Seeds of Power

1. Tree Nursery

It all started with the humble seed. Irulas know more about the trees of the Tamilnadu plains, than anyone else: seeding and flowering cycles, medicinal properties, soil and water needs. As the first members of the ITWWS began collecting seeds to plant in the nursery, a wealth of knowledge began to emerge. This also extended to husbandry; and soon, the ITWWS nursery became famous for its wide range of species.

Today there are over 200,000 saplings in the nursery at Thandarai, which include 106 varieties of medicinal plants, 12 fruit species, and 50 types of avenue trees. Clients include

  • schools and colleges
  • government departments
  • hotels
  • industries
  • residential colonies.
The ITWWS also takes on contracts to start and maintain nurseries, afforest wastelands, and plant avenue, fence and ornamental trees in gardens and compounds.

2. Herbal Centre

This includes the collection, processing and preparation of herbal products (such as hibiscus tea and shampoo) as well as treatment rooms. Two or three Irula vaidyars are available for consultation and treatment. The open ground in front is used for drying seeds, leaves, and other plant material used in our products, which include health and hair-care preparations . Some of the most popular of these are:

  • Elumboti ( Ormocarpum cochinchinensis) for osteoporosis
  • Sriukurinjan (Gymnema syivesta) for diabetes
  • Sriyanangai (Andrographis paniculata) for after-effects of snakebite
  • Sembaruthi (Hibiscus rosa sinensis) for blood pressure
  • Poonai meesai (Orthosiphon spiralis)- for removing kidney stones
The two most popular preparations are Daibacare (diabetes) and Elumbushakti (osteoporosis). A massage room is attached to the centre and special herbal oil massages are prepared and administered by a male and female masseur.

3. Packaging Unit

Irula women who have undergone specialized training, produce attractive boxes for packing herbal teas and shampoos. These are made of waste wood. Stationery holders, planters, baskets, paper racks and other items are also made on order. The machinery, which includes an embossing unit, was donated to the ITWWS by the Tamilnadu government.

4. Conference and Training Facilities

Hardly a week goes by without a “happening” taking place at the ITWWS: a conference, workshop, meeting or training program. It could be a program for Irula children about the integration of traditional and modern skills, or awareness building on violence against women, or a networking with other community based organizations. Sometimes, vaidyars (healers) meet to exchange ideas. Or, the 200 members meet to make decisions about the following year’s activities. Or, the cultural teams meet to practice Irula songs and dances for a forthcoming event. A basic but hygienic kitchen turns out meals for up to 400 people, and these facilities are available for hire if there is no ITWWS program taking place at the time. Incidentally, resident visitors sing the praises of the ITWWS cuisine. Hibiscus and avaram teas are always available, and the daal and chutney often have special health herbs which are also very tasty.

5. Cultural Team

Goddess Kanniamma is unique to the Irulas and many songs and dances are devoted to her. Irula culture, in spite of its “equalization” and dilution because of various social factors, remains strong and fascinating. Shamanism is still practiced, and there are ceremonies and rites still to be documented. Through audio/visual recordings, interviews, and performance opportunities, the ITWWS has revived and revitalized Irula culture. Its cultural team includes men, women and children and performs at a range of functions. Several CDs have been produced of Irula songs including the famous Malli Poo. Many of these are sung while hunting-gathering; others are romantic , or religious.

6.Village Team

This consists of trained and experienced Irula women who make regular visits to the member villages of the ITWWS. Their duties include the formation and strengthening of sangams and self-help groups, mediation and conflict resolution, helping Irulas access welfare schemes and legal aid, and documentation and reporting. Often riding bicycles or mopeds on almost impassable roads, they are the connecting links between the ITWWS and its members. They also bring news of problems and incidents where the Society needs to intervene, such as a recent case of the rape of an Irula girl by a high-caste land-owner.

7. Learning Centers

The ITWWS supports and encourages literacy and education in several ways including sponsoring school uniforms, bags and books, training programs for Irula children, and following up cases of school drop-outs. This program includes 19 learning centres in 19 Irula villages, which function in the evenings after school hours. The animators are local women who tutor students, help them with their homework, and conduct adult literacy sessions. Recent funding has added small libraries to a few centres, with Tamil and English books.

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