Over the course of the three days, we, the students of CPS Global School Anna Nagar and Thirumazhisai, explored the southernmost district of Telangana, as part of our IAYP program. RDT, Rural Development Trust, the legacy of late “Father” Vicente Ferrer, a Spaniard with the vision to transform the lives of thousands of repressed villagers all across India, have overcome several socio-political adversities to do what was right. His exemplary choice of life – social service rather than a, perhaps violent, livelihood in the army, was an inspiration to us all. However, he persevered and remained true to his ambition – as his wife, Annie Ferrer said, “He knew that things could be different.” Now, fifty years later, the RDTis an organisation that has changed the lives of countless people in countless rural towns and villages.
We participated in a number of activities allowing us to experience how the lives of the villagers living in Anantapur have changed and got to learn from the immense gratitude and respect that the villagers have towards the Ferrer Family. On the first day, we were welcomed by Mr Tippuswami, the chairman of RDT, who familiarised us with the local issues and the different projects RDT has implemented to help the villagers. The principle behind RDT, the ‘Work Beyond Duty”, truly touched us all as it taught us the essence of dedication, how the self-effacing volunteers are willing to sacrifice their charitably paid job to do the right thing.
Firsthand interaction with the villagers, performing some street plays based on local issues like cerebral palsy, clubbed feet and a general skit on clean habits engaged us with preparing an informative yet entertaining skit with the limited resources. Yet the skits were a success, met with hearty applause. We were thanked with colourful, energetic and vibrant dance and music performances by the RDT sponsored school students. Retiring after a long travel and hectic activities to dormitories was a welcome rest, though initially some had inhibitions coming from urbane locales. However, as the days progressed, we were happy to spend most of our time with each other and we came to appreciate the closeness and camaraderie.
The exciting second session was a wilderness trek, where we discovered local flora and fauna, and, through the taxing and tiresome nature of the trek, learnt the importance of teamwork, patience, and perseverance. After the trek we returned to the campsite, drenched in sweat but ready and eager to get started on the day’s activities. The trek was followed by a hearty and fulfilling breakfast, sponsored by the RDT on their campsite canteen, where we were joined by several volunteers. The walls of the canteen were adorned by pictures of smiling village children and a portrait of the man who made it all possible- “Father” Vicente Ferrer himself! He is omnipresent in the people’s lives there. Proceeding to the RDT Hospital, located in a busy centre, we were briefed about various first aid techniques. We were also trained to identify different injuries- burns, fractures, bleeding, unconsciousness, and how to prevent the victim from further injury until the emergency services arrive. These are important life skills that need to be taught, and we are extremely grateful for having received this training. Afterwards, we were given a tour of the hospital’s various departments- and it was intriguing to see all the various departments working together to give every patient the best treatment, and that too at a very affordable price. After a sumptuous lunch at the hospital canteen we proceeded to the final event on our itinerary- the Jute Centre. This was run by the Integration Development Trust or IDT- a subunit of the RDT. All the workers were specially-abled women. They perform physically-taxing and time-consuming tasks perfectly and without complaint, complete with a smile on their faces following our arrival at the jute centre. We were given a cheery farewell and handmade jute bracelets. We went back to the campsite to have dinner and reflect on what a meaningful and eye-opening experience throughout the course of the day. Another day of self realisation!
Day 3 began with a small workshop with our very own Neelamegan sir who taught us how to aid with emergency evacuations using ropes and knots and also create a makeshift stretcher which could be used to carry away victims in unforgiving circumstances. After this, a first-hand testimonial of three Spanish volunteers living and working in Anantapur truly enthused us. Starting from an architect working with RDT to create innovative solutions to create fashionable yet budget-conscious building complexes and accuracy of handicap to a translator, who, very proudly, told us about the sweet letters she gets from little kids that she translates into Spanish to send to Spain; and lastly, a French teacher associated with the local school for foreign languages. Her unique experience of teaching college graduates an entirely new language was truly inspiring. The visit to the clothing and jewellery workshop was unique because it exclusively employed specially-abled women below the poverty line to help them get back up on their feet. A part which was extremely heartening to know was that the organisation provided free accommodation and food to the workers there and they were able to earn a stable income from the beautifully embroidered clothing and carefully pieced jewellery that they were able to sell. All of us were extremely happy to see these colourful handicrafts and anxiously waited to visit the shop to pick out some items for ourselves.
After this exciting and enlightening 3 day stay, we had to, dejectedly, board the bus to return to Chennai. The exploration trip had finally come to a close, and each of us looked back on the last 3 days, taking back with us a piece of Anantapur and memories of all the wonderful things we had witnessed there.
It is amazing how much an idea can turn into something much bigger; how even the smallest thought can birth something greater than us, and end up touching so many lives. Seeing a foreign country take interest in our nation’s needs is truly heartwarming, and continuing to do so for fifty years, despite the various adversities, is a remarkable feat, and we wish to commend Father Vicente Ferrer for having created something so big and so beautiful. It goes without saying that it was an unforgettable experience, possibly one that will continue to affect our lives and that of those around us, inspiring us to want to do something good for the world and contribute in our own small way to change the lives of the people around us.
We are forever grateful to RTD.
Athira B Nair & Maanavi Kuchimanchi
IBDP -Year 1