Sunday, 21 July 2019

As I have travelled through India I have been intrigued with how resilient the Tibetan people are and have been through out history. I will leave the deep seeded historical details for academic historians, who have more knowledge that I, to write about.
My interest comes more from a social and community interest and peeked more as I have been staying in Dharamshala, McCloud Ganj, the location of the Dahli Lama and the Tibetan exiled government in India.
This is recent history, I was barely a toddler in Canada when this was going on. Following a decade of political turmoil which started with the invasion of China into Tibet, the Chinese overthrew the Tibetan government. The Dhali Lama, on a self imposed exile, took refuge in India, with his government and over 100000 Tibetan people following.
This year marks 60 years since the Tibetan government went to India in exile, and during these six decades over a million Tibetan people have been killed, and hundreds of thousands of women have been killed, sterilized or forced into abortion, by the Chinese government. Many Tibetan citizens have been murdered for speaking out, in their own country, which continues to be under Communist Chinese rule with no freedom of religion, speech, or press.
Somewhere in the neighbourhood of 6000 Tibetan monasteries have been since obliterated by the Chinese and they have harvested the Tibetan natural resources to near depletion. Over 80% of the Tibetan forests have been destroyed, and large amounts nuclear and toxic waste have been disposed of in Tibet, the starting point for all 10 major rivers that run through the rest of Asia.
The turmoil of the 50’s you would think would be insurmountable but the Tibetan people are not only physically resilient from living in such high mountains with such difficult conditions they appear to be mentally resilient too, to have survived such torture and loss in their country, invaded by China. But it has gotten worse, since that time. The Chinese government policies have almost completely destroyed the Tibetan culture in Tibet. Chinese is now the official language of Tibet and only one in seven people are Tibetan, with the number of Tibetan people continuing to plummet.

The Norbulingka Institute – textile learning.

In India, the Tibetan people face unreasonable economic and social circumstances. They have not been able to identify as refugees, which they are, but rather on paper, in India, Tibetan people are considered as foreigners. They are not allowed to hold government employment and in some cases Universities will not allow Tibetan refugees to enrol. Some say this is the Indian Government’s way of being sensitive to not try to assimilate the Tibetan people. Some Tibetan people living in India say not having citizenship in India causes extreme difficulties when trying to migrate as many countries are not open to refugees from Tibet, while others stay in India and strive to keep their culture alive. Even with unspoken pressure (from family and friends) to take refuge in other countries can be overwhelming to some Tibetan refugees in India.
I visited the Tibetan Cultural centre a few weeks ago and I was truly impressed with how that institute continues to teach Tibetan culture so that the younger generation can carry on. The young people attending that institution were amazing, not only with their craft but their philosophy of working toward a better future while continuing to highlight the Tibetan culture.

Norbulingka Institute – crafts painting room

The Dahli Lama, the spiritual and political leader of Tibetans, an icon, in this world, has and continues to carry the message of peace, supporting and blessing hundreds of initiatives to make life better for the people of this world. Locally, in India, he brings this message concentrated for Indians and Tibetans alike. In fact the Dahli Lama calls India his second home. The Dahli Lama’s foundation has contributed one half a million Indian Rupees to the Indian Medical Association’s facilities.
Recently the Women’s association of Dharamshala has worked with the Tibetan Nun’s on the issue of taxi safety by creating a Woman’s Taxi Service, Pink Wheels Taxi. This service should be available within the year in McLeod Ganj, where most of the Nun’s require taxi service. The Dahli Lama has blessed this initiative.
I have spent the last few months travelling in Asia and have met and seen people in some very impoverished, overwhelming circumstances but the Tibetan people in India, also in some very impoverished circumstances, seem to have a way to make you feel like there is hope for all of the world. It seems through the belief and blessings of the Dahli Lama, they manage to carry on, in spite of the physical and emotional scares from the past.
I have enjoyed my time in India and will miss the cultural experiences and my new found friends when I leave. I would like to come back to India and take a more exploratory look at the Tibetan’s plight as refugees.

Leann, July 2019

Thursday, 7 March 2019

‘Grassroots Innovation’ and ‘Waste is Resource’

‘Grassroots Innovation’ and ‘Waste is Resource’

When I first arrived in Naddi after resigning from my comfortable sales job at a tech giant in Mumbai, I had limited knowledge about the development sector and the catastrophic environmental challenges daunting our planet. The radical decision to leave a prosperous career in advertising technology and join Educare as an intern was fueled by my persisting urge to find a deeper purpose in my professional life.

I started the Solid Waste Management project of resource recovery with my two French project partners, Graham and Gaston. At first, none of us had the slightest idea that our project would manifest into what we have managed to achieve today. After the initial two weeks of intensive research on the subject, we concluded that we wanted to design a zero-waste system for the Naddi village on the pillars of the concepts of ‘Circular Economy’ and ‘Waste is Resource/Food’. Generated waste should either enter a biological cycle where it decomposes and provides nutrients to the soil, or a technical cycle that ensures a closed-loop manufacturing system of upcycling and downcycling. Essentially, our goal was to use the waste to support the biosphere and the technosphere - a biomimetic approach we had recently studied.

With our foundations solid and goal set, we now had to work on innovating a localized solution for this global challenge. This was the point when our Chief Director, Mr. Bhullar, introduced us to the concept of systems and design thinking, and we decided to break our goal into two tasks. First, to design a prototype of - what we now call - a ‘RRC’ (Resource Recovery Center), a platform for collection and segregation (within 30 categories) of resources. Second, to create a system around the RRC to facilitate effective and smooth collection, segregation, storage, transportation, and sustainable disposal of resources. Adopting and practicing this newly learnt approach helped us streamline our efforts, improve our focus, and see a holistic picture of what we had set out to accomplish. We were able to connect the dots and virtually actualize a systemic flow of resources from consumers to destinations of their sustainable treatment. While community engagement and behaviour change was an important component of our project, the main objective for us - as told by Mr. Bhullar - was to set up a sustainable system of resource recovery that could be continued by future interns (as it was done by Sami from Finland and Shivani from Canada).

Because we had limited resources and limited knowledge in design, it took us several attempts to develop and perfect the existing RRC. It was a continuous process of design, implementation, evaluation, and amelioration - a cycle, but a forward moving one. Moreover, in order to create a system of intelligent disposal, we made multiple trips to the nearest wholesale waste buyers and recycling facilities to understand the market for the resources we intended to sell, as well as to establish a transport system with them. Not only did these trips acquaint us with the monetary value of each material, but also helped us gain new knowledge concerning the recycling industry, allowing us to better develop the RRC. 

As illustrated in the images below, all our RRCs differ from each other aesthetically but are founded upon the same model. In order to succeed, we had to be flexible with our design but rigid with its essence. We had to move away from the ‘one size fits all’ approach and customize every RRC based on the context (location, free space available, community restrictions, and the resources at our disposal). Nothing comes easy when you work as an intern for an NGO in rural India. Yet, that is a virtue in itself; it forces you to become resourceful in your work and encourages you to do more with less. Such an environment also gives rise to frugal innovation - an approach I have been familiar with since childhood, but had deeply rooted within me after this stint. What I learnt from this experience is something that no classroom could have ever taught me.

It is true that an inter-cultural environment can spark greater creativity and innovation - the outcome of our project certainly justifies it. I am glad that I had the opportunity to work with people from different nationalities and forge some lifelong friendships - I am sure that I will have couches to crash on when I visit Europe.

Rachit Paliwal
Project Manager, Solid Waste Management
Naddi Village
Educare India

Sunday, 24 June 2018

Developing micro-scale concentrator photovoltaics

Developing micro-scale concentrator photovoltaics
Concentration Factor
Renewable Energy

After completing my master’s degree in mechanical engineering in the UK, I came to intern at Naddi as part of the EduCARE team. I planned to only spend a month and a half interning, so I came with preconceived ideas of what I wanted to build and the components required. Hence, I set forth on designing a micro scale concentrator photovoltaic system (CPV), this technology generates electricity from sun light and uses lenses and curved mirrors to focus sunlight onto a solar panel. CPV technology has been used to improve the power output of a solar panel by 350 times, however on the budget and time constraints my aim was to double the power output.

Within the first couple of days in Naddi, I discovered that solar power was currently being used by the majority of the street lights in Himachal Pradesh (HP). Every solar street light used a 40W solar panels and 40Ah battery, this ensured the lowest possible probability of loss of power supply and did not require to be connected to grid power. This was important in HP, as the street lights prevented accidents, so reliable constant lighting was key, and they were often deployed in remote locations. However, the cost of the solar lights, limited their deployment to more highly populated areas. I believed that a micro scale CPV system would be very applicable to these solar street lights, as it could reduce the cost of each light and improve its reliability.

I set about designing a CPV system, using the components I had brought with me, including a solar panel, solar charge controller, battery, Arduino and lenses. Surprisingly, the majority of the solar panel components were available in HP, however I was glad that I came prepared. The first step was to configure a solar panel set up, to test my components. Once that was completed, I designed a solar tracker, which rotated the solar panel to face the sun, so that lens remained focused on the solar panel. This was the most difficult part of the project, as it required me to design a frame for the panel to rotate about. Luxuries that I was used to, such as 3d printers and laser cutting was unavailable. Hence, I was forced to be more creative, I used recycled materials to design the frame including plastic bottles and scrap wood, making the design more environmentally friendly and cost effective. In the future of my project, I would aim to design a lens mounting system and make the product more robust.

The freedom of the project and the self-motivation has really helped me to enjoy my time here. I have had so much fun hanging out with the other interns, my favourite experience was going paragliding with them, in the quaint mountain village of Bir. This was a once in a life time opportunity and I am glad I took it.

Jack Parker (UK)
Project Manager, Micro-scale Concentrator Photovoltaics
Project Manager, Renewable Energy
EduCARE India 

Sunday, 22 October 2017

Making a portable solar light - On the move - Chemical to Renewable Engineering


On the move
Making a portable solar light - On the move - Chemical to Renewable Engineering

After studying Chemical Engineering in UK, I got interested in renewable energies. I came across the internship opportunities offered abroad in India by EduCARE India NGO in micro-scale renewable / alternative energy projects in EduCARE India. I spend the month of July in induction training and settling down. Prof Kalia, a resource person / mentor with EduCARE India listened to my interest and ideas. He gave me some solar panels and diodes asking me to learn and build a small and economical solar light solar panel that can serve the rural poor. I needed more materials. The month of August had brought the challenge of sourcing and buying the materials required to make the solar light prototypes. Considering that I am used to online sources being quite reliable and usually the cheapest option, trying to source materials in India brought about a whole different experience for me. Here it is the opposite, where generally a material sourced online tends to cost more than buying in person. I have had to practice being very patient, as online or telephone communication was also proving to be quite a challenge. Despite numerous emails and phone calls, the correspondence was not progressing.

Through consulting another external mentor, Prof. Abhijeet directed me to Asia’s biggest electronics market in Delhi, where I could find everything I needed. Being new to electronics myself, this would also prove to be an educational trip as having a market setting provides a very close up look to numerous equipment available. Despite having to journey to Delhi by my ownself, this trip was incredibly useful, learning to work and lead my work independently, as asked of interns at EduCARE India. Winding through the narrow alleyways filled with small stalls, selling every possible electronics component imaginable was overwhelmingly interesting. Had I not planned to journey back to Punjab that night I could have spent days exploring this market with a lot of fascination. The navigation through this somehow ordered chaos was an experience all on its own. The stream of people going through spaces barely wide enough for 2 people side by side, trying to avoid being hit by boxes being carried over your head by porters forcing their way through the crowd, trying and failing to keep track of what direction I was going in, making the mistake of thinking I could return to a stall if I didn’t find a cheaper price elsewhere and not being able to find it again. It was fascinating and exhausting at the same time. After spending more than 6 hours walking through the market and managing to buy everything on my list, I was definitely ready to sit down for a relaxing meal before my journey back to Punjab. 

As cost is a big consideration for the product development, this market setting where one can haggle proved to be very useful. It is also important to try and make the product as environmentally friendly as possible. Taking inspiration from the “Litre of light” project in the Phillipines, making use of plastic bottles as the container for the light can be very beneficial to reuse / recycle some of the plastic waste in the local community. In order to make the product more appealing, an idea is to engage the incredible creativity of the local children to design an artistic exterior for the bottle. The biggest challenge in designing the prototype is how to keep it as simple as possible and how to achieve the highest brightness using the lowest amount of power as possible.

On the less technical side - after two and a half months of working at EduCARE I decided it was time to take a break. Therefore, I had decided to time my holiday to visit my family in Gujarat with the religious festival called Navratri which is dedicated to the Godess Durga. The festival lasts for 9 days and to celebrate everybody gets together every night for a few hours to dance “garba” which is a incredibly energetic and fun group folk dance. It is all-inclusive as you see a mixture of all ages and different backgrounds dancing together. Having grown up celebrating this festival in London, being able to experience it in Gujarat is something I have always wished for and is now something that I will never be able to forget.

My solar light prototype @ $3 / ₹200

Khushbu Ravani (UK)
Project Manager, Hand-held Portable Solar Light
Asst Program Coordinator, Renewable Energy / RE Engineer
ViKAAS Centre, Harike
EduCARE India

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Sports EmPOWER Girls - India in India

India in India

(Volunteer - Internship experience as Project Manager, Sports Empower Girls Project in Harike)

I arrived in India on 2nd of September, nervous but excited for what the next month and a half would hold. The first stop was Naddi, where the induction took place. So high up in the mountains, the view was beautiful. Once I got there, Shirly showed me to my homestay family. Although only anticipating to stay there for three days, the other interns had to register, which in an Indian fashion took longer than expected. I was delighted to stay with this family for nearly 10 days, they were so welcoming and loving. The food was delicious, every night sitting around the home made stove on the floor and chatting to Milan, her brother and her sister. The mother of the family, although she didn’t speak a lot of English, was so delighted to have us there and joined in as much as she could. She really felt like my temporary mum for the time I was there, doing my hair and even leaping out of bed at 4 in the morning on the day I left to give me a kiss and tell me to come back soon. Finally we set off for Harike, Janus, Marc, Ankur and I. We left Naddi at 4 in the morning and a few buses and 7 hours later we arrived.

The heat was something new, from raining in Naddi to sweating every second in Harike, but I think we got used to it pretty quickly. The day after we arrived I jumped straight into the Girls Sports Club project, meeting all the girls and playing an exhausting 2 hours of football. The girls were amazing with so much energy and excitement. 

The girls and I from the last sports session

 Since then we started to incorporate other activities, although football is fun for the girls they don’t go away having learnt much. We started relays, which were amazing for team building and the girls loved it. But most importantly we started self-defence in sports club. I think this is a vital skill that all girls should be taught in order to protect them selves, especially in the world they live. We did this by demonstrating each move, then put the girls into pairs and got them one pair at a time to perform each one. When any mistake was made I would show them again and get the girls to repeat it until they got it. This week they were so into it that the girls were correcting each other and I was so happy to see this.

Every class we finish with meditation and the girls are improving so much, concentration coming much more easily to them as the weeks go on. I really hope this carries on and the girls incorporate it into their lives, because especially as they grow up, this tool could be an amazing way to help them deal with stress and frustration.

Khushbu and I demonstrating the self-defence

The girls practicing self-defence

 Self-defence demonstration using the girls, Manpreet in pink is the local resource person

Meditation at the end of sports club

During the first week Ankur, took us around the community for chai at different houses and I loved this experience. It really felt like we were moulding into the culture and community, every house we went to, we were met with friendly faces and unbelievable hospitality. I think without Ankur, the whole community engagement experience, would not have been the same. He took us straight in and because he speaks the language and has built up a relationship with the community, immediately we could connect with them. Adi’s family were some of the most welcoming people and really made me feel at home. The village leaders house also, the whole family is so smiley and warm. The two sisters I see every week, Manpreet and Sahit are his daughters, so I am there frequently. We were all invited for dinner one night and the food was delicious!

Dinner at the village leader’s house

Loveleen’s mum also is fantastic and the woman I have been trying to collaborate with for the yoga. I can now go to her house alone for a cup of tea. She is making me a Punjabi outfit for before I leave, which I am so excited about. 

Beautiful Loveleen has come out of her shell with me and it is so nice to see her confidence. The husband/father of these two is very orthodox and has been a cause of great frustration for Ankur and I because of his unwillingness to allow Loveline to participate in any activities. This is due to the belief she must learn the skills encompassing a good housewife. Ankur and I have accepted that we can only help who we can and the thought ‘pick your battles’ was our resolve. 

The next activity for the first week in Harike was Saturday’s girls club. On Wednesday I told them to come at 4 o’clock on Saturday. I really wanted to get a chance to see them more than once a week and have a go at acting. My first session I found slightly challenging; it was an idea I had really wanted to experiment with when I arrived here. Luckily I had Ankur to translate and explain the task. I gave the girl scenarios for them to play out. Firstly splitting them into two and assigning one group, a girl wanting to be a police officer to make her town safer and the challenges she faces and the other a girl wanting to be a doctor and the challenges she would face. The girl responded really well and most made a real effort to act and be serious. Let me tell you, gosh they have improved since this first session. I also adapted it slightly so that each group before they perform must tell the audience (me and the other girls) their message. From this has come really strong association with problems and how to approach them. For the most recent session I told the girls that to their play (domestic violence and violence towards women in the public sphere) they must include one of the self-defence moves I had taught them in sports class. I was so happy with the outcome because they had really taken on what we had taught them and remembered the moves correctly. 

At the end of every girls club we do some dancing and this makes me laugh so much. The girls and I even tried some Punjabi freestyling to ‘Single ladies’ by Beyonce. 

I was keen to teach the girls about meditation. Although slightly skeptical in the beginning due to their huge energy, they surprised me from the get go and really made an effort and engaged with me. After this I finished off each week’s session with 10 minutes or so meditation time. I have become so connected to the girls and see such potential in all of them.

Meditation at the end of girls club/acting class

For the Women’s health club in the first week Ankur and I spent time engaging the women and in the second week, on the Monday it began. For the first session Loveleen and her mum came, a few friends of hers and Manpreet and Poonam (the local resource people). To start off, I explained the foundations of yoga and meditation and Ankur translated. We then did Chakra chanting, pranayama and meditation, finishing off with the asanas. 

For the first week I had definitely entered expecting a little too much from their fitness, believing we would be able to complete the modified primary series of ashtanga (with a few extra modifications). But this was overly optimistic and I adapted on the spot to massively simplify the sequence, while also cutting it down to about 7 asanas over all.

I had hoped for a stronger response from this health class, because I can see how much it would truly help these women but this is where you see the effects of the culture. The women are the homemakers and because of this they very busy either cooking for their family, making tea for guests, washing, cleaning etc. This issue had made it hard to ensure attendance every week for yoga. I have not lost hope however, as I have written in my project manual, I really believe this project still has great potential.  More time is definitely needed and I am sad to not have longer, but this time could be used to explore the best time in the day and day in the week for women in the community. Once there is some consistency then this project will build momentum even if the regular group is only 6-8. Starting small is okay because then once these women start to feel the benefits, they can tell others.

Living in the center has been a great experience. It’s such a nice open plan house that has really come to feel like home. Including our pet buffalo, which was a bit of a surprise when we first arrived, but she has now come to feel the same as a normal house pet, although a lot larger and more horned.
One of my goals coming here was to learn some Indian dishes. 

 Ankur and I

Thanks to my Siamese twin, Ankur, I’ve actually managed to. We spent pretty much every day together, cooked most meals together and annoyed each other as much as possible, in the most sibling way. But really, I am so thankful to Ankur, who has taught me a lot about the community, the culture and also introduced me into my projects.

So on the 10th of October I say goodbye to EduCARE India and I can definitely say I will miss the whole experience, the girls, the intern house and everyone in it.  

India Timms (UK)
Project Manager
Sports Empower Girls
ViKAA Centre, Harike
EduCARE India
Sep-Oct 2017