grantees » R. Saraswathi, 1981, India

R. Saraswathi ,

Saraswathi is an engaged young woman from the Kurumba tribe in the Nilgiri Region of India .  Living in her native village, life is not easy. “The inability to reach out to people in need of urgent medical care in time is a big challenge, and getting the traditional land rights through the Forest Rights Act is another big challenge.” She has been very active in the conservation of Sacred Groves, which are patches of forest land communally protected for religious reasons, though they are not always granted governmental protection. Saraswathi continues to be involved in the creation of harmony between the people, their activities and the forests. Considering her humble beginnings, her ambition and drive for the betterment of her community in a sustainable fashion is unparalleled.

Saraswathi used the JWH initiative grant to fund her BA in Sociology and History from Providence College. She is one of the only people from her village to have studied at higher education. All of her previous education was in Tamil, and so she also took an English course and a computer course, “which is very important nowadays to convey our message more easily.” Saraswathi also followed an organizational management apprenticeship, in order to be more effective at rallying awareness, funds and action. As a result, she has been more active in working together with the Nilgiri Kalachara Sangam (Nilgiri Cultural Association) for the promotion of environmentally sustainable, income-generating activities which preserve traditional knowledge and culture. With the support of the JWH initiative, Saraswathi had the possibility to visit other NGOs working with indigenous communities to share experiences, such as REMES based in Chennai, which works on managing a savings fund for a small village for health, education, and management of their local forests. She learnt how improving a community’s access to information is vital to improving their condition and the conservation of traditions and environment. Today, Saraswathi continues to strive to improve herself to be of greater aid to her people; “I would like to study more and gain knowledge and work for indigenous communities, especially building awareness on Health, Education and Legal rights.” Indeed, she is doing just that; she is now studying for a MA in Sociology at the Annamalai University through distance learning.

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