It has been two years since Pukka Herbs laid the foundation stone at Chennamaji High School, the start of Pukka’s ‘Ayur-Phal’ fair trade project in South West India. The school is at the heart of a community in a forest in the Western Ghats that includes farmers who are growing some of Pukka’s finest Ayurvedic herbs. The decision to support the school was one that came easily; there are few things valued more by the community than the future of their children, and by supporting their education and health Pukka hope to show how much the company values the healing herbs they continue to provide us.
The ‘Ayur-Phal’ fair trade project has been both rewarding and challenging, and after two years Pukka are closing the first chapter and taking stock of what the company has been able to achieve and where to go from here. The aim has been to build new classrooms, improve the standard of teaching and introduce environmental education, help the school generate income through growing organic herbs and provide Ayurvedic healthcare to the community. Looking back it can be seen that some of the aims have been achieved; others are partially or yet to be realised.
After laying the first stone in 2007, a solid foundation for six new classrooms was constructed. This was then followed by long-awaited recognition of the school by the government, entitling the school to a regular source of funding to support the teachers’ salaries and general improvements to the school’s infrastructure. This additional support has been a great boost to the school, and especially to the morale of the teachers who had previously been working on a voluntary basis. The only setback has been that the integration of the school into the vast and somewhat baffling bureaucratic system of the local government has held up construction of the school building while a new committee of decision-makers is formed and rather lengthy decisions made. The outcome will determine whether or not Pukka will continue with funding the school buildings or whether the government can take this on itself.
Meanwhile Pukka Herbs have been focusing their attention on environmental education and planting of Ayurvedic herbs to generate additional income for the school. With the help of organic partners, the students have been planting Tulsi and Shatavari, and harvesting fruits of Bibhitaki trees in the school grounds. This has been combined with lessons and demonstrations in compost-making and organic farming. With 60 pairs of enthusiastic hands piling on layers of leaves and cow dungs, the students may well hold the world record for building the fastest compost pile ever. Pukka Herbs have now purchased several harvests from the school which provide them with an additional source of income.
Last year one of Pukka’s supplier partner started a new project to plant trees in degraded areas of forest nearby the school, and to develop water-harvesting tanks to conserve water and re-charge streams during the long dry season. The school students have participated in these projects with characteristic enthusiasm, and in the process have been learning valuable lessons in forest and water conservation. Pukka have pledged to plant 11 saplings of 108 species every year for the five years. Many of these species are endemic to the Western Ghats, and some are extremely rare or endangered. The company hopes that by helping to plant these trees the students will learn more of their value and the importance of making efforts to preserve their forest resources for the future.
Pukka’s plans to start Ayurvedic healthcare initiatives for the community has proved more challenging than expected. Finding a suitable practitioner and organising the logistics in such a remote area has been incredibly difficult. Their own passion for Ayurveda and their wish to see it flourish in the school’s community has perhaps been greater than their current financial and human resources to actually bring this part of the project to fruition. The journey continues however and with each step Pukka Herbs are learning new lessons. The company is continually thinking of ways to more effectively contribute to the community, such as Pukka Ayurveda scholarships to fund higher education of students who wish to pursue Ayurveda as a profession.
Just as trees take nutrients from the soil and return them by shedding their leaves, Pukka hope that these small contributions will help to enrich the community who provide the company with Ayurvedic herbs. By creating an organic cycle of reciprocal giving, Pukka aim to develop long-lasting and productive relationships that will benefit farming communities and the environment in which they live, as well as the practitioners and patients who use their herbs.