Why I Think Fiscal Literacy Education is Important

June 11th, 2013

By Ketan Soni

Fin Lit 2I vividly remember coming home from school when I was a kid and wanting to immediately go play with my friends.  My parents wouldn’t let me.  Their first question was always “Have you finished your homework?”  They meant my math homework, my reading, my social studies, or whatever project I had due that week.  Ultimately, completing my homework might lead to getting a good grade in the class.  Looking back, I think they had a measurable task, they had external help, and they had daily “check-ins” to insure I was on track.  Today, I rarely need to know who said “Remember the Alamo!” from history.  I rarely use Geometry unless it’s some kind of party trick.  De vez en cuando, necesito saber unas palabras en espanol.

Here’s the crazy part of my education:  My own parents never directly taught me about managing money.  My primary education never even touched on fiscal education except to identify what a “debit” and a “credit” was.  However, I need to know about the consequences of my fiscal decisions on a daily basis.

I learned a little bit here and there by listening to my parents.  I heard about how they wouldn’t do a balance transfer unless there was a low number (a low rate) on the credit card and only a small fee.  I didn’t really understand what a “balance transfer” meant at the time.  After all, I had never used or owned a credit card.  My parents provided whatever I needed and I never asked where the money originated!  I didn’t formally learn about “budgeting”.  Instead, I knew that some months we didn’t go out to each as often, or we caught the dollar theater instead of seeing a new release.  I didn’t learn about “saving” in any formal way, but I knew that my mom automatically had $50.00 from her paycheck going somewhere else.  I didn’t even understand why.

I only started putting together these pieces from my youth after being responsible for myself.  I learned the hard way that saving money was tough.  I learned that spending more than I earned ended up costing more money in the long run.  I eventually figured out that owing anybody money made me stress out to the point that I vowed to pay off all my debt.   I also understood that these were choices I had made.  I knew that some people purposefully chose to spend more than they made, and other people did not really understand the impact of their decisions, even later in life.

I’m thankful that I received even a nominal education by observation from my parents.  Without that, I might still be making poor fiscal choices in my life.

When we started discussing new project ideas for Friends Unite, the concept of fiscal education was one that we all quickly ascribed to, especially given our own experiences and lack of experiences in early education.  We believe the type of education necessary to survive in today’s world requires fiscal awareness at an early age.  One of our goals is to raise awareness of this critically absent cornerstone of our society.

Climate Change, Microfinance and Climbing Out of Poverty in Bangladesh

September 26th, 2012

By Nick Metheny

Flooding-Bangladesh_Climate-ChangeWater, Water Everywhere

Deep in the mangrove forests of southern Bangladesh, a perfect storm of climate-related factors is threatening the lives and livelihoods of millions of people. This thumbprint of a country is squeezed between the rapidly melting Himalayan glaciers and the rising water levels of the Bay of Bengal. Throw in more frequent and intense monsoons and land that was already below sea level, and suddenly there is way, way too much water.

The southern part of the country is so inundated with brackish, grey mud that many families are literally up to their knees in it. I had the opportunity to visit this area of the country last spring, and let me tell you, it looks like another planet. Huts that used to overlook paddies of rice now sit half sunk in the goop. Fishermen who once pulled in enormous catches from the Ganges river delta now sit in muddy water; their nets empty save for some salt water krill. Bangladesh is already one of the world’s poorest countries, and climate change is only making it worse.

The Great Migration

Families are so desperate that they regularly take their chances against the tigers roaming the mangrove forests to slip into India for work. Or, they may try their luck joining the legions of rickshaw drivers and unskilled laborers in Dhaka, the squalid, overcrowded capital. The World Bank predicts that crop yields will fall by more than 30 percent by 2050, rendering food security perilous for the vast majority of Bangladeshis. What’s more, fifteen million of them will be displaced by climate change. That’s like evacuating every citizen from the cities of New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago- combined.

Fighting (or Pinching) Back

While the larger global community is squabbling about what to do about climate change- or if it even truly exists- families are losing the only livelihood they’ve had for generations. Luckily, there are organizations that are fighting for them. BRAC, based in Bangladesh, is one of the world’s largest development organizations. It provides microfinance funds for people to repurpose their now water-laden land. With small loans or grants, former rice farmers can buy crab baskets, thereby turning once wasted land back into something with which they can support themselves. These cash-crop crustaceans can grow to almost 4kg a piece and fetch up to $5 at the local market. The program has become so successful that farmers say they would want to keep crab farming even if their land becomes suitable for rice again. Luckily (and unluckily) for them, this is unlikely to happen any time soon.

More than anything, these programs show the resilience of the human spirit when faced with seemingly insurmountable hardships. The loss of land, livelihood, and- at times- life from climate change is common in southern Bangladesh. However, programs like BRAC’s allow people to pull themselves out of poverty and joblessness and produce income for themselves, thereby removing the ‘relief mentality’. This mindset, where people become accustomed to handouts because of their dire straits, prolongs the amount of time people spend in poverty and reduces their chances of escaping it. Critics say that the crab farming initiative and others like it do nothing to treat the larger causes of climate change. However, they do make an almost immediate difference in the lives of thousands of families, and in the short term at least, that is what really matters.

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Nick Metheny graduated in 2011 with an MPH in Global Health from The George Washington University. He loves to read, run, and travel, and is especially passionate about Global Health and International Development.  He resides in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Saving Babies “One Foot at a Time”

July 29th, 2012

SaveBabiesBy Ashley Poling

Henry David Thoreau once said, “Every child begins the world again.”  While certainly a concise quote, it got me thinking about the meaning behind Thoreau’s words.  Perhaps, one of the most amazing things about children is their propensity for optimism—their enthusiasm and wonder over the small things in life, as well as their ability to capture the kindness of the human spirit through simple words or gestures.  But what if a child never had the opportunity to experience any of this?  Or what if the quality of this experience was diminished? Newborn screening is an issue that I knew little about a few weeks ago, and it is one that greatly affects a child’s quality of life.  After having the privilege of speaking with Jill Levy-Fisch, President of Save Babies Through Screening Foundation, I realized how important this issue is to the health of the more than four million babies born in the United States each year.  Save Babies is the only national nonprofit organization that focuses solely on advocacy for newborn screening.  Because Friends Unite is dedicated to the improvement of education and health around the world, we are incredibly interested in the work that Save Babies champions.

By a simple prick of a baby’s heel within two days after his or her birth, a wealth of information can be discovered which can, quite literally, alter the course of that baby’s life.  After the blood from the newborn screen is analyzed, it is determined whether or not that baby has the potential to develop a number of different harmful conditions, such as metabolic disorders, hormonal issues, blood disorders, etc.  If one of these conditions is detected through the newborn screen, it should be followed by additional tests, which will determine affirmatively whether or not a baby has a particular condition.  If this is the case, parents have the opportunity to work with health professionals to treat the condition.  With some of the disorders detected, it is even possible to regulate a child’s diet carefully as he or she develops in order to treat the condition preventatively.

After watching a very compelling Save Babies video through the nonprofit’s website, one story about a little girl named Cassidy truly tugged at my heartstrings.  Cassidy was diagnosed with glutaric acidemia, type 1, or GA-1, at the age of 17-months.  At the time of Cassidy’s birth, the test for this condition was not yet a part of newborn screening in Cassidy’s state, which ultimately hid her illness from her parents until she was over a year old.  Because Cassidy’s parents did not know that their daughter had this condition at birth, they did not realize that Cassidy needed to be on a low protein diet.  It took toxins building up in Cassidy’s body from a protein overload, and an ultimate complete collapse of her bodily system, in order for her to finally be diagnosed with GA-1.  Unfortunately, the brain damage caused by Cassidy’s system collapse was irreparable, leaving her unable to walk or talk at the mere age of 17-months.  What a difference it would have made to Cassidy’s life had this test for GA-1 been available in her state when she was born—her whole life could have turned out differently had there only been the capacity in her state to find out at an earlier time whether or not she was carrying this rare disease.

While all fifty states now require at least some form of newborn screening, there are degrees of variation in terms of the number of conditions that are screened in each individual state.  While some states screen for 50+ conditions, others screen for 40-49, while still others only screen for 39 and under.  In those states that do not test for 50+ conditions, it is still possible for parents to pay for any additional tests that they would like performed. One of Save Babies’ missions is to promote consistency among all of the states in newborn screening so that newborns are not only screened comprehensively, but so all residents of the fifty states have equal access to newborn screening tests.  Education is another key component of Save Babies’ mission, and in addition to increasing awareness of disorders that can be discovered through newborn screening and encouraging communication between newborn screening advocacy groups, this organization also promotes the education of parents and healthcare professionals about these conditions.

I was fascinated when Jill told me that Save Babies is also reaching out to people in other countries who do not have access to newborn screening.  Save Babies sends out kits to perform these blood tests–free of charge–when contacted by parents who need their help to effectively screen their newborn.  Jill relayed that Save Babies also helps to assure that these parents have a place to send these completed newborn tests so that they can be analyzed properly for any potential conditions that may appear.  Save Babies is also working to translate the compelling video I mentioned earlier into a host of other languages—it is currently available in English, Spanish, and traditional and simplified Mandarin.  Save Babies has started a project called “1 Billion Happy Baby Stories Mosaic,” where people can share any positive experiences they have had involving newborn screening, or with babies in general.  These stories will be posted on http://Happybabystories.com/ through Save Babies at a cost of $1 per story.  These donations will help support the foundation’s continuation of their admirable and essential work towards helping babies lead healthier lives worldwide by helping to start screening programs in other countries.

Every child does begin the world again, and each child has the potential to make some remarkable differences in humankind.  Doesn’t every child deserve a healthy start?  I know that Save Babies is truly making a difference in giving children the chance they need to lead happy, healthy lives, and I know they are doing so “one foot at a time.”

If you would like to find out more about newborn screening in your state, please visit Save Babies Through Screening Foundation’s website.

The Impact of Introductions

July 29th, 2012

By Ashley Poling

PT_Introductions Picture_Group of Professionals.jpg

My name is Ashley Poling, and I am a third-year law student at Elon University School of Law in Greensboro, North Carolina.  After studying public international, humanitarian, and human rights law in Geneva, Switzerland and Strasbourg, France during the summer of 2011, I realized how much I wanted to pursue international law as a career.  I am very interested in working with nonprofit organizations that focus on advocacy issues that directly help people in need around the world.

When Murali Bashyam, President of Friends Unite, reached out to me this past spring to work on this new human rights and advocacy section, I was excited to get involved with such a wonderful organization.  How did Murali know I would be interested in this kind of work, you might ask?  When I tell you the connections that brought us to this point, you will be able to see just how truly amazing a simple introduction can be.

My mother, Lindy Poling, a retired teacher of 35-years, taught Murali as a high school student in the 1980s; but this re-connection was only made after Murali met my father, Barclay Poling, nearly 20 years later. Murali and my Dad met through their volunteer work for Southern Sudan Fellowship, a nonprofit organization in Raleigh, North Carolina.  Knowing that I had some interest in international law, my Dad suggested that Murali might be a good person for me to meet.  After meeting for coffee and expressing my growing interest in human rights law, I was intrigued by Murali’s career as both an Immigration lawyer and as the founder of a nonprofit organization.  When Murali contacted me this past spring in regards to getting involved with Friends Unite, we both concluded that I might be able to help with developing this new section for the organization.

After beginning work on this new human rights and advocacy blogging section for Friends Unite, the connections only continued to grow.  I had the privilege of brainstorming with Murali and Pam Prather, Vice-President of Friends Unite, in early June regarding this blogging section.  My first blog, which explores the issue of newborn screening, ultimately resulted from a connection through Maria Corena-McLeod of the nonprofit WSAID (World Solutions Against Infectious Diseases), a nonprofit partner of Friends Unite.  After Murali put me in touch with Maria, she was kind enough to connect me with Jill Levy-Fisch, President of Save Babies Through Screening Foundation, which inspired my first blog for Friends Unite.

It is truly amazing when you think how these little connections ultimately culminated in a project that I believe will truly make a difference in the world of advocacy.  If we can expose people to issues that they might never have known about before visiting the Friends Unite website through this blog, we are that much closer to inspiring action that will ultimately result in positive change.  I am thrilled to be working on such a project, and I strongly believe that everyone comes into your life for a reason.  I will look forward to increasing the wonderful connections of Friends Unite through this incredible opportunity, and I thank you for taking the time to read.

Update from the Anjana School in India

March 31st, 2012

Here’s an update we recently received from Dr. Channa Raju, founder of NGO Brahmi.  This organization administers the Anjana Vidya Kendra School in India.

As you can tell from Dr. Raju’s report, our work, and the work of many other companies and individuals, is making a positive difference in the lives of the children in this village.

From Dr. Raju:

SOLAR PROJECT AT ANJANA VIDYA KENDRA SCHOOL

Background

Anjana Vidya Kendra is a formal school providing meaningful education to approximately 250 disadvantaged rural students. The school originally opened in 2001 and added a high school section in the year 2009. The school caters to a population in excess of 10,000 people living in the 12 nearby villages, predominantly to children of individual farm workers.  The school is situated in Desapande Guttahalli, a small village near Whitefield, about 40 km (25 miles) east of Bangalore.

The school planned to establish a Science Center, consisting of a science laboratory, a library plus reading hall and a computer center, to promote the quality of education in the region. The biggest hurdle in the school’s path was lack of consistent grid power.  The school is connected to a grid which is primarily meant for farming purposes.  Due to its geographical location, which is the far end of two border districts of Karnataka shared with Tamilnadu, the region’s power supply suffers from erratic fluctuations and incessant power cuts.  The school could not use any of its donated computers nor the audio-visual equipment to teach students without a viable power alternative.

In this scenario, Friends Unite, a non-profit based in the United States came forward to lend a helping hand and to provide a lasting solution to our problem.  After much deliberation and two visits to the school, Friends Unite decided to help fund a solar power solution conceived of by the Brahmi board to provide power to run 20 computers and provide lighting in and around the vital locations of the school.  SELCO Solar Pvt., lead by Magsaysay award winner Harish Hande, was given the contract to setup an inverter based solar power system in February 2011.

Status

SELCO started erection of panels over the roof of the library block in April 2011 and the first phase of work was completed by July 2011.  Finally, the computers at the school were energized.  Soon the memory of children sitting in front of blanked monitors was completely erased.

The 2nd and 3rd phase of the work was subsequently taken up by SELCO to set up DC lights in the classrooms and the corridors.  This work was completed in September 2011.

The timing could not have been any better.  The school’s first batch of students had to prepare for their 10th grade board examination starting April 02, 2012.  The school started night classes after the solar facility was established, as these children could not study at home due to lack of electricity.  The night classes started for 10th grade students in October 2011 and still runs today.  Both 8th grade and 9th grade revision classes also added night classes for the same reasons.

Additionally, a large monitor was setup in the library in order to helps students take advantage of audio-visual media.  Lessons from Khan Academy, NASA Science and other useful downloads were made available to the teachers.  The Anjana children routinely use the encyclopedia and the videos provided by our sponsors, Friends Unite.

Maintec Technologies, our corporate partners, maintain the computer center.  The donated computers are all networked with each other and are well maintained.  The power systems are maintained by SELCO based on an Annual Maintenance Contract.

Here is what Sindhu, a 10th grade student, had to say (only edited for grammar!) –

“The school has become more of a home for me. I spend more time at the school than home. I enjoy being here because the school has lights and computers are working.   I and my friends consider ourselves lucky that we have been able to study under lights unlike several of my friends back in my village.  We feel confident that we will do very well in our examinations…On behalf of all students I would like to express our thanks to Murali Sir and Ketan Sir, everyone at Friends Unite for giving us light and power ”

We at Anjana Vidya Kendra School voice Sindhu’s sentiments.   We express our heartfelt gratitude to Friends Unite for understanding our problem and supporting us.  We also thank everyone behind Friends Unite for contributing to this success.

You have helped us to overcome darkness and given us new strength.  We plan to setup several new programs to ensure that these advantages are given to more students in the region.

Dr. Channa Raju

Founder Secretary

Brahmi Educational and Cultural Trust

New Leaders, New Connections and New Friends

September 6th, 2011

By Pam Prather

What’s more exciting than accomplishing an important project?

Sharing the story with friends!

Pam and Murali Girl Scout Presentation Murali and I joined the Girl Scouts ‘Around the World in 5 Days’ Camp a few weeks ago, to talk about our solar energy project for the Anjana School in India.  These bright, energetic young women were attending a day camp with an international service theme.  Their leaders invited us to share our experience of helping this school purchase and install solar panels to help address their electricity issues.  This project enabled the school to start a computer lab and have classroom lighting, which would not have been possible otherwise.

The Girl Scouts not only wanted to hear about our work, they wanted to get involved, too! They collected books, and donated educational software programs.  Most importantly, with our help, they’ve started a Pen Pal program with the school children in India.  This is what Friends Unite is all about – bringing about lasting change in people’s lives through the power of ‘intentional unity.’

Girl Scouts Books Collected

We are into the last phase (Phase 3) of the project, and have only $1800 to go in order to fulfill the project cost to SELCO Solar India, the company we’ve partnered with to handle the solar installation.  If you are interested in donating, getting involved or learning more about Friends Unite, checkout our website!

The Anjana School Project: Part 7 – What is Your Rate of Return?

September 4th, 2011

By Murali Bashyam

Part 7 of 7 – What is Your Rate of Return?

When Dr. Channa Raju asked the school children to raise their hands if they would rather work on the computers versus taking a break, every single child immediately raised their hands…enthusiastically.

Anjana School Child Raising Hand Our trip was a very memorable one.  Two of the many memories I will never forget revolve around two words – 1) enthusiasm and 2) connection.  I saw the enthusiasm in the children when Channa asked them to raise their hands if they would rather continue working on the computers or take a recess.  Every single child in the room immediately raised their hands.  It was an enthusiastic and instinctive response by them.  One immediately followed by their smiles when Channa told them ‘okay.’

The other was the connection a group of four girls made with my wife.  These girls, sitting by the computer in the far corner of the room, showed Cheryl what they created and learned on the computer.  She stood behind them.  After a few minutes, I heard laughter coming from that corner.  I turned around and saw Cheryl sitting with them.  She tells me that the girls asked her to sit with them.  They were all working on the computer together, laughing, connecting and learning.

As I stood there watching these excited children using their computers to learn new things, and the adults helping them and teaching them the valuable message that they are the change-makers who can improve the lives of others, I thought about how nonprofits and their partners strive to measure the effectiveness of the work that they do.  Or, in business jargon, how do you measure the rate of return?

If a picture really speaks louder than a thousand words, I think these pictures clearly provide the answer.

Anjana School Children Using Computers to Learn

Anjana School Girls Really Interested in Learning

Cheryl told me recently that it’s more important for nonprofits to measure accountability than effectiveness.   She might be right.  Sometimes it is difficult to measure ‘effectiveness’ – there are so many variables involved with an infinite amount of time within which to measure them.

This is the complexity of nonprofit work, especially when you think of it in business terms, as I tend to do.

By focusing on accountability, self-sustainability, and fostering long-term relationships, perhaps effectiveness will automatically fall into place.  And sometimes, it might be well after our lifetimes.

Whether an organization is directly involved in creating global change, and regardless of the methods it uses, the world is also changing on its own.   And that change is primarily driven by business, connections and technology.

I remember Channa and I explaining the message of Friends Unite to the children, that “no man is a failure who has friends.”  What they see and what they have is through the hard work and collaboration of many old friends and new friends, and many for-profit and non-profit enterprises.

We told the children that they should work together to solve India’s problems.  After watching those children that afternoon, I have no doubt that they will.

The Anjana School Project: Part 6 – The New Leaders

September 4th, 2011

By Murali Bashyam

Part 6 of 7 – The New Leaders

Channa told the children that if there is a problem that needed to be solved, don’t wait for the Government to do it, to collaborate, work hard and solve the problem themselves!

My wife and I are at the school in India.  We are with Channa, his wife Uma, Ananth from SELCO, and Naveen from MAINTEC.  Also present is the individual who originally donated the land upon which the school is built, as well as one of Channa’s former mentors.  We had seen the school, met with some students, did the Hokey Pokey with them, and just finished climbing to the roof of the school to see the solar panels, all bearing the red SELCO emblem.

Even though we had yet to complete our fundraising for this effort, Harish told me to let the money take its time.  He said it was the least important thing anyway, and SELCO went ahead with the solar installation.  The computer lab now had consistent power, the children were using it to learn, and that’s where we were all headed next, to a dedication ceremony at the lab.

Computer Lab Dedication

As we walked into the lab, I thought about how many people and organizations it took to make this happen. In fact, when Channa showed me the dedication poster that only listed Friends Unite’s name, I told him that all parties should have been acknowledged.  From the land to the building to the donated computers to the computer desks to the supplies to the software to the electricity, it took the collaboration and dedication of many individuals, donors, for-profit and non-profit businesses to make this work.  And the result of these efforts is a very impressive–looking computer lab for a group of excited children at a small school in rural India.

The dedication ceremony began with a song by the children, followed by an excellent speech by Channa.  He told the children that through collaboration, they can achieve anything. For countries like India, where one of the biggest problems is Government corruption that results in various inefficiencies, this powerful message to children will hopefully lead to real change.

After Channa’s speech, it was time to hit the ‘power’ button on the computers in the lab.  The children went to the computers, turned them on and showed us what they had already done.  Many had put together Powerpoint presentations on various topics ranging from biology to aerospace to animals to the environment.   Not only did the children create the presentations, they used it as a learning tool to memorize facts about these subjects.  I could tell there was a thirst for knowledge, one that will only increase over time.

Click HERE to read Part 7 – What is Your Rate of Return?

The Anjana School Project: Part 5 – Partnering with SELCO Solar India

September 4th, 2011

By Murali Bashyam

Part 5 of 7 – Partnering with SELCO Solar India

I asked him a simple question, “Should we do it?”  And he provided a simple response, “Yes, we should.”

After speaking with the first company, we decided to get a second bid on the project.  That led us to Harish Hande, Managing Director of SELCO Solar India.  Harish is an internationally recognized expert in this field. In speaking with Harish, he clearly knew the nuances of solar technologies.  However, what set Harish apart from the rest was his in-depth knowledge of how to efficiently use solar technology in poor and rural communities.  To Harish, using solar technology or selling us a product was secondary to creating the best holistic approach to helping this community, with solar energy being a part of it.

Harish’s team at SELCO Solar visited the school to determine whether solar energy would be viable option.  After analyzing the site, SELCO provided a solution, as well as the cost for making it happen.  It is important to point out that SELCO Solar is a for-profit, social enterprise.  I liked the idea of involving an Indian for-profit company in the partnership.  It added an additional measure of accountability.  SELCO has a vested interest to make sure everything works.  And, as a social enterprise, they look at more than simply the bottom line.

SELCO Batteries Before a penny had changed hands, and before Friends Unite decided to join this budding partnership, SELCO donated 60 small solar-powered lamps for the children at the school.  The technology behind these solar lamps is very interesting and quite simple.  The children leave a battery pack outside during the day, the sunlight charges it, and the children plug the battery into a small lamp at home and can read at night. I had the opportunity during our visit to the school to look at the lamps and hear stories from the school children on how these little donated lamps already impacted their lives.  The children said the lamps didn’t just impact their lives, but the lives of their families as well.

Around this time, close to a year had passed since our first communication with Sonny and Channa.  We continued to communicate with each other, but Friends Unite had yet to make a decision to officially be a part of this project.  One of our board members, Ketan Soni, was traveling to India to visit family, so he said he would stop by the school and meet Channa.  After close to a year, a few more months was not going to make a difference. Besides, building lasting relationships takes time.

It was after Ketan returned from his trip that things really started moving.  I asked him a simple question, “Should we do it?”  And he provided a simple response, “Yes, we should.” Channa and his vision for the school impressed Ketan.  These kids were being taught how best to make use of the limited natural resources at their disposal.  They were being taught more than English and Math, they were being taught self-sustainability and responsibility.  That impressed Ketan, among many other things, so we took a Board vote and decided to be a part of it.

Click HERE to read Part 6 – The New Leaders

The Anjana School Project: Part 4 – The Solar Solution

September 4th, 2011

By Murali Bashyam

Part 4 of 7 – The Solar Solution

What solution did Channa and Sonny propose to solve this electricity problem?  The Sun.

Approximately two years ago, I was introduced to Channa through a mutual friend, Sonny Gupta.  I had known Sonny for many years and told him that I was going to start a non-profit based on the idea of friendship and long-term relationships.  He immediately recommended that I speak with Channa.  Sonny is the founder of Maintec Inc., and his company supported Channa and Brahmi for years.  Sonny gave me some background on Channa and his school, and we scheduled a time for the three of us to speak.

I remember that phone call well.  Channa first gave me some background on himself. I was quite impressed.  Here is a person from that same small community who worked hard to get an education and ultimately received his Ph.D. from the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), India’s finest educational institution.  However, Channa’s enthusiasm in talking about founding the school, educating children who didn’t have access to it, and giving back to his own community impressed me even more.

He spoke with real passion, and I listened intently.

Channa had spent considerable time founding and running the school.  He described their achievements so far, as well as the challenges they faced.  His focus was electricity, or more accurately, the lack of it.  Having lights would help the children read and learn better.  In addition, Channa believed having a computer lab in the school would improve the children’s education.  Consistent electricity would help them power it, thereby providing the children with access to modern technology and educational tools that others around the world enjoy. Channa believed this was the next step to help these children achieve their academic goals.

What solution did Channa and Sonny propose to solve this electricity problem?

The Sun.

Sonny took the lead to identify companies in India that provide solar solutions to energy problems.  He scheduled the first conference call with a company a few weeks later.  Personally, I was ‘green’ to all of this.  At the time, close to two-years ago, I lacked enough knowledge about this technology to determine whether it would work in a rural setting.   Furthermore, I wondered about the costs involved, and more importantly, its sustainability.

During that first call, I listened more than I talked.  Sonny and his colleague at Maintec, Naveen, were both more knowledgeable about the subject than I was.  They asked the company representative the right questions about the delivery of the power from the panels to various parts of the school, as well as how the solar energy would work in combination with grid-electricity.   After all, why use the solar batteries when grid-electricity is working? Our goal was to make the most efficient use of all resources.

While Sonny and Naveen focused on the more technical aspects of power delivery, I again focused on cost and sustainability. By sustainability, I mean the cost of repairs, who would pay for them, how long these systems last, what pitfalls to expect over what period of time, and whether Brahmi and that community could handle these issues on their own.  That was the most important aspect for me – that this need Channa identified for his community should ultimately be their responsibility.   Channa assured me that this would be no problem, and agreed that his community was responsible for themselves and this new technology.

Click HERE to read Part 5 – Partnering with SELCO Solar India