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.
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.
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!
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.