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Leaving No One Behind

How Apollo Foundation And The Forest Authorities Are Ensuring Better Lives For The Chenchu Tribal Community

The Chenchu Tribe is among India’s most vulnerable and marginalised communities. The absence of health infrastructure in the region has led to numerous health challenges. But synchronized efforts by stakeholders are ensuring better lives for the community. Here’s how

How Apollo Foundation And The Forest Authorities Are Ensuring Better Lives For The Chenchu Tribal Community

New Delhi: Lakshya Sampoorn Swasthya Ka. In this, the 9th year of the Banega Swasth India campaign, we are talking about health for all. That includes India’s most vulnerable & marginalised communities, many of whom have little or no access & awareness about their rights, including to health, and this has a huge impact on the quality of their lives. So when we talk about leaving no one behind & health for all, are these communities included? Are they a part of this? Dettol and NDTV Banega Swasth India have partnered to explore the impact of inadequate healthcare on ‘The Marginalised Tribes of India.’ The show’s first episode featured the Kalbelia Tribe of Rajasthan. Now, our attention turns to the Chenchu community in the hilly terrain of Amrabad Forest, Telangana State.

Considered one of the earliest settlers, the Chenchu tribe is a traditional hunter-gatherer community that has lived in the Nallamala Hills for centuries. The Amrabad tiger reserve is one of the largest tiger reserves in India. It is part of the Nallamala forest track, part of the Eastern Ghats chain. It is located in an area that is traditionally inhabited by the Chenchus. History shows that Chenchu tribals are the first dwellers of the Andhra region even before the Dravidians; They are one of India’s oldest aboriginal tribes.

Also Read: Need To Uplift Tribal Community For India’s Progress: Upasana Kamineni Konidela, VC of CSR, Apollo Hospitals

Over the years, their traditional relationship with their forests and natural resources has been altered in a serious and perhaps irreversible way. The Chenchus live in small clusters of 10 to 15 hutments, shaped like beehives and constructed with bamboos and leaves, called “pentas”.

The involvement & collaboration between different stakeholders is starting to bring change for the Chenchu community. Chinna Lingaiah, Head of the Penta, Bhaurapur shared with us, on how the community is getting better facilities,

Earlier, our people would only eat tuber roots and honey; we were unable to even find food and we also never had any education. But today we have some facilities for our community, we have food as well as things have got much better.

We spoke to Rohith Gopidi IFS, District Forest Officer, Nagarkurnool who shared with us the role Chenchu’s play in preserving the forest,

Chenchus have been in this area probably when the forest have began and many of us today any way migrants to the area. So chenchu have been in this area they have expertise in the area. So any conservation activity or protection activity or any livelihood activity without them being the center picture it is bound to fail and I think they are the most important factor or agents to get where we want.

Also Read: Blog: Mitigating The Risks Of Climate Change On The Health Of Marginalised Communities

It is imperative to improve the health outcomes, education need, provide jobs and make them a part of conservation as without them Amrabad tiger reserve will not exist.

The resource in the forest are getting reduced over the time; it could be because of many reasons – climate change, over exploitation , repeated fires which leads to soil erosion, so once the quality of the green cover depletes over the time, they are going to face depletion of water availability of the plant and once people suffer automatically tiger reserve suffers, adds Mr Gopidi.

The Chenchus live in harmony with the forest, and have often been regarded as its protectors. Their knowledge of the forest has resulted in them working closely with forest departments. Shweta, Forest educational officer, Ambrabad Tiger Reserve told us,

Tribals here have been here for ages and they know how to coexist with nature, they preserve nature. So many of our forest works we mainly try to involve the tribals as watchers, work in base camps to protect the forests.

Adding to how the welfare of the tiger reserve lies in the welfare of people, Mr Rohit Gopidi adds,

Once people are happy economically self-sufficient and not too dependent on the forest, the forest continues to serve them but the day people suffer in their welfare they start depending on the forest  and that is when you start suffering. So our work is as much as outside the forest as much as inside the forest.

Traditionally the Chenchu tribal community has relied on the forest for their livelihood and depends on nature.

“The tribals are the ones closest to nature so if we cannot understand and work with them our barrier with nature will never be fulfilled.  What we are trying to do is actually create a holistic program scalable throughout the india for communities to live in partnership with the planet, which I think is very important,” shared Upasana Kamineni Konidela, Vice Chairperson, CSR, Apollo Hospitals.

But in many ways life for the Chenchu revolves around the struggle to survive. So Apollo foundation and the forest authorities are working together on initiatives that can help improve their lives.

“Once you give these communities financial stability, build trust with them then understand what their needs are and bring wellness into their life, automatically their life and health improves. We have seen that  giving them a bit of education and empowering them  has a huge impact on their health, so what  we are doing in a nutshell  with respect to total health for the Amrabad Forest Reserve”, adds Upasana Kamineni Konidela.

Also Read: Meet Dr Regi George and Dr Lalitha Regi, Who Provide Healthcare Facilities To Tribals In Tamil Nadu Villages

Now there are Chechus who moved out of the forest many years ago. We visited Macharam, one of the villages where members of the Chenchu tribe have settled after leaving the interiors of the forest. They are educated, aware and have learning skills because many stake holders have come forward to help.

We met Rajalakshmi whose family moved out of the forest nearly 2 decades ago to Macharam. Unlike the chenchus who live in the forest area, Rajyalakshmi is a graduate. A mother of 3 children Rajyalakshmi, worked as a daily wage labourer but after being trained by Apollo foundation’s green skilling programme, she earns about 10,000 rupees a month.

“Earlier i used to lift soil for work, but the Apollo Foundation taught me how to make candles. I would like to work like this, doing things like making candles. I don’t want to sit idle at home. Along with dignity, I am happy that I get money every month working in the Apollo Foundation”, shared Rajlakshmi

The green skilling initiative was started by the Apollo Foundation in collaboration with the Forest Department to empower women like Rajalakshmi. The Arrjava initiative works with indigenous tribal communities like the Chenchu to create locally sourced products and provide a livelihood.

“To make the women more financially independent we started a green skilling initiative and all the produce comes from the waste or something around that forest itself. So the women are making products. They have started with a candle. Green skilling initiative is very strong to empower these women and their communities”, adds Ms Konidela.

The Amrabad Tiger Reserve has also established a packaging centre at Mannanur where local women, especially Chenchus, make jute bags and eco-friendly cups and plates. A. Rajeshwari, Beneficiary green skilling- Jute workshop shares,

For one year making jute bags- many animals eating plastic an dying so we making forest bags I live near the jungle.. we love animals but now dying to end plastic we make jute bags.. I did farming but I like this.

Like Rajeshwari, the Chenchu tribe understands their forest well and are committed to protecting their environment. The tribe plays an important role in the management and conservation of the reserve, most significantly through Swacch Sevaks who are part of the plastic segregation unit. Since the tiger reserve has a highway passing through it many travellers litter.

Kavali Eshwar, Forest Ranger Officer, Amrabad Tiger Reserve shared,

Travellers discard plastic of various sorts, so it’s an issue for the wildlife as if they feed on the plastic, there is a high chance of digestive issues, eventually leading to the  death of animals.

To protect the wildlife, forest authorities have swachh sewaks to manage waste in the area.

“We have 12 swachh sewaks  who collect all kinds of plastic  along the highway, then deposit the waste and finally  segregate it into various things. We segregate this into bales which are shifted for further recycling purposes” adds Kavali Eshwar.

In order to achieve the goal of Lakshya Sampoorn Swasthya Ka, or health for all, especially for the marginalised, it requires a synchronized effort from key stakeholders working together. The Apollo Foundation, along with forest authorities, has been working closely with the community for 3 years to ensure better health, create employment opportunities, and empower the chenchu community.

Geographical isolation, primitive agriculture practices, socio-cultural taboos, poor health seeking behavior leads to under nutrition. While health is a basic right for all, this indigenous community, like many others, suffers from severe malnutrition.. Osteoporosis and gastritis is common due to poor diet. Malnutrition, skin infections, and addiction patterns are also health challenges within the community.

Recent survey reports have shown that more than half of tribal children under five years of age in India are stunted and wasted and fail to meet their potential for growth and development. This problem is extremely severe in the children of the community, and is potentially the biggest threat to their development.

To ensure no one is left behind, Apollo’s total Heath programme is trying to fill the gap with regular health camps in the forest as well as satellite clinics in the villages outside the forest reserve.

Also Read: Providing Tribals With Easy Access To Healthcare Key To Solve Their Problems: Chairman, National Commission For Scheduled Tribes

Nagama was suffering from anaemia. She was always tired but didn’t know why, because she had simply never visited a doctor. The camp conducted a battery of tests where her anaemia was detected. Now she is being treated with simple iron capsules and feels much better. “I used to get fever because I was anaemic. Then the madam from Apollo Hospital sent a doctor who prescribed medicines for us. The fever reduced because I took those medicines. Now we are healthy and well”, shared Nagama.

Dr M. Rajashekhar, Apollo foundation, Total Health shared,

What we see here is people suffering from water borne diseases due to shortage of water, anemia because no diet but they don’t come to clinics, scabies is due to less water which is also not pure.

Total Health holds regular sessions on hygiene awareness in the forests. The programme has set up a Geriatric Nutrition Clinic where senior citizens are given hot, nutritious midday meals, free of cost. Another important aspect is the provision of menstrual hygiene education and awareness, along with distribution of reusable sanitary napkins.

Upasana Kamineni Konidela, Vice Chairperson, CSR, Apollo Hospitals told us,

Even respect to hygiene, menstruation, overall health has improved for women so now they take care of their own health and the families. When we have our camps in different parts of the forest they are enthusiastic and they want to know more and are bothered about the health.

While the Government has done a lot, there are many schemes the tribals are not aware about. “I’m very impressed with what the government has done but to ensure people know about the schemes, our main job with the arrjava warriors is to empower them with education, definitely health care because that’s our core competence but also about how to preserve the planet and hygiene and also become the champions of the community”, adds Upasana.

  • According to McKinsey’s impact assessment of the Total Health programme in Amrabad
  • There has been 100% improvement in accessibility for tribals inside core forest areas through health camps
    100% of the people showed an improvement in biophysical markers due to meals provided at Total health nutrition centres
  • And, 60% of people reported reduction in body pain after enrolling in yoga classes

Despite the challenges of the chenchu community, a distinguishing factor of their tribe is gender equality in terms of rights. Both men & women go out to work and share domestic responsibilities equally.

Lingaya and Lingama belong to the Chenchu community and live inside the Amrabad forest reserve. From the very beginning, they have shared duties & responsibilities equally in managing their home and children. Lingaya is working as a sand digger while his wife does multiple jobs.” My wife works in the Anganwadi, also works as an attendant for pregnant women, takes them to the hospital for treatment and earns Rs 1,000 as a salary but to make the house function well we share all chores from earning to household responsibilities”, shared Lingaya.

The couple’s dream is to educate their son and make him a doctor. “My husband Lingaya & I work together, and we will happily do any work at all”, happily adds Lingama.

Not just in the forest area, members of the Chenchu tribe living in the villages have the same belief, of treating the partner as an equal. The Chenchus are leading from the front when it comes to teaching the rest of the country lessons in gender equality and women empowerment.

Synchronised efforts from key stakeholders working on the ground like we have seen for the Chenchu community can help India move towards the ultimate aim of Lakshya Sampoorn Swasthya Ka.

NDTV – Dettol have been working towards a clean and healthy India since 2014 via the Banega Swachh India initiative, which is helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. The campaign aims to highlight the inter-dependency of humans and the environment, and of humans on one another with the focus on One Health, One Planet, One Future – Leaving No One Behind. It stresses on the need to take care of, and consider, everyone’s health in India – especially vulnerable communities – the LGBTQ populationindigenous people, India’s different tribes, ethnic and linguistic minorities, people with disabilities, migrants, geographically remote populations, gender and sexual minorities. In wake of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (WaterSanitation and Hygiene) is reaffirmed as handwashing is one of the ways to prevent Coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign will continue to raise awareness on the same along with focussing on the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children, fight malnutrition, mental wellbeing, self care, science and health, adolescent health & gender awareness. Along with the health of people, the campaign has realised the need to also take care of the health of the eco-system. Our environment is fragile due to human activity, which is not only over-exploiting available resources, but also generating immense pollution as a result of using and extracting those resources. The imbalance has also led to immense biodiversity loss that has caused one of the biggest threats to human survival – climate change. It has now been described as a “code red for humanity.” The campaign will continue to cover issues like air pollutionwaste managementplastic banmanual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene. Banega Swasth India will also be taking forward the dream of Swasth Bharat, the campaign feels that only a Swachh or clean India where toilets are used and open defecation free (ODF) status achieved as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, can eradicate diseases like diahorrea and the country can become a Swasth or healthy India.

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