Wednesday, April 13, 2016

WOMEN EMPOWERMENT: Ms. H. P. RANI PRABHA, Durgabhai Deshmukh award winner for excellency in voluntary sector

"To educate girls is to reduce poverty."~Former UN secretary General Kofi Annan 

As March 2016 was National Women's History Month (dedicated to honoring women of public service, and women in general), I wanted to showcase Ms. H.P. Rani Prabha, an amazing woman who runs a nonprofit organization to uplift and empower young, rural women in southern India. She founded Om Sri Sainatha Home Nursing Care Institute in 2008, an organization that aims to empower young, rural teenage girls who are unable to pursue higher education after tenth grade, by providing them a free training opportunity in the field of home-based nursing assistance. Once enrolled, these young women receive free housing and over a years worth of training from an Indian government-sponsored medical institute at the renowned JSS Hospital in Mysore, Karnataka (one of India's southern states). Once the training is completed, these women go on to provide assistance to a variety of patients, from the elderly and terminally ill to post-surgery patients and patients suffering from dementia.

The institute also provides spoken English classes, communicative skills training, and leadership training. Ms. Rani Prabha herself plays a vital role in recruiting young rural women to the program. She, along with Sri Channabasappa, the director of the organization, run the nonprofit.

I had the privilege of interviewing Ms. Rani Prabha at her institute and meeting the students. It was a memorable experience to hear the stories of the young rural girls as they seek to becoming nursing aides. Rani Prabha has dedicated her life to women empowerment, and has brought about remarkable transformations in the lives of many girls from underprivileged socioeconomic background.

It is an honor to profile such an inspiring women role model in our blog. We wish her all the best in her future endeavors and thank her for her extraordinary humanitarian service.

Apoorva Rangan 

Friday, April 8, 2016

Climate Change and the Destruction of the Great Barrier Reef

The Great Barrier Reef is the largest coral reef ecosystem in the world, spanning 134,364 square miles (348,000 square kilometers for you metric-lovers), which makes it larger than the United Kingdom, Switzerland, and the Netherlands combined. You might think "oh that's just 3 small European countries so it's not THAT big" but you'd be thinking wrong, courtesy of helpful infographic below (courtesy of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA)). 

The reef has a stunning amount of biodiversity as well: it contains 400 types of coral and hosts 1,500 types of fish and 4,000 mollusk species, as well many other species such as green sea turtles. Unsurprisingly, this massive biodiversity lead the Great Barrier Reef to be recognized as a World Heritage Area in 1981.

As an scuba diver, I've always wanted to visit the Great Barrier Reef, probably due to a healthy diet of Cousteau documentaries when I was younger. But now, I might not get to see a lively reef at all.

Why? Coral bleaching. This is what happens when corals are exposed to certain stresses, such as warmer-than-average waters (COUGH ANTHROPOGENIC CLIMATE CHANGE COUGH) for prolonged periods of time (we're not talking centuries though). In response to the stress, the corals expel the algae that give them their vibrant colors, meaning that the corals become white (due to their composition of limestone and other minerals, which don't have much color). This can be temporary, if the algae come back into the corals, but if the stress occurs for too long, the coral (which is made up of organisms, remember) can just die, and the algae can't recolonize them and restore the coral (and the color). In essence, on a large enough scale, this kills the reef.

Now, the Great Barrier Reef HAS experienced bleaching in the past. This is not some newfound phenomenon. Specifically, the reef had large bleaching events in 1998 and in 2002, but the current mass bleaching is vastly worse in the eyes of experts. Up to 95 percent of the GBR’s northern reefs are currently showing signs of extreme bleaching (in 2002, the bleaching there was only 18 percent).

Remember though, corals can survive bleaching! If the stress doesn't last long enough, the algae will recolonize the coral and the reef will be restored. Right now they don't have enough data to determine the long-term impacts of bleaching on the corals, but scientists are not optimistic: they estimate that 50% of the bleached corals will die, which is a huge amount given how much of the northern reefs are already bleached.

Alright, what's causing the bleaching, and can we fix it? As I hinted very subtly earlier, climate change is one of the big causes for the bleaching: ocean temperatures are rising in the area, and that's one of the biggest factors driving coral bleaching since corals are very sensitive to water temperature fluctuations (even a few degrees). In addition, El NiƱo, a famous weather pattern, is particularly strong this year, which further drives local water temperatures up, and the weather pattern is expected to continue throughout much of the year (increasing the duration of coral bleaching and thus increasing the mortality rate of the bleached corals). El Nino, along with other weather patterns (including but not limited to its Atlantic counterpart La Nina), are influenced by climate change in ways we don't fully understand (other than "this usually does not bode well for people and wildlife" but that's vague and not very scientific). As anthropogenic climate change continues to escalate, it's likely that coral bleaching (not just in the Great Barrier Reef, but in reefs all across the world) will continue to worsen, potentially making these beautiful natural phenomenon a thing of the past.

National Geographic does good reef coverage, check them out for great photos like these.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Project Jatropha Kick Starts 2015 with Phase II Solar Energy Project through Global Call to Youth

Dear Friends,

Apoorva and Adarsha demonstrating the  installation of the solar kit

We are very excited to share our continuing success of Solar Energy Project in rural south India.
  If you recall,  In 2012-13 winter break, we launched a brand new solar energy project as a part of environmental education of our Global Call to Youth (GCY) . During our rural school visits of 2010 and 2011, we observed that there is a tremendous amount of power outages throughout  rural India. The staff told us that at times, they have power cut for 18 hours/day !!  Even during day time, these small rural schools are poorly lit. Many of the rooms lack windows. We wanted to see if we could teach the children an alternative method to light up their room. This led to our 2012-13 Solar Energy Project involving rural schools of GCY.
 Our Best bet was to introduce the power and importance of Solar energy. It was just not about donating solar panels to the schools. We wanted the children to learn the mechanism by which the system works and learn that there is much more to electricity than wires and switches. We wanted them to understand how they can still light their rooms during power outage.

We chose 4 Watt Solar Shed Light from Chicago Electric.
 This was the easiest in terms of assembly. The unit is portable. It provides 4 hours of back up power.
 We were informed that the significance of solar energy is integrated in their science curriculum but only in theory. Our goal is to demonstrate the actual mechanism using these simple kits.
For the Phase II of Solar Energy Project, In the winter of 2014-15, we  demonstrated the installation of  the solar kits and the basics of how the system worked in selected rural schools, hostels and orphanages.
  We plan  on extending the solar energy project to all the participant schools of GCY in the coming years. As it will be impossible for us to visit each and every school personally, we are partnering with  a private school : Vidya Varidhi Shikshana Trust: ARALU MALLIGE VIDYASHRAMA situated in bilikere, Hunsur Taluk. This will be our anchor school.
we plan on extending our Phase II of Solar Energy project through this anchor school.
The management committee, teaching staff and the students are all very enthusiastic in joining hand with us.  A team of students and staff will reach out to the neighboring small rural schools to distribute the solar kits, demonstrate its installation  and the basics of how the system works.
 As we repeatedly emphasize, we are counting on the demonstration effect of the solar kit to inspire and interest the  rural children. We strongly feel that this is a great start to teaching them the power of small-scale renewable energy. we believe that this will help foster their curiosity and environmental education.

Adarsha and Apoorva

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, and my thoughts on it

I'm sure that many of you have seen by this point the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge that is spreading like crazy across the internet and the news. While the Challenge has succeded in raising 12 million dollars so far, there is a lot of criticism of the challenge, ranging from wasting water, to the lack of depth of the challenge. Having done the challenge and donated money to the cause, I find that nearly all of the criticism levied at the challenge is either unfounded or misplaced.

Not quite right.
Let's break down the 2 most common criticisms and see if there's truth to them.

Criticism 1: The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge is wasteful of water! In states with drought, it's contributing to that!

There's a grain of truth in here, in that technically, yes, in many cases, the water used int he ALS Ice Bucket Challenge is wasted. Here in California, we're currently experiencing a pretty awful drought right now, with the vast majority of the state in severe drought. So technically, the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge is contributing to the drought here. 

However, there's an issue of scale. Even if we assume that every Californian took the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge (highballing that number at 38 million people), and every Californian used 5 gallons of water to do so (in reality, most participants appear to have used 1-3 gallons), you get a grand total of 190 million gallons of water wasted. This sounds like a lot (it is), but again, this is an unrealistically high estimate, and you have to remember that the challenge is a one-time deal (nobody's dumping buckets of ice water on their head every day for this). I'd be surprised if 38 million people nationwide did this challenge (so far at least). But let's compare that number to other sources of water wastage.

For example, the average shower uses well over 10 gallons of water, and decreasing shower length from 10 to 5 minutes can save anywhere from 12.5 to 25 gallons of water (depending on the nature of the shower head). Replacing pre-1990's toilets with modern toilets can save up to 38 gallons a day per toilet. If we applied these numbers to even a fraction of all Californians, you quickly see that the amount of water wasted per day is greater for these activities than for my super-exaggerated ALS Ice Bucket Challenge example. 

Hell, if you want something to rag on for the drought, look at golf courses! The average golf course uses over 300K gallons of water per day, and the 57 golf courses in Palm Springs use a million gallons of water each every day. In the state, there are 921 golf courses total. If we say that the average amount of water wasted in those 921 golf courses was 300K gallons, then golf courses alone in California waste over 276 million gallons every single day. And it's pretty hard to argue that the impact of those golf courses is more positive than the millions of dollars raised for ALS.

In reality, the bigger issue is (corporate) agriculture, but this is just a fancy thought exercise at the heart of it.

All in all, saying that the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge is wasteful of water and thus shouldn't be done is like saying "hey Girl Scouts selling doughnuts and other sugary confections at bake sales to fund anti-malaria vaccines is contributing to an increase in overweight/diabetic children" Is it technically right? Possibly/probably yes (if you stretch "right" a bit). Is it a nearly meaningless statement in the larger context of the situation? Also yes.

Criticism 2: The idea of donating to a charity as opposed to doing the challenge is just an afterthought, therefore it doesn't mean anything! People are just doing it to gain Facebook likes and be popular! Most people don't even know what ALS is!

This is a less common criticism, but still equally invalid. People have pointed that that originally, the "donate to a charity" idea was an afterthought for this challenge and it ended up being used by the ALS movement. People have also pointed out that this trend has become viral on Facebook and other forms of social media and that it's seen as hip and trendy to do so, and quite a few of the people who actually do the challenge don't donate! And of course there are the cynics who harp on about how most people doing the challenge on Facebook or Twitter or whatever don't know what ALS is and are just doing it for the popularity.

My response is "So what?" There will always be people who don't know or don't care about a cause. That's a fact-you can't get everyone to care, and you shouldn't necessarily spend all your efforts getting everyone to care. But here's more facts. Right now, directly because of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, over 11 million dollars has been raised for a really good cause, and a lot more people know what ALS is. These are things that would not have existed without the challenge in this timeframe. This is a fact, and no amount of "BUT THERE ARE PPL WHO DON'T KNOW AND AND IT'S JUST FOR FACEBOOK LIKES" will change that.

Is the fight against ALS over? No. Is there more research and funding needed? Yes. Were there ways to improve the challenge (for instance, to incorporate some water usage awareness)? Yes. But do any of these things make the overall challenge a failure? Not even close.

Oh, and here's my ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.


Thursday, October 10, 2013

An Eggcellent Solution to Protein Malnutrition!!!

First off, I apologize for the absolutely godawful pun I made, but it had to be punned done (I'll stop now).
Anyways, back to the MEAT of the blog post (okay I lied about the puns).
If you recall, I talked about the serious protein malnutrition prevalent among the children we examined in the health camp.
But there is hope to at least partially alleviate this protein malnutrition. Granted, it may be impossible to fully reverse the impacts of long term  protein malnutrition, but many of these kids are still growing, and increasing their protein intake substantially would help their mental and physical development.
Let's start off with the amount of protein the children are currently getting, 5 hard-boiled eggs a month (one every week, and one more, one Sunday a month).
Yes, 5 of these things
A large egg has about 6 grams of protein on average (according to the almighty Google), so this amounts to 30 grams of protein a month. Now certainly there are other sources of protein, such as rice and lentils. Rice has 5 grams of protein per cup, but rice protein is not a complete protein (this means it doesn't have all the essential amino acids you need), and needs to be combined with other sources of protein such as beans, meats, milk, and so on. Lentils are a good source of protein, but they aren't served to the kids in very substantial quantities.
Given those numbers, it's not terribly surprising that most of the kids examined in the health camp were suffering from  protein malnutrition. How do we solve this? How you might ask? Well, the (un)funny title of this blog post should give it away. In case you didn't figure it out, eggs! Here's how it works. Turns out that Parivarthana is already buying biscuits that are given to the kids as snacks every evening. These are your bog standard biscuits, there's nothing amazingly nutritious about them.  Per day, it is costing 4 rupees per child.
 Here's the kicker: The solution was right there in front of us! We calculated quickly, one egg costs  3.5 rupees, but let's highball the figure so that the eggs and biscuits cost the same. We convinced  the hostel warden, Mr. Shivakumar ( his name is also Shivakumar) to replace the biscuits with an hard boiled egg for snack.  Actually, boiling the egg takes little effort and can be done at the hostel.
This means that each kid gets to eat an egg every day of the week and given how we taught them the need for more protein in the health camp, they are very motivated to eat the eggs. The kids will go from receiving 5 eggs a month to receiving roughly 30 eggs a month on average. That's a six-fold increase, and a massive (though as of yet unquantified) increase in protein intake for those children. Keep in mind eggs contain complete proteins, unlike rice: this nutritional value, combined with cost effectiveness and ease of access, make eggs an ideal tool for combating protein malnutrition where we are working.
But all this might seem to beg a question. Why wasn't this being done before? After all, this is a very simple solution.The answer, once again, is the lack of knowledge.
 The staff was unaware of the protein malnutrition problem prevailing in children at their hostel. So, they did not think of replacing the biscuits with eggs. It really is that simple. Just goes to show the power of education.
Next time, we'll look at the nature of change with regards to activism! Big, broad topic, but we've learned a few things in the field and in literature that we feel are important to emphasize.

Monday, October 7, 2013

My Thoughts on Summer 2013 Health Camp Results

After publishing our story about the summer health camp, I decided to share my thoughts reflceting the results to the readers.
        There was a near universal trend of moderate to severe protein calorie malnutrition among the children: in fact, only four of them were healthy and normal. The manifestation of the protein malnutrition was evident in the distinct lack of muscle among many of the children, as well as seriously stunted growth.While rural population near Hunsur aren't the tallest or stockiest of people, some children were exceptionally tiny despite their age.
         One may wonder as to why protein malnutrition is so prevalent here, the answer lies in the lack of knowledge. The hostel warden, a knowledgeable man himself, didn't really know the importance of getting enough protein in the children's diet. This lack of knowledge regarding proper nutrition (and the consequences of a lack of nutrition) is very common in rural India. Further compounding the lack of knowledge is the vegetarian diet prevalent throughout a substantial portion of India.
         This vegetarian diet can be due to religious reasons or due to the expensive nature of meat (for poor villagers). Regardless, little protein is present in the diets of a substantial number of rural Indian children.
Now, moving on from serious protein malnutrition...
Another affliction found to be present was scabies, a contagious skin infection that is persistent in the hostel. Scabies mites, which cause the skin infection, thrive in humid environment.  At the time of camp, five to six kids had it, and it was not an uncommon issue. The children stigmatized their fellows who were infected with scabies. Thus, any afflicted kid would try as long as possible to conceal evidence of the infection, having the unfortunate side-effect of increasing the chance of transmitting scabies to other children.There's good news though: treatment is available and given whenever children are found to have scabies.
       One common issue in India (and other developing countries) is parasitic worms, which have serious negative impacts on children. Luckily, deworming treatment is given in the hostel, and India has been testing several deworming campaigns in various parts of the country  with some degree of success.
       But not all medical issues are capable of being addressed in the hostel. One such issue is anemia. Anemia can seriously impede children (and their study habits), and oftentimes the iron intake among rural children is not sufficient. In our health camp, we did come across anemic children To combat childhood anemia, the Indian government issues free iron supplements for children in the 5th to 10tt grades. However, beyond that, iron supplements must be paid for, which is not an option at this hostel.  Teenagers in 11th and 12th grade do not qualify for free, government-provided iron supplements; however, none of them are able to afford the medication. so for the time being, they must try and supplement their iron intake by some other means.
        However, there was one anomaly: one child,  an 8th grader is eligible for three more years of free, government-provided iron supplements. Yet for some reason, he was not taking them. This was surprising news to us. Upon asking him why, we found out that he simply didn't know why to take the pills. This was also a bit of a shock, for two reasons: one, we figured that the children were being provided at least basic information  as to why to take the pills, and two, we figured that the kids wouldn't really care about the reason and just take the pills anyways.
       Turns out that rural children want to know what's going on. On the plus side, once we told  him how anemia and the iron supplement pills worked, he had no qualms with taking them-he just had no reason to earlier because he had no knowledge.
      You might be seeing this recurring theme of a lack of knowledge seriously affecting the well-being and potential of these rural kids. But that's no reason to lose hope! In fact, there's a very simple yet stupendously effective way to remedy one big issue-protein malnutrition-that will be discussed in the next blog post! Stay tuned to see what we're proposing!