I first found out about TGG Foundation Charitable Trust in February 2016. Together with my partner, Hannah, I was halfway through a 4-month stint of travelling through India. Part of our travels included volunteering on organic farms through the WWOOF (Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms) network.
If you haven’t come across "WWOOFing" before, it's an amazing way to travel on a budget, learn about sustainable farming techniques and get a deeper understanding of local communities.
We made contact with S.V Laiju (Chairman of TGG) and arranged a two-week stay on the organic farm he operates, located in the District of Wayanad in Kerala.
A two-week stay soon became two months, and our experience would be one that neither me nor Hannah will soon forget.
Wayanad is a northern district located in the agricultural state of Kerala. Most of the 33 million people who live in Kerala generate their income from farm-related activities. Wayanad is no different. Spices like ginger, cumin and turmeric are cultivated here in huge volume alongside coconuts, bananas and huge amounts of tea and coffee.
As soon as you set foot on Keralan soil you understand why it’s known as “God's own Country”.
The landscape is a waxy, lush green and high up in the Western Ghats of Wayanad, the tropical climate allows for a rich biodiversity.
However, whilst Kerala is considered to be one of the more developed states in India, there are still issues of inequality in the region which hamper its progress.
Part of what TGG Foundation does is provide working opportunities to women in the local rural community. When we first met their Chairman and Founder, S.V Laiju, he introduced us to a small team of women at a stitching workshop, which TGG refer to as “The Women Empowerment Centre”.
We met Beena, who had been working with TGG for just over a year. Beena stitches clothes mostly to meet local demand but is now also teaching local students and using the tools provided to set up on her own.
The Women Empowerment Centre offers Beena a space to work, machines to work with and a customer base. Crucially, it also ensures that she is paid fairly for her work.
In Kerala women are much more likely to work in agricultural jobs than men. Recent research indicates that on average male agricultural workers earn 48% more than their female counterparts. Combine this with the fact that women here work far more unpaid hours (washing clothes, cooking meals, cleaning houses, etc) – and are far less likely to be landowners than men – and the need for change becomes clear.
When the opportunity arose to work with the fledgling RG Foundation to help TGG develop at least one of their ambitious projects to help the local population, Hannah and I jumped at the chance to get involved and make it happen.
So in February 2017, we started planning our return to Wayanad and the TGG Foundation – this time in a different capacity, and an altogether more life-changing one for many people involved. From June 2017, we'll spend about a year in Wayanad helping Laiju to project manage the creation of a new “Rural Development Hub” to support the activities of TGG Foundation and ultimately the local community.
This is new territory for us and I know we're all going to learn a lot from this experience. Watch this space for more updates!