About Me

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We are a student-run 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization aiming to improve the overall quality of life of the residents of Ananthaiahgaripalli, a rural village in the Kadapa district of Andhra Pradesh, India. It is our conviction that education will provide villagers with the tools to better their sub-par standard of living. For this reason, the project will construct and open a primary and secondary school in the village’s vicinity, welcoming children from the area to attend. The facilities will be free of charge in order to accommodate poor village children. We will also implement a clean water system to supplement the children's education. We recognize the ambitious nature of our project. We are confident, however, that with your support, we can improve the lives of the poor -- one child at a time!

Monday, January 10, 2011

Midnight thoughts

It is simultaneously overwhelming and humbling to take a moment to consider the magnitude of the world. The feats we have accomplished in such a short period of time relative to the history of this earth is breathtaking - organized society, agriculture, infrastructure, language and text, transportation, the internet - I could go on and on detailing the accomplishments I most admire, but then no one would reach the main point of this post.

Most of these accomplishments have been achieved in the last two thousand years - or, 100 generations of humans. And in each of these generations, multiple prodigies were born who were capable of transforming a simple piece of metal into an airplane, a string instrument into a timeless concerto, and a mere plug into an electrical pacemaker capable of sustaining life when a heart is too weak to carry on.

We spend so much time for ourselves: mastering a new ethnic dish to taste, perusing the internet to curiously inspect the lives of our peers, or even catching up with an acquaintance over a drink. Yet if we spend a fraction of that time on someone in need, we may just be able to discover the next prodigy.

The world's second most populous nation, India, boasts approximately 1.2 billion citizens (the equivalent of 17.3% of the world's population). Unfortunately, out of those individuals, only 66% are literate. Imagine not being able to read; you would have no access to the wealth of knowledge that novels, newspapers, textbooks, magazines, and the internet can provide. Imagine that everything you know has been handed down or experienced first-hand. Now imagine, you are severely limited by the knowledge you can obtain from others. Illiteracy is an epidemic; often entire communities are afflicted and are left without sufficient resources or access to information. Where do you go about even beginning to understand the complexities of the world beyond your doorstep, or even the simplicities? How can you feel motivated to create goals? The inspiration to do anything other than survive and conduct your life accordingly diminishes.

I feel heart-broken when I think of the countless and often forgotten lives that are severely limited by a lack of education. With the black cloud of poverty comes setbacks and tragedies. The worst tragedy arises from a dearth of knowledge: a reason to live. We all are able to list reasons why we want to live: multiple people, places, things, ideas that make our world spin. But how limited, in scope and insight, is the will to live for those who have not even begun to scratch the surface of this incredible planet?

This post was sparked by a heartwarming TED video I recently viewed:

I urge you to watch this video and feel inspired to grant at least one more person the capacity to make their own list of "things that are awesome".

Have a wonderful week,

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Of angry turkeys and goodwill

I'll never forget the first day I saw a real life turkey gobbling threateningly at us.  Coincidentally enough, we were hard at work in India.  After much anticipation for this day, the climax of our trip, we were finally outside an official looking government building waiting to meet the District Collector in hopes that we could secure his support and endorsement.  While waiting to be summoned, we noticed a large bird out of the corner of our eyes... Moments later, we are being chased by an angry male turkey trying to get these attractive foreign college-students away from his mate-- a shy little girl turkey hiding coyly behind a bush.  I have no idea why turkeys were in the garden of government offices.  Nonetheless, fond memories of thanksgiving rushed through my mind (as well as some fight-or-flight reflexes), and I would have never imagined that come this holiday season, we would be calling upon our fellow friends, colleagues, and family members to donate and help us accomplish our lofty goals.  I promise, we didn't spend every day chasing turkeys.

But of all the blessings to count, we are thankful to have such a strong community to support us in our quest to give to those who have nothing.

Keeping with the holiday spirit, The Sanjeevani Project has entered into the GlobalGiving Open Challenge.  The Open Challenge acts as a medium for nonprofit organizations like ours to mobilize their fundraising efforts and spread the word.  The goal: raise at least $4000 from at least 50 individual donors.  If we meet these thresholds, we will earn  an ongoing spot on GlobalGiving.org, a well-known platform for giving and receiving donations and obtaining corporate sponsorships.  Succeeding in the Open Challenge would benefit us greatly.

Constant fundraising is the only way we can support our efforts to  build Ananthaiahgaripalli a school.  Give back to a worthy cause this Thanksgiving.  And if you donate during the Open Challenge, your donation will mean more than ever.  After a certain point, GlobalGiving matches the money earned, doubling the impact every individual can have on our organization and the children in rural India.  One dollar, 46 rupees, is more than some families make in one day.

We can't win this Challenge without your help.  We would greatly appreciate any monetary donation.  The Open Challenge begins on November 29 and ends on December 22.

If you are interested in donating, please follow this link after November 28th:  www.globalgiving.org/projects/thesanjeevaniproject

On a closing note, here's a glimpse into an afternoon well-spent in Ananthaiahgaripalli with Malli, the servant's daughter.  Her contagious laughter, youthful energy, and inspiring curiosity warms our hearts, motivating us to keep working to give these children the tool they need to succeed: education.  When thinking about donating, please remember that every cent of your money would go toward the future of Malli and children just like her.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

What makes up the Social Entrepreneur Support System?
Food for Thought

It's been almost three months since the entire Sanjeevani board has been back and meeting weekly.  We found that transposing the lessons we learned in India back into a US framework has been difficult but worthwhile.  Many changes are in the works, but for now, we're collecting support and motivation through the struggles and successes of our community.  Please take the time to read through these resources, as they make up the essential philosophical and paradigmatic backdrops for our ambitions.

Nikolas Kristof published an article in the NYT this last week about individuals in international development, and the D.I.Y. Foreign-Aid Revolution.
It’s striking that the most innovative activists aren’t necessarily the ones with the most resources, or the best tools. If that were true, a team at the World Bank would have addressed the menstruation problem long ago, and G20 countries would be leading the effort to prevent Congolese warlords from monetizing their minerals. Rather, what often happens is that those best positioned to take action look the other way, and then the initiative is taken by the Scharpfs and Shannons of the world, who are fueled by some combustible mix of indignation and vision...
The challenge is to cultivate an ideology of altruism, to spread a culture of social engagement — and then to figure out what people can do at a practical level. 
by: Tracy Kidder

An inspiring non-fiction biography of Dr. Paul Farmer and, as the title states, his quest to "cure the world."  It deals with the very fundamental issues of social and international development through community involvement and personal investment.  It is the story of Partners in Health's burgeoning success  and why they have been able to make such a lasting and powerful impact on the lives of so many around the world.  Although the majority of humanity does not share Dr. Farmer's level of empathic selflessness, we can all relate to human suffering, and we all have the capacity to make a difference.

"The Empathic Civilization"
Royal Society for the Arts (RSA): Animate

A visual illustration of a talk given by Jeremy Rifkin, an American economist, writer, public speaker, political advisor, and activist, on the the most fundamental human trait that unites us within our divisive spheres: empathy.  Take 10 minutes and 40 seconds to really absorb what he's saying; it may truly shift your perspective on the most basic aspect of human interaction.


The very ability to make a difference in the lives of others is what inspires and motivates us as social entrepreneurs.  Whether your contribution is like that of Nikolas Kristof, Tracy Kidder, or the Arcade Fire (see: Will Butler speaking at Northwestern on his involvement with PIH), in which they write to showcase the efforts of others and garner support, or like that of the individuals actually making the change and investing their lives in the promise of a better future for humanity, the impact is tangible.  It may just be a drop in an ocean, but what if you were that drop?  What if your life is the one being changed?  The Sanjeevani Project is inspired not only by Dr. Paul Farmer, but by any and all of the individuals devoting their youth, health, and careers to social development.

For now, keep up with Sanjeevani in the press:

featured in North By Northwestern, NU's premier online student magazine
Emily Chow
"In mid-July, four Northwestern students — Kurtis Fjerstad, Hugo Massa, Nadine Ibrahim and Victor ‘Vik’ Siclovan — joined Reddy in India for the full immersion experience. Traveling between Mumbai, Hyderabad and the rural village itself, the group was able to gain perspective what the residents in Ananthaiahgaripalli needed. They conducted needs assessment surveys and began visiting various schools in Kadapa to learn from their shortcomings and integrate the positive aspects into their own project."


Take a few moments out of your day and reflect on all of this.  What does it take to make a difference? Help out where it means the most to you.  Donate one day's worth of wages.  If you're a doctor, offer your services.  A student, parent, CEO, dog-walker?  Get engaged in the dialogue.

Peace, love, and social engagement,

Friday, August 20, 2010

From concept to concrete

As our time in India comes to a close, our work begins to solidify and assume a more tangible form. Throughout the year we attempted to put together our project proposal (an official document detailing the minutiae and plans of our endeavor), but never succeeded in compiling a thorough and focused game plan. Although we had prepared ourselves and thought out our ideas extensively, it proved difficult to put something so crucial together before immersing ourselves in not only Indian culture, but also life in the village of Ananthaiahgaripalli. We had to assess the needs of the village, including understanding the current role of the government school and its shortcomings, the lack of resources, and the villagers' perspectives.

Malli, servant daughter and love of our lives.

We arrived in Ananthaiahgaripalli the second time with a precise game plan in mind. The welcome we received when we came back was heartwarming. Since we were no longer strangers, families welcomed us into their homes without qualms and children ran up to us to jump on our backs and braid our hair. All inhibitions gone, we not only loved and felt loved in return, but we could feel the common appreciation and excitement for our plans. To contour the curriculum and school facilities to the immediate and long-term needs of the villagers, we conducted a needs-assessment survey in which we interviewed a number of families and children to gain a better position on their value systems, financial situations, perception of gender roles, marriageable age, and how these factors influence their view of education and schooling.

Malli and her father.  Although currently enrolled in school, she acknowledges that she will soon drop out to be a servant.

We found that most families in the village fall into a similar frame. Due to the entirely rural nature of the area, the livelihood does not vary greatly from family to family. Men tend to land (they either own their own land or work on someone else's), look after their farm animals (mostly cattle and foul), or freelance their labor from week to week to make a living. Women and children keep the house, prepare meals, and help in tending to farm animals. Gender roles largely dominate the interaction between men and women in the village; they are clearly defined and not often breached. Marriageable age is somewhere between 15 and 18, and women are expected to get married, usually as a means of ameliorating financial duress. Money is sparse in the village, and children often stay home because the family cannot afford to lose another potential laborer. Many families we interviewed recalled marrying their daughters early because they could not feed another mouth. Almost everyone expressed a genuine interest in the possibility of keeping their children in school, to avoid falling into the same pattern of life, but in an ideal world without onerous financial situations. This a hugely important idea to consider. We can build a school, provide the facilities and the resources, but how can we provide families with the incentive to send their children to school everyday? Taking a hint from the Pardada Pardadi Educational Society in New Delhi, we are considering putting a small sum of money into a fund for each day that a child goes to school which they can only withdraw when they complete the 10th standard.  This would serve as an ongoing incentive to send children to school, enabling them to obtain a full education and graduate with the means to help their families, continue their education, or start up their own lives as they please.

The government-run school only goes up to the 5th standard and is house in a dilapidated building.

When asked about the resources lacking in the village, every villager we interviewed unanimously expressed a dire need for greater water availability and quality, and a hospital. We plan on instituting both of these things before the completion of the Sanjeevani Project. As discussed earlier, not only will we provide a clean-water filtration system but also a 25,000 liter water tank to ensure a constant supply of water throughout the year. A health center will also be phased in and families of children enrolled in the school will have preference of some sort, to continue to promote enrollment and attendance in the school.

Not only children would benefit from our endeavor.  A health center, community hall, and clean water resources will aid in the improvement of the overall quality of life in the village.

Extracurricular activities and leisure activities are mostly a spoiled concept. Elders in the village do not possess any special skills that they can teach children; families and children often sit idle or fall victim to the lure of mischief and alcohol. When asked if they would enjoy having these resources available for fun and to diversify their daily activities, almost every family expressed interest. Our multipurpose hall will serve the role of community involvement and development.  It will also be the stage for addressing common health issues (especially women's health, a conversational taboo in the village).

We continued conducting our needs-assessment surveys throughout the week, with Abhita's uncle serving as our ever-amiable translator. It was a real help to have someone so friendly act as the medium between us and families. All of the stories we heard were so moving that one has to wonder if the families would have volunteered the information to just anyone.

We submitted our completed and culturally relevant project proposal to the YSR (formerly Kadapa) District Collector, and verbally presented our ideas to him. He was impressed, to say the least. It was quite a relief to see the District Collector so moved by our efforts! He expressed his desire to help us in any way that he could and is forwarding our request to begin construction on the 10-acre plot of land. Within the next two months we should have government approval and we can begin preparing for construction.

We hope we have made you aware of the urgency of our cause.  We ask you to donate to our cause; each rupee counts more than you could ever imagine.

Love, Peace and Schools,

Thursday, August 5, 2010

A more enlightened team returns to Hyderabad

We disembarked from our train with the knowledge that everything we learned in the last week would somehow need to be put into words. A difficult task, no doubt; not only will we have to summarize our experiences in a cohesive site proposal to be submitted to the district collector, but we will also have to inform our readership back home who we hope will support us in our endeavors. To this effect, Hugo is documenting our entire trip and making a series of clips and movies to try to capture what it's like to see India through our eyes.

We met with Roop the afternoon of our arrival, a local architect and acquaintance of Dr. Reddy's, and Vandana Sinh from Ranjit Sinh Associates in Mumbai. Vandana is our primary architect and was gracious enough to meet us in Hyderabad to discuss architectural and construction plans for the school. The meeting was quite productive: Vandana provided us with a hard copy of the latest design blueprints, which feature cost-cutting measures. She has pledged to work with us to achieve the most cost-efficient design possible. To further decrease costs we will be working with local constructors (which Roop will help us with) and materials. Importantly, we decided that the school will be built in phases (we predict four), the first of which will cost approximately Rs. 1 crore, or about $213,000. This is to ensure that the school functions smoothly in its first years of operation, remains cost-effective, and is sustainable.

Later in the week we met with O. Chinnapa Reddy, head of Clarion Water Systems, a private Hyderabad-based company that specializes in reverse-osmosis clean water systems. Their business model is identical to that of the Naandi Foundation, but they charge half the price. First impressions of Chinappa Reddy were positive, so we sent him to Ananthaiahgaripalli to conduct an analysis of the village's water source. He has reason to believe that the water is contaminated. If Clarion Water Systems meets our needs better than Naandi then we will go ahead and contract their services.

We decided to completely revamp our website, sanjeevaniproject.org, so keep an eye out for our new design before the beginning of the new year! We also now have a Youtube channel, so make sure to check that out, too.

In case this was too much writing for you, watch this video on Sanjeevani's progress. Artfully crafted by our precious Hugo, it highlights our main accomplishments of the last two weeks and just might put things in perspective for you.

Watch! Enjoy! Comment! Donate!


Sunday, August 1, 2010

Where time is far from fleeting: Village life in Ananthaiahgaripalli

Following information overload in Hyderabad, we boarded a twelve-hour train to the village; rather, Rajampet, the closest “city” to the village.

Village life is slow. There’s time to breathe in and breathe out -- and plenty of time to spend thinking about it. The day starts at sunrise, and not a moment after, once the roosters call the village to attention and the daily chores begin. The servants wake up and begin boiling water for their morning baths (since running hot water is unavailable), while the women of the household wake up alongside them and begin preparing to make a day’s worth of food. Children run outside, playing and laughing, before they’re called inside to help in the house. Soon, the two dozen or so of them who actually attend the running government school emerge from their abodes adorned with perfect braids topped off with flowers and bows, while the boys look immature and handsome in their uncoordinated outfits. A few hours later, around 11 a.m., the electrical current is finally turned on (it’s only on for about nine hours a day), the ceiling fans come to life, and the hundreds of flies previously camped out on every imaginable surface scatter and buzz around the room. While we’re accustomed to a landscape dominated by buildings, business, technology, and transportation, the village pace is set by none other than the near countless animals and insects roaming the roads. Cows, left to their own devices, have a knack for blocking an entire street, while stray dogs will playfully walk after you with their innocent eyes (we laugh in the face of rabies... wait, none of us have that vaccine?). Goats, chickens, geckos, the occasional cat, and wild parakeets all complete the scenery. Not to mention the innumerable spiders and unidentifiable insects we discover on an hourly basis. Ananthaiahgaripalli is a picture of serene and slow life. Each day passes with the same itinerary, the same calm acceptance of simple, enjoyable life filled with relationships and lazy afternoons spent conversing about life and the project’s goals on the steps of a temple devoted to none other than Lord Krishna himself.

The functioning government school in the village plays a fairly minuscule role in the lives of the villagers and their children. It is comprised of two poorly maintained rooms and a highly unsanitary hole in the ground undeserved of the title “bathroom”. Children sit on the ground, which is very unclean. It should be noted that Nadine sat on said ground and stood back up with about five bites from (an) unknown critter(s) on her rump. Since it is a government-run school and will not be shut down, we have resolved to buy benches and playground equipment from Hyderabad to be shipped to the school to improve its condition. This school only runs up to the fifth standard, leaving children older than the age of around eleven or twelve unable to further their education. It is Telegu-medium as well, which significantly lowers their chances of securing any other means of education, since English-medium is increasingly becoming the norm. Children come and go as they please, and the teacher is almost ignorant of the constantly shifting numbers of children repeating after her. Working in the household and/or contributing to the family’s labor output is often more valued than spending the day in school, an attitude that Sanjeevani hopes to change.

We had the good fortune of being invited by Senator Vivekananda Reddy to lunch at his other residence, the same Senator we met previously for dinner. This time, he generously gave us a tour of the social work being done and funded by his nephew’s wife: an orphanage and a school with Christian undertones. It was quite inspiring to see what devoted individuals can accomplish. Women who worked at the orphanage found out it was Nadine’s 21st birthday and instantly crowded around her to clip freshly picked flowers in her hair and suffocate her with loving embraces and kisses. These children are most certainly in the best possible hands.

We will meet with the Cuddapah District Collector on August 14th to submit our site proposal, and hopefully receive the ‘okay’ to begin construction as a legitimate government approved presence in the district.

On our way back to Hyderabad, we stopped at Tirumala, the residence of Lord Venkateswara, the richest god in India. Pilgrims flock to Tirupati, the city atop seven hills, to see the deity for one fleeting moment before they are ushered away to allow the next shaved-head pilgrim a chance to make a wish in front of the god. The pilgrimage to the top of the seven hills consists of somewhere around 3500 steps spread out over 14 kilometers. It took Vic, Abhita, and Nadine about three hours to complete the pilgrimage. Most pilgrims complete the same journey in significantly more time, barefoot, and blessing every step they climb with colorful spices and devotional mantras. Our journey to Tirupati solidified our belief that India is like no country we’ve seen before. The culture is wholly unique, and we feel so lucky to have this opportunity to experience its magic with our own eyes.

Blessed steps and devout pilgrims.

A word to the wise: do not eat the ladus just outside Lord Venkateswara’s temple! If you are unwise enough to attempt digesting these right before boarding a twelve-hour train ride, Vic will be more than happy to teach you the simultaneous “vomit and poo”, which involves skillful pivoting, an Indian-style toilet (i.e. squatting), and some Pepto-bismol.

To learn more about life in the village and/or our project, contact us at thesanjeevaniproject@gmail.com. We will be more than happy to speak to you!


Sunday, July 25, 2010

Wide-eyed and curious: Sanjeevani arrives in India

Four of the five of us have successfully arrived in Hyderabad. At present, the team consists of Nadine Ibrahim, Victor Siclovan, Abhita Reddy, and Hugo Massa. Kurtis Fjerstad, the last member of our fleet of do-gooders is arriving on August 3rd. Hyderabad will function as our home base from this point onwards, due to the convenient fact that it is in the same state (Andhra Pradesh) as the village of Ananthaiahgaripalli and thus speaks the same language. It's great that we are staying in one of the biggest cities in India -- and the largest in the South --, since we will have the opportunity to explore Indian culture and business practices before immersing ourselves in village life.

Not 45 minutes after our group convened did we run to attend our first press conference. The conference was put together by a family friend of Dr. Reddy, Abhita’s father, and it was attended by most of the main TV stations and newspapers in India, both local and national. Our main goal in arranging this was to raise awareness for our cause -- why we're in India, what we're trying to do, and why it is important that people know about the project. Mostly, the more the word gets out about our magnanimous efforts, the more credibility we will have in the future when it comes to getting our paperwork pushed through the government, which is a notoriously daunting task. The press conference ran smoothly. It was quite a novel experience being in the limelight and striking ironically candid poses for innumerable photos. Over the course of the next few days we were featured in a number of papers

Oh, hello fame!

The next day, keeping true to our high-paced beginnings, we met with the Naandi Foundation to discuss the possibility of opening a clean water treatment facility in conjunction with the school. Naandi builds these facilities in rural and village areas around India to promote healthier lifestyles and to prevent unnecessary ailments caused by contaminants and dissolved solids in the available drinking water. We should be receiving a water needs-assessment from a Naandi officer soon, and then we will be aware of all, if any, contaminants consumed daily by the villagers in Ananthaiahgaripalli. The most common problem is fluoride consumption, which is often present in dangerously high levels in underground water sources. Fluoride ingestion causes Fluorosis, which contributes to bone density loss, mangled bone structures, stunted growth, and warped teeth. We are planning on meeting the quota for liters of clean water purchased per day by providing schoolchildren with water from the plant, since our school will cater to children outside of Ananthaiahgaripalli as well. (Edit: Hugo later made the courageous yet unfortunate decision to drink a cup of said untreated “drinking” water. A few hours later he was hallucinating about “respiration temples” and found himself in a creaky hospital bed with a fever above 104 F.)

Meeting with the Naandi Foundation to implement a clean water system.

We wanted to see as many functioning schools as possible throughout our trip, so we visited the Sai Vikas Model School in Hyderabad where we met with TV N, a local television station, to discuss the details of our project. More publicity! The Sai Vikas school caters mostly to children from nearby slums, and provides them with a free education. We spent quite some time speaking and playing with the children. Their level of curiosity is inspiring; within five minutes of standing outside we were surrounded by excited crowds of three-foot-nothings, reciting everything they knew in English. “Hi, how are you. I am fine!” Victor led a chorus of children counting up to twenty. Heartwarming, to say the least.

That week we had the good fortune of being invited to dinner at Senator Reddy’s house. His brother, the late Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh, Y.S. Rajasekhar Reddy, was very loved in the state. Last September he was tragically killed in a plane crash, and following his death approximately 700 Indian citizens committed suicide. Senator Reddy was very sweet; he was most welcoming and was quite interested in listening to our proposal since members of his family have committed a significant amount of time to doing similar acts of charity.

Victor went with Dr. Reddy to meet with representatives of the ASHA Foundation, an organization that regulates and sometimes funds other organizations with charitable intentions. It was stressed that the school needs to be designed around the overall needs of the children; they need to be provided with a moral and social upbringing that supersedes that of the parents, whose intentions might not always align with the best interests of their children. In order to determine the exact needs of the children, we must conduct a demographic study of Ananthaiahgaripalli. This process, of course, requires a great deal of thought and planning, one that Nadine will begin working on to be completed before our second trip to the village mid-August. For example, children in agriculture-based villages are an integral part of the labor supply, so the difficulty is convincing the parents and the children that education is more valuable than field labor. We will also begin considering the feasibility and value of providing a midday meal program.

To learn more about the educational environment in India, Hugo and Nadine met with the Pardada Pardadi Educational Society in New Delhi before they arrived in Hyderabad. The representative was incredibly informative and helpful when it came to crossing government roadblocks and identifying ways to address the needs of the village. Pardada Pardadi is an all-girls vocational and boarding school that caters to poor families. Its mission is to educate women, because they believe values are passed down maternally. Upon graduating the girls are given a sum of money (about $650) to use as they please: as a dowry or as seed money for any endeavor they hope to pursue. This strategy is definitely something we hope to consider, not only as an incentive to keep children in school, but also a way to compromise with families in the village who might think a day spent in school is not as productive as one in the fields.