Partners &
Projects
Get Involved Contribute

Posts Tagged ‘Brahmi’

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

Sunday, 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

Sunday, 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 4 – The Solar Solution

Sunday, 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

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