The PLENTI Project

 

Introduction

We are inviting expressions of interest in this PLENTI Project (which derives from Purpose, Learning, Engagement, Nature and Travel in India, all of which are key words for the project!). We are looking for people who may be retired or heading towards retirement, or any who otherwise have a little more time on their hands, who might like to spend at least a month in India in the winter months, partly just enjoying the place, but also having a rewarding time, bringing some of their skills and experiences to a family of charities and the people they serve. These are the community of 25,000 ‘adivasis’ from four tribes, who have forever lived in the forests of the beautiful Nilgiri Hills in South India.

 View from the mountains at Gudalur.

View from the mountains at Gudalur.

The Adivasi people in the Nilgiri Hills

The Nilgiri Hills are part of the long stretch of one of India's oldest mountain ranges, and one of the world's greatest biodiversity hotspots - the Western Ghats, The PLENTI project is located in Gudalur in Tamil Nadu where it borders Kerala.

Some 8 per cent of the population of India are Adivasis, indigenous aboriginal people, also known as tribal people or (because they are identified in a schedule of the constitution of India) as the scheduled tribes. The tribal people of Gudalur live in their traditional villages, within a forty mile radius of Gudalur, many some distance from any main road.

The Adivasis have a rich culture. Each tribe is different, but in all cases there is a closeness to nature and a remarkable community spirit. However there are many social issues surrounding these communities: health, education, land rights, employment, household income, housing. There is a challenge on the one hand to provide opportunities in the main stream of society for young members of the community and on the other to assist each community in its desire to remain in its village and to continue its traditions.

The ACCORD group of charities

Working with the Adivasis in the Gudalur area, the group of charities led by three inspirational couples who came to work here some thirty years ago, cover a range of different charitable activities, all under the umbrella of the tribal AMS organisation, and include:

  •  A hospital specially built to serve the tribal people.

  • A primary school providing a high standard of education including about, and respectful of, Adivasi tradition.

  • Support for a residential school providing a safety net for older children who cannot participate in the educational system (because, for example, they may not speak Tamil).

  • ACCORD,  the original charity set up thirty years ago out of which sprang the health and education activities, which works with the communities over their land rights, social welfare and culture preservation and celebration. It has a team of approximately 60 tribal people whom it has trained to work in their communities on health, welfare and other issues.

  • An Ecotourist guesthouse called Ecoscape, set deep in the hills on a 178 acre tea/coffee estate now owned by the tribal people buy. It offers the opportunity to guests to escape into the forest and enjoy the natural environment. It employs tribal people and brings financial benefit to the community's charitable projects.

  • A Foundation Course has recently been established for life skills training and support for 16 to 19 year olds who have not been able to complete their formal education.

  • A further initiative in this 'family', which was initiated by the community, not only has helped its members achieve fair prices for their products but has evolved into an equitable network, of producers, consumers and investors, spreading beyond Gudalur, who are mutually benefited by participation. Just Change India further provides training and support to those in the network, and, closer to home, helps to nurture new community-led income-generating ventures.

Our relationship over several years

The PLENTI Project, in partnership with the founders of ACCORD, Stan and Mari Thekaekara, is led by a British couple of India-lovers, Christopher and Phillida Purvis. They have been coming to Gudalur for the last few years and have been inspired by the quality of the people working in the charitable organizations and by the complex ongoing needs of the Adivasi community. Enjoying this connection, and relationships with all the dynamic people, tribal and non-tribal, involved with AMS and the charities described above, whilst learning so much about challenges for the Adivasi and their way of life, about the forests, the mountains, wildlife, India and development, Christopher and Phillida have determined to have fun ‘engaging’, on an annual basis, and in devising meaningful options for others similarly to join them on the journey.

 

 Christopher Purvis and Ajith Andagere, with Ankur Dhawan, reflected, in an outdoor bathroom of a house designed by Andagere Architects.

Christopher Purvis and Ajith Andagere, with Ankur Dhawan, reflected, in an outdoor bathroom of a house designed by Andagere Architects.

Finance and Management

The total cost of the purchase of land, the building and fitting out of the guest house and a reserve to cover any possible deficit in the early years has been financed by loans, donations and upfront ‘timeshare’ commitments.

PLENTI House is an independent social enterprise, owned by the ACCORD charity. The surplus from the guest house will be directed towards charitable projects in the Adivasi community. This is expected to be in the region of £10,000 annually. Employment will also benefit the community, as tribal people are employed in the guest house.

The management of PLENTI House is under the direction of Ankur Dhawan, founder and manager of the Ecoscape eco-tourism business, which is part of the Blue Mountain Common Initiative. Ankur has a wealth of international business experience as a management consultant, has been the driving force behind the creation of PLENTI House and is the anchor of the PLENTI Project. 

The opening season

The guest house opened in December 2017 for its first season of PLENTI volunteering. During the season, up until Easter 2018, nineteen volunteers stayed at PLENTI House and were engaged in a range of different projects. The experience was pronounced to be a great success with value, learning and a huge amount of enjoyment, on all sides. 

“Plenti House is a delightful combination of aesthetics and local materials with style, efficiency and comfort. No wasteful extravagance but everything exactly as one wants.”

The PLENTI Project social enterprise model has the following benefits:

  • The stay will provide a comfortable and rewarding experience for guests
  • The expertise of the guests will be valuable to the charities
  • Employment will be created for tribal people
  • The financial surplus will be used for projects with the tribal community
  • The tribal community will be left with the valuable asset of land and property

Links

PLENTI  is a project of local charity Action for Community Organisation and Development (ACCORD) http://accordweb.inhttp://adivasi.net/accord.php and is run alongside another social enterprise Ecoscape http://www.ecoscape.co.in.

Sister organisations include:The Association for Health and Welfare in the Nilgiris (ASHWINI) http://www.ashwini.org/index.html and Viswa Bharati Vidyodaya Trust http://www.adivasi.net/vidyodaya.php

All three charities work closely with the local Adivasi community organisation - Adivasi Munnetra Sangam Gudalur (AMS)