How this Kerala doctor-couple is empowering a TN tribal community

Online sale of natural turmeric by Dr Regi George and Dr Lalitha Regi, helps the tribal community in Sittilingi, Tamil Nadu

‘Turmeric is for auspicious beginnings’… So says a be aware on bottles of ‘Sittilingi Gold’ that got as return items on the marriage of Hyderabad-based Ajay Narne’s daughter. Dr Dhanasekhran Krishnan, Dean of Stanley Medical College, Chennai, did the identical.

“Both of them wanted to help tribal farmers in Sittilingi, whose organically grown turmeric has a high content of curcumin, which has many health benefits,” says Dr Regi George, anaesthetist and well being activist working in Sittilingi for 28 years, over cellphone. For the final four-five months the physician has been busy on social media, to assist the farmers promote their turmeric.

For Regi and his spouse Dr Lalitha, an obstetrician, promoting the turmeric is merely one other aspect of their work within the Sittilingi valley, 85 kilometres from Salem,Tamil Nadu. In 1993, when the younger physician couple from Kerala determined to open a hospital in a hut in Sittilingi, it was a dusty bowl that was 50 kilometres from the closest hospital and had an toddler mortality price of 147 per 1,000.

During their work in Gandhigram, Madurai, they understood that many sufferers from distant areas got here for therapy of simply preventable diseases corresponding to diarrhoea. “We realised that health care went beyond medical care in a hospital. Both of us wanted to work in a place that needed us. If there were 11 gynaecologists working in a place, I had no desire to be the12th one there.Regi got a fellowship to visit NGOs and organisations working at the grassroots in remote areas in India. It gave us the opportunity to know what India is; we had no idea how 70% of India lived,” says Lalitha.

At the top of Regi’s journey, they determined to work in tribal areas, which have been invariably borders of states or encompassing borders of districts. “Usually such places were geographically isolated and there were hardly any facilities or Government presence,” provides Lalitha.

Jars of organically grown Sittilingi turmeric powder were given away as gifts for guests who attended Ajay Narne’s daughter’s wedding in Hyderabad.

Jars of organically grown Sittilingi turmeric powder got away as items for friends who attended Ajay Narne’s daughter’s wedding ceremony in Hyderabad.  
| Photo Credit:
special arrangement

The journey right here

Since they knew Tamil, they determined to decide on a place in Tamil Nadu. The couple moved to the Sittilingi valley with their toddler son. A hospital in a hut was the start of Tribal Health Initiative (THI), which has now made deep inroads within the lives of the folks. Over the years, the hospital has been constructed, brick by brick, by the tribal folks.

Work on many fronts

  • Regi and Lalitha have arrange an artisans’ society known as Porgai that helps the ladies market and promote embroidered cotton house linen, garments, cushions and so on
  • SOFA promotes ‘Svad’ model of natural produce and meals
  • At current the Panchayat president of Sittilingi is Madheswari Manjunath, a member of SOFA
  • Contact: Ramesh Kannan (8110012965)

Lalitha makes gentle of the challenges she may need needed to face. “There were 10,000 people living here. We were two more people. That is all,” she says.

The THI was additionally a means to empower the tribal community to handle their well being and that finally empowered them financially, socially and politically. Beginning with coaching tribal girls in well being care to forming societies to advertise natural farming and tribal artwork, the medical doctors have led from the entrance. “The Malayali tribals of Sittilingi Valley were subsistence farmers who grew their own food. But they also needed cash for school fees, weddings etc. Ten years ago, we encouraged them to turn to organic farming and turmeric was identified as a cash crop. In addition, our thrust was on nutritional security that included food like millets in their diet. As a result, during the lockdown, no one in Sittilingi went hungry,” says Regi.

The Sittilingi Organic Farmers Association (SOFA), fashioned in 2008, trains farmers in natural farming and helps in advertising and marketing the crops. At current, in a community of about 15,000, round 4,000 are farmers, of that 500 are into natural farming.

Organically grown turmeric in Sittilingi being sun dried by farmers

Organically grown turmeric in Sittilingi being solar dried by farmers
| Photo Credit: Inanc Tekguc

To assist market the turmeric, SOFA reached out to retailers, NGOs and others. Peermade Development Society (PDS), an NGO that was into export of spices, started shopping for about 30 tonnes of the turmeric for export to European nations. “Of the 40 tonnes produced by the farmers, we kept only 10 tonnes for retail. In the Salem market, turmeric finger usually sells for about ₹760-800 for 100 kg; our farmers got ₹1,200.”

Turmeric, a 10-month crop, is harvested in January-February. In 2020, they grew 70 to 80 tonnes of turmeric and the pandemic struck. As delivery traces closed in the course of the pandemic, PDS didn’t purchase the turmeric. “Tonnes of turmeric remained unsold. We knew that distress sales would begin and something had to be done quickly.”

On the recommendation of a buddy to start a social media marketing campaign, they started writing concerning the turmeric on Facebook. The Rotary Club of Indiranagar pitched in with a robust marketing campaign. Organic Sittilingi turmeric was offered for ₹200/kg. Residents in Chennai, Bengaluru and Hyderabad purchased roughly 15 tonnes of turmeric. By then delivery traces had opened and PDS took in 25 tonnes.

Farming activities under the aegis of the Tribal Health Initiative in Sittilingi

Farming actions below the aegis of the Tribal Health Initiative in Sittilingi  
| Photo Credit: Inanc Tekguc

“Now we have around 15 tonnes. That is when Ajay Narne and Dr. Dhanasekhran bought about 200 to 300 kg turmeric powder from us, repackaged it smartly and gave it as gifts. In the process, they were helping tribal farmers in Sittilingi as well. When you give a gift, why not choose something that will help farmers as well?” suggests Regi.

Looking again at their journey within the valley, Regi and Lalitha level out that their work among the many tribal community has earned them their belief. “So, when we talk to them, they listen. In every house, there is someone we have treated and all the children in the village were born at the hospital,” says Regi with justifiable delight.

With eight medical doctors, the THI has develop into a secondary care hospital. Of the numerous infants born at THI, three have develop into medical doctors themselves. “Our work has been fulfilling. It was all team work with the community. When people do it together and gain strength from being together, there is a nice feeling about it,” believes Lalitha.

She asserts that well being in its broader definition contains bodily, psychological and social well-being. “Farming, watershed development, artisans… I feel it is all health work. If the health of the community in its wider meaning has to be achieved, you have to work on all these fronts,” she provides. Encapsulating their work in a sentence they are saying: “We are living a dream.”

Leave a Reply