Sunday, December 28, 2008

'Tis the season to ... help!

Cross posting this from my blog.

Going with the Christmas spirit, and for a cause VERY close to my heart, I urge you to help the kids that call Project WHY their shelter, their playground, their home and hearth! What is project WHY you say?

It is a non-profit organization based in Delhi helping out slum kids of Delhi and their families, in any which way possible. go, yet another non-profit. Here me out, please, before letting out that yawn.

This is not just another non-profit organization. This one is special. Anou has made it special! They get NO support from the government or any other institute. Their teachers are from WITHIN THE COMMUNITY! Anou is known as the lady who made a sweeper into a teacher. Most of the teachers at their school are slum dwellers, with a minimum education of 8th grade. So the benefits are reaching every where! Everyone earns and learns with dignity!

They now have over 600 children and run two early education programs, one prep class, four primary and one secondary after school support programs, a day care and life skills program for 20 children with disabilities as well as a computer center.

Anou is indeed leading a revolution at the grassroots level. The primary charter for the organization is education support and life skill enhancement of slum children and their families. But believe me, they do more than that. They have helped a lot of these kids get life saving surgeries and other medical, financial and emotional help. They have helped get them out of the streets and into a classroom. Off the foot path and into a home! They help wherever they can, and NO ONE is every turned away.

I was introduced to this project through a comment on a friend's blog. She had written a poem promoting education for one and all. And someone had pointed her to this blog by Anouradha Bakshi, the director and founder of Project WHY. I dropped by, and have been doing so everyday now, even have Anouradha as a Facebook friend.
The poem by my friend was beautiful, but the blog is a private one, so I cannot share it here. (Ella, I am talking about you, dear!)

Anou's blog is a window into the lives of these children, the difficulties they face with so much courage, the basic rights that they have to fight for, the smiles on their bright little faces which are so innocent, and so unfortunate! And so much talent and potential! The stories Anou puts up are heart-wrenching, because the little ones face so many adversities, and at the same time they are heart-warming because the kids are not alone! pWHY is there for them!

Project WHY has started another initiative called Planet WHY. This is also a very very special undertaking. I will let you take a journey to that planet yourself and explore it with your own eyes. It is truly a world of its own.

I can go on and on about the project and the little angels. But now...lets get down to business, shall we? :D

I ask you to donate Just One Rupee A Day to Project WHY. What is this?
It is an initiative of pWHY where they make it possible for even the poorest in India to contribute and make a difference. It is only Rs. 365 a year. Less than what you would spend on a decent dinner. Less than a movie for your family at that multiplex. Less than a pair of shoes!

Think about the difference it is going to make! I hear a lot of fellow bloggers "wanting to make a difference". Here is your chance! And this here is a proof of how it is going to help us build a better India! Anou Didi approached a child who would otherwise have gone on to become a goonda, and turned him towards studying, towards a better life.

This is real! This is effective! And Anou Didi is there to take it further. I have so much faith in the project because of the faith she has in the kids!

So once again, I urge all of you to donate Just One Rupee A Day. And maybe take a step further and donate Just One Rupee A Day for each earning member of your family. The kids deserve this! India deserves this!

Here's a link to donate pWHY via paypal.
And here is a link to other other ways you can donate.

GVK has suggested an excellent idea for putting Just One Rupee A Day into action. This isn't exactly what he suggested...but a variation of it nonetheless...that parents have their child put aside Re. 1 a day for the underprivileged kids. Two benefits of this...while the donation happens, our new generation understands the value and importance of charity.

Merry Christmas everyone :) Lets spread some cheer, shall we?

Saturday, December 27, 2008

BBC/The Box - an idea worth copying

Good ideas are worth copying. The Box - a BBC documentary on the travels of shipping container - ought to give ideas, not just to our media but also social activists groups such as Rebuild India Mission(RIM). The BBC programme tells the story of international trade and globalisation by tracking a 40-ft shipping container on its journey around the world. Isn't this a fascinating way to tell a dull and dreary story of the global downturn?

The BBC box, for instance, set out from Scotland with a consignment of whiskey bound for Shanghai. The brewary manager, interviewed by BBC, said the economic meltdown in the west had little impact on their market in China and India, where the demand for scotch was, in fact, on a rising curve. The chief of Marks & Spencers in Shanghai, who took delivery of the liquor, gave BBC correspondent an insight into the shopping habits of the growing middle-class in Shanghai.

The BBC container picked up from Shanghai made-in-China consumer items for the US market. The Chinese factory workers expressed concern about the prospects of a fall in export orders. The next port of call for the BBC container was Los Angeles, from where it travelled hinterland on a heavy-duty truck to New Jersy. The story at LA was about slackening outbound container traffic because of falling US exports. An upshot of this was loss of high-paying jobs in the dock area. They had to cut down on the number of crane operators because of lower container shipments. A crane operator at LA port made $160,000 a year.

Rebuilding India Mission, a bloggers initiative, could partner with Times Now, NDTV,IBN-CNN or whichever TV channel that is enterprising enough to take on a wagon-tracking operation on the BBC pattern, to give us all a sense of India, our consumption pattern, trade practices, social norms, and factors that promote or counter the idea of a unified India. And the story could be told by tracking a railway goods wagon that criss-crosses the country.

BBC didn't have to spend much - other than painting the box with its logo and fittting in it a GPS transmitter. The shipping container paid for its keep. BBC merely kept track of its location by having a GPS transmitter bolted in the container. With an Indian rail goods wagon one need not invest in GPS system. For the movement of a frieght wagon can be traced with the help of the railways communication network.

RIM website could follow the wagon through its journey; and report its progress on a regular basis.TV channels and print media could publish stories on the wagon's cargo and the people associated with its production, transport and marketing. Citizen journalists and bloggers could post their take, and photos on the passage of RIM wagon through their town.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Yes I can

Whenever I fail to achieve something in my own life I always have handy excuses to give to myself, 'it was my fate', 'what can I do', 'it was not my fault', etc. No dearth for similar excuse for life situations that we come across in our every day lives around us, like 'what can one man like me do', 'the entire system is at fault', 'how does it matter if one single man in one corner of the world makes a difference' etc. Such beliefs get powerfully challenged when I see movies like "A Wednesday". I caught up with this movie featuring Naseeruddin Shah & Anupam Kher on TV the other day. It is an empowering movie that shows how a common-man, like you and me, when he realises that he has to take charge, can go about making a difference.

I thought it was a very powerful movie which can be quoted as an example to depict how each individual can make a difference by being responsive to situations that is unfolding around ourselves day-in and day-out. When I see such movies I start feeling small, I feel that I have become immune, living-dead to stark realities around me.

The character Naseeruddin Shah plays so convincingly can be a common man's role model. It set me thinking of ways in which I can be proactive in Green-STEP, an enviornmental advocacy group with which I am associated in Bangalore. If anything, 'A Wedesday' has strengthened my resolve to devote more of myself to playing a responsive common man.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Karnataka's solar-powered village

Balenahalli near Chitradurga has 250 houses that draws its power supply from solar panels. A single panel that can power two bulbs cost Rs.9,000 four years back, when the village went solar.And the villagers are convinced of the benefits of solar power - no power cut, minimum power bill. Balennahalli residents retain regular power supply connection for farming and other non-domestic usage.

Solar maintenance is minimal,involving perodical topping up of distilled water in the battery. Local boys, trained in minor repair-work, take care of maintenance.

It appears a win-win situation,and yet it hasn't inspired other villages to go solar. People, even in cities, tend to view alternate energy as something that comes with high subsidy, if not as an outright dole from the government. Maybe Balenahalli wouldn't have opted for solar, if the villagers had to pay for its installation.

When someone mentions solar we think of subsidy. This has been the story of our public adoption of solar water-heating technology. An additional factor working against solar-powering is its relatively high cost of installation. We tend to overlook or underrate the energy-saving potential that enables recovery of the installation cost in three to four years. Besides being a cost-saver, solar-energy device does away with unannounced power-cut. With solar-energy we know when we can't have power-supply - on cloudy days.

In cities, and in affluent rural households, they have the inverter to take care of power shutdown. Snag is the solar power pack can cost twice as much as a conventional inverter. Which is an inhibiting factor. But then, they say, an inverter battery, while on charge, consumes more power. And at the end of the day we pay a higher power bill for the benefit of having uninterrupted power supply.

Solar-power would have a chance with urban households, if it is marketed as a hybrid inverter, with power-charged back-up option. Dealers with a tie-up with banks could extend credit to buyers at promotional interest rate. Builders and architects could factor in solar-power system while planning new apartment complexes.The cost of solar installation wouldn't look prohibitive, if it is worked into installment payments by apartment buyers.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Of junked rail carriages, and refugee dwellings ?

An UNHCR photo showing an overview of the makeshift Krinding encampment in West Darfur.
Junked sub-way rail carriages in New York being loaded in a barge, to be dumped into the high seas. Abandoned rail carriages resting on the seabed, they say, is conducive for growth of sea-weeds and other forms of marine vegetation that fish feed on.

If only they could be transported to Darfur, the junked rail carriages could meet housing requirement of the refugees.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Rebuild India

Ashutosh Didwania and his team have given a call to all right thinking people for suggestions for “Rebuild India” mission. “We need to form a core group of people who would decide on the subsequent plan of action. Since you all have contributed to the forum, I would request you all to pitch in and suggest as to how do we proceed from here on and make the mission a successful one.”

Here are 10 factors that need attention and implementation as soon as possible:

1. India is a democratic country so vote we must. In the coming elections none of us must sit at home. All eligible voters must compulsorily cast their vote to dislodge the non-functioning politicians sitting there at the top.

2. The top portfolios must be filled with people qualified for the post. Portfolios like ‘Defence minister’ and ‘Home minister’ should go to defence personnel, just as Manmohan Singh a non-politician had been roped in to head the finance ministry in 1991. A defence personnel as home minister would definitely not have taken six hours to send commandos to Mumbai, that too all in one single aircraft.

3. Air Defence should be given the top most priority now.

4. Another immediate step to be taken: All Pakistani passport holders must be sent back to their country, a thorough combing operation to be carried out all states of India, deport all refugees back to their respective countries, issue National Identity Card to all Indian citizens. Every villager in the remotest village should be proudly able to display their identity card.

5. The border areas have to be given high security for 24 hours, 365 days. Communication equipment provided should be of latest technology.

6. Money allotted to Defence ministry should be put to right use. The arms and ammunition provided to security personnel should be of latest technology. The terrorists had better bullet proof jackets than our officers. It pained me to see the Maharashtra police men fumble with decades old rifles.

7. Government should issue directives to the citizens how to conduct in a public place to face any kind of emergency. And these directives should be issued in regular intervals. No sensitive information received should be taken lightly.

8. Government should issue directives to the media how to conduct itself in case they are covering emergency. Nobody wants a ball by ball commentary in such situations.

9. Any politician found preaching communal hatred and sowing seeds of disharmony should be banned from entering politics and dealt with severely. They should be urged to give up their high level security.

10. Rehabilitation centers should be se up to take up the cause of families who have lost a family member in mindless violence. Emotional and financial support should be provided to those left behind.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Mumbai fallout: Calling bloggers and anchors

Confront or perish - this appears to be the option for the Zardari-led Pakistan government that is engaged in a clash of attitude with its military establishment over their response to the Mumbai terror strike.A perceptive edit-page piece in The Hindu, by Nirupama Subramaniam, makes these points:

1)President Asif Ali Zardari finds himself isolated in his government's promise of co-operation with India in respect of Mumbai terror strike investigation.
2)Pakistan military,on the other hand, would like to see India go for the military option.Their generals see in it an opportunity for resurrection of the Pak army image in the eyes of Pakistanis.
3)A majority of people,led by a 'disproportionately' influential electronic media is dismissive of evidence built up by India as just so much anti-Pak hype and 'conspiracy' to defame Pakistan.

Thus, we have a situation where the right-minded in Pakistan find themselve marginalised and voiceless.They have a well-intentioned,if weak,government at odds with its own military.And,above all, an opinionated electronic media with no-good opinion about India's intentions.

Question is: What can we do to make their media change their stance? Nirupama, who is The Hindu Islamabad correspondent, says Pak television has gone into a denial mode; which, in part,is a reaction to the ham-handed manner in which the Indian TV channels began implicating Pakistan soon after the Mumbai attacks. Media leaks from interested quarters played their role.
How do we make the Dutts and Sardesais,the Kanwals and Goswamis of our electronic media realise that their spirited utterances have unintended consequences on the minds of people beyond our borders? Would it be too much to expect our talking heads to do some thinking before they talk on TV?

Question is: How can the right-minded, but marginalised, millions find their voice? Blogs could be an answer,according to Ashutosh Didwania. His Rebuilding India forum, an online initiative to mobilise bloggers, gives one an idea of the possibilities open to an increasingly influential online community the world over. With its proactive networking,focused on factors that unify peoples in India and Pakistan, we should be able to identify Didwanias in Lahore and Karachi, and engage them in a collaborative endeavour to turn the worst of all isms - terror-ism - into a wasm.

As I key in this post, there is report of a car bomb explosion in Peshawar,klling 20.