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.

video
~Adarsha

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.
Sincerely,
Adarsha

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!

Sincerely,
Adarsha

Summer 2013 Health Camp for Indigenous Children at Parivarthana Rural Hostel

We launched a new program: Health  Camp, as a part of Global Call to Youth (GCY). This idea was on our mind from past 2-3 years ever since we observed  common problems such as protein calorie malnutrition and lack of personal hygiene among the rural children. We chose Parivarthana Youth Hostel for indigenous children as our first site.
This place is not new for us. We have been working with these children from past 3 years. In fact they have participated in our 2012 Solar Energy Project and 2010- Adopt a Rural School program sponsored by Ashoka Youth Venture. As usual, the children were very excited and happy to see us!
We conducted a personal hygiene workshop, physical exam followed by pediatrician's  well child check up.
The most fun part was the hands on personal hygiene workshop. We taught them the importance of personal hygiene in preventing communicable diseases.  we demonstrated how simple acts such as hand washing and keeping the nails short and clean are easy and effective.
We distributed nail cutters to the children for their personal use. They were very happy to own a nail cutter! We showed them how to cut their nails.
It was soon time for their physical exam. We worked with the hostel warden. we also had enthusiastic student volunteers from the hostel!

Then it was time for the check up from the pediatrician. The students were very cooperative, and excited.
After the examination, the pediatrician had a meeting with us and the hostel warden. We were dealing with some expected health issues among the children. Two common problems: protein calorie malnutrition and skin disease scabies. In addition, some children also had anemia.
Okay, the first part was easy, finding out the problem. Now comes the hard part! What is the solution? How can we help? First, we had to analyze the problems in hand. Yes, conducting personal hygiencne workshop was important but it was not enough! Stay tuned to read our thoughts in our next blog post!
Apoorva and Adarsha

Monday, September 23, 2013

Solar Energy Project continues in the Summer of 2013 as a part of Global Call to Youth

Hey everyone!

As I noted in the previous post, our Solar Energy Project continued in the summer of 2013 in  rural south India. We are very excited to share our continuing successes.


If you recall, last time, when we launched the Solar Energy Project, we chose solar kits (pictured below) that had been made in India. Each contained two 2.5W LED luminaries, a 12V battery (with the charger in a built-in box), and a 5W solar panel with a cable. A kit was very easy to assemble at the time (all you needed was a screwdriver and your hands), and provided up to 4 hours of lighting with a full charge. The light itself was fairly bright and on a rather long cord.


We showed the children how to install the kits and the basics of how the system worked. The significance of solar energy was integrated in their science curriculum but only in theory. Our goal has been to demonstrate the actual mechanism using these simple kits (after all, demonstrations are a great way to cement concepts, especially with children who love being able to physically interact with the kits rather than just listen to theory). The rural children were surprised and delighted to actually light up their class rooms using energy from the sun rather than depending on very inconsistent local power. Keep in mind that in many rural areas throughout India, power outages for up to 18 hours are not uncommon.


This summer, we opted to buy solar kits from USA. Though we prefer locally-made kits, due to financial constraints we could not afford to do that. The brand we got and distributed this summer is substantially cheaper than the one from January 2013. The picture below details the specifications of the lighting system this time around.


This summer, our first stop to launch the Solar Energy Project was at the Katte Malavadi Koppalu (KMK) elementary school. Usually, we intend to make our visits during the beginning of the school day so as to avoid disrupting the class significantly.

KMK elementary school is an enthusiastic participant of  tree planting/fruit garden project sponsored through the Global Call to Youth. Thus, we have been involved with the school from the past four years. When we first arrived at the school this summer, the children immediately recognized us and swarmed out of the building. These kids are pretty young and fairly small, but we don't think we've ever seen kids as excitable as those. In about 3 seconds 30 of them had swarmed us and were hugging us, shaking our hands, and generally being crazy kids.

Shortly afterwards, they brought us chairs and showed how the plants we had planted together as a team as a part of GCY two years ago had been flourishing (indeed, the children universally took great care of those plants-more on that in a later blog post).


We also got to taste some fresh Papaya fruit grown in the schoolyard planted by us 2 years ago. After about 10 minutes, the staff showed up, upon which we demonstrated how the solar kit worked. The children were surprisingly quick to pick it up, despite their relative lack of knowledge on solar power.


Needless to say, the kids were extremely eager to place the lights and panels where they thought it would be best suited which bodes well for the success of our solar energy project in KMK. The school only has 2 classrooms (which are partially illuminated by sunlight), so it should still be sufficient for lighting purposes.  As we repeatedly emphasize, we are counting on the demonstration effect of the solar kit to inspire and interest this current group and future groups of rural children at KMK.


As noted earlier, the kids were enthralled by the nature and workings of the solar energy. We strongly feel that this is a great start to teaching them the power of small-scale renewable energy. Certainly, we intend to continue our Solar Energy Project in other rural schools to provide more rural children with additional resources to help foster their curiosity and environmental education.

Next time, we'll talk about our health camp and the results we obtained!

Sincerely,
Adarsha & Apoorva

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

A brief preview of what's to come!

Hey everyone!


A quick preview of things to come! The first substantive blog post will be posted later this week, with the rest by Saturday.

In order of what will be addressed:

1. Our report (with pictures) on continuation of our Solar Energy Program as a part of Global Call to Youth (GCY) to educate rural schoolchildren in India
2. Summary of the health camp conducted for indigenous children at Parivarthana rural hostel as a part of GCY
3. A cheap and easy way to massively improve the nutrition that schoolchildren are getting at Parivarthana Youth Hostel for indigenous children.
4. The nature of change with regards to activism

Hope you guys are excited!

Sincerely,
The Project Jatropha Team