A young man quits his lucrative job in the US and uses all his savings to start a rural empowerment trust in a village. He is soon joined by many friends, who support him monetarily and in his efforts. Thenur and its surrounding villages in Perambalur district near Trichy, Tamil Nadu in India, once considered a backward drought prone area, now shows signs of hope and happiness. This may seem like a movie, but this is the story of Payir Trust, and its founder Senthil Gopalan, his wife Preethi and Senthil’s childhood friend Ramanathan.
While his peers work in air-conditioned offices in the United States and India, Senthil makes his own mud blocks for low-cost buildings, wields technology to make education appealing to students and lives on rice grown organically in his backyard. “I went to the US specifically to earn money” admits Senthil. After 5 years in the US, sticking to his goal, he quit his job as technical director and returned to India. After making a fixed deposit for his parents, Senthil earmarked Rs.40 lakhs to kick start Payir in 2005. What started as a young sapling (payir) in 2005, has now blossomed into a healthy tree.
Senthil’s childhood friend Ramanathan, also relocated from the US and joined him in his efforts in 2010. Fortunately for Payir, he came with his father Shri. Meenakshisundaram, an auditor and retired banking executive, who has created the entire financial framework, accounting for every paise. Along came Preethi, a Homeopath doctor, who matched Senthil in his undying commitment to Social Justice. Love and a bond of social entrepreneurship has nurtured this couple since. Dr. Lalitha, founder of Tribal Health Initiative is another trustee, joined by many other renowned persons on the board of Payir’s Trust. Ravikumar, another childhood friend, flies the Payir flag in the US under the ‘Friends of Payir’ initiative. And the friends that started together have stayed together for 30+ years in fulfilling the dream.
Ravikumar, Senthil, Preethi and Ramanathan in 2017 – continuing friendship for 30+ years, now serving the community
From 2005, Payir has been working to empower the marginalized sections of the village population. Here there is a lot of intertwining. A child dropping out of school could be due to nutritional issues, parents’ physical/mental health, livelihood or even caste issues. Payir works on providing holistic solutions, through various initiatives. The length, breadth and depth of the model is an ongoing fine tuning process.
Senthil and his organization follows the Gandhian code of being the change you want to see, empowering villages to take responsibility for their own development. Payir’s work in the past 18 years includes education initiatives, community healthcare, watershed development, enabling natural farming, skill development, creating rural enterprises and upholding social justice. These initiatives have touched the lives of 35,000+ villagers in 39 villages, helping them lead a sustainable life.
Grassroots work in rural India comes with its challenges and resistance. But at
the district level, thanks to a few administrators, there is full co-operation and respect for the enormous efforts. Payir consciously keeps visibility at the planning commission level and less on paper, in an attempt to work with the system.
With a combined staff and volunteer strength of 65-100 at various times, Payir
which started with 2 villages (Thenur and Thottiyapatti), now reaches 39 panchayats in the district of Perambalur. Some highlights of Payir’s work since 2005 include:
- 2 million+ health services provided provided to 25,000+ people
- 2 million+ class hours conducted in 12 Govt schools
- 500+ high school students counseled for higher education and career opportunities
- Life change for 80+ children through their residential program
- 5 million+ nutrition supplements provided
- 5 lakes, 600 acres and 80 km waterways restored and filled with water after 17 years
- 10,000+ trees planted and maintained
- 2500+ farmers supported
- 10+ rural enterprises initiated and 200+ people employed
“The idea is to create a ‘movement’ that covers multiple districts,
villages/panchayats. We are committed to make the change we want to see”, says
Senthil. With support from like-minded change makers, this dream is in the making.
Photo and article: Payir Trust