The Uluru Children's Home in India is providing education and care to over a hundred children in its refuge, as well as healthcare to over 30,000 people from surrounding villages.
Thousands of kilometres from Uluru-Kata Tjuta in Australia's Northern Territory, which is sacred to the Pitjantjatjara Anangu indigenous communities, there is another Uluru in India.
Scientific studies have already claimed that Australia’s first people and natives from southern India have a historical connection dating back four thousand years, establishing gene flow between populations of both countries.
Much like the genetic link from four millennia ago, the Indian Uluru has an umbilical cord linking it to Australia, which supplies the lifeblood to support hundreds of destitute children with care and education, and provides health- care to thousands of people from over two dozen villages in Tamil Nadu in southern India.
Melbourne-based couple Dr Natteri V Chandran and Dr Chitra Chandran established the East West Overseas Aid Foundation, a volunteer-driven organisation 25 years ago, with the view to give back to the country they were born in. Over the years, they have established primary health care facilities in a remote part of Tamil Nadu in India, to cater to 24 of the most backwards villages in the coastal areas of the state, also helping with education, environmental protection and other community services.
Dr Natteri Chandran says, " We named it Uluru because in it means 'the land deep inside' in Tamil, which is the language native to the region, and also because of the obvious Australian connection."
The organisation set up an orphanage named Uluru Children’s Home in the year 2002, where volunteers from all over the world including Australia come to help. Initially, the refuge provided shelter, education and care to support girls who were either orphans or abandoned by her parents due to social pressures. The orphanage has gone on to provide foster care to little boys as well, especially those displaced by the tsunami in 2004.
The orphanage and all other service facilities are sustained through donations and volunteers, predominantly from Australia.
“Australian volunteers, I feel, are very unique because they are able to adapt to all circumstances with such ease and also put their hands on things that most others won’t. They are wonderful people, very generous in terms of giving time, skills and money,” says Dr Chandran.
He says the Uluru in India also has a connection with Australia’s first people.
“One of our patrons is Hon. Ron Merkel, the federal judge in Victoria, who is also the patron of the Koori Heritage Trust." [It should be noted that the Trust does not specifically represent the Anangu people who are the custodians of the lands around Uluru Kata-Tjuta].
“Quite a few of Koori Heritage people have been to Uluru in India and there has been a wonderful interaction between the two communities,” Dr Chandran tells SBS Punjabi. "In the near future, we would love to tee up with a school in Alice Springs, so that it can become a sister school for the Indian Uluru."
Before Uluru was established in India, the area was hardly developed and even lacked basic amenities, including electricity. There were no public schools either, but Dr Chandran says many families want to send their children to them for a good education.
“We still don’t have electricity in many surrounding villages. But at the Uluru school, we have a sophisticated digital classroom where children learn the skills they need in order to have meaningful careers,” he says. "Two young women who have grown up there are now about to graduate from college and will start giving back to the community as well."
The centre also operates mobile computer classes in vans to support the education of the community children and adults. "In fact, when the devastating tsunami struck in 2004, we set up the first response centre in the area as well. We continue to provide support for environmental protection," says Dr Chandran.
Uluru currently houses 116 children, providing them education at Uluru Nursery and Primary schools, and opportunities to learn and excel in sports, music and dance.
Uluru also has a medical centre that provides basic health care to over 30,000 people from 24 villages. "This means that the people of these remote villages have been able to access free primary health care for many years now. For more serious ailments they are referred to larger hospitals."
Dr Chandran says it wasn’t an easy journey.
“There was a lot of discouragement. People said you can't do anything in India.. it’s too difficult.. it doesn’t work there and all that.”
“But we always felt if people like us don’t make the effort, what chance do people at the lower end have?” he says. "In fact, I would like to be able to pass on all my learnings to anyone who wishes to set up a charitable project in India."
There are hundreds of volunteers behind the Uluru in India, many operating out of Australia who Dr Chandran believes are the lifeblood of the organisation.
Brisbane based Vihan Muthanna, who spent a few weeks working with children at UCH in India a few years ago, says it was a life-changing experience for him.
“The two months I spent there truly opened my eyes. I saw a new side of life, a side for which someone growing up in Australia is not accustomed to and I came back a changed person.”
“We live in one of the most fortunate countries in the world, and we have an obligation to at least be aware of the reality of countries that aren’t as fortunate enough as us, if not make some kind of contribution,” says Vihan.
The East West Foundation will celebrate its silver jubilee later this year. More information about their work can be obtained from their website http://www.tewoaf.org.au
Please note: The Anangu people are of the Pitjantjatjara, Yankunytjatjara and Ngaanyatjarra language groups that surround Uluru Kata-Tjuta National Park.