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Archive for the ‘Global Education’ Category

The Anjana School Project: Part 3 – The Electricity Problem

Sunday, September 4th, 2011

By Murali Bashyam

Part 3 of 7  – The Electricity Problem

In rural India, many communities still only receive approximately 3-4 hours of Government provided grid-electricity per day, and they often have it only at night.

Channa and Solar Panels

After visiting the children and seeing the school, it was time to see the solar panels.    SELCO Solar India Private had finished installing them only a few weeks prior to our visit, but the impact was apparent even in such a short period of time.  Channa told us the power had failed in that area for 12 days.  However, the power in the computer lab continued to work – all thanks to solar energy.  Despite the power failure, Channa said the teachers used the powered computer lab to prepare for their classes.  How does one measure the impact of that?

In rural India, many communities still only receive approximately 3-4 hours of Government provided grid-electricity per day, and they often have it only at night.  Despite the advancement in India’s big cities, and despite India enjoying one of the fastest growing economies in the world, even electricity in big cities sometimes fails and power rationing exists.   However, it is the rural communities that have been left behind to a large degree.   In Bangalore, these big, beautiful, powered, IT centers are located only a 30 minute drive from a small, rural, farming village that receives very little electricity.

Click HERE to read Part 4 – The Solar Solution

The Anjana School Project: Part 2 – The Hokey Pokey: Global Barrier Breaker!

Sunday, September 4th, 2011

By Murali Bashyam

Part 2 of 7 – The Hokey Pokey:  Global Barrier Breaker!

Silence turned to laughter and dancing when Uma started the Hokey Pokey.

From the moment my wife and I stepped out of the car and met Channa for the first time, I knew we would witness something wonderful that day.  A positive vibe was in the air, and Channa welcomed us as graciously as a person could.  He was happy to see us, show us the school, introduce us to the children, and explain his vision for the school and its future.  He spoke passionately about a school where children would learn to make the best use of the limited resources they have, and of a school where children of different religions could learn together in religious tolerance and harmony.

One of the first people we met was one of Channa’s former teachers.  He referred to him as his mentor.  Channa told us that his mentor’s influence inspired him to work hard and obtain his Ph.D.  To me, this demonstrated a clear case of paying it forward.  Channa was now giving back to his community the same way his mentor had once helped him.

As we walked through the school grounds, Channa explained to us how the school started 10 years ago in three small rooms.  He called that part the ‘old school.’  The ‘new school’ was a nice three-story structure that now houses grades one through 12. We walked through the new school and stopped in a few classrooms.   It is a small school – there was one classroom for each grade.  However, it currently educates about 300 children who would otherwise lack access to a formal education.

The first classroom we walked into had the school’s first graders.   These kids were very cute, and very quiet.  As they watched us, I’m sure they wondered who we were and what we were doing there.  Channa, in an effort to make a connection between the kids and us, asked my wife, Cheryl, to come sit in the middle of the room.  He told the children to say “Hello, Auntie Cheryl.”  Still silence.  He asked Cheryl to sing them a song, but she didn’t know what to sing given the language barrier.  Then Channa’s wife, Uma, stepped in and solved the impasse.

She started singing the Hokey Pokey!

Doing the Hokey Pokey!

Of all the songs, Uma chose the Hokey Pokey.  It reminded me of a trip Cheryl and I took with our Friends Unite colleague, Pam Prather, and a number of others, to Africa last year.  After watching the Maasai Warriors show us their ‘war’ dance, our group wanted to reciprocate and show them a dance that best represented America. What did we choose to show the Maasai? The Hokey Pokey!  And here I was again, this time in India, watching Uma, Cheryl, and the first grade students – a room filled with both young and old – all singing, dancing and laughing to the Hokey Pokey.

Click HERE to read Part 3 – The Electricity Problem

The Anjana School Project: Part 1 – New and Old India

Sunday, September 4th, 2011

Everything begins somewhere…

I wrote this article to provide some insight into how our partnerships with Brahmi, the Anjana Vidyakendra School, SELCO Solar India, and many others began, and why what we all are doing together is important.

We believe if access to modern technology is the key to advancing educational and economic opportunities, so is access to sustainable energy.

Together we can help children get the education they need to help themselves and those around them.

- Murali Bashyam

Part 1 of 7 – New and Old India

About 20 minutes later, however, the big, beautiful office buildings turned into small houses and shacks, with plentiful undeveloped farmland.

When I visited Bangalore as a child decades ago, I remembered it as being a very quiet city with a moderate climate. It felt good to breathe the clean air. That Bangalore no longer exists. This Bangalore has beautiful Western-style shopping malls, numerous restaurants to choose from, fancy sky-rises, and plenty of well-dressed business people roaming the streets. Unfortunately, it also has plenty of congestion and pollution to go along with the growth. The quaint Bangalore I once remembered as a child is now a very busy metropolitan city.

As we drove from the busiest section of Bangalore to the outskirts to visit the children at the Anjana Vidyakendra school, which is administered by our partner Brahmi, a non-governmental organization in India, I couldn’t help but notice the towering buildings that sit on both sides of the main road. This was Bangalore’s information technology (IT) corridor, and these buildings were occupied by both large and small local and multi-national businesses. We drove by familiar signs – IBM, Sun Microsystems, DELL Computers etc. There were also unfamiliar ones – home grown Indian companies that arose out of global commerce.

About 20 minutes later, however, the big, beautiful office buildings turned into small houses and shacks, with plentiful undeveloped farmland. These communities were small and were ‘poor’ compared to what I had just seen. There were no steel structures with shiny glass. People mingled outside their abodes. There were cows everywhere, and street dogs roamed the streets for food.

Seeing this was not new to me – I had seen it all before.

After all, we were now outside the big city and in rural India. At one time, the big cities exhibited many aspects of rural India. Commerce and our global economy has changed that.

When we finally found the school, the first thing that stood out to me was the short dirt road between the spot where I saw the sign, “Anjana Vidyakendra School,” and the school itself. The road was incredibly smooth and the vegetation around it was well kept. Dr. Channa Raju, who administers the school and founded Brahmi, later told me the children get together and work to fix that road. The school, the environment, and the road belonged to the students, and they worked together to make it the best they could – collaboration for the greater good.

Click HERE to read Part 2 – The Hokey Pokey:  Global Barrier Breaker!

Video: Solar Energy Project in Rural India

Monday, April 4th, 2011

Listen to Friends Unite Board member, Ketan Soni, as he describes the Anjanavidya Kendra school in rural India, and how solar energy can be used to help provide children with access to modern technology and better educational opportunities.

Manjula’s Story: Giving Back to Her Community In Rural India

Thursday, March 24th, 2011

By Pam Prather

When I think about the story of Manjula, a teacher at the Anjanavidya Kendra (Anjana) School in rural India, I am reminded of a picture that one of our Board of Directors, Ketan Soni, sent me when he visited Berlin, Germany. The picture was of a piece of the Berlin Wall, and on the wall it said, “many small people who in many small places do many small things that can alter the face of the world.”

Like many others in rural India, Manjula’s parents were daily wage earners. Manjula and her brother were students at a private school, near an urban low-income group settlement in Bangalore, India.

Manjula and brother, Shivi, as children

Manjula and brother, Shivi, as children

When Brahmi, a non-governmental organization in India and our partner, started its first project in the slums of Jagadishnagar, Manjula and her brother, Shiva, had become dropouts.  Their mother was seriously ill with an unknown disease and their father had deserted the family.  Brahmi staff found the family living under a tree after they were thrown out of their slum dwelling.  The family was unable to pay rent because there was absolutely no source of income, and the mother was being nursed by her two small children.

Manjula at the school

Manjula at the school

Brahmi took up the task of educating Manjula and Shiva. Manjula was a student of our first program, Akshara, a home school.  The family was provided with accommodations in a nearby village, and Manjula was sent to a Boarding School in Bangalore run by Seva Sadan.  Shiva was sent to Abhayadham, a vocational training school.

In 2002, the children’s mother was completely bedridden, and believed she would die any day. Dr. Amarnarayan,  a medical officer at National Aerospace Laboratories and a member of Brahmi’s Board, diagnosed her with acute hypothyroidism.  After two years of treatment she was able to walk again, and even carry out daily chores.  Brahmi supported her during these years, and later her husband rejoined the family.

In the meantime, Manjula completed high school, as well as pre-university education.  She rejoined her family in the village. In 2010, Manjula was hired by Anjana School as a Trainee Teacher and now earns a salary higher than her father.  She’s considered an excellent teacher, and participates in all the activities she herself was a part of all those years. While she has been presented with other opportunities, Manjula plans to complete her training and become a part of the full-time faculty at the Anjana School.

There were many people involved in helping Manjula along the way.  Now she can give back to her community, and help the Anjana School continue to provide education to rural children in India who would otherwise lack access to it.

Berlin Wall Picture

Piece of the Berlin Wall

Using Solar Energy to Help Children in Rural India

Friday, February 25th, 2011

By Ketan Soni, Director of Friends Unite

I recently traveled to India with my father primarily, to reconnect with distant family.  During my trip, I had the opportunity to visit a partner of Friends Unite, Mr. Channa Raju and his non-governmental organization, Brahmi.

Grounds of Anjana Vidyakendra School in Guttahali Village, India

Grounds of Anjana Vidyakendra School in Guttahali Village, India

Channa and Brahmi founded the Anjana Vidyakendra School in Guttahali village near Bangalore, India.  This school is located in rural India and provides education to children who would otherwise lack access to it.  Unfortunately, the school suffers from severe electricity shortages and is often only on the power grid for 3-4 hours total per day.

Channa described to me his goal of creating a computer lab and having lighting in the facility to allow the children to properly study.   Accomplishing this goal with the current lack of consistent access to electricity would be a challenge.  To that end, we, along with Brahmi and SELCO, a socially responsible solar power provider in India, discussed a plan to install solar panels at the school.  The solar energy generated by the panels would provide the school with enough electricity to consistently power 20 computers, as well as provide facility lighting that would help further the children’s education.

Although we discussed the solar plan in detail prior to my trip, none of us had yet decided to move forward with it.  I wanted to visit the school, meet Channa and the children, and be certain that the project clearly fit within the Friends Unite mission and vision to partner long-term with people and organizations to help people help themselves.

School Children at Anjana Vidyakendra School near Bangladore, India

Indian School Children at Morning Assembly

When I arrived at the school, the children were already there for their morning assembly.   Channa met me near the front of the school and began explaining a day in the life of the kids.  Channa is actually a model for the students.  He grew up not far away from this village, and had the right opportunities to further his education and complete his Ph.D. as a scientist.   He felt compelled to return to his community and provide the same opportunity to others.  Nearly everything he showed me demonstrated the idea of giving back to the community that he was raised in.

As we walked through the school, I realized that my expectations regarding the resources available to the school were far overestimated, and my expectations about the thought put into maximizing those resources was far underestimated.  Let me provide some examples to illustrate my point.

I come home every day without a doubt in my mind that I can do what I need to at night by just flipping on a light switch.  Until recently, these kids went home from school and could not finish their homework because they had no light.  Brahmi’s solution involved maximizing the use of available resources and relationships.  Thanks to a generous donation from SELCO, there are now 50 tiny LED lights that each child can take home.  These LED lights are recharged daily by a small solar panel donated by SELCO.  This means each child can now continue their education at home in a socially responsible, sustainable manner.  Channa told me that these lights are so versatile and functional, that after the children go to bed, their parents sometimes use these lights to find their way around home at night!

Friends Unite Director, Ketan Soni, tours Anjana Vidyakendra School in India

Building at Anjana Vidyakendra School in India

When discussing this new solar panel project with Channa, the careful thought put into using resources was again made clear.  No energy is wasted, as the working model does not require each student to have their own individual computer.  Instead, through work with SELCO, the school managed to find a way for one computer to be used with 4 separate monitors.  In addition, Channa took me to the kitchens, where part of the education involves how to plant, tend, and eventually utilize the grains growing right next door to the school.  In this way, Channa showed me Anjana school’s mix between a practical and idealistic education.

Nothing given is taken for granted at this school.

The clearest example of how this school is sustainable and future thinking became evident when I met one of the teachers who had been a member of the first class that originated 10 years ago.  Just like Channa, she came back to her village to give back to them.  Ultimately, they were helping themselves.  There could be no greater confirmation in my mind about how many of these students would continue to sustain this school and community down the road without the need for an extraordinary level of outside assistance.

I think of this project not merely as helping to provide education for underprivileged children by powering computers.  Rather, it will give these children an opportunity to take the ideals of the environment in which they grew up and place them on an even playing field with those who had more advantages.  If even one of these students achieves something greater because of this opportunity and gives back to the community, I personally consider that a success.

Each “nudge” that these children absorb will ultimately result in long term changes that I hope to, but may never, experience directly.  The atmosphere of accountability and being conscious of the impact on the environment will stay with these children and influence the attitudes they bring to the outside world and the multitudes of people that they end up influencing in the bright futures they have ahead of them.

The donation of 50 LED lamps by SELCO is a small first step.

The next step is the broader plan of using solar energy to power the entire school facility and computer lab, and to show how solar power can change the lives of children in rural India.   And by doing so, play a small role in helping empower them to change the lives of others.

Inspirational Artwork at Anjana Vidyakendra School in Guttahali Village

"Together We Can" reads the artwork at Anjana Vidyakendra School in Guttahali Village, India

Video: Our Visit to Yangngua Secondary School – Kilisa, Kenya

Wednesday, August 11th, 2010

We would like to thank Sports Endeavors (www.sportsendeavors.com) for donating these soccer balls to the children at the Yangngua Secondary School in Kilisa, Kenya.

How Can We Make a Difference?

Tuesday, May 4th, 2010

By Pam Prather

When I first met Abraham Lueth about 6 or 7 years ago, it was because someone told him I worked in an immigration law firm.  If I remember correctly, he wanted some help with an application for a travel document. We would run into each other now and again, and I slowly came to know of his work building a school back in Sudan.

Located in Northeast Africa, Sudan had witnessed over 20 years of brutal civil war.  During that time, thousands of Sudanese refugees came to the United States.  Abraham was one of them.  I thought it was amazing that a man who had come to this country as a refugee (not too many years before) had achieved so much.

In addition to the extremely difficult task of assimilating into life in the United States, he was working full-time and raising a family.  And yet through his gratitude for the chances he’d been given, and the concern for those back home who weren’t so lucky, he found the time, the energy, and the determination to give back to the community and its children that he had to leave behind. He built them a school.

By building this school he transformed the life of a whole village.  I won’t go into all the details. You can get those by reading about the Southern Sudan Fellowship on our website. I just wanted to pose a question to you, and suggest an answer.  Can one person bring people together to help improve the lives of others? Yes.  Abraham Lueth did it.  And all of us can too.