Sunday, March 22, 2015

When Thirst Beats Education

A few weeks back, I was in a village along the border of Andhra Pradesh and Chhattisgarh where I met Sandhya Rani, a 10 year old. She was carrying a bamboo staff on her shoulder and , fastened to its ends, three aluminum vessels. In these vessels, she was going to carry water from a borewell for her family, along with her 7 year old sister Saundrya.

Their parents were working as migrant laborers in a city and the girls lived with their elderly grandmother.

I followed Rani from her house which was at the village' entrance to the borewell at the far end of the village. That was the only borwell in the village - the source of potable water for over 500 people.

The distance was about almost a kilometer. There was no paved road and Rani walked along a very narrow dirt trail in between paddy fields that were fenced with thorny shrubs to keep the cattle away. So Rani, besides balancing 3 water vessels on her shoulder, also balanced her steps amidst the narrow dirt trail and pinching thorny shrubs.

And this she did 4 times every day.

It was about 3 pm and Rani was in a school uniform. So, I asked her which class she was in.

3rd grade, she said. Sister Saundrya, who was now hanging on to the handle of the borewell, trying to pump water, was in first grade.

"So how was the school today?"
Her answer took me surprise: "the school starts at 5 pm. So, we will get ready now"

And then she explained, the village school ran from 10 am to 5 pm. But since she had to fetch water, Rani couldn't go to school. She did try juggling for a while by leaving the school early to get water, But finally, the girl had to choose house chores over school.

Luckily, a religious mission in their area opened an informal learning center for children like Rani who can't attend regular school. At the mission, they can attend evening classes. Here Rani and Saundrya learn maths, English and Telugu language.

This, however, can't be the same as attending a regular school that takes care of a child's overall educational needs and development.

Yet the girls were enthusiastic.

After putting down their vessels, the girls changed their clothes that were now completely wet, helped each other get ready and rushed out to 'school'.

I have seen so many other children in different parts of the country who spend hours fetching water, sometimes on their own, sometimes with accompanying parents. Some of them still struggled to be at school, while some dropped out.

Should we not, while dismissing water as a 'non-issue', think of children like Sandhya Rani who miss out on education only because of water? I think we should.

And just in case you are wondering why we should worry about a girl in a far away place not getting water or education, well, how about this: she is one of our girls, a part of our collective future!

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Girls' Education: Lets Look Beyond Enrollment

I recently met Bharti, a bubbly 13 year old, at a children's shelter 110 km away from Hyderabad. She had been rescued a few of months ago, the staff at the shelter told me.

"Rescued from who and what? Traffickers? Abusive employers?" I wanted to know
The answer was, "from her own parents".

No, Bharti's parents were not abusive or trying to sell their daughter to someone. It's just that they often stopped her from going to school and took her to work in a farm instead.

Now this sounds quite trivial, doesn't it? After all, the parents are just making the girl miss a few days' school now and then, right?

Not quite.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2014 - a Year of Traveling and Story Telling

Time flies. 2014 too flew away! But it was a kind year. It gave me opportunities to tell the stories that I CARED FOR. And it also got me the greatest of recognitions! Shared here are some of those moments and some of the stories that I told.

January: Telling the story of the forest women

The first month of 2014 took me to the Eastern Ghat mountains of India, to villages that are home to several primitive  tribes including the Koyas and the Kondas whose livelihood depends on hunting and gathering herbs. 

Here, in the dense forest, I met women who are turning entrepreneurs, using renewable energy. They use solar powered driers to dry their herbs and are selling the herbs to a clientele that includes large corporate houses! Here is one of their stories.

Monday, December 29, 2014

10 Years After the Tsunami : How Are the Women?

10 years have passed since the devastating Tsunami happened.  How have things changed on the ground since then, especially for those who bore the brunt of that disaster? In this second part of my photo blog,  I am sharing few photographs of women in the coastal villages that I met.

 The most optimistic picture that I saw was this...

I met this woman - Shivapiriya - near the famous shore temple of Mahabalipuram. She was there with her sister, speaking to a relative on a cell phone. 10 years ago, she didn't have a cell. But today, if disaster strikes, Kavitha is confident that she can reach out someone- anyone -and call for help, no matter wherever she is. No technology alone cannot guarantee safety, not of the climatic kind, but it can sure decrease the level of helplessness, especially for a woman.

And the most depressing picture was this...

Friday, December 26, 2014

In Photos: Life After 10 Years of Tsunami - Part 1

It's been 10 years since the devastating Asian Tsunami happened. How have things changed on the ground since then, especially for those who bore the brunt of that disaster? To find the answer, I recently visited some villages along the east coast of India. Shared here are few glimpses of life I saw there.

 And now there's another shrine - The Tsunami Temple

The Tsunami in 2004 took a lot - lives, homes and assets included - but also gave something. This structure, for example, emerged out of  the sea  next to the famous shore temple of Mahabalipuram  and quickly gained popularity as the Tsunami Temple. Natarajan, a tourist guide told me, 'this is our latest attraction'  and then, "but you can't go there. It's too slippery".   Now, that's a fitting gift of a disaster!

"Tourism matters, tourists matter, we don't"

Prabhakar Sharma sells souvenirs on the beach. After the Tsunami in 2004, the government was quick to restore the Shore Temple of Mahabalipuram, he said. But,  for the owners of over 100 makeshift shops that were also destroyed by the tsunami, there hasn't been any compensation. A bitter Sharma told me this : "The govt invested well into restoring the temple and the facilities for the tourists. But we, the beach traders who sustain the tourists interests, were left to lick our  own wounds. We just didn't matter"

           A new trail of disasters

There is an alarming rate of erosion along the coast and every village has at least half a dozen houses that are in various stages of destruction.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

They said this: Take away messages from CBDCOP12

The 12th conference of the parties of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (or CBD COP 12) began here in Pyeongchang, South Korea on 5th of October. Since then, I have met and had exclusive interviews with several leaders here. Each of them impressed me with their answers and especially their patience in explaining complicated issues in the most simple terms. You can read the news articles that I filed from the convention on the IPS news site. Sharing  here, below, are some of the statements from each of these leaders that I am calling my take home messages.

Braulio Ferreira de Souza Dias – Executive Secretary, Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD)

We now know what we need to do to prevent biodiversity loss and invasive species. We need to integrate biodiversity into our sustainable development.”

Ibrahim Thiaw – Deputy Director, UN Environmental Program (UNEP) 

"Hope that the member countries would really commit themselves to achieve the Aichi targets. It is a collective commitment that needs to be made. If you go back and don’t match your words with action at the national level, it’s not going to work"

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Hunted Animals to Haunting Ebola: Nothing’s Too Far-fetched

A few months ago, when Ebola outbreak first began, many of us just didn’t care much. It was a strange disease happening in one part of world - West Africa to be precise -that was far away from us. And, so, we didn’t bother to connect to it at all.

Well, things have changed a lot since then, haven’t they? Ebola has gone out and beyond of West Africa, infecting, as we speak, 8,300people and claiming 4,033 lives in places including Europe (Spain) and the US. And it’s spreading. Suddenly we realize, nothing in this world is too unconnected. No place in this world is too far away. And, in this blog of mine, I want to also tell you that nothing is also too far-fetched either, especially when it comes to a crime and its effect on our lives.

Just before I began to write this, I spoke with some scientists  at the 12th Biological Diversity convention (CBDCOP12) who have been studying the link between biodiversity and infectious diseases. They are Catherine Machalaba, MPH,Health and Policy Program Coordinator  of the Eco Health Alliance in New York and  Anne-Helene Prieur Richard, executive director of the Paris-based biodiversity research institute ‘Diversitas’. I asked them to explain how destruction of biodiversity could also lead to the spread of Ebola virus globally. 

Before I get to their answers, let me remind you what we already know: The recent Ebola outbreak started where eating the meat of wild animals (popularly known as “bush meat”) has existed for a long time. Bat soup, Meat of monkeys and other apes are popular dishes in many countries including Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia. 

But, there is a lot of people also buy these animals for their body parts. As a result, a lot of hunting takes place because people want to make money by selling the animals – dead or alive. And it is with this rampant hunting that the threat of spread of a virus like Ebola also increases.