What Vongal Gifted Me; A Personal note on Tribal Camp Experience

Arya Gopinath of S2 MSW was one of the active members of the Tribal Sensitization Camp held at Vazhachal in December. She was the coordinator of First-aid committee. Arya writes her camp experiences for DISHAASPEAK. The Photographs are also taken by her. 

I was very excited from the day when I heard that Social Work Department is about to conduct a tribal camp for the first year MSW students. Hearing this news, I recalled many of my friends’ sharing about their experiences of attending camps organized by National Service Scheme and other similar organisations. I really had a great desire to take part in such camps but, unfortunately, I never had a chance. So my enthusiasm about the tribal camp at Vazhachal was great and each preparatory sessions on the camp conducted in my class boosted my intense longing.


The name of the camp has been selected as VONGAL which is the name of hornbill in local tribal language and it appeared beautiful for me. It was because of my enthusiasm to know more about the hornbill and the tribal communities. I was very much passionate about the camp and expecting some unforgettable moments such as exploring the wilderness of forest and hornbill and the enjoyment of going along with friends and faculties of my department. Along with that I was little bit tensed and confused about the tasks I had to accomplish, as a member of first aid committee. It was the first time that the whole students of my class was having a long journey together.

The day in which we started from the college, that is 14th of December, 2012, was full of tensions and confusions for the students. Nobody took rest on that day. Everybody, as part of different committees like programme committee, food committee, financial committee, travel committee, first-aid committee, technical committee etc., were running here and there to complete their assigned duties. From the experiences of that day we learned that the last minute hurry will ruin the entire thing. The tension continued even after we entered the bus also, that whether the required things were taken or not. We started at 8:30 pm along with our faculties Mr.Renjith Kavumkara, Mr.Nishanth M and Ms.Veena Suresh. Our HOD Dr. Renjith R Pillai and faculty member Mr.Kochukrishna Kurup joined us on the way. We played ‘antakshari’, a game in which the members are divided in to groups and each group will be singing songs with the ending letter of the song that the other group sang. It was initiated by Ms.Veena Suresh and was very interesting as the competition became tougher.  It is the only time I sang songs without any hesitation or shyness. After that everybody fell asleep because of that day’s restless work.Image

As we started ascending hill to Munnar in the mid-night, at one point we have seen police men were serving hot ginger coffee to drivers of vehicles to refresh them. It seems good because of the effort took by Kerala Police to avoid accidents by drivers falling asleep. It is a good method to be carried out everywhere in the state so that road accidents at night could be reduced to an extent and at the same time some people may get a job.

Next day that is December 15, we were at Munnar. At morning when we reached there it was very cold and everybody was shivering. The place we visited was surrounded with rocks and mountains and it seems very beautiful. When we visited the Harrison Malayalam tea factory I had a belief that I know something about the production of tea as I once visited a tea  factory  in Ooty. After the complete factory visit I found that mine was a wrong belief and understood the complexities in tea production. Each steps involved in tea production was  clearly explained by the assistant manager of thImagee factory Mr.Abhishek.

His eagerness to teach us all about the whole process was great even though he was not supposed to do so. He took his maximum effort to teach us as it was a difficult task to talk without considering the noise of heavy machines there. It should be appreciated. We had a plan to interact with the labours of the factory so that we would have been able to ensure the things we’ve heard from  Mr. Jacob Tarakan, Deputy Manager of Harrison Malayalam Ltd. about the welfare activities for the labourers. But we couldn’t interact with the labourers due to some technical issues.

When I heard that we are not going to some places including Chinnar, Malaikkappra I became very sad. But after reaching Atirappilly from Munnar I realised that travelling to the above mentioned places would have been tiresome. On the way from Munnar to Athirappilly we stopped the bus at Kothamangalam to buy the required grocery and vegetables for the next day. It was really a different experience to buy things with friends and teachers. We reached Atirappilly at night. When we entered the hotel room we heard the sound of Atirappilly waterfalls behind, but couldn’t see anything in the darkness. That sound in the night was little frightening. When we opened the doors of the hotel room next morning we saw the beautiful waterfalls. I was not aware about the plentyness of Atirappilly forest. I thought monkey is the only animal there. But in the morning we saw a deer wandering near the hotel.

This day i.e. 16th December the day started witImageh last day’s evaluation. It was one of the important parts of the camp. After that we started preparing for next day’s programmes. Some were very busy with preparing lunch. We studied many tribal songs. It was very interesting to sing those fast songs in groups. After the delicious lunch prepared by students we hurried to Butterfly gardens at Thumboormuzhy, there our resource person Ms.Aditi Lele was waiting for us. My idea about hornbill that she is specializing was that a large bird which is the state bird of Kerala. After her class I understood the importance of hornbill in conserving rain forests and its unique behaviour. Her efforts for studying about the bird are really appreciable.

The sight-seeing after the class was really unforgettable. It was little adventurous to walk through the rocks in the Chalakkudy river. The camera of students doesn’t rest for a single minute. As its name shows that garden was full of beautiful butterflies and it was the first time I saw such a large number of butterflies together. At this place we realised the fact that our HOD, Dr.Renjith R Pillai is very talented in taking photos. Our faculties were very friendly to us so that we enjoyed those moments together, thanking God to give us such a wonderful group of faculties. From the camp evaluation I understood the difference for each one in observing a situation. We got a chance to take part in evening prayer organised by Ms.Veena Suresh.

The inauguration of the camp which was conducted on 17th of December was a new experience for me. In usual cases the guest will inaugurate by lighting the lamp. But here lamp was first passed through the hands of each and every one present there and at last to the main lamp. Also everybody got chance to plant seeds in soil and water it. I really enjoyed that moment because planting a seeImaged or a sapling is a matter of pleasure for me. From the words of guests including forest range officer and those working in forest department I understood the risks and difficulties faced by them to conserve valuable forests there. They are very dedicated in their job.

The plastic segregation unit we visited after inauguration was something different. From there I knew that used plastics could be sold out. If the process in plastic management carrying out there is followed by other parts of the state the plastic pollution could be reduced to an extent. The plastic free campaigning was another good experience. Most of the visitors of Athirappilly were from other parts of the country.  Many of them expressed their support for us.

One of the sad scenes there was monkeys trying to eat plastics that visitors threw there. Then I remembered the picture of a dead deer with a large heap of plastics inside its skeleton, which was published in a Malayalam daily. That picture shows that the deer was dead due to the large amount of plastic it ate.. It was that picture which opened the eyes of government authorities and others. After that government took measures to avoid plastic from there. But it is not at all possible without the participation of common people who visit the place and I really felt proud about that a young photographer who took a great effort to conserve the forest and animals. Then we got a wonderful chance to see the beautiful waterfalls. That place was full of monkeys. It was very funny to see monkeys snatching food from the visitors even though it cannot be promoted. But the sad thing was that the water flowing through the falls was very much low as compared to the time I last visited there some years back. It was very difficult for me to leave the place.

From there we went to Vazhachal. At there the camp enters to a new phase. There we had a class by Dr.Amita Bachan, one of the most eminent persons we got from the camp. But due to the tiresome work in the morning most of the students were very tired.

Next day on 18th December there was morning walk with Bachan sir, but I missed it. It was because some of the students got fever and they were sent to the doctor. For our luck a doctor was staying in the forest guest house near. We, the three with fever me and our faculty Mr.Ranjith Kavumkara went there in our bus. We were on time because the doctor was about to leave the place. Doctor said that the main reason behind the physical difficulties was the cool wind there. It could cause many health issues to body. We were more lucky that the medicine were also with them.

We visited tribal settImagelements. I visited the settlement of a tribal group named Kadar. Before going there my mind was full of questions that will they co-operate with us, whether our presence disturb them like that. But when we started interacting with them I understood that there was no need of such doubts. They talked to us as we know  each other from years before. One person named Mr Jose explained the whole process collecting honey from forests symbolically with sticks. I was amazed when I heard that during honey collecting season not only the man but the whole family goes to forest and reside deep inside the forest. When men go to collect honey, women will make food for them. So honey collection is a risky task for the whole family.   Later we visited the tribal school there. It was the first time Iam visiting a tribal school. Majority of the students were hostellers.  Those small children have to stay away from their parents and relatives. But it is an appreciable fact that tribal peoples are sending their children to school. That day I was very tired and took rest for some time. The cultural programme conducted at the tribal school by us was another highlight of the camp. We were not so well prepared, even though it ended with good appreciation from the authorities of the school. We sang and danced with the children. They all co-operated well with us.

IMG_0214That day evening we had a session with Mr Tiju Thomas, Senior Programme Officer in WWF. He shared his ideas about the scope of social work in international organisations like WWF. Another interesting and informative session was by Mr.Prem Peter Chakravarthy about tigers. I liked the class very much as my favourite animal is tiger. In the camp evaluation Mr.Amita Bachan also joined. He gave answers to our queries, and there were new information in each of the sentences he said.

Next day that is 19th of December I had duty in kitchen. It was quite a different experience for me. We were four, Ms.Winnie, Mr.sreejith, and Mr.Praveen was also with me. That day was full of crisis and somehow we managed it. For a pan I and Mr.Praveen visited almost all houses of Kadar people which were in front of the hotel we stayed, but we did not get one. Our mind was full of tensions that whether the food will be enough for all will they like it etc. Our restless hard work found its result, everybody liked the food and they appreciated us.  We felt very happy on that. And this day I came to know that cooking is not such an easy process.  This day we did not took part in any other programmes. At night when the camp evaluation was going on in front of the dormitory, we , me and Ms.Winnie was staying outside the kitchen , then we heard the sound of elephants which was very close to ours. We really get frightened. After some times we also joined the evaluation. During the whole evaluation when we heard a sound at back me and Ms.Winnie looked back to know whether elephants are coming. We really got scared. Then I think the condition of those working in forest confronting elephants. When others went with Bachan sir for evening walk they saw two hornbills. I felt jealous on others who got the lucky chance to saw it because I really missed it.Image

The last day of the camp which was 20th of December, was one of my favourite days of the camp because of the wonderful trekking through the forest to Adichlthotti settlement. A tribal group named Muduvar are settled there. It was my first experience to walk through such a big forest and it was really unforgettable. I enjoyed the wild beauty of forest very much. The thick greenery and the pin drop silence were amazing. The walk was little adventurous even though, I was very excited. The tribal people kept their surroundings very clean. I was very happy to see a place without a single plastic. On this day I got a lucky chance to express our gratitude to Mr.Amita Bachan.

Rest of day was tension free for us. The camp was concluded with campfire. At that time we shared our experiences about the camp. And we all sung songs together.

The whole camp days were unforgettable. During those seven days I didn’t feel that I am away from home because we all were like a family. It was just like how the members of a family care, share, scold and console each other. Along with fulfilling a deep desire the camp taught me many things. I got many new experiences which I never expected. I am sure that the camp had a great role in moulding my attitude and I am able to say that I really explored the indigenousness. It was the team work which leads the camp to success. It is clear from our experience that if there is team work then the victory will be theirs.

. And I am able to sing the song

“We shall overcome… We shall overcome… we shall overcome some day

Deep in my heart I do believe that … we shall overcome some day…”

In a sense that if there is ‘we’ then any problem will be faced with confidence.



4 thoughts on “What Vongal Gifted Me; A Personal note on Tribal Camp Experience

  1. enjoyed reading it.. its so clear from the narrative that you guys had a great time enjoying and understanding the tribal life and the ever mesmerizing forests.. all the best..

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