When you imagine an ambassador of any country; you would definitely think of a convoy of luxuries cars and security men. Now think of an alternative, something unbelievably different. Because the Mexican Ambassador to India Melba Pria always uses an auto-rickshaw to travel around the city. And it is not any rickshaw, it is her official car!
She believes that if leaders of society change their mindsets, people of the country automatically follow. The auto rickshaw is her official vehicle because it is “environmently friendly” as she believes.
She was a frequent traveller to India before she was an ambassador. In India she went by auto-rickshaw wherever she travelled in the cities or towns. “Before taking the decision of taking auto as official vehicle I realized auto is one of the most efficient means of transport in Delhi. It isn’t only environmentally friendly but also became India’s cultural icon.”
Melba Pria has got embassy series for her auto. The floral design which decorates the canvas on the top of the vehicle has been made by Mexican artist Senkoe. Senkoe was attending Delhi Street Art Festival few years back when he got to know that Melba Pria is looking for an artist to paint her official vehicle in India.
When asked she said, “Why not me? When everyone is dealing with the heat then why not me. Wherever I am, I have become part of this city.” She believes that Indian roads are more bumpy and people are crazy while driving but she loves her auto rides. What about Delhi smog, her spokesperson said that she is fit and fine so she uses public transport.
The smog of Delhi requires proper equipped measures to deal with it and we do that. Difficulties There are quite a few protocols that an ambassador has to follow. Getting an auto was not an easy task. According to Ambassador Pria, “It wasn’t easy to buy an auto as official vehicle.
We had to get permission from the Ministry of External Affairs and other government agencies.” After a few rounds of paper-work she got the permission for an auto. But another problem arose. She couldn’t get a driver. Generally, embassy provides a trained car driver. Chauffers who drive as an Ambassador’s driver feel proud of their job. This time Mexican Embassy was looking for an auto driver with proper training and uniform.
“It was a task. I tried to convince drivers about this work and their reputation. What I tried to tell them is, you are still the driver to an ambassador, but the ambassador chooses to have a different vehicle,” said Melba Pria. Finally she got Jagdish Duggal as her official auto driver. Once when Melba Pria visited IHC (India Habitat Centre) to speak in an event on public transport, she had difficulty with her auto.
The envoy’s official vehicle was denied parking space. Despite the intervention of the organizers of the event, the management of the IHC refused to grant permission. Mexico-India relations Her name Pria also sounds an Indian name. When asked what she feels about India and Mexico relation, she said, “Both our countries have a longstanding relationship.
Mexico was the first Latin American country to recognise India as an independent nation. We have good relationships, our trade flourishes, but we can do much more.” She also informs that most of the time people call her Priya instead of her Mexican name Pria.
What is Mexico planning in India? She says, “Mexico supports ‘Make in India’, ‘Skill India, ‘Smart Cities’ and other programmes currently undertaken by the Indian government. Also, we believe our country is one of the best places in the world to invest and do business, especially for Indian companies.”
<![CDATA[by Vikram Dewan
Suyash Varma is among the youngest founders of an NGO anywhere in the world. He is a certified yoga instructor, writer, teacher, mentor and musician, who is spearheading a quiet revolution in the backwaters of Bihar.
His NGO Wake up India Foundation is at the forefront of this change, with students of various prestigious universities working selflessly to help the poorest of the poor break the shackles of ignorance and poverty with education. Here are the excerpts of the wide ranging interview with the multi-talented Suyush.
The NGO space in India is already overcrowded; why one more NGO?
Our method and area of operation differ from others. Moreover, it is not a competitive industry. It’s always good to have more people having the urge to change the society. Our work culture and structure is more informal and our method and area of operation are different.
Can you be called the youngest director of an NGO anywhere in the world?
Honestly, I have no idea about the age of founders of NGOs across the world. I started the group when I was a second-year college student (Age 19). It’s been 7 years now.
In the age people look for a regular job, you have started an NGO. Do you not face financial insecurity?
Financial security remains a concern, however, the urge to impact the society drives you the move in the direction of your dreams. For me, I was involved in other works for financial assistance.
What were your motivations to start the NGO?
Injustice inspired me to work. Long queues, delayed service delivery in the government sector, lack of informed choices and other such things made me wonder that why a country with such an excellent demographic dividend is unable to fulfill the basic necessities of its citizens? Although the constitution has explicitly conceptualised India to be a welfare state, the government machinery has failed to achieve the same.
The unavailability of basic services to the neediest people inspired me to start the organisation.
Very recently, I learned through a BBC Documentary that Power Backup Generators are Indian concept and the total number of generators installed here can light entire Australia for 1 year. Electricity is a basic amenity but citizens are devoid of it. Such things inspire me to work more.
What are the challenges and opportunities of establishing and NGO and working in Bihar?
Bihar can be considered as a heaven for NGOs to work. There is so much scope for development. I’m from Bihar and I’ve faced the challenges during my school days. There is a vicious trap – lack of affordable educational facilities leads to poor knowledge of the subject, poor knowledge leads to unemployment, unemployment leads to poverty and poverty again leads to lack of affordable educational facilities.
Such has been the trend of the education sector. There is a lot and lot to do in Bihar. Challenges that we faced were mostly related to people not willing to send their students to schools and government officials not willing to participate/approve the plans.
What are the activities the NGO engages in?
Wake Up India Foundation operates in three verticals – The Campus Project, The Gurukul Project, and The Teachers’ Room. The Campus Project operates in 4 states and has students from different colleges as members. Under The Gurukul Project, we have 21 schools providing education in the remotest areas of Bihar. The Teachers’ Room project, started this year, aims to provide free online education through different mediums (desktop and mobile).
How do you get your funding?
We receive mostly private funding. We don’t have any government projects as of now.
Do you have a regular staff or is the NGO entirely based on volunteers?
The Campus Project and The Teachers Room are entirely based on volunteers; while The Gurukul Project has a regular staff.
Can you share as to how you are contributing to the society?
Change is a continuous phenomenon. Through our awareness campaigns, we have impacted many lives. There are many such examples, however, I would like to highlight the contribution of The Gurukul Project in revamping the education system of rural Bihar.
We operate in places where the bigwigs of education industry don’t operate due to less profit. Our schools, equipped with smart boards, aim to provide the best guidance to the students. Last year, 2 of our students got 10 CGPA in the CBSE matriculation examination.
What are your plans for the next 5-10 years?
Expansion and inclusion of technology in different sectors to drive change will be our priority for the next five years. The Campus Project operates in 4 states. We’re planning to include 2 more states this year. By 2020, we plan to have 10 chapters of The Campus Project. My vision is to involve more youth and make them committed to drive social change through innovation and policy research.
What specific social and political change you hope to achieve?
Awareness. There is an urgent need for the people to be aware of their rights and duties. That’s how development will trickle down to the lowest strata of the society. With better awareness, we make better choices. And with better choices, we get better results.
How do you plan to break the barriers of caste, religion or corruption in politics?
Corruption has to be addressed at the root. There needs to be a system that is accountable to the public. Also, the public should be aware of their rights to prevent corrupt practices prevalent in the system. A simple example would be of The Consumer Forum. Most of us are unaware that such an ombudsman exists where any grievance is immediately redressed.
Caste and religion barriers can only be overcome by spreading education and implementing it in our actions. At our schools, we invite people from all castes to participate in village-level campaigns. Also, The Campus Project has conducted several campaigns to promote caste and gender equality.
A lot of educated Indians want to go abroad to escape reservation, corruption, casteism and language and religious barriers in India. How do you plan to change the country rooted in such evils?
A trust in the government system needs to be developed. Indians, instead of escaping the system, should stay in the system to change it. The government before implementing any policy invites suggestions from the public on it and those suggestions, if feasible, are duly implemented. However, most of us don’t bother about those policies until it is enforced upon us.
The three-step solution should be: 1. Remove policy paralysis and develop India as an economic hub. 2. Enable strict punishment for those who discriminate based on caste, creed or religion (Under Art. 15 of the Constitution) and 3. Launch nation-wide awareness campaigns and include celebrities as ambassadors to uproot this evil.
How can people contribute to you?
Interested individuals can contribute as volunteers in The Campus Project, as mentors/subject matter experts in the Teacher’s Room Project and as a full-time staff in the Gurukul Project.
Describe your typical day/week related to NGO?
It goes mostly on providing hands-on experience to the volunteers and planning about the next campaigns under The Campus Project. The weekends are for understanding reports from the Gurukul School Project.
How do you deal with demotivated volunteers, who lose interest?
As mentioned earlier, we follow a very informal approach. That means anyone within the organisation can approach me directly with their suggestions and complaints. If the volunteers are demotivated due to their expectations not being met, we definitely deliberate on the issue.
One-on-one with the people involved always solves the issues. However, there are people who join the organisation due to the charm associated and so, get easily demotivated, we try not to continue with such people.
Did you face objections or ridicule of your family and peer group? How do you deal with the same?
It is said that every master was first ridiculed before they were revered. In my case, the best part was that my family always supported me. For others, my constant belief and determination were always enough for their criticism.
Do you think your NGO can bring about a real change in a conservative patriarchal society like India rooted in the past, with Khap panchayats or Kangaroo courts?
I would slightly differ from the point. We believe India, unlike other countries, had a glorious past. For example, voting rights to women in US and UK were granted in late 20th century, however, Indian scripts mention of Mahajanpads (large villages – existed around 300-500 B.C.) where women participated in parliamentary sessions.
We make sure that our students and the volunteer carry the glorious culture of India and spread it. Khaps and Kangaroo Court need more of an ideological transformation. People of our generation have successfully defied such rituals/practices. Although, Wake Up India Foundation does not directly operate in these areas, but there are other NGOs that have highlighted the menace and pressurised government to make legislations for the same.
Your view on reservations in a government job that affect the college students, your core volunteers the most?
Reservation was introduced in the constitution for the upliftment of the downtrodden and was supposed to be removed after a few years. However, due to political nexus, it continued. While I strongly support those in need should get a reservation, but I oppose the current caste-based reservation. Not every person belonging to the same caste is equally oppressed or economically weak. Benefits should be provided only to those in need.
The things and incidents that surprised you most?
As a part of my job, I’ve to interact with college students from different states and with kids who join our school in rural Bihar. What surprises me the most is I find both equally talented. We conduct Science Exhibition regularly in our schools and the ideas that pop up from those young minds makes me speechless. All they need is a platform to showcase their skills.
You are a multi-talented individual, a certified yoga instructor, writer, teacher, mentor, musician and also the founder of an NGO. How do you juggle in all these roles and which of these roles appeals to you most?
I won’t call myself talented, but skilled. I completed my studies from a Hindi medium school and had no idea about the socio-political structure of India till I joined college. I’ve been an average student my entire life. All these skills I’ve learned over years were due to my urge to move out of my comfort zone. Growth begins the moment you start getting uncomfortable. A few small daily acts of discipline stack up over time to produce enormous achievements.
As far as the role is concerned, I would love to be known as a constant learner. I hope to make more such choices that help me learn new skills. It is said that the more you own your power to make choices, the more powerful your choices become.
Women’s plight always raises a question mark on male dominance and society’s prejudicial attitude. But a street that goes to Gender Resource Centre of an NGO at Najafgarh, makes an honest attempt to help women lead a life filled with joy, pride and dignity.
Guild for Service – an NGO working for women empowerment since 1972, helps women overcome the social and economic problems and deal with their personal crisis and also helps women to earn their livelihood and lead a dignified life.
Dr. V. Mohini Giri is a chairperson of Guild for Service, she says: “The Guild for Service carried out various women empowerment projects designed to increase their self-esteem and confidence that encourage their social interaction. We also try to improve their earning potentials.”
Dr. Mohini Giri is former chairperson of National Commission for Women (NCW). She has been deeply involved with social service for long. She said: “When I was in chair at NCW, I surveyed 544 districts of India to know their conditions and came across several disturbing gender issues. Realising the problems of women, I started the War Widows Association. Later, we started Guild and here we are trying to change the attitude of the traditional society.”
How it works
• The NGO has several projects for women empowerment and widows. They help women making a decent earning by selling products made by them. In Delhi, NGO runs its centres Shubham at Najafgarh, Sawai Madhopur and Vrindavan at Uttar Pradesh. The NGO also started its centres in Tsunami affected areas of Tamil Nadu and Kashmir.
• NGO runs ‘Mahila Panchayat’ at Najafgarh to help rural women. “We empower and educate women on their legal and social rights. Information regarding legal procedures, filing FIRs and other basic legal matters are discussed there. During 2010-2011, 116 cases were registered with us and 98 have been resolved so far,” informed Dr. Giri.
• Near Sarvodya Kanya Vidyala of Najafgarh, the NGO runs a ‘Stree Suvidha Kendra’ in association with Department of Social Welfare, Delhi Government. According to the Dr. Giri, “The centre acts as development catalyst or women particularly those belonging to the underprivileged sections of the society. We are giving vocational training like nursing, cutting, tailoring, basic computer training, beauty courses etc.”
“Last year, 54 inmates enrolled in beauty culture course and most of them are happily employed in beauty parlors,” informs Dr. Giri.
• Apart from that, the Guild also runs counselling centre for women where they can get free of cost consultation for the issues like legal aid, women hostel or vocational training.
“We also organise group marriages for those from low economic background. On April 2010 in a holy ceremony 14 couples tied at this ceremony. The function was organised in headquarter at Qutab Institutional area,” said Kalpana Bhoungale, councillor at Guild for Service.
How they generate funds for all these schemes, Dr. Giri says that donations and government schemes help them to prepare women for vocational training. Apart from that inmates of various service centers prepare many items for sale such as leather purses, Woolen mufflers, kitchen aprons, table mats, greeting cards, embroidery work etc.
“We are planning to start few new recreational services for widows of Vrindavan so that they can feel happy even in tough times. Also, more areas are being identified where vocational courses can be started. Our volunteers are working throughout India,” informs Mohini Giri.
Contact: C-25, Qutab Institutional Area, Qutab Institutional Area, New Delhi-110016
He has never been to a technical college but Uddhab Bharali (55) has till now invented 140 devices only to simplify the daily life of people living in villages. One of his inventions has been recognised by the NASA as well. He is undoubtedly India’s master inventor, who lives in a tiny house in Assam where he has dedicated his life to the inventions.
Most of his inventions are focused to empower farmers in agriculture and to help handicapped people. For example, once the bank authorities told them to vacate their home due to his father’s debts. Uddhab took few days from them and built a polythene-making machine and sold it for Rs 67,000 against the market price of Rs 5 lakhs. He used the money to pay off the loans.
He has developed a robotic hand for the physically challenged and those who lost their limbs due to accident or illness. It is important to mention that he gives two hours everyday to his research, and develops unique, cost-friendly and useful devices.
Uddhab was a gifted child, who always had a knack to invent. “After completing first grade, I was directly promoted to third grade and from Class VI, I was promoted to Class VIII. I loved mathematics. I even tutored some of my classmates to help them get good grades,” said Uddhab Bharali. Uddhab said: “I dropped out of college in 1987, because I was unable to pay the fees. However, I continued to build gadgets in the free time, which was my passion and it also helped us in our day-to-day life.” His first invention took place when his family was dabbling under pressure of debt.
However, people got to know about his inventions came when a writer-engineer Arnab Jan Deka wrote about it in two prominent Assam dailies.
The other side
Being a successful innovator he develops user-friendly equipments for the handicaps. Apart from his other inventions he spends almost two to three hours for research and to develop aids for the handicaps. He has been financially supporting around 20 poor families.
He is mobilising these people and generating employment for them. Few of his inventions have played pivotal role in the lives of handicapped people. He has developed a cleaning machine for those people who have lost their hands. Also, he has developed a rice flour machine which can be operated automatically.
He gives a monthly pension of Rs 1,200 a month to six widows, while three physically challenged persons get Rs 2,500 per month. He also runs a small research and training institute where he trains underprivileged students for three months, and help them learn more about technology and its applications.
He proudly said: “I am a recipient of president’s Grassroot Innovation Award 2009. Apart from that I felt truly honoured when NASA declared me winner of engineering design contest organized by NASA Tech ‘Create the Future Design Contest’ for the year 2012 and 2013.” He is also the recipient of ‘Rashtriya Ekta Samman for year 2013. Bharali is invited to give lectures at various Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs). He has been featured in History Channel’s TV Show, ‘OMG! Yeh Mera India.’ Besides, Apart from that he was honoured with doctorate from Assam Agricultural University.
Few Inventions –
Nut peeling device that could peel around 120 nuts in a single minute. – Pomegranate deseeder which can separate the outer hard skin from the inner thin membrane without any damage to the seed. It can easily deseeding around 55 kilogram of pomegranates per hour. – Garlic peeling machine, tobacco leaf cutter, paddy thresher, cane stripping machine, brass utensil polishing machine, safed musli peeling machine, trench digger and a chopper for cattle and fisheries feed are popular and being used in foreign countries. – A robotic hand for handless people. This device can help handicap people in eating food, holding books etc.
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