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Notes from the Field
Posted by: Jon Thompson at 2:45PM EST on April 19, 2011
IESC India: Arrival in Delhi and Visit to the First School in Hathras by Balaji Srinivasan
Our team had known each other for only a few short weeks but we had become a good working team already. We are diverse in our jobs at Intel and locations around the globe: K N Harsha from Intel IT in Bangalore, India is our technical leader on the project; Arvind Amin from Intel’s Software and Solutions Group in Dallas, Texas is serving as a teacher; Gary Motyer from Intel’s Technology and Manufacturing Group in Shannon, Ireland is serving as a teacher; Darrin Donithorne from Intel IT in Portland, Oregon is our team Project Manager; and I, Balaji Srinivasan, from Intel Sales & Marketing Group in Cary, North Carolina am serving as technical backup.
All the planning by the team prior to departure is paying off. We arrived at the Delhi YMCA Tourist Hotel on Saturday March 26th and got the first of many lessons to be had during this amazing journey on how things are done in India. For example, in India, always halve the first offer for service or product as haggling over price is expected for all transactions; none of us paid the same amount for a cab ride from Delhi Airport to our hotel. Gary Motyer, a seasoned traveler and “first ascent” mountain climber was able to get his taxi ride for far less than any of us. He seemed to have a knack for haggling with the local merchants throughout the trip.
After a fitful sleep in what is considered an average hotel (imagine Motel 6 quality), we spent only a bit of time on Sunday 27th finalizing our preparations for Tuesday’s visit to Hathras, Uttar Pradesh. Confident we were well prepared to train the teachers, we used the afternoon to go see Delhi for the first time. Seeing amazing places like the Red Fort and Jamal Masjid (See photo: Jamal Masjid Mosque and Darrin in the foreground) and eating at world renown Kareem in a rundown poor part of Old Delhi were incredible experiences that stimulated all our senses to the fullest. This was our second lesson: to take it all in and try hard not to judge what we were witnessing for the very first time as India would show us a tremendous variety of old and new and test all of our assumptions formed prior to our visit.
The kickoff meeting at the Delhi office of CARE, our partner organization on the project, on Monday, March 26th gave us a good overview of what to expect at the Hathras and Mainpuri KGBV schools. We then boarded our very first train to Agra as it would be our home base for the first week of our 14-day adventure. (See photo: Harsha and Balji sampling platform food on the train to Agra.)
Once we arrived in Agra, we made it an early bedtime as key to our trip success was to ensure we got ample rest as each day would bring a long drive to the KGBV schools, hot temperatures and smog and dust that most of us were not used to back home. Tuesday morning March 29th, we purposefully arrived with low expectations but found the school was actually well maintained, equipped and organized; in fact we would later learn Hathras was one of the best ranked KGBV schools! The girls went through their morning assembly which included calisthenics, singing, praying and reading the daily news. The guiding principal, Prathibha-Ji, has a doctorate in Hindi studies and was singularly focused on making our visit successful while treating us like “God as we were guests in their school.” The girls are provided with room and board for an entire year as the principal and supporting four teachers focus on educating these girls to age-appropriate literacy goals for the 6th, 7th and 8th grade. These are girls who had dropped out of their local schools for various reasons in rural Uttar Pradesh. The teachers were very energetic, eager to learn and had accomplished much more than we had expected since the Intel Learning Series classmate PCs were installed in mid-year 2010.
Our lesson plan involved introduction to computers, basic PowerPoint and spreadsheet skills, and advanced topics like classroom collaboration software. Each of us took turns leading and supporting the various lesson plans. At this school the English proficiency was quite low. The language barrier was eased by excellent translation support by Harsha, Arvind and Shaleen-Ji. The girls at Hathras were ever so curious and eager to interact with such strange visitors as us. We were told the girls would be shy but it was not true as we quickly made many friends. Darrin broke down the communication barriers by joking with the girls. When I showed them pictures of my family, they were entranced by the pictures of America, snow skiing and pictures of the earth from an airplane. They tried hard to pick up our English and some of the girls would on their own continually translate to the other girls what we were saying to them.
The girls’ proficiency level with the classmate PCs was pretty good considering how little time they had used the PCs and some even knew shortcuts like ctrl-alt-delete and could navigate better than some of the teachers! This proved to us that given a powerful new tool like an Intel Learning Series PC, kids of any age and education level could quickly learn and make great use of them. The girls (and some teachers) could surf, search and download pictures and information from the Internet. Each day was split in half by a wonderful lunch prepared by the mess hall crew. They lived and cooked from the same building within the school grounds, and they would prepare all the required meals each day for more than 100 people. The elaborate midday meals were a welcome break for the teachers as we were teaching a lot of information in three short days, and it gave us a great chance to build our relationship with the teachers.
Our final day at the Hathras KGBV school and departure ceremony taught us our next lesson about India. Goodbyes are never short and sweet! The kids performed many songs for us, they gave us beautiful homemade cards and we even got in a game of handball with the teachers and girls. (See photo: Gary receiving his greeting card at the closing ceremonies). It was more than we could have imagined from our Hathras visit. We saw incredible potential in these teachers and students and we hoped their KGBV education supported by CARE and Intel, using classmate PCs, would propel them to achieve great things when they grow up in rural Uttar Pradesh. As we drove back to Agra, we were exhausted, amazed and thrilled at being afforded this golden opportunity from Intel (as part of our core value of Great Place To Work) to make a difference in so many lives with our volunteer effort.
P.S. Click here to catch up on the adventures, experiences and learnings from the 14 previous Intel Education Service Corps teams and the other two teams who are working right now in Kenya and Vietnam.
Posted by: Jon Thompson at 11:07AM EST on April 15, 2011
By Futaba Kaiharazuka, (Assistant Program Director, Emergency Response, CARE Japan)
In one of the evacuation centers where CARE Japan is providing hot meals, there is a man with perfectly groomed hair who wears a certain jacket. The man is in his late 60s or early 70s and always joins in the aid work at the center, volunteering to help with the heavy lifting. He is one of those people who is always courteous and never stops smiling.
One member of the CARE team had the chance to chat with him a few days ago during the food distribution. His house, like many of the disaster victims, and all his household possessions were washed away. When the tsunami struck he was wearing the same jacket he now wears all the time. He explained that he wears the jacket not because he cannot change his clothes; the evacuation center has received many relief items including clothing and underwear, rather, he wears it because out of all his personal possessions, his jacket is the only item that survived the tsunami. “Everything I had was washed away, but I am a fighter”, he said with his usual smile whilst chatting to the kitchen staff. There is a mountain of relief goods such as clothes and new items that have been delivered, but despite this, he feels wearing his own jacket gives him the strength and courage to go on.
In the midst of such great post-disaster disorder, CARE sees countless examples of people helping each other through the chaos, despite the severity of their own circumstances. The old man’s story shows the strength and courage of these people who are determined to pick themselves up again.
Posted by: Jon Thompson at 11:01AM EST on April 15, 2011
By Yuko Ota, (Assistant Program Officer, Emergency Response, CARE Japan)
The CARE Japan team visited a family of 11 members including a grandfather, his daughter and her husband (in their 50s), a grandchild, two great-granddaughters (eight and two years old) as well as five relatives who had lost their house. The lived in Kirikiri district in the city of Otsuchi in Iwate Prefecture, one of the regions that was most destroyed by a massive tsunami on March 11. The sun was setting as the CARE team arrived so there was a chill in the air – but this area hasn't yet had the water or gas supply restored so the family could not use the heater in the living room. The temperature indoors was almost the same as outside.
We talked to the mother and she told us that electricity has still not been restored. ''A few days ago our neighbors let us share some of their power supply. For the first time in one month we saw the extent of the damage on TV'', she said. ''Until then we had no information at all, and since seeing the vast scale of destruction in Tohoku on TV, I cry everyday.'' She described witnessing the sheer might of the tsunami approaching: ''I thought tsunamis were noisy splashing waves. But the tsunami last month crept in silently and in an instant swept away houses and everything else in its path.''
When the earthquake struck, her grandmother was on her way to collect the great-grandchild from Kirikiri elementary school. ''She was swept away by the tsunami, was missing, and then nine days later her body was found'', described the mother through her tears. They finally found a crematorium and were told that usually bodies would be cremated within three days of being found, but there were so many bodies in that area that a regional mass funeral is scheduled to be held at a temple on 29th April.
The mother continued explaining how the first three nights after the tsunami the family of six slept in their car in case they had to suddenly escape. ''We are still so worried that there might be another earthquake in the night, so we slept fully clothed in case we have to flee.''
The only granddaughter is heavily pregnant. ''As she is in her final month of pregnancy, she should be growing bigger, but she hasn't really grown. I wish she could have bath in clean water, but there is still no water supply'', the mother described, looking very worried. The Japanese military set up simple bathing facilities in the Kirikiri elementary school nearby, but it is very exhausting for the granddaughter to go there.
The mother runs a barber shop next door, but as there is no water, gas or reliable electricity supply, she doesn't know when she will be able to reopen. ''We have no daily income. I am very unsure of our future. But we are the lucky ones. Many neighbors have lost family members, their houses and their possessions. The town mayor also died so we will have to join hands and work together and restore the town.''
It has now been one month since the disaster struck. The disaster victims, despite experiencing great hardship, are determined to encourage and help each other to grow stronger and step by step restore their lives. In order to support the strength of the local people, CARE assessed the situation in the disaster zone so we can provide the people with the aid they really need. We provide food to evacuees in three centers – in a situation like this, with cold temperatures and many older people in poor health condition, it is important to get nutritious food in order to stay healthy.
Posted by: Notes from the Field | By Kristian Bertel | CARE International... at 9:36AM EST on April 13, 2011
Photos: Kristian Bertel
India is a country which is rich in heritage, culture, cuisine, nature and history. It has so much diversity that is hardly seen anywhere else in the world. It is an ideal blend of the modern culture and history.
With one of the world’s fastest-growing economies, India has certainly made giant strides over the past decade. However, despite averaging an annual growth rate of around 9% in recent years, vast sections of the country’s billion-plus population have seen little benefit from the economic boom.
Poverty in India is a big a problem now as it has ever been with well over 200 Million people living below the poverty line. A third of the global poor now reisde in India and the shocking statistics are highlighted by the huge disparity between the rich and poor.
An Indian girl is collecting things in Varanasi, India.
Poverty can be classified into rural and urban types. Rural poverty is caused due to various factors like dependence of rural population over the agriculture which is highly dependent on rain; injustice towards people of lower caste, lack of education, large family size with many mouths to eat and lesser hands to earn and unequal distribution of income.
Main reasons responsible for urban poverty is the scarcity of job opportunities caused due to migration of rural families to cities and lack of proper housing facilities.
About the photographer
Posted by: Jon Thompson at 9:48AM EST on April 8, 2011
By Robert Laprade
These are my last days in Japan. I am back in Tokyo now and will leave the country on Friday. It has been almost four weeks since the tsunami hit the coast of northern Japan; in many areas it was more than 30 meters high. There are still so many humanitarian needs. Even though infrastructure is getting repaired by the government, with roads being cleared, ports functioning again, and the lights coming back on, it is apparent even to those unfamiliar with emergency work that it will take five to ten years to rebuild the area--at least. Survivors living in evacuation centers or with host families face huge challenges. They will not be going back home anytime soon as many of their houses are now nothing more than a foundation. Others’ homes are partially damaged with windows and doors torn off, filled with a meter of a mixture of mud and miscellaneous, smashed rubbish. The initial shock of the disaster has receded – now it is dawning on many people just how bad their situation really is. They realize that they will not be able to live in their homes soon, if ever, again. It’s a huge challenge for the government. In the first weeks, the focus has rightly been on searching for survivors and remains of victims, putting a roof over the affected people as quickly as possible, and getting basic infrastructure back up and running. Now the government needs to determine how to house people for a longer period before permanent housing can be built. In the fishing towns of Yamada and Otsuchi and many others, most buildings are destroyed—only the wood, metal siding, beams, and contents remain, strewn across the hideous landscape kilometers from where they once stood as offices, houses, and schools. Much of the coastline where the tsunami hit is mountainous. The only flat area is the land lining the coves and inlets wiped almost clean in the disaster. There is not much space to build temporary houses for all evacuees.
When I visited the evacuation centers I saw that many survivors had nothing to do. Many just sat there traumatized. Others conversed with friends and relatives. Being in close quarters—sleeping, eating, and talking to the same group of people in very cramped space—can be a stressful experience after some time. Many people are still clearly grieving as it is only now becoming clear that they will probably never see their missing loved ones again. In some of the centers, we have been looking at helping with recreational and cultural activities that can help reduce some of the stress and monotony, especially for elderly people who may have extra challenges of mobility. These need to be things that are culturally and socially familiar to them, and that they identify as giving comfort or providing a bit of fun.
The evacuation centers in Yamada where CARE provides hot meals two times a day are located in a school compound. But the school year starts in the next few weeks. That’s another challenge. We have already been told that we need to remove our kitchen and storehouse as they were located in the classrooms. Evacuation center residents are sleeping in the gym and will not be forced to leave. My Japanese CARE colleagues now have to identify new places to store food and supplies and a place to cook. But that’s the nature of humanitarian operations. It is our duty to act in the best interest of those affected. In this case, we want the kids to go back to school, the people who don’t have a home to have a place to live, and to ensure that we can still serve nutritious food for the residents. We need to be flexible in a dynamic environment, finding ways to bring help to survivors and meet the many different needs they have.
The past weeks in Japan have shown me how fragile life is. Whether we live in developed or developing countries, whether in cities or villages, we can never be too secure. I also think we should respond to the humanitarian needs of survivors, no matter in which region of the world they live, even if they happen to come from a “rich” country. The tsunami in Japan also really underlines the importance of disaster risk reduction and early warning systems. Had those systems not been in place, clearly casualties would have been much higher. It was also great to see how people helped each other out in their time of greatest need. The Japanese people have all pulled together, everyone doing their own part to in some way show their support for the victims and survivors. There were numerous donations and offers to host homeless survivors. Inhabitants of Tokyo try to save energy whenever they can. The hotel where I am staying in Tokyo turns out the lights in the lobby when breakfast is over. All the glitter and glamour that you visualize when you think of Japan is toned down. Excessive celebrations during this important time of traditional cherry blossom festivals are even frowned upon. The CARE team in Tokyo is still working long hours, until 10 p.m. every day. Everyone seems content making sacrifices, knowing that in some small way they are paying their respects to the inhabitants of the ravaged Northeast coast and making a difference in the lives of survivors.
Posted by: Jon Thompson at 10:59AM EST on April 4, 2011
By Robert Laprade
Today we distributed hot meals to evacuees in Yamada. Since the tsunami hit northern Japan, many survivors have not received balanced, hot meals on a regular basis. They are mostly surviving on just rice and some occasional fruit. In a situation like this, with cold temperatures and many older people in poor health condition, it is important to get nutritious food in order to stay healthy. Trained cooks and cafeteria staff helped us to prepare the food to ensure cleanliness. We are providing two meals a day in three locations of one big school compound here in Yamada. The evacuees were really happy and thankful. In this rather positive mood we set off to do some further assessment in Otsuchi, a fishing town south of Yamada. When we arrived there, my good mood was suddenly replaced by pure shock. Described by some newspapers as one of the worst hit towns, Otsuchi was in dreadful condition. Here again we could see the destructive force of a tsunami: debris everywhere for kilometers as far as the eye could see—houses, cars, parts of large concrete bridges, large electrical turbines, even a few fire engines strewn across the muddy landscape as if a giant child had emptied his set of Legos and children's toys into a muddy, dirty sandbox. In the areas where the waves had reached their maximum incursion inland, some houses were but left with one to two meters of grey, ugly mud that now covers everything. Within that mud, everything imaginable is mixed. Driving through the area of Otsuchi where some of these houses survived, we saw elderly people digging in the mud, trying to find even just a few belongings that can remind them of the world they once knew.
We talked to one woman, who was picking around the smelly mud. She was around 70 years old. The tsunami took her husband away. When we approached her, she had just dug a few dishes out and squatted around a plastic bowl where she cleaned them in water. It was cold outside but she wanted to rescue her few little things; it was all that she had left. She told us that even though a few volunteers came to help, she was really doing the cleaning all by herself. Her house was still standing, but everything inside was destroyed. It was really heart-wrenching. The tears from my CARE Japanese colleagues ran down their cheeks for five minutes; I think it was a blessing that I required a translation and could not understand everything she said. We were so far away from the glittery, high-tech world of Tokyo that we see from the movies and TV about Japan. People here did not possess much to begin with, most lived in small duplex houses, provided by the government and which looked like trailers. This was a fishing area. Those young, agile, and educated enough have long gone to the cities to find better paid work. Only the old ones were left.
We met another woman together with her husband. Both were also digging through the mud, looking for a few valuables. She told me she was the youngest around here – and she was already 60 years of age. She pointed to some of the houses, saying that almost all of the inhabitants are 80 years and older. Most of them are just physically not able to clean the mud from their houses. They need help. They were questioning why the municipality did not help them. When we drove about a kilometer over a hilly outcropping and gazed out over a small bay we realized why nobody would help for a very, very long time. The entire commercial and downtown residential area of Otsuchi was gone. Washed away. The mayor died—so did anybody else who remained behind or couldn't run fast enough when the warning sirens went off. From the hill, it looked like a bomb hit this town. Probably only one in twenty buildings were even recognizable as buildings—just foundations or a post or two of metal, maybe a half wall here and there. When entering this burned out ghost town of mangled metal, concrete, and mud, I noticed an overhead highway sign that remained standing. It indicated that Sendai is 230 kilometers away--230 kilometers to the center of tsunami impact. How in the world could it look worse than here?
After this awful excursion into hell, we went back to Yamada. I am glad that we could provide the people here nutritious food. And we'll do more of it elsewhere. Afterall, it's people like the women we met who are the residents of the evacuation centers. There is so much work to do.