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Social Work, Development Work in Cochin, Kerala

Internship and Volunteering Possible
The Ernakulam Social Service Society is active in diverse areas such as women's empowerment, employment development, family support, community development, children and children's rights, health, the disabled and the elderly, environmental protection, disaster prevention, and social housing. The offerings for interns and volunteers is hence, enormously broad, ranging from social work to education to medicine/nursing, finance, law, biology/ecology, psychology, building and architecture, urban and infrastructure planning, public relations and much more.

Project Details

Kerala is one of India's states with the most stable social situation. Incomes in the cities of Kerala are well above the Indian average, education levels are higher, and the life expectancy for women is 72 years and 67 years for men.
The main reason for this is that nearly half of Kerala's population, at employable age, lives abroad due to higher salaries in the Gulf countries, England and the US. They regularly send money back to Kerala and thus, boost the local economy. These people often return when they are at retirement age, building comfortable homes for their old age in Kerala.
For this reason Kerala - similar to the developed countries - has the problem of an aging society: Kerala's age average is 52 years. As the younger generation lives abroad, there are many elderly people that nobody cares for.
Kerala has very little industry and due to the lack of workforce, also no major food production. To import food from other Indian states increases food prices. It is particularly the rural population that suffers from this. There are massive differences of the state of development between the cities and the countryside. The rural population often has low education levels and a very small household income.
Many people migrate from other Indian states to the cities of Kerala. Most of them however are people without education or with only low professional qualification, settling in the poor areas around the cities. Cities such as Cochin are not prepared for this inflow of people and the infrastructure such as the waste disposal system, drinking water supply and transportation is stretched to its limits. Environmental problems such as uncontrolled dumping of rubbish and water pollution are results. As the groundwater levels of Kerala are very high, sewage leaking into the groundwater results in diseases and a lack of drinking water.
The Ernakulam Social Service Society
The Ernakulam Social Service Society (ESSS) has existed since 1962 under the archdiocese of Verapoly. Its headquarters are in Cochin-Ernakulam.
The church-run organization is active in socio-economic initiatives and development work for the benefit of poor and disadvantaged groups of the population. 2.5 million people live in the 1500 square kilometers area of operation of ESSS, in 7 municipalities and the city of Cochin. ESSS has 35 staff at its headquarters in Ernakulam and 200 field staff.
ESSS engages in a wide range of activities which will be presented hereunder in detail. This always happens in the organizational form of Self-Help Groups, which have a total of 30,000 members. The various activities including socio-economic development, health, women empowerment etc. are often connected and should not be seen as completely separate entities.
Women's Empowerment
1000 Self-Help Groups have been founded so far for women from 14 years of age. They comprise of 10-20 members each, with an average of 17 members. They involve in small entrepreneurial activities that the women were trained in, including jewelry-making, agriculture (domestic dairy, poultry, rabbit rearing, goat rearing, fish farming, bee keeping, mushroom farming), petty shops, tailoring, stitching, embroidery, bakery and catering (Biriyani). The women are also encouraged to try non-traditional women's jobs such as autorickshaw driving, computer work and masonry.
For the implementation of entrepreneurial activities, ESSS also runs the micro credit scheme "Rural Women Banking Mythri Credit Union" with 45,830 women members. 65 trained local volunteers collect a small monthly amount from all members and then grant small-scale loans for the implementation of small-scale entrepreneurial activities. They work with financial institutions; and there is also a micro insurance program.
The women are trained in their saving habits to make sure the revenues of their work are used in an effective way through which the family actually benefits. The women's Self-Help Groups meet once a week for this purpose.
India has the goal to achieve 50% women participation at local government level ("Panchayatiraj Institutions - PRI“). ESSS trains women in communal politics. 160 women who were empowered through ESSS Self-Help Groups became candidates for the local government elections and 62 were elected.
Success of the program:
* Improved financial situation for the family
* Women Leadership
* 62 members of local government
* Integration of women into topics of society
* Higher mobility of women
* Higher status of women
Labour Development Program
The Labour Development Program has the aim to improve the work situation for certain groups of labour, including construction workers, traditional fishermen and domestic workers.
The construction activity in Kerala is booming. Most construction workers however are not qualified and only have a low income. A considerable percentage of construction workers are women who engage in hard physical work such as carrying stones. Furthermore, due to the rainy seasons, construction activity is very seasonal and the construction workers often don't have any income for several months.
ESSS has trained more than 8300 members of 461 construction worker Self-Help Groups in construction technologies and techniques so that they can achievehigher income as more qualified workers. They are also trained in additional ways of income generation to be able to achieve an income during the rainy season.
Traditional fishermen have a very low income. Firstly, the amount of fish has decreased as a result of overfishing. Secondly, the sales prices for fish are very low. Traditional fishermen typically sell their fish to middlemen that make a much higher profit. As the fishermen don't have any possibilities to store fish or make it durable, they depend on the day prices. The fishermen also typically don't own their own boat, but have to rent it, which further reduces their income.
More than 1000 traditional fishermen are organized in 48 Self-Help groups and are supported in the generation of new markets and in the implementation of fish storage techniques.
Another labour group with very low salaries are domestic workers. They often only make 500-3000 Rupees per month and are often victims of physical or sexual abuse. ESSS is aiming at the improvement of the work conditions and income levels of domestic workers and trains them in skills of how to use modern domestic devices such as vacuum cleaners and kitchen equipment. Cases of abuse are reported. More than 9000 domestic workers organized in 200 Self-Help Groups are supported and could increase their income to 3000-5000 Rupees; some of them even make 10,000-20,000 Rupees per month.
With KLM (Kerala Labour Movement), ESSS runs online job vacancy databases and does research about the labour market.
Family Plan "Snehasparsam"
This program is aimed at very poor families, where at least one parent has died or is seriously sick, which have at least one child less than 13 years or who have to care for incapacitated and elderly parents or differently abled family members. They get an average financial support of 1000 Rupees per month for at least 6 years. These funds are raised from private donors. The families are also included in the programs of entrepreneurial skills development to make them more self-sustainable.
SPED-III ("Sustainability through Participation, Empowerment and Decentralization") is a program which has been implemented in 20 villages. "Village Action" Teams were founded to analyze problems of the village community and find solutions, for instance, related to food security, economic development, education, health, hygiene, gender mainstreaming and environment.
The aim of the program is to create critical awareness of such problems and to find participatory solutions within the communities.
The financial means to implement the action programs should also be primarily raised from within the community; however there are also some government grants.
An example of a SPED-III project was to address the problem of high prices for fruits and vegetables. Kerala imports most of its food from other Indian states, which results in high prices. The reason is that there are not enough agricultural workers in Kerala, as farming jobs are not popular due to low salaries. Poor families were trained in the cultivation of fruits and vegetables for their own consumption to make them less dependent on having to buy basic food items.
Another program included the construction of more than 100 compost bins within one year.
Children Nature Clubs "Kuttikootam“
ESSS runs 320 clubs for children and youth aged 5-17 years with a total of 5945 children, meeting once per week. These meetings are about the promotion of an environmental-friendly attitude, leadership and personality development, career planning and help with school problems.
The topics are communicated in a playful and active way by 52 mentors who have been trained by ESSS, for instance using street theatre, children's camps, excursions and visits. Furthermore, there is a children’s and youth library with the books rotating between the various clubs. Also parents are addressed by the mentors and sensitized about topics such as children's rights and abuse. Children from particularly poor families are supported by covering school fees and providing stationary.
Community Health
At every village, one or several Health Promoters are trained; there are a total of 60 Health Promoters in ESSS' area of operation. They have skills in First Aid and measuring blood sugar and blood pressure levels, and are equipped with the respective devices.
The Health Promoters also arrange the Snehagram Rural Health Clinics in the villages, an outreach program which is free for the patients. In the mornings, a general practitioner and a paramedic treat outpatients and in the afternoons, they do home visits for bed-ridden patients. These professionals are from Lourdes Hospital and Kristhu Jayanthi Hospital. Once per week, this program takes place at different villages. Medicines are sponsored by ESSS. Furthermore, there are camps with specialists, for instance providing free cataract surgery.
Further medical programs of ESSS include HIV/AIDS campaigns, medical and surgical correction for physically disabled, and financial support of families with HIV patients, tuberculosis patients and old aged members who are dependent on care.
ESSS works with the United India Insurance Company and the National Insurance Company to provide poorer people with access to a health insurance. More than 6000 persons have benefited from this program.
Community Based Rehabilitation (CBR)
There are 50 Self-Help Groups for differently abled. They are supported through surgical corrections, vocational training, independence training & empowerment, and psychological counseling.
Community Based Care of the Old Aged (Sayamprabha)
The Sayamprabha Program consists of neighbourhood Self-Help Groups that have the aim to involve elderly people into leisure and cultural activities, prayers, meditation and health checkups.
In cooperation with Help Age India, elderly people get access to programs of medical care, physiotherapy, micro-credit to guarantee a livelihood, and income-generation. Elderly people in need can receive a monthly old aged pension of between 400-800 Rupees.
The project "Sponsor a Grandparent" (SaGP) tries to promote awareness for the needs of elderly people in society.
Environmental program
As there is a lack of drinking water in Kerala, ESSS runs self-help groups which have been trained in water management. They have skills in the construction of rain water tanks and further water resource management techniques including rain water wells, pits, spillways etc. and the rejuvenation of local water bodies. Water bodies which have been polluted through rubbish disposal and sewage are rejuvenated through the use of phytoremediation and back washing.
Community-based disaster prevention
A 3-5 m high Tsunami wave which was caused by a seaquake near Sumatra on the 26th of December 2004, flooded a 1-2 km wide area along 250 km of the Keralan coast. 168 people died, 12,000 houses were completely destroyed or heavily damaged, thousands of fishing boats were lost, and the number of dead domestic animals was not registered. 85,000 people had to be evacuated into emergency shelters, followed by an outbreak of epidemics, as sewage flooded the drinking water.
In cooperation with Caritas, ESSS built 117 houses and 448 sanitary installations, and started a prevention program to better prepare the coastal population for future natural disasters. Besides Tsunamis, India and Kerala are prone to inundations through heavy rainfall, draught, cyclones, earthquakes and landslides.
2000 people were trained through the ESSS community teams. In case of a disaster, they now specialize in certain tasks, in every community.
The early warning team consists of people aged 18-30 years who were trained in the use of communication technologies and interpretation of weather phenomena. These teams are also used for emergency rescue.
The search and rescue team consists of members aged 18-35 years who are physically strong. They were trained in first aid, rescue operations, preparation and use of rescue kits and data collection.
The health and first aid team consists of men and women in equal parts. Individuals who already had skills in medicine, nursing and health were preferred and further trained in emergency and disaster medicine.
The damage assessment team consists of men and women of higher education who were trained in methods of damage assessment, data collection, patrolling, human rights and legal issues.
The Relief & Rehabilitation team has more female than male members and is in charge of the provision of food, water and medicines at emergency shelters during the time after the disaster.
Construction of habitation and sanitary installations
The construction program of houses and sanitary installations which was started because of the tsunami disaster, was expanded and made accessible to anyone in need. The funds are generated through the ESSS Self-Help Groups; one house is completed every month as part of BAHP ("Build a House Plan"). These are low-cost buildings, where local knowledge of building techniques and materials is used.
Volunteering and internships are possible at all of these programs. There are numerous possibilities for participants from all kind of subject areas including social work, nursing, physiotherapy, medicine, teaching and training of all kind of skills and knowledge to children, youth and adults, finance, entrepreneurship, law (labour law, Human Rights), biology/ecology, psychology, education, construction & architecture, city and infrastructure planning, public relations and many more.
Info Box
Location: Cochin, Kerala (India)
Availability: All year, Start date flexible
Minimum Duration: 1 Month
Maximum Duration: 12 Months
Language Requirements: English
Further Languages Of Advantage: Malayalam
Shared Accommodation
Supervision Possible: Yes
Qualification Of Supervisor: Technical personnel from all mentioned topics
Minimum Qualification Of Intern:
Relevant studies or experience
Further Contribution To Project: None
Volunteering Possible: Yes
Required Qualification For Volunteer: Relevant work experience
Further Contribution To Project: None
Professional Conduct, Do you have the "right" attitude?

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