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.