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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!

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!