Monday, August 10, 2009

Sofii - Showcase of Fundraising Innovation and Inspiration

SOFII (Showcase of Fundraising Innovation and Inspiration) is a not-for-profit that shares innovative fundraising strategies from around the world. Fundraisers can logon on to to access from its boundless resource heap, success stories, interviews and tips from others who've walked a similar path.

From learning about the “Leadership Workshop campaign” from Dream a Dream to hearing from Barack Obama's fundraising team, is packed with case studies, reviews, articles, interviews and tips. Besides accessing the site's extensive range of exhibits, you can also showcase the work of your organization by submitting case-studies and exhibits to SOFII's team or seek help in putting these case-studies together for your organization.

SOFII also runs a blog with the help of the organization’s country ambassadors. The ambassadors report on things they've seen, opinions and about the latest campaigns from their part of the world. Kimberley MacKenzie, Canadian ambassador for SOFII, shares, "Working in a small organization SOFII has proven to be an invaluable resource. We use it. We love it. We talk about it."

Indra Sinha, a leading author, copywriter and a regular user of SOFII says, ‘SOFII is a fantastic concept, one that will be extremely valuable to fundraisers. I love the idea that “Fundraisers have the best stories in the world to tell and the best of all reasons for telling them", not just because it is true, but because it is important and subversive.’

SOFII is supported in India by Sattva, a media and consulting organization focused on development (

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh?

Priya Venkatraman

In the last week of June 2009, the world celebrated the repealing of Article 377 in India, a landmark judgement which spelt freedom for thousands who had to lead dual lives everyday. In the midst of this jubilation, a talk held in the city raised uncomfortable questions that cannot be answered by passing laws alone.

It certainly isn’t easy to ‘come out’ if you are gay. But what if you’re a hetrosexual dalit? Is there a need to ‘come out’ to your friends as well? Yes, says Elavarthi Manohar, co-founder of Sangama and who is now with Jeevika, “there is hesitation in admitting to be of a ‘lower’ caste.” As moderator of the Dalit-Sexual Minorities Dialogue, held in the city on June 22nd, Manohar shared some of his experiences that highlight the similarities between dalits and sexual minorities in the struggle for rights.

During a group discussion with sexual minorities in Cubbon Park, a young man let out that he was a dalit. “Everyone was so surprised,” Manohar said. “The truth is that even in such a setting, castes don’t mix. The ‘upper castes’ offer support during these meetings but never befriend (the dalits).” It is an understanding that everyone comes to unquestioningly.

The ‘Dalit-Sexual Minorities Dialogue’ was held as part of the week-long Karnataka Queer Habba, which culminated in the Bengaluru Pride March on June 28th, following which a historic judgement was passed that repealed Article 377.

Nitin, who works with NGOs like Good As You and Alternative Law Forum, is part of the organising team. He says the ‘Dalit-SM’ dialogue is unique because it is “the first time someone has made an attempt to understand the two movements through one keyhole”. The initiative to bring them together came from NGOs working with sexual minorities, who found that at the core, both movements were a struggle for reclaiming self-respect and dignity.

The queer ones

While dalits don’t exactly wear their caste on their sleeve, sexual minorities have a harder time avoiding confrontations. “Buses aren’t safe for sexual minorities to travel in. Humiliated by passengers and being refused an entry are regular incidents,” said a homosexual. Another hijra said that she is molested whether she stands with the men or the women. Plus, there is only so much pointing at one can take.

The discussion covered education, job opportunities, marriage, family, law and social acceptance. “The pain of discrimination is the same,” said a dalit social worker after listening to a lesbian narrate her story. “In our case the law is on our side. In theory at least,” she corrected. Schools may have dalit teachers, but the ayahs will always be upper caste, she said, since the ayahs have to cook the mid-day meals.

One gay man insisted on knowing what the general group thought about homosexuality. “What do you think of men who have sex only with men?” he asked. A few said it was the first time they had spoken to a homosexual They had been brought up to look upon gays as freaks. “We’ve never heard your (a homosexual’s) opinion before,” said a mid-aged man.

While Revathi, a hijra, spoke about how she had to cover up her friend’s caste to her mother (“She was dark so I told my mother she was Christian”), for whom caste was a bigger consideration than sexual preference, most of the dalits felt they had definite advantages in comparison. For one, they had their family support. Ration cards or voter IDs were hardly a problem. Plus, they did not have to alter any part of their behaviour to fit in.

Nitin said this was one of the reasons the LGBT community was reclaiming the word queer. “Not using it (queer) and claiming to be just like the rest, curbs our expression. The debate has led us to retain the term queer as it states that we are indeed different and that is okay.”

Dalit sexual minorities

“Dalit hijras never admit they are dalit,” said Revathi. “They don’t fear segregation, because we don’t do that in our community. But someone might say something mean.” Several participants, who fell into both categories, agreed. One spoke about how her village was more livid that she ran away with an upper caste girl than with the fact that she was a lesbian. “They just think I am confused and that once I get married (to a man), I will be fine.”

One gentleman opined that people have more sympathy for the dalit’s cause over the hijras’ because they believe that unlike dalits, hijras have chosen to be the way they are. “That’s not true”, countered a participant. “Just like you might have wanted to become a dancer or an engineer, I wanted to be a woman. I felt normal only when I was wearing a saree. The sight of my own penis distressed me. Wanting to change my sex was a desire that was always in me and not something I chose.”

Anecdotes, misconceptions (“are there forced castrations in the hijra community”), jokes (“I used to be teased for behaving like a girl in school and now, after becoming a hijra, I’m told I am too much like a man!”), eye openers (police harassment, lesbian suicide rates, hijras despising the word homosexual) and confessions had hardly settled down, when the evening was brought to a close. “Discussions like this must be held over two to three days, so we can reach some sort of a conclusion,” voiced a participant.

Feeling like something has been achieved is the danger of attending open and honest discussions such as these. Who are we kidding; sexuality and caste aren’t things to be flashed around in public. “Only English dailies talk about gay rights,” said one when I told him the newspaper I worked for. “The Kannada dailies never do. It is when vernacular media picks up these issues that the war will be won.”

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Enrich a Child’s Life

by Nayantara Mallya

“Just giving birth to a child does not imply parent status” explained Mary Paul, Executive Director of Vathsalya Charitable Trust. She was addressing volunteers and prospective parents as part of a drive “Enriching the Life of an Abandoned Child through Adoption and Foster Care” by Diana Tholoor, founder of Chrysallis Performing Arts Centre.

“Children do not have just material needs. They need a family’s warmth and care.” Diana strongly believes in the value of adoption and foster care as ways of protecting the runaway or abandoned child from abuse. “It’s a vicious cycle. Runaway children are abused horrifically in the communities they believe will protect them, such as rag-pickers and beggars. After a childhood of abuse, many turn to solicitation and drug abuse.”

Vathsalya is an adoption agency licensed for in-country and inter-country adoption of Indian children. It receives and cares for both abandoned and surrendered children. Mary summarised procedures followed for tracing an abandoned child’s parents and clearing a child for adoption. She also outlined Indian adoption laws and processes for prospective adoptive parents.

Parents resort to wilful abandonment when they feel they have no options left, especially with special needs children. Vathsalya has reunited 350 abandoned children over two decades with their birth parents. They are much more than a clearing-house for children awaiting families. “We counsel parents coming to surrender their children. Our counsellors use play-therapy and
group discussion with runaway and abandoned children” Mary explains.

Mary Paul and Diana Tholoor (Pic: Nayantara)

What about attachment and rejection? “Even a day old baby feels her birth parents’ rejection.” Mary answered. “Some carry immense pain and blame themselves. Many of the runaways fleeing abusive families refuse to divulge their addresses and history. They slowly regain their trust and start getting attached to us.”

Vathsalya also works with doctors approached by desperate mothers wanting late abortions and induction of pre-term deliveries. Most nursing homes are aware now of the illegality of arranging private adoptions. Vathsalya shelters pregnant mothers and provides pre-natal care and counselling. “We used to receive a lot of premature underweight babies who then died, but that has improved now.”

Vathsalya received its first child in 1990 when Indian families mostly adopted healthy children. Over the years the percentage of special needs children entering Vathsalya’s doors has risen. Foreign couples usually adopt these children. A critical goal this year for Chrysallis is promoting integration of special needs children into Indian families.

Vathsalya’s foster care program has been very successful. Children awaiting adoption are nurtured meanwhile by about 30 families in their homes. They receive a stipend and assistance for the child’s needs. “We call them our super-mothers and fathers. Even severely sick children bounce back in foster care.” Mary clarifies, “Though children living in-house at Vathsalya have a 1:2 caregiver:child ratio, they do better even with a 1:5 ratio in foster care. The family environment makes the difference”.
Children at Vathsalya (Pic: Nayantara)

Chrysallis organised an interactive program for the children, a regular occurrence over the last six years. “They sing, play and colour with us”, says Diana, pointing at a wall full of jolly cartoon characters, done previously by Chrysallis volunteers and Vathsalya children.

Listening to Mary and Diana describe their incredible work was moving and inspiring. There is hope for abandoned children here to dream of a future with loving families. Want to enrich your life? Build your family through adoption.

Vathsalya Charitable Trust

When elementary education gets complex

Aarti Mohan

An open hall session bringing together educators, lawyers, journalists and concerned citizens threw open some interesting questions on the right to education bill and its ramifications.

“All of us certainly believe in the right to education for all. What we need to discuss is how it should be implemented.” This set the tone for the Sunday morning session organized by PRS Legislative Research and Engaged Citizen’s Forum on the “Right to Education Bill of 2008.”

Free education for all

The Bill seeks to provide the right to “free and compulsory elementary education to all children between the ages of 6 and 14 in a neighbourhood school.” Introduced in the Rajya Sabha in Dec 2008 and referred to a Standing Committee, the bill is now in the process of receiving public feedback before it goes on to become a law. Some of the highlights of the Bill include its bid to stop “screening interviews”, “performance-based admission” and the exorbitant “capitation fees” charged by schools. Clauses in the Bill also talk of a 25% reservation in unaided schools for economically disadvantaged children.

Implementation a big challenge

“Passing the law is just the beginning, co-ordination between Centre and State for implementation of such laws, fund disbursement, enforcement etc has always been a huge challenge,” P.R. Dasgupta, (ex) Education Secretary, HRD, India. “For a while, the Centre even tried disbursing funds directly to the districts bypassing the State Govt so that rural schools received their share.” His take was that education should be decentralized, with the Govt just allocating and monitoring funds while PPPs or private institutions implement the policies. Sailesh Gupta of Deccan Group of papers also stressed the importance of delivery systems and single level accountability, which the Bill is ambiguous about.

What should be taught?

The Indian education system has always been accused of encouraging rote-learning owing to a rigid curriculum taught by teachers focussed on examination results. This system has no place for the “learn at your own pace” method recommended by the Bill where under-performers need to be coached specially and can continue in elementary school until they pass. Venkatesh Murthy of Youth For Sewa pointed out that about 70% of students drop out in Xth grade from village schools after failing, rendering them useless for semi-urban/urban jobs as well as too old to pick up the native profession of farming. “Tuning the curriculum to suit the vastly different needs of urban and rural education is a challenge. We need to universalize the education and not the curriculum,” he said.

Syed Ahmed of EduMedia also brought up the importance of using innovative and experiential methods of teaching to keep the children engaged and not “wait for the bell” as he put it!

Education only as good as its teacher

“We surveyed over 1000 teachers who do career-counselling, and not one of them discusses teaching as a prospective career among their wards.” said Vishnu Agnihotri of Educational Initiatives. India apparently is also the only country where there is no institute to train Principals. Good teachers and administrators in schools are keys to the Bill succeeding in achieving its purpose. All panellists pointed out that emphasis must be laid on attracting the right talent, training, motivating and monitoring their progress.

Other subtle questions like how to treat children who are differently abled, whether the medium of instruction should be English or the native tongue, would it be detrimental for the economically weak students to study in a class of affluent children and so on need to be investigated.

The Bill hopes to make education a level playing field by bringing all institutions, from Govt. schools to International schools, under the purview of this law. In order to achieve the goal of “Every child learning well” and not just “Every child going to school”, the Govt has to focus on implementation, enforcement and accountability. And citizen forums like these offer a platform for healthy discussion and debate, involving both the stakeholders and authorities.

This session was held on June 21st at Purva Riviera, Varthur Main Road. To know more about these sessions, please contact Tulika at:


PRS analysis on education Bill

Full text of the Bill

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Sustainable Fundraising Practices

We all aspire to create a sustainable organization that will continue to have the resources we need to fulfill our mission. Whether the funds we seek are for short-term projects or longer term initiatives, ensuring that the fundraising capacity of the organization will keep pace programming needs is of top concern.

Building a sustainable fundraising program which will continue to meet your organization’s needs well into the future requires adopting a few simple ideas into your organization’s thinking and putting s a few simple tools in place to execute:

1. IDEA: Fundraising is about getting what we need to support our existing plans
TOOL: Information/proposals which outlines your plans and what you need from donors

One of the most common mistakes that we make in fundraising is also one of the easiest to make. A donor/funder gets in touch with preconceived ideas of what they would like to fund – we, lured by the potential revenue, jump to meet their demands. When there is a true meeting of minds this can be a very positive thing for all parties, but when it means deviating from annual program plans it can mean disaster for fundraising sustainability. By accepting funds in this way we let the donors determine the program – a bit like letting the tail wag the dog. It is also likely to be a short term relationship as the donor interests don’t necessarily match with the long term direction of the organization.

A truly sustainable fundraising program, on the other hand, is one which raises the funds to support the existing program or operations plan. A fundraising strategy that, in other words, ensures that the organization gets the money it needs directed at where it is most needed and which seeks to develop long term relationships with donors/funders who understand, support and trust the strategic direction of the organization.

This is not to say that we should walk away from potential donors/funders. We are confident that we understand what the needs of the community are only because we have the advantage of being on the front lines and interacting with our beneficiaries. Our donors/funders may not have this firsthand knowledge of community needs and therefore cannot be faulted for thinking other activities should be the priority. Often therefore, our fist role in fundraising is to educate – to make sure all potential donors/funders have a chance to know what we feel the real needs are, and the rationale for our strategies and activities. Then they can make an educated decision about whether to support our work.

In order to do this we need to be prepared. We need to make sure that we have materials ready which outline our objectives and activities. This way we can pre-empt any confusion and ensure that those who contact us have a chance to evaluate their options in supporting our organizations before we spend too much time pursuing a relationship that will not meet our needs.

In my own work I always have a few such pieces available to send by mail, email or even to give out at face to face meetings. First is an organizational profile which clearly outlines the mission, the scope and rationale for our programs and answers any other questions donors/funders might have about accountability and organizational management. Second are pre-prepared proposals for the programs/projects that I am currently seeking funding for – this way I can very quickly narrow focus to the areas most in need and ensure that all existing projects are supported (make sure that these contain true budgets including any salaries and administrative costs so that your donors sponsor the total cost of activities – not just the tangible ones!). By being up front and specific about our needs we can ensure not only that we meet today’s actual needs but also begin forming relationships with the right people – those who are truly interested in supporting our work and therefore have the potential to be involved over the long term.

2. IDEA: Sometimes the most effective fundraising strategies are the most boring
TOOL: Solid budgeting/accounting practices that allow you to evaluate the ROI of fundraising activities to determine where you should be focussing efforts in the long term

In my experience the most memorable fundraising experiences are events which generally leave everyone feeling great about the organization but, unfortunately, can leave a less than full bank account at the end of the day. On the other hand, a successful proposal – that no one in the office was even aware I was writing and which cost us nothing but my time and the auto fare to and from a meeting – can result in a very large cheque and a funding relationship that can see the organization through many years.

How do you know where to spend your time? Special events? Grant writing? Individual donor campaigns? Online giving strategies? Corporate partnerships? The truth is that the answer will be different for every organization. The key is to make sure that you keep detailed budgets for all fundraising activities that take stock of the true costs involved including fundraiser salaries and office expenses. An event for example may have few tangible expenses but might take up two months of staff time – this is not free. Over time, you can then begin to calculate your average Return On Investment (ROI) for various fundraising activities, providing the justification for future tough decisions – including the decision to discontinue underperforming campaigns.

That being said, there are a few rules of thumb to keep in mind. Events, generally speaking, are not as sustainable as individual donor and grants development strategies. This is because the revenue is coming from people who may be motivated by the event itself rather than by the work of the organization; whereas, donors/funders may actually stick around longer due to shared values and commitment to the organization’s mandate.

On the other hand, when evaluating the ROI of your current fundraising activities, don’t forget to consider the ‘soft’ benefits that a campaign might have. For example, an event that may, in itself, not be very lucrative, may generate media exposure for the organization, or may introduce you to a new pool of potential donors that you can contact for other campaigns (Tip: make sure to document where you meet these potential donors so that you can trace back any future revenue to the event, thus giving you a true picture of value of the event).

3. IDEA: It is easier and more efficient to raise money from an existing donor than to recruit a new one
TOOL: A good donor management database and stewardship plan

It is common fundraising wisdom that the best donor prospect is someone who we already know and who has supported our organizations in the past. In fact, if handled properly, donors and funders should be counted on for support year after year for a period of up to five years (for some it could be even longer, while for others they begin supporting another cause even if their donor relationship has been positive). Many organizations, including those that I have directly been involved with, make a simple mistake in managing donor relationships which, unfortunately, results in many first time donors moving on without any subsequent support. The mistake in thinking that one thank you is enough. Or worse, simply forgetting to stay in touch throughout the year when our focus is on other campaigns and events.

In order to maximise the number of donors/funders who become long term supporters it is important to treat your donor stewardship as a year round activity. Multiple contacts throughout the year (that don’t ask for money) can go a long way towards not only thanking donors, but also helping to increase their understanding of your work and their commitment to the impact they have as donors. If done correctly donors will actually begin giving without being asked, or at the very least being more them happy to make their annual contribution when it comes time to ask them.

It is crucial that you have a good donor management database which records the names and contacts of all those who contribute over the course of the year. Beyond your usual thank you note that is sent with your 80G certificate, all your donors should be hearing from you at least once per quarter to remind them of your work and keep them informed. If you database is accurately maintained than this should be as simple as adding all donors to your regular newsletter or e-bulletin distribution list.

Whether using an existing communication tool, or creating a donor-specific piece, making sure to build regular year-round communication into all your campaign and event plans can have enormous impact. Never again will you ever be caught saying “remember me, can you support us again this year” or desperately trying to start from scratch and convince completely new audiences of the worthiness of your cause – a potential drain for both financial and human resources.

Instead you will begin to develop a regular donor pool whose behaviours you can start to predict – making everyone’s job easier come budget planning season when you can reasonably assume revenue from existing supporters.

4. IDEA: Everyone is a fundraiser
TOOL: A staff and volunteer team well versed in your organization’s mission and activities

Fundraising is not just for fundraisers. Organizations that are successful in developing sustainable funding bases are those where everyone involved is prepared to act as ambassadors for the organization, maximising the potential audience of new donors and generating positive word of mouth. This is especially true in the Indian context funders and donors still primarily depend on reputation and recommendations from their own network to feel confident that an organization is credible and worthy.

Internally this means making sure that there is common agreement on key messaging and that everyone involved is well trained on your mission and activities. A communications policy along with standard communication tools (preferably in PDF form) that are accessible and available for all staff and volunteers to distribute, can go a long way. To take it to another level, consider offering specific training to volunteers and friends of the organization – a tip I learned recently from a study in the United States that found that volunteer ‘ambassadors’ are often seen as more credible and reliable than their paid counter parts!

By adopting these practices and spending time on the back end tools of your program, building systems and processes that support your strategies, you can be sure to see sustainable revenue growth. With these fundamentals in place you will be able to focus on what we are all really here to do – respond effectively to the needs of our communities over the long term!

--Claire Holloway Wadhwani

Claire is a seasoned fundraising professional with experience working in fundraising management for NGOs in Canada as well as in Bangalore. Claire can be contacted at and is most happy to share ideas and best practices with other fundraisers!

Monday, August 4, 2008

A voice for the underbelly – Rathish Balakrishnan

While the country is still reeling at how circumstantial evidence almost ended Rajesh Talwar’s life, it is time to look at those who go through such ordeals everyday.

It is a busy morning. Friends and relatives have come home and you are negotiating with toddlers and teenagers to complete your daily chores. The maid is busy sweeping the bedroom and leaves as soon as you enter. You look for your expensive watch on the table and find it is missing. Right then – that instant – what are the odds that of all the fifteen people in your household, you suspect your maid to have taken it?

Everyday, individuals from the economically weaker sections of the society are charged by the police for a variety of crimes ranging from theft, drug peddling, prostitution and kidnapping. “These people are easy targets because no one comes to claim them if they are arrested. Moreover, they have previous criminal records due to an earlier innocuous arrest”, says Ushajee Peri who is part of the Alternative Law Forum, a collective of lawyers focusing on sustained legal interventions in various social issues.

While the law in its written form promises a fair chance to one and all, those who are responsible to enforce the same are influenced by same social stigma as the rest of us. In many cases, there are procedural violations with respect to how the charged were picked up, interrogated and how evidence against them have been recorded. Alternative Law Forum ensures that the procedures are followed with due diligence and that these cases are rightfully represented in the court.

How does ALF identify such cases? The collective organizes jail visits and talks to the accused who are under trial. Since they also work with members from these sections very closely, they receive written letters and requests through word of mouth regarding cases where their assistance is required. ALF also collaborates with NGOs, who, for instance, work with construction workers in matters requiring legal assistance.

In addition to litigation, ALF also conducted a variety of initiatives to improve legal awareness in the past. “But when you are faced with the prospect of arrest, it is difficult to act on all this information. The first instinct is to run”, she says while narrating an episode of a maid’s son who went missing for four years in order to avoid charges of manslaughter. Incidentally, the man returned after four years and was immediately arrested. The judge set a bail of 5,000 or a guarantee by someone who owns a sizable property to let him free. No one came forward and today he’s in jail.

Such victimization is not restricted to just weaker sections of the society anymore. People from all over the country across all economic classes are today arrested under the charge of terrorism – a charge that immediately kills any sense of sympathy or unbiased investigation. Ushajee shares how, in Udupi District, a woman standing in a bus stand was arrested because she looked suspicious and didn’t give conclusive answers to the police about her whereabouts. Thanks to the intervention by ALF, the woman was later freed. But many are not as lucky and are still trying to find their way out of the legal quagmire.

But aren’t arrests are based on past trends? It is well known that many children among the weaker sections of the society are involved in criminal activities, I counter. She agrees but adds that, “to take it for granted that such children will always be criminals only serves to push them down that path much harder. These children deserve a chance”.

A chance not just to be out of jail, or for a fair trial. But for a better life so that they are never suspected again.

Contact details:

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

February 2008 : Green,Green Grass Of Home

The lyrics of the old country song by Tom Jones invokes nostalgic memories about one’s childhood - the sights, sounds, smells and the sense of belonging that one gets simply by being “home” – a place where the grass always remains green, the skies are blue and the air is clean!
An experience that is now available only at the top tourist destinations – an alluring invitation to ‘pay’ to feel this rare fresh air, bliss and tranquility. Amidst desperate yet seemingly lofty pleas to “Heal the World” and “Save the Planet”, the “home” we once knew and cherished is fading slowly. The problem of our environmental degradation is what a mathematics students would call a ‘non-polynomial type (called NP type) problem’, that which cannot be solved easily. Yet, a first step would be to first break it into simpler, manageable equations. The first term of that equation in our problem of preservation would be ME.

My grandmother asked me the other day about how not throwing the banana peel she was holding into the mounting garbage on the roadside is going to help. I told her “If you are doing it, there is a good chance everyone else is.” And that goes for eco-preservation too. If you are not doing your bit to solve this impossibly complex problem of preserving the earth for future generations, there is a huge chance no one else is thinking about it as well.

This month at Sattva, we are looking at how eco-preservation can start in your own backyard and extend to bringing water to famine lands. All in this concrete jungle that is Bangalore city. Our forefront section lauds the “supermodels” of conservation – the green campus of SAP labs, and the Iengars home in Banashankari that has protected and treated many a wild animal. The feature on ‘Eco-programs’ covers a wide spectrum, ranging from comprehensive revamp programs that deal with reclaiming entire cities to low cost environment-friendly housing that benefits the economically deprived sections.

Iyappa Masagi, featured as our Sattvic celebrity can be likened to the “Rag Malhaar” of the Karnataka people, striking blue gold with his immensely successful water harvesting and soil vitalizing schemes. We are very grateful to Mr. Chandrasekhar Hariharan, CEO, eco-bcil for sharing his rich insights into the technical know-hows of building “eco-friendly homes”, and
Mr Suresh Heblikar, renowned environmental activist, for rightly stressing the importance of sustainable development.

The refractive index section is a useful pin-up manual on “22 ways to save the planet”. And that could just be the first step. Spread the news. Encourage your families and friends to contribute to this new “environment savings” plan. For a Good Earth. For you and me.

Click here for the February issue.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Dream A Dream – Bala Janaagraha Exhibition

Vishal Talreja is the Director of Dream a Dream and an Ashoka Fellow. He shares his experiences about the Dream A Dream - Bala Janaagraha Exhibition.

Date: Sunday, 10th February 2008
Venue: Government School, HSR Layout

On a bright Sunday morning, it seemed like all happiness, joy and colours had entered a small hall in a Government school in HSR Layout. Children from Dream A Dream’s partner organizations, Sukrupa and Makkala Jagriti were dressed in their best Sunday clothes for a very important function – The Dream A Dream - Bala Janaagraha Annual Exhibition on 10th February 2008.

The Bala Janaagraha program is designed by Janaagraha to make children aware of their civic responsibilities. Dream A Dream brings this program to children from its partner NGOs. Over 60 children have been participating in a series of sessions over the last 6 months; understanding their role as citizens, how the government functions, how do we get water and electricity, etc. The theme for this year was “Transport and Traffic” and at the end of the sessions – the children are required to work on a project related to the theme. The project work was displayed in an exhibition format at this unique function. Three groups presented their projects on “Traffic Rules”, “Accidents and Road Safety” & “Pollution and Global Warming”.

The project presentations by each group included making a live model on their project theme, making collages and giving a small presentation on their project. The project presentations were enthralling and very informative to say the least. The children knew their concepts and facts well, spoke with supreme confidence and with a conviction that the solutions proposed by them were definitely workable. There was simplicity in their ideas such as more awareness in schools about traffic rules to tremendously innovative ones like using electric vehicles and creating cycle paths.

One group along with their volunteer guide had also prepared a powerpoint presentation on ill-effects of global warming. Their presentation explained how global warming happens through simple graphs and illustrations and was done so well that even the adults learnt things they didn’t know about Global Warming.

The coordinators from Janaagraha then conducted a quiz on civic issues – The children scored well in answering most of the questions which were taken from their course material. Finally certificates were distributed to all participating children.

As we ended the proceedings, I could not but feel happy and secure in the knowledge that our future is in the hands of these children. Children who are so much more aware and willing to change the abuse that we as humans have meted out to Earth for so many hundred years.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Suraksha Makkala Rakshane

- Sumithra Sivaramakrishnan, Sattva Editorial Team

Yet another day passes by, with most of us wanting to do something for the society, bring a change in someone’s life and contribute in our own little way to make this a better world. However, we wonder whether the effort of one person will make any difference. And that is when we hear stories of people like Venkatesh who dispel the myth beyond doubt.

Venkatesh has always been keen on helping people around, right from sending petitions for the elderly to the government to process their pensions. It was this passion towards helping people led him to start something on his own. Since his economic conditions did not allow him to do his graduation he was very keen to help similarly underprivileged kids complete their education.

In 2005, Venkatesh who stays in Sheshadripuram went to the slums around Sheshadripuram in search of disadvantaged children. Soon he had a group of 30 who assembled at his house every day. These children were given basic education and were involved in a variety of extra curricular activities. As their numbers grew, Venkatesh was forced to look for an alternate location. To get the necessary funding, Venkatesh started the Suraksha Makkala Rakshane Trust which today is governed by a board of trustees. This seven member team comprises of his family members and some volunteers.

At the moment the Suraksha Makkala Rakshane Trust has around 70 children from areas like Sanjay Gandhi Nagar, Shastri Nagar, Ambedkar Nagar and V.V. Giri Nagar. The trust works with children from diverse backgrounds including children from the streets, slums and runaway children in Bangalore. Apart from imparting basic education to these kids, Venkatesh also conducts educational tours for the children with his own money. Today, Venkatesh also has 4 volunteers from software companies conducting classes for these kids on a regular basis.

Venkatesh’s plans to sponsor the higher education of many deprived children in the future. He is looking to buy computers and is setting up a library for these kids. He needs the support of many volunteers who can teach the children on a weekly basis; donate funds for their food and education. Funding is a big problem and to that end he is looking at various programs for fund raising. Apart from door to door canvassing, Venkatesh is also planning to make paper bags to sell and raise funds for the children.

“I am working for these children and I am very optimistic that most of these children will complete their basic education and get good jobs” says Venkatesh. These kids do not live in a safe place, they neither do have friends to talk to and nor do they get the opportunity to travel outside. Venkatesh provides them education, food and a healthy atmosphere. The effort of this one might not be visible to us, but it makes a world of a difference to these 70 children.

Contact details:

Suraksha Makkala Rakshane Trust,
#19, Gang man quarters
Near Krishna Floor Mill, Platform Road
Sheshadripuram, Bangalore – 560020.

Phone: 080-65321218, 9741012428

Enlightened souls

G, Sriraksha shares her experiences of being at the Louis Braille day celebrations in Hampinagar on 20th January 2008

On 20th January 2008, a sunday quite unlike any other, the public library in Hampinagar was bustling with unprecedented activity. Hundreds of visually impaired enthusiastic young people directed their minds and hearts to participate in the various competitions that were to be held there. While melodious voices set the tunes during the singing competition, the aspirants for Braille reading and writing competitions paid ‘literal’ tribute to Louis Braille.

For 20th January is the ‘Louis Braille Day’!

Tens of young visually impaired children started engraving words dictated by a coordinator into dotted Braille script in one such competition. The atmosphere was vibrant with the spirit of the young people who had come from various schools for visually impaired from across Bangalore as well as from rural areas of Karnataka.

This event was the organized by Sahana charitable trust, an organization committed to aiding the visually impaired and empowering them with education.

Sahana charitable trust, an organization started by 5 people, some visually challenged themselves, aims to create study materials like textbooks and literature in Braille. Printed textbooks and other precious literature dyed by ink worthless to those whose eyes cannot comprehend; these are translated into dots of Braille by and for those undaunted spirits who just believe that the visually impaired have every right to be literate and educated as the visually endowed are!

1 print page gets translated to 4 Braille pages - So, hundreds of pages encompassing books from 1st standard school syllabus to Pre University are converted to thousands of Braille pages. The entire activity is driven by 6 braillies (visually challenged themselves) and comprise 3 employees, 1 manager and 1 coordinator. The staff is aided by 8-10 volunteers who contribute time to read out from printed script so that the content can be translated into Braille. Each month 10 such books are churned out, each book comprising about 200 Braille pages. These books are then distributed free of cost.

Dignitary Vijayanagar MLA Krishnappa, who supports this noble cause and was the Chief Guest of the occasion. Lakshmi N, an indomitable spirit, one of the creators of Sahana and currently the managing trustee gave her heartfelt opinion on the occasion. “Nowadays there are so many, means and the technology which can and should be used to overcome obstacles. The visually impaired should be aware of such opportunities so that they don't crumble down in underconfidence. For this, on one hand the facilities should reach them and on the other hand awareness should be created in every such person that they can and should reach out to get the qualification they need." Visually challenged herself, she lives her words and her spirit inspires many.

The Chief in-charge of Sahana, Mr. Narasimhaiah has fought the darkness in his eyes to enlighten many a life. In his words “ Sahana creates Braille script which cannot be bought in shops. It also creates employment among the visually impaired. We need more volunteers. Volunteering matters.”

While computerization has made the lives of visually impaired easy (Softwares like ‘Jaws’ convert letters to sounds and enable them to type) , there are however practicalities like the rented house for running the institution, employing people and dearth of volunteers that Sahana is fighting to cope with.

Sahana, the organization, tries to create awareness among the visually impaired, encourage Braille in the true sense and thus inspire hundreds. May these words reach the right volunteers, philanthropists and generous souls to further their cause of providing education to everyone.

If you want to share such experiences with us, please write to us at sattva dot ezine at gmail dot com