Saturday, December 9, 2017

IAS Diaries Part 22 - The Solar Project

It all started on the day of Diwali, the festival of lights. Hailing from the central part of India, Diwali was always about two things essentially- quality family time & lighting up the entire place. Having recently joined as SDM in Dadenggre Sub Division of West Garo Hills in Meghalaya, I had neither of these two. There I was, sitting alone, embraced by the dark woods in every possible direction. That is when it occurred to me possibly we could achieve one of these two things this Diwali. Let's light up the remote villages to start with.

In conversation with my batch-mate Shantanu Sharma, posted as SDM Sohra (popularly known as Cherapunjee) in Meghalaya, we pondered upon the possibility of a crowd funding model. There are certain advantages this model has. It's faster, gives you the flexibility and promotes community participation. I had previously used the model in Tezpur for couple of projects. The one very dear to me was when we used it for getting some computers for an orphanage. Details of that are available HERE. And since that moment when this idea clicked, we didn't even waste a second to look back. Fortunately, a lot of work on Solar Energy had been done in Dadenggre so I knew the right people who could supply quality material at reasonable cost and at the earliest.

Once we finalized the suppliers, we initiated a campaign on Milaap platfrom to crowdfund the project. We decided to go for these high power Solar Lanterns which even the students would be able to use in case they wish to study at night. And it would provide the much needed light especially during the monsoon season when the normal grid totally remains unavailable for months. We initially decided to go for 100 lights each costing 1500 INR only after successful negotiation with the suppliers. They also pledged to give 15 lights from their own side as this was being done for a good cause. I feel extremely happy to share that not only did we achieve that target amount, we exceeded it by almost 1,00,000 INR which enabled us to provide more number of lights. Once again, I thank all the donors without which this could not have been possible. We have had a range of donors from amounts varying from 10 INR to 37,000 INR. Needless to say that no contribution is small and all were as important to the completion of the project.

Bringing consignments to Dadenggre is another challenge in it's own. It's very difficult to find trucks and pickups heading this way. But here again due to the contribution of some generous transport establishments we were finally able to bring all the lamps to Dadenggre for distribution. We involved the BDO office to find out which were the remote villages in the subdivision where condition of grid was the worse or was non-existent. They did wonderful work and also provided us the list of households so that we could provide one solar lantern to each household. We are also thankful to Mr Pankaj Gupta and Akash Garg from JCI NGO Guwahati who also gave us 100 commercial saplings to be distributed to the villagers.

The first village which we had selected was Kosigre about 10 kms from Dadenggre. After the first 5 kms, the road was nowhere to be seen, It was a kuccha road partially dilapidated because of the rains. The slope at times were scary, more so for our guests from Guwahati as their vehicle was not 4x4. We had to pass through couple of streams as well and I was glad that the waters were running very low. We should have come here on our mountain bikes, I thought. An adventure of its own. Lush green jungle with hills, streams and nothing else. Suddenly we see a school where the entire village had gathered. After the warm reception, we started with explaining them the idea of the whole project and how these solar lanterns work. They were fascinated to know how this was funded and that it was not a government scheme. They were also very excited by the scope the commercial saplings had.

Everyone from Kosigre

In between we had this wonderful welcome song performed by the youth members of the village followed by some performances by the children. The entire distribution had the clapping sounds as the background. Smiles everywhere. We asked some of villagers to demonstrate to others how to use these lanterns. They proudly explained the entire process. We also gave lanterns as prizes to children who came forward to perform songs or poems. Lastly, as a wonderful gesture the Village Headman proposed a vote of thanks. It was in Garo but you need not understand the language of warmth and love. You just feel it anyway. And then, he asked one elderly person from the village to pray for all of us. They all closed their eyes, stood in silence. And we in awe.

Welcome Song

Amidst all the chatter here and there, I saw this kid running towards his house with the solar lantern. The house was dark from inside. He switched on the light and all the members kept looking at it. Perhaps wondering how could it work without electricity. There was light. There were smiles. And it wasn't dark anymore.

That smile, is priceless. 

While returning from the village, we stopped at this small check dam near which there are several scenic spots which totally remain isolated. This has lately become my favorite place. Looking back, I thought, it is only moments like these that stay with you. When you are able to bring smiles. When we try to channelize all the good energies. How people residing in different continents had played a part in lighting up a village so far away. Hoping for many more such moments in the times to come.

Once again, dear donors, long may you reign.

For list of all such posts of IAS Diaries, CLICK HERE.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

The Indian Sprinter

Among the lush green Garo Hills, upon this beautiful road stretch from Jengjal towards Williamnagar, participants galloped towards the finish point of Tura Marathon. The embracing mist over the landscape was slowly getting pierced by the golden rays from the sky above.
A gentleman from Kenya had maintained an unassailable lead of 3 Kms till now. Not aware of what was in store. In those dying minutes, this local runner suddenly took off his shoes and he pounced forward like a Leopard with such bout of energy rarely seen. It was magical how he closed this insanely large distance and won the race.
At the podium, where usually you would see African runners crowding out others, there he stood with his head held high. And after stating his name he added elatedly, "I am Indian!".
More power to Indian runners. So proud


Amidst the winding travel to a Polling station today, I spotted a Upper Primary School disguised behind the woods. A small building with three rooms and minimal furniture. The absence of murmur was quite conspicuous. Upon visitation, I found there were 4 teachers and only 4 students. In one of the rooms was sitting this little girl trying to understand nuances of geometry all by herself. She hesitated to introduce herself courtesy the perpetual loneliness of the class room.
"Most of the students have joined this private school nearby", said one of the teachers. Saddened by the sight of this lone girl in the entire classroom, I remembered visiting schools where Pupil Teacher Ratio (PTR) went up to 70:1 because of vacant teacher positions. But I never thought I would come across something like this. It is high time that we rationalize all such schools integrating smaller ones into bigger ones. Clubbing such schools would save resources and give these children an environment where they can learn from peers and evolve socially as well.
A PTR of 1:1 is a distinction we must do away with!

Mother's Mercy

The homestay was rather short. I would miss my mother's love and father's care in the capital. My mother saddened at the thought of my departure attempts to disguise that as she prepares a meal for my train journey. Poori-Sabzi. My favorite.With a heavy heart, I wave at them from the car as my brother drives me to the station. At the station, while I take out my luggage from the car, this kid, barely dressed approaches me for some food. He was thin, partly covered in dust and hungry. His mother and siblings look from a distance.
He looked at the small packet in my hand. His eyes anticipating the possibility of some edible substance and that if I would give him some. When it comes to food exclusively cooked by mother for me, I am like Joey. And Joey, doesn't share food. But that day, I gave him that. And then the content on his face, after tasting those pooris, was the most beautiful expression I have ever seen. I am sure my mother would agree!


She stood up hesitating, afraid perhaps of the huge gathering. Accumulated some courage and then muttered innocently, "Why Garo people don't like to go outside for work? Here no work. Is it wrong if I want to go out for work?" It was during a seminar organized for sensitizing the youth on career opportunities, The question touched every soul perhaps, pin drop silence in the hall.
We all love the place where we are born. That is where we take our first steps. That is where we are molded going through frames after frames. That is where the primary socialization with kin happens. That is where the secondary socialization with friends happens. And such evolution will always be much more stronger in a place like this which is culturally vibrant and socially strong.
But in the absence of opportunities, it won't be a sacrilege to trans-locate. Perhaps for a while. Perhaps for education, perhaps for getting skilled. And then you can always come back empowered. To help thy brethren, to help thy folks. Because your place would always pull you back. Thou shall yearn for love. Thou shall yearn for warmth. Thou shall yearn for thy, roots!
And then that smile on her face, made my day