........................................................................18 Seminars...............................................................................................................19 Summary of Capacity Building Activities 2011/12.................................................19 Somatic Experience & Energy Healing.................................................................20 Counselling & Mediation.......................................................................................20 De-Addiction Services...........................................................................................20 Light Up a Child’s Life Solar Lantern Project........................................................21 Panchayat Partnership with Auroville....................................................................21 SEDAB (Social Enterprise Development in the Auroville Bioregion.....................22 Auroville Botanical Garden Partnership................................................................22 Heal the Soil Collaboration....................................................................................23 AVAG Office Initiative............................................................................................23 Earth Day Celebration...........................................................................................23

Community Development..........................................................................5

Economic Development.............................................................................9

Capacity Building.....................................................................................17
• • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •

Psychosocial Services.............................................................................19

Environmental Initiatives.........................................................................21

Acknowledgements..................................................................................24 AVAG Online..............................................................................................24

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Introduction
Letter from the Directors
Dear Readers, We take great pleasure in sharing with you AVAG’s 2011-2012 annual report. This year we sustained ongoing activities in the areas of community development, economic development, capacity building and psychosocial services. This was despite damages incurred by Cyclone Thane. Our members and the surrounding communities faced loss of trees, infrastructure, farmland and agricultural products. Due to widespread rumors about a possible recurrence, people continued to be fearful months after the event. AVAG staff has been on hand to help them through these trying times. Since March 2009, when post-tsunami funds ceased, AVAG has been faced with a financial shortage despite increasing demands from the local communities. This year, we increased our efficiency by focusing on cost-free activities and social enterprise creation to meet the needs of our members. To expand our Microfinance Programme and help us assist our members in rebuilding efforts, we have completed the application for a matching grant from the German Ministry. This will allow us to greatly expand the Microfinance corpus fund. The grant was dependent on fundraising from our Federation as well as the international community. We feel proud to write that Federation members, Auroville, and AVAG friends and donors generously stepped in to help make this possible. This year, members of the Women’s Federation decided to officially register with the government, and we have happily facilitated the process. This will give them autonomy and enhance women’s empowerment. To combat alcoholism, one of the greatest social evils in our area, AVAG is working with nearby rehabilitation centers to train selected leaders from our self-help groups (SHGs) to raise awareness of the disease and counsel affected families. This approach has helped in identifying and assisting suffering alcoholics. During the season of public school examinations, AVAG offered solar lanterns to students at subsidized prices. This coincided with periods of intermittent power failure that increased after the cyclone. We are grateful for the financial support of Village Outreach Society, Canada in this venture. Like in other parts of Tamil Nadu, the local government panchayats have elected new leaders. To foster effective working relationships with them, AVAG has partnered with Auroville to initiate dialogue and offer training in long-term, sustainable village planning. Eco Femme, our Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM) program has continued to be a focus for us. Our energies are now focused on preparing a pilot project that will test reusable menstrual pads with women and girls in Tamil Nadu. Furthermore, we have established a small production unit on the AVAG campus in our efforts to make reusable Eco Femme pads available internationally. Finally, we take this opportunity to thank all of our friends, donors and members who give their ongoing support to AVAG. Your confidence in our work and commitment to us is greatly appreciated. We hope you will recognize the fruits of your generosity in the pages that follow. With love, Anbu & Moris Co-Directors

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Who We Are
Auroville Village Action Group (AVAG) is a non-governmental organization (NGO) that works to promote rural community development in Vanur block, Tamil Nadu, South India. Registered under the Indian Trust Act, 1982, AVAG is a unit of Auroville Village Action Trust (AVAT) and functions as a part of the Auroville Foundation. AVAG acts as an outreach wing for Auroville, a pioneering social experiment that aims to realize human unity and build a better future for all. Through an expanding network of self-help groups (SHGs) and a federation of male and female leaders, AVAG seeks to promote village empowerment and work toward social, economic, psychological and environmental transformation. As of April 2011, approximately 3,765 women and 788 men were members of 255 AVAG SHGs. Members came from roughly 80 revenue villages and Dalit hamlets with a combined population of 90,000 people. AVAG places the complex webs of relationships between human beings - their behaviors, traditions and prejudices - and their environment at the foundation of its work. An integrated and multifaceted educational programme that promotes solidarity, and cooperation despite gender and caste discrimination is central to all AVAG activities. AVAG’s activities are designed to empower the local population to organize for their own community development

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Administrative Structure

Bhavana Dee, AVAG founder and trustee since 2000, passed away in May 2011. Her position on the board of trustees was filled by Anandi Vaithialingam who joined Aurovilians Alain Bernard and M.S. Subhashchand in overseeing the organization. Aurovilians Kathy Walkling, Auralice Graft and Santo Nanci serve as executives and provide operational support.

What Makes AVAG Special?
1. AVAG uses an integrated approach, working with all sectors of society.

2. AVAG gives equal importance to the
holistic development of individuals and communities. both

3. AVAG emphasizes co-development and self-empowerment, not charity.

4. AVAG recognizes Dalit settlements
separately from caste villages, ensuring that all members get specialized care and attention.

5. AVAG

expands its programmes through a word-of-mouth grass roots network, not through recruitment.

Vision: AVAG collaborates with rural communities to reveal their innate wisdom and ability to collectively determine and manifest their dynamic potential. Mission: AVAG fosters participatory village transformation with rural communities in the Auroville Bioregion through: • Community development • Economic development • Capacity building • Psychosocial services

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What We Do
AVAG collaborates with rural communities to reveal their innate wisdom and ability to collectively determine and manifest their dynamic potential. We believe that growth is not encouraged by targeting isolated issues, but by promoting beneficiary-driven change that is stimulated by all sectors of rural society. Therefore, AVAG’s work includes men and women, Dalit and caste communities, elected and traditional leaders and government officials at the local, district and state levels. This makes it possible for AVAG to provide a comprehensive approach to rural development. The programmes developed by AVAG target four critical and complementary areas: • • • • Community Development Economic Development Capacity Building Psychosocial Services

Through the medium of SHGs, AVAG addresses a wide range of issues in these categories. All activities reflect the direct needs and wants of our target populations.

Community Development
The goal of AVAG’s community development programme is to foster an atmosphere of solidarity and responsibility by engaging beneficiaries in physical infrastructure projects, social exchanges and government welfare schemes. Programmes seek to: • Challenge the assumptions of patriarchal and caste systems by bringing traditionally segregated groups together for discussions and communal work. Encourage participants by means of the SHG structure to take up collective responsibility for improving and maintaining village infrastructure through work camps and micro-projects. Provide access to government and life insurance schemes in addition to expanding educational opportunities. Facilitate exchanges that break down traditional barriers of social status, favoritism and geographic isolation, replacing myths and mistrust with open communication.

• •

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Exchange Programmes
Exchange programmes bring together women and men of various castes, ages and AVAG experience levels. The purpose of these events is to mitigate prejudices that are endemic to India such as fear of Dalits (formerly ‘Untouchables’) and discrimination based on gender. Participants learn to see each other as unique human beings. Within the Exchange Programme: • Members from different groups form friendships that continue to grow after the visit. • Villages develop inter-community relationships that would have been otherwise unlikely. Groups discuss their preconceived notions and learn from each other. SHGs share past activities and inspire others with new project ideas.

We are grateful to Village Outreach Society UK who helped us maintain our Exchange Programme, a project unique to AVAG due to the difficulty in confronting issues of caste within the culture.

Work Camps
Some physical infrastructure problems in the Vanur block communities are small and SHG members can reduce administrative costs by planning and submitting proposals for these projects themselves. Through the existing SHG framework, AVAG partners with villagers to make small, one-time investments to support these projects. By clearing trash from a roadside, building a fence around a children’s play area or making a communal area suitable for meetings, members improve their villages while taking important steps toward building their own capacity. Women have gained much respect from their male counterparts for participating in traditionally “male areas” of work. This is an important part of the gender sensitization process. The AVAG Micro Project programme has attracted the attention of neighboring NGOs that regard it as an innovative approach to addressing the small but persistent infrastructure problems that plague village life.

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Service Camps
AVAG works with SHGs to facilitate camps that aim to improve the health of the local people and raise public awareness of social issues. Coordinating with relevant organizations such as hospitals, NGOs and government departments, AVAG helps members hold camps in their villages on topics such as eye care, veterinary services and health awareness. Last year, eight service camps put on by 39 SHGs reached 1,300 people, making these events highly cost-effective. These activities also help SHGs gain recognition from their communities and foster team spirit among the clubs.

Rajeshewari, TCK Road Blood Donation is perceived as unhealthy in this area, so AVAG joined hands with a government outreach program to educate the population about donating for the benefit of their own health services. Using the resources of a central government hospital, AVAG organized a training program where Rajeshwari learned about the ways blood donation could help the villages. She then attended a one-day Service Camp with her son where they both donated blood. Inspired by this, Rajeshwari became an emissary to her community and handed out pamphlets prepared by the AVAG staff. One hundred people donated to the Mobile Blood Bank, a record high for this activity in the region. Rajeshwari has two children and speaks fluent Tamil even though she moved to Tamil Nadu only after her marriage. She is proud to say she overcame her own fears about giving blood.

Community Celebrations
Community celebrations create opportunities for our SHG members to share their talents and achievements with their villages. Members coordinate the programme, inviting local leaders to watch stage performances and participate in events. This helps villagers learn about SHG activities and creates a forum for them to offer suggestions for improvement. In addition to club-level Women’s Day celebrations in 79 women’s groups, 59 SHGs in six villages organized clusterlevel events that reached around one thousand SHG members. Entire villages attended these functions and greatly enjoyed celebrating with the women.

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Anjalai & Manimegalai, Poothurai This year, our annual Women's Day event was held in Poothurai. Anjalai and Manimegalai, two women from different villages and caste groups, served together on the steering committee and helped put on a joyful event for around 400 women from 31 women’s clubs. Anjalai is the mother of three married children. She is currently employed through a special government program for unskilled workers in the villages. Manimegalai is a young mother of toddlers. Anjalai and Manimegalai are profoundly thankful for AVAG’s assistance in creating a festive day in their settlement and bringing in guests from other villages, especially members from other castes. They describe a busy morning in which they rose early to clear the area and helped two hired cooks prepare lunch boxes for each participant. The programme was carefully planned and included games, contests, leisure time and a theatre performance. The women felt empowered by successfully planning such a large-scale event. Having an activity that included all women was an interesting experience for them and they were honored to invite men, guests of the women for the first time. The main source of pride for them both was the opportunity to cross caste lines. “I felt as happy and innocent as I did as a child, before I ever knew about castes and everyone seemed equal," Manimegalai said. When asked about their wishes for the future, both expressed a desire to see more women included in events, especially widows, invalids and the deserted.

Government Linkages
AVAG seeks to empower members by helping them understand and access resources provided by government schemes. Examples include: • • Life Insurance Corporation (LIC): Around 3,500 SHGs members are insured and 10 families of deceased members received compensation this year. Scholarship Programme: Children of insured members who are in classes 8/

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nine to 12 are eligible for an annual scholarship of Rs. 1,200. This year, 444 children received a scholarship. • Toilet Scheme: In addition to government subsidies offered for toilet installation, AVAG has helped arrange loans with local banks to assist in these home projects for our members. Housing Scheme: The government of Tamil Nadu introduced a housing scheme that offered Rs. 75,000 compensation for eligible families. AVAG has also helped arrange loans for additional funds needed.

Summary of Community Building Activities 2011/12
Women
Participants No.of SHGs Events Events

Men
Participants 234 75 No.of SHGs 12 4

Meetings/Events Total
Exchange program Village level Women's day celebrations Women's day club level Workcamp Health camps Earthday Celebration Women's day cultural program New SHGs formed 31 6 79 23 4 1 1 19

Total SHGs Total participated Participants

62 59 79 75 195 19

1194 1067 1248 571 582 72 315 284

31 6 79 12 1 -

62 59 79 63 195 15

1194 1067 1248 337 315 209 11 -

Economic Development
Activities for economic development aim to promote sound financial practices and strengthen the livelihood base of our communities. This programme: • • • • Encourages savings and provides access to credit through a revolving fund Facilitates SHGs in accessing government and bank schemes Provides livelihood skills training credit opportunities through various

Supports income-generating activities and entrepreneurial skill development

Our economic development programme is comprised of three components that aim to provide holistic support and follow sustainable practices: • • • Microfinance Programme Livelihood Trainings Social Enterprise Creation 9/

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Microfinance Programme
Microfinance is the backbone of AVAG’s development activities and has served members since 1995. As in all other AVAG programmes, SHG federations play a major part in the decision-making process for loan approval. Loan amounts are awarded gradually, growing in relation to the proven capability of members for repayment. Group members are encouraged to give priority to those in need rather than dividing the borrowed amount into equal shares. In addition to providing financial support, the Microfinance Programme provides a forum for members to build social conscience and define their own principles of ethical lending. With a focus on capacity building, AVAG continues to offer financial training to members. Krishnamala, Irumbai Five years ago, Krishnamala decided she wanted to run her own small business. She applied for a loan from AVAG’s revolving fund, run as part of a government scheme for SHGs, and was approved for the amount. This, along with a direct bank loan attained with AVAG’s assistance, allowed her to rent a space and buy her first stock.

To date, Rs. 25,869,805 of savings has been collected by SHGs and Rs. 58,021,800 is circulating among our members as loans. Funds for lending Today, Krishnamala runs a are sourced from SHGs, AVAG, the successful women’s accessories Federation, the Indian government and shop. She has almost repaid the local banks. They support health, loans and has no plans to expand education, housing, consumption and the business as long as her two business development at an interest children are still in school. This shop rate of 18 percent. At this point, all was her goal and she is happy that SHGs have repaid loans on schedule it came to be with the help of the through fixed installments. network of women created by Though our loan profile grew this year, AVAG. it did so at a rate lower than in the past. This is due to reaching a three-year limitation on revolving fund accounts, various bank rule changes for direct lending and a decrease in AVAG’s revolving fund amount. We were also pleased to offer higher education scholarships to three of our members’ daughters on behalf of World Dignity, an American charitable organization. AVAG applied for the funds to subsidize educational opportunities meant for girls of the most disadvantaged families.

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German Ministry Grant
AVAG completed fundraising for a one-crore matching grant from the German Ministry for Economic Development and Cooperation (BMZ) that will supplement the microfinance corpus fund. Through this scheme, 15 percent of the total grant amount had to be raised by the AVAG Federation and 10 percent of the funds had to come from abroad. With the help of our members and generous donors around the world, we were able to raise the needed amount. VFAVR representative Helmut Ernst was instrumental in drafting the sustainable business plan that will be submitted to the BMZ in the upcoming months. In the likely case of funds being awarded, this will enable us to add 50 women’s SHGs with 800 new beneficiaries to the AVAG family over the next two years. The expanded corpus fund will enhance our lending capacity, allowing us to extend help to our members during family emergencies. We will continue to focus our financial activities on economic development and social empowerment, specifically for enterprise creation.

Amount and Purpose of Federation Loans

Type
Housing Loan Repayment Function Education Agriculture Busines Medical Others

Amount
13,982,200 13,863,350 10,668,000 7,537,000 5,455,000 3,701,000 1,644,500 1,170,750

in %
24.1 23.9 18.4 13.0 9.4 6.4 2.8 2.0

Housing Loan Repayment Function Education Agriculture Busines Medical Others

Loan Progress of Women's SHGs
Year 1995-1996 1996-1997 1997-1998 1998-1999 1999-2000 2000-2001 2001-2002 2002-2003 2003-2004 2004-2005 2005-2006 2006-2007 2007-2008 2008-2009 2009-2010 2010-2011 2011-2012 Amount (Rs) 0 500 75.200 287.600 681.000 1.269.000 2.264.867 3.293.600 5.308.700 847.000 4.576.430 16.849.390 28.001.900 30.508.300 42.383.050 49.799.650 52.973.500
60.000.000 50.000.000 40.000.000 30.000.000 20.000.000 10.000.000 0 1997 1999 2001 2003 2005 2007 2009 2011 1996 1998 2000 2002 2004 2006 2008 2010 2012

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Saving Progress of Women's SHGs
Year 1995-1996 1996-1997 1997-1998 1998-1999 1999-2000 2000-2001 2001-2002 2002-2003 2003-2004 2004-2005 2005-2006 2006-2007 2007-2008 2008-2009 2009-2010 2010-2011 2011-2012 Amount (Rs) 5.250 35.925 60.425 109.675 143.350 248.700 608.550 1.752.000 2.749.400 2.356.675 4.320.000 5.740.590 7.196.300 10.947.950 14.374.722 18.255.221 25,869,805
25,000,000

20,000,000

15,000,000

10,000,000

5,000,000

1997 1999 2001 2003 2005 2007 2009 2011 1996 1998 2000 2002 2004 2006 2008 2010 2012

Membership of AVAG Women's SHGs
Year Members 1995-1996 68 4000 1996-1997 188 1997-1998 327 3500 1998-1999 435 1999-2000 614 3000 2000-2001 1101 2500 2001-2002 1600 2002-2003 1741 2000 2003-2004 1800 2004-2005 1950 1500 2005-2006 2000 2006-2007 2334 1000 2007-2008 3245 2008-2009 3466 500 2009-2010 3478 0 2010-2011 3726 1997 - 1998 2001 - 2002 2005 - 2006 2009 -2010 2011-2012 3765 1995 - 1996 1999 - 2000 2003 - 2004 2007 - 2008 2011 -2012

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Livelihood Training
Livelihood trainings teach skills in tailoring and embroidery that provide women, especially Dalits or widows, income they can generate between household duties. Instead of providing charity, these programmes empower women to be active promoters of their own wellbeing. Therefore, women are asked to pay a nominal fee while AVAG subsidizes the rest of the training costs. This year, 25 women successfully finished the tailoring program.

Social Enterprise Creation
The Social Enterprise Creation programme encompasses many of AVAG’s core values such as development, empowerment and sustainability. This year, we continued our partnerships with the Entrepreneurship Development Institute of Ahmedabad, the Ashoka Network of India, and Samanyaya of Chennai for new ideas and inspiration. Since 2009, AVAG’s focus on Social Enterprise Creation has been: • To provide livelihood opportunities to SHG members that will generate at least minimum wage in good working conditions and will make profit sharing with AVAG possible; To produce income that will support a sustainable financial future for AVAG, making the organization less dependent on external donations; To create enterprises that provide social and environmental benefits to local communities.

• •

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Eco Femme
Eco Femme works toward providing income-generating activities for female SHG members while addressing menstrual hygiene management (MHM), a sensitive and neglected subject in India. Since 2009, AVAG has taken up this topic as an intervention focus of its SHG work. In 2011 we launched www.ecofemme.org and an affiliated Facebook page. We are excited to officially share our work. Pilot Project The Eco Femme pilot project will enable us to scientifically test three models of cloth washable menstrual pads with 1,120 rural women and adolescent girls from seven NGOs across Tamil Nadu. Three thousand test pads, designed with rural women’s priorities of affordability and discretion in mind, were stitched at AVAG. The product testing phase will begin in June 2012.

Education Since launching our products and engaging in more conversations about menstruation and menstrual products, one thing has become clear – there are a lot of myths and confusion about this topic in both India and other countries. Prevalent views consider cloth pads old-fashioned and unhygienic, and the environmental impact of disposable pads is largely ignored in favor of convenience. Our field research, seminars and focus groups have shown that MHM education in rural India is approached in a superficial way if addressed at all. Menstruation is considered a purely health issue, ignoring underlying cultural beliefs and taboos. This can result in social exclusion and negative self-image.

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There is much that could be improved in educating women, adolescent girls and men on this subject. We feel that modules developed for the unique needs of adolescent female students, adolescent male students and other groups could go into more depth on this subject. We plan to develop and pilot test educational kits with educators who are working with rural women and girls in India as well as in other developing countries. Last year we welcomed Benoît Healy, a master’s student in international affairs from the American University of Paris. Benoît undertook his fieldwork at AVAG writing his thesis titled, Menstruation, Social Norms and Men’s Perceptions: A Study of South Indian Menstrual Taboos. The paper was awarded an A+ and explored the possibility of engaging men as allies in addressing some of the negative effects women experience as a result of menstrual taboos. Feedback from seminars and focus groups on this topic led us to create an introductory guide for field staff who educate women and girls on menstruation. Production In April 2012, Eco Femme launched a product range for international sales with the help of seven SHG members who work in pad production on the AVAG campus. Kumudham manages the unit and has worked with AVAG for 15 years as a tailoring trainer. Sales in India and the UK continue to grow and we plan to further develop the supply chain and expand the reach of our export sales. This will remain an active focus as it sustains our activities with rural women and will enable us to hire more members for production in the near future. Eco Femme has created opportunities for further networking and building bridges with like-minded NGOs and concerned individuals around the world who believe that health, dignity, affordability and sustainability can be achieved when menstruation is approached in a holistic way.

Radha Krishnan, Vinayagapuram Radha Krishnan has had his lantern from AVAG’s EcoLife store for over a year and would like to apply for another one. He lives with his wife and two children on a two-acre farm where they raise vegetables to sell. He uses the lantern to go out to the farm at night and his children use it at home to study when the electricity is down. This solar-powered product is a replacement for commonly used kerosene lanterns, which are both dangerous and polluting. While solar lanterns are slightly more expensive, the extra cost is covered within a year by the money saved on gas. The purchase is also subsidized by AVAG using a donation from Village Outreach Society, Canada. This year, AVAG’s Light Up a Child’s Life programme subsidized lanterns designated for children to do their homework. Radha Krishnan tells us he would like the second lantern for this purpose. 15 /

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EcoLife Store
The EcoLife Store is located on AVAG premises and provides access to affordable eco-friendly technologies suitable for rural communities. The store began in 2009 after SHG members expressed interest in experimenting with earth-friendly products. EcoLife has continued to expand its selection, now offering CFL bulbs, activated EM, low-cost water filters, solar torches, solar lights, crank lights and solar mobile phone chargers. The EcoLife store also generates sales through a stall in the Auroville Saturday Market during the winter months. This year, EcoLife plans to open a new retail store in the neighboring town of Koot Road and another outlet at the Auroville Visitor’s Centre. We hope this exposes our products to customers outside our SHGs.

Entrepreneurship
AVAG is interested in how it can further boost entrepreneurship as a tool for economic development in the bioregion. Field staff conducted informal assessments with SHGs to identify entrepreneurs. We plan to create a forum for peer support that will help small businesses become more successful.

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Capacity Building
AVAG’s Capacity Building programme aims to expand social awareness and develop the skills needed for individuals to work collectively in society. Beneficiaries participate in a series of seminars, workshops, trainings and meetings geared to expanding each member’s capacity for self-empowerment.

Federation Strengthening
Federation members participate in mixed-gender exposure trips and workshops that cover subjects such as leadership, caste, domestic violence, environmental awareness and gender. Trainings have also been conducted in somatic experiencing, adding a psychosocial element to the programme. These activities build leadership capacity while strengthening the overall function of SHGs. This year, Federation members took the initiative to register the Federation of Women with the Indian government. This will give them official recognition, enable them to operate independently financially and through their bylaws, and allow them to receive larger bank loans for microfinance activities. Indiravathi, Poothurai Indiravathi joined AVAG 16 years ago and was one of the founding members of the SHG in her village. Meetings were initially a place for venting personal issues but today, members discuss problems of public interest, meet with officials and engage in creating solutions. In order to expand her knowledge and scope, Indiravathi got involved in the Women’s Federation where she met women from SHGs outside her village and was able to exercise her skills in coordinating, communication and public relations. She says that the Federation allows her to express her full potential and benefits her community, now that her village has representation. NGO in her village that focuses on unemployment and poverty. She has three children and was recently reappointed as a member of the Women’s Federation for a three-year term. She hopes to take on new responsibilities within the Federation and to test her skills in community work.

Leadership & In-Service Trainings
Each SHG has three elected leadership positions, one animator and two representatives, that rotate every two years. Trainings that expose these individuals to social issues and educational programmes increase their leadership capacities. www.villageaction.in

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Exposure & Educational Trips
Exposure and Educational Trips allow our members to experience other parts of the surrounding areas. This year we took 135 people in six trips to Auroville Botanical Garden. Here we learned about global warming and were encouraged to start kitchen gardens at home with the seeds they gave us. These trips inspired a partnership with the Botanical Garden and almost 200 home gardens were planted as a result.

Strengthening & Cluster Meetings
Strengthening meetings support new SHGs and the clubs that need assistance with their activities. Members spend the day discussing the importance of unity and cooperation through interactive games and discussions facilitated by the AVAG staff. Cluster meetings are held bi-annually with representatives from 10 to 15 SHGs in a common geographical area. Discussions center around common issues such as roads, transportation, water and shared infrastructure. AVAG staff assists the clubs in accessing government schemes and devising strategies for improvement. These meetings create a space for different clubs to interact, share ideas and foster solidarity.

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Seminars
To increase awareness about subjects such as government schemes, gender and caste sensitization, water sanitation, waste management and global warming, AVAG organizes daylong seminars each month for SHG members. Depending on the topic for discussion, AVAG will invite a resource person with expertise in the relevant field to speak with our members. This year we held 18 seminars with themes that included health issues, the environment, microfinance, government registration requirements and de-addiction.

Summary of Capacity Building Programmes Conducted 2011/12
Participants Events Events

Meetings / Events
Strengthening meeting Federation meeting Seminar Exposure trip GB Meeting EC Meeting Cluster meeting Trainings & Workshops Focus group meeting kitchen garden creation Animators & Representatives Training

Total
37 20 18 6 6 7 5 11 5 198 14

Total SHGs Total participated Participants

37 254 46 209 7 102 45 209

532 271 1285 135 1070 181 350 242 149 198 616

37 12 10 5 6 7 5 10 5 14

37 All 209 39 all 102 45 209

532 178 931 107 181 350 219 149 616

0 8 8 1 0 0 0 1 0 0

0 All 45 7 0 0 0 0 0

93 354 28 0 0 0 23 0 0

209 1070

Psychosocial Services
AVAG considers psychosocial services to be an integral part of development. Before each meeting, we ask members to close their eyes and observe a moment of silence to bring peace within themselves. In discussions, we found that when closing their eyes, many women had difficulty concentrating and experienced increased tension. Upon hearing this, we encouraged them to focus on a happy moment in their lives and also to keep their eyes open. Many found this a more effective way to achieve a sense of calm. Therefore, our moments of silence are now experienced however each member feels most comfortable. This year, we also conducted a three-day training session in Laughter Yoga for www.villageaction.in 19 /

Participants 0

No.of SHGs

No.of SHGs

Women

Men

the staff and SHG leaders. They found the course to be stress relieving and fun. Participants received certificates and have agreed to teach the concepts to other members of their groups.

Somatic Experience & Energy Healing
Although we did not benefit from direct training in these areas this year, the staff continues to practice their skills in counselling sessions.

Counselling & Mediation
AVAG offers counselling services to individuals who are having difficulty coping with some part of their lives. Our staff is trained in basic counselling and mediation methods, and offers these services in their trips to the villages. More traumatized individuals are encouraged to make an appointment at AVAG. Club members, their families and other non-members can use this service. In addition to counselling, AVAG helps connect those in need with government services and other relevant organizations. This year, we saw a rise in student clients, especially at levels 10 and above, including a few cases from Pondicherry. Many found somatic and energy healing effective in coping with their problems. We also helped several individuals who were traumatized after the cyclone.

Meena, Achirampet. Meena works for an NGO in Pondicherry as a teacher for 60 special needs children. Meena’s father has suffered from alcohol dependency for most of his adult life, causing misery to his family, including Meena herself who was subjected to violence and neglect. This year, AVAG partnered with a residential facility where withdrawal and rehabilitation programs are offered at an affordable cost. Meena and her husband decided to help her parents, mainly her victimized mother, by placing her father in the facility. Her father has since been released and is undergoing therapy. He was able to complete one month of sobriety.

De-Addiction Services
Alcoholism is one of the biggest threats facing the communities of AVAG members. It leads to violence, indebtedness, abuse of women and children, stress and trauma. AVAG has discussed this issue extensively with SHG members and is working to alleviate the problem in our member communities. This year, 12 men from our SHGs were chosen to spread awareness of the disease and treatment options. These www.villageaction.in

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men, along with the AVAG staff, completed a six-day training course in theory and practical knowledge about handling this issue in the field. Due to this initiative, more than 25 cases were identified and sent for rehabilitation services.

ENVIRONMENTAL INITIATIVES
Light Up a Child’s Life Solar Lantern Project
In 2011, AVAG launched the Light Up a Child’s Life project to provide extended study hours for children through the provision of portable solar lanterns. In addition to supporting educational attainment, this project sought to alleviate the negative health, environmental and economic consequences associated with kerosene usage. Thus far, we have distributed solar lanterns to 220 families. In 2011 and 2012, there were more power failures and longer periods of power outages than experienced in years before, so lanterns were especially useful. They were also appreciated during the 15-day period of power cuts after the cyclone. We gratefully acknowledge the Village Outreach Society Canada for channeling funds for this project.

Panchayat Partnership With Auroville
In partnership with Auroville, AVAG will conduct a four part leadership-training program with local panchayat officials in the second half of 2012. This will include field trips to Auroville and a nearby panchayat, which serves as a model for sustainable planning and development.

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SEDAB (Social Enterprise Development in the Auroville Bioregion)
This project creates self-employment opportunities for members of women’s SHGs to develop livelihoods in a sustainable manner. Sanctioned in 2012, it is an opportunity for eco-consciousness, one of Auroville’s leading values, to reach beyond community borders and manifest in the rural life of the Vanur and Marakkanam blocks. Throughout the year, we have been evaluating the readiness of our SHGs to begin production activities and developing linkages with local banks that will financially support this venture through loans. Auroville's technical expertise will provide the new enterprises with the professional experience to assist with troubleshooting and further growth planning. AVAG will partner with Pitchandikulam Bioregional Resource Centre (PBRC), under the umbrella of the Integral Rural Development (IRD) unit of the Auroville Foundation, to begin this project in 2012. Our goal is to start one new production unit this year in addition to the one that is currently operating on the AVAG campus. The new group will undertake production of cloth washable menstrual pads for rural Indian women.

Auroville Botanical Garden Partnership
Auroville Botanical Garden worked with AVAG staff members to teach them how to plant kitchen gardens. We took this information and 300 generously donated seed packets to SHG members who planted 198 home gardens this year. Village members were impressed with the results and saw many vegetable types for the first time. Due to the positive experience, we plan to expand the programme next year. www.villageaction.in 22 /

Heal The Soil Collaboration
Building on our kitchen garden work, we invited Auroville’s Heal the Soil staff to visit a local village and teach them new gardening technology. They focused on sustainable methods such as using kitchen water for their crops. This received a good response from the people and we plan to expand the programmes to a few more villages this year.

AVAG Office Initiative
With AVAG’s focus on eco-consciousness, we decided to lead by example and initiate our own Solid Waste Management Programme within the office. In line with the local practice, all waste was previously burned. In cooperation with our neighbors at the Institute of Applied Technology, we set up a system for waste segregation, creating a compost pile in order to recycle most of our garbage.

Earth Day Celebration
We celebrated Earth Day on 22 April 2011 with 200 friends including SHG leaders, workers from our Auroville units and a member of the local legislative assembly. Auroville put on a presentation about global warming and we watched a film on solid waste management and how to keep the villages clean. We focused on the impact each of us could make at an individual level by planting trees, conserving water, reducing plastic usage, harvesting rainwater and planting kitchen gardens. Each participant helped build sculptures out of garbage and received a tree sapling. We made a resolution to celebrate this holiday together in the upcoming years. www.villageaction.in 23 /

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
We would like to take this opportunity to thank the following people for their support over the last year: Students – Volunteers from the American University of Paris and University of Växjö, Sweden spent a few weeks with us and provided instrumental support post-cyclone. Their projects helped communicate AVAG’s needs for financial assistance and developed communication tools for rural communities to mitigate effects of the disaster. We especially acknowledge Lindsay Hebert for her exceptional contribution in making a film that helped raise funds for the microfinance grant that will ensure long-term aid to our beneficiaries. VFAVR – We express our gratitude to this affiliate association of AVI Germany for supporting economic development in the Auroville Bioregion. Specifically Helmut Ernst was instrumental in drafting the application for the microfinance grant. Village Outreach Society of Canada and the United Kingdom – We thank both groups for their ongoing financial support of Eco Femme, exchange programs and our solar lantern project. Eco Femme Contributors – We are appreciative of the PWDS and DATA networks and their five NGOs based in South Tamil Nadu for their confidence in joining us in our research. We would also like to thank Philipp, Mirjam, Julie and Manreet who have offered their talents to develop our communication tools. Our individual donors from around the world – Your support means the world to us!

AVAG ONLINE
Contact us at villageactiongroup@gmail.com or avagoffice@auroville.org.in Visit us at www.villageaction.in Friend us on Facebook Find us on Idealist.org See us on YouTube and Vimeo

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