It felt amazing returning to Wayanad, especially under such positive circumstances.
The coconut palms, tea estates, banana trees and rugged, pothole ridden roads are a welcome site after a long flight followed by a 4 hour train and 3 hour taxi ride.
Last time we were here, Hannah and I were splitting our time between volunteering on an organic tea farm and helping out at TGG Foundation's office. It's such a small, tight knit community which I know we have so much more to learn about.
And now we’re back to work with TGG Foundation on the very first RG Foundation project to build a Rural Development Hub and create more working opportunities for the people in the rural community, particularly women.
Although it's raining hard when we land, neither me nor Hannah can contain our beaming faces when we’re reunited with Laiju (Chairman and founder of TGG).
Laiju recently helped facilitate a piece of research into local community needs and gaps in service in the area where TGG operates, so he knows more than most how much of an impact this project could have.
We’re also reunited with the rest of the TGG team at their temporary office complex. A small team of mainly women who have now formed a Self Help Group and a type of micro credit system to take more control over their lives.
There are some new faces, which is great to see. We sit down for a traditional lunch of Sambar (vegetable curry), chamundi (coconut chutney) and thick Keralan rice. It feels like we never left.
Later Laiju takes us to the house we’ll be living in for the duration of the project (around a year). It's a ground floor flat about a 10 minute walk from TGG passing a small Catholic shrine and a valley overlooking the famously beautiful Nilgiri Hills. The UNESCO approved Edakkal caves looms over us in the distance.
Our new accommodation has everything we’ll need. A bed, gas burner, washroom and TV (with BBC World News and a couple of movie channels). The only thing we don't have is running hot water and Wifi. The latter we’ll hope to remedy soon.
Our neighbours notice our arrival and we introduce ourselves. Most of them speak only Malayalam so we wave our hands around and smile a lot. I'm not sure if we’re able to get across the purpose for our visit, but everyone is really friendly.
Above us lives a young family. Their eldest daughter, 10-year-old Marabeeka, brings us some freshly made Idlis (a Keralan breakfast dish – a bit like dumplings but in the shape of flying saucers) and more sambar – delicious! A man walks past our house pulling a huge cow on a rope. He grins and smiles at us with red betel-stained teeth.
Over the next months, Hannah and I want to work hard to become part of the community. The language barrier is our most obvious challenge. European visitors are extremely rare in this part of Kerala and for many of the people living near us, we’re the first that they’ll have met.
Once we’re settled, the work begins; Laiju, Hannah and I will start bringing together our ideas for how we can get this project done. There's a long way to go, but we’re all determined.