A lot of Kodai folks, especially those who were at KIS in the ‘sixties and ‘seventies, will remember the so-called SKIPPO VAN. It was a mobile medical unit sponsored by Van Allen Hospital that went out into the Upper Hills villages distributing food and clothing and medicine. Many Kodai kids and staff went along.
A new organization known as RURAL PRE-VENTURES CHARITABLE TRUST (RPV) , started up by Indian leaders in Kodai over the past few years, is like SKIPPO but much more comprehensive and far-reaching. It is also totally indigenous, an organization administered by Indians for Indians. RPV is non-sectarian and is grounded on basic tenets of community development throughout the world. In other words, RPV does not provide services unless members of these rural communities truly want them!
This sounds simple, but it takes a lot of patience and even more diplomacy to wait and watch while local leaders in the village get to know our health workers and trust them enough to ask them for help.
Over the past two years RPV has established a thriving Health Center in the village of Poombarai, some twenty kilometers out in the Upper Hills surrounding Kodaikanal.
Members of the Poombarai Community have worked hand-in-hand with our team, and our leaders have worked hard to establish a genuine partnership. There are several aspects of this project, all focusing in some important ways on Health and Wellness in this particular community. First, RPV brings volunteer doctors, a physical therapist, a nurse, and a pharmacist to conduct weekly clinics; seventy to eighty attend each week. Second, a woman from Kodai works to empower village women in a basket-making industry to build their self esteem and to encourage self-sufficiency. Still another woman works with an Indian organization called INTACH to bring in Indian musicians to teach village kids in their local schools how to play veena and tabla and guitar. The chief administrator of RPV is a former CEO of a major Indian company who uses his contacts to secure professional medical teams to come to Upper Hills villages to conduct dental camps, pediatric camps, and other special services. Future plans include pre-natal care for pregnant women, workshops focusing on environmental issues and on shifting agricultural and economic challenges for rural communities.
Indian folks from Kodaikanal and other urban areas throughout India are taking full responsibility in doing this sophisticated community development work.
Like Bob and Rani and Anu, there are many of us ‘foreigners’ who still maintain ties and passion for India, especially for KIS. We are all welcome partners and followers in this RPV project.
Many others in the USA have expressed interest in supporting the work of RPV in India. For example, the Kodai School Reunion group that meets in Pennsylvania early in September gave a collective gift the RPV-USA last year. And the Class of 1972 worked together to give nearly $1000 as their own class gift, celebrating their fortieth graduation anniversary from KIS. What a tribute! So far in 2014 the USA-based group as a whole has raised nearly $5000, and all donors receive tax-free status for their gifts.
For all of us who maintain ties with India, it is exciting to be able to continue to touch lives of people in rural villages surrounding our beloved Kodai School. Even more, we have the privilege of working in collaboration with talented Indian leaders, who live in increasingly affluent urban areas, to reach out to folks in rural areas where health services and other basic needs are still extremely limited. The need is endless.
Our leaders in India have a dream of resurrecting the SKIPPO VAN idea. And our RPV-USA group has talked about the possibility of raising enough money over the next two or three years to purchase a Mobile Medical Unit so that our India team can move on from village to village. RPV now has a strong foothold in Poombarai. Gundupatti and Mannavanoor are next. Then Kavanji. Then Poondi? The sky is the limit.