Saturday, March 12, 2011

Japan Tragedy: A wake-up call?

FIVE HUNDRED THOUSAND people have lost their lives in 2010 to natural disasters. Mother Nature has struck, and struck hard again. The devastating earthquake at Japan has caused massive damage to life and property over major parts of Japan. All the development, all the technological advancements there are can do nothing, absolutely nothing to combat the might of nature. Perhaps, it is indeed these developments that are causing these natural disasters.

The year 2010 was a disastrous year with calamities taking lives and causing destruction without respite.
  • Nearly half of the victims of the total 2010 casualties were from the Haiti earthquake alone.
  • Chile suffered a terrible 8.8 magnitude earthquake with more than 500 killed and 300,000 homes damaged.
  • Almost 12 million people were affected in the floods in Pakistan with around 1200 losing their lives to the waters.
  • Wild fires in Russia caused smog killing an estimated number of 15,000 and causing health problems to thousands more.
  • A raging snowstorm struck the north eastern part of US in late December (though now that seems merely inconvenient as compared to the rest of the list).
  • An Icelandic Eyjafjallajokull volcano (how unpronounceable is that!) spewed gas over Northern Europe disrupting flights and travel for an extended period of time.
  • New Zealand was hit with a 7.7 magnitude earthquake causing damage of millions. Even as the recovery progressed slowly, further tremors though lesser in extent hampered recovery efforts.
  • Indonesia suffered another earthquake and Tsunami causing damage though not as massive as the others.
  • A cold wave struck the usually not-so-cold Peru and Argentina killing several hundred unaccustomed to the cold.
Plodding through the Snowstorm in NE America

While the world grappled with disasters in 2010, nature did not relent in 2011.
  • 2011 did not start too well either, with the Brazil floods causing landslides and taking many lives.
  • Australia experienced the same problems with major cities being inundated for several days.
This list very unfortunately is not an exhaustive list and there have been many cyclones which have been terrible too as unexpected that they were. I pray for all those affected to pick up the pieces and restart their lives.

Increased urbanization, deforestation, depletion of the ozone layer, global warming have now started perpetuating the debilitating effects of human ‘progress’ and several lives are heavily paying for it. If terrorists can’t get one, there is indeed no telling when these natural disasters will. Ofcourse, I don’t want to predict any doomsday or acocalypse, but one can’t help feeling a sense of utter helplessness when tragedy strikes. However, I do feel, that it is indeed high time, that the industrial community, governments, and individuals started to understand the evil that is happening because of the consumerist and the selfish progress that has been made by mankind to disrupt the ecological balance that has kept life on earth alive for several million years before the advent of the Humans.

Industries need to stop spewing noxious fumes and toxins depleting the ozone layer. It is necessary to reduce CO2 emissions and going green whether it is green vehicles, power or manufacturing. Individuals need to use less disposable things such as paper products, napkins, use less electricity as far as possible and preach the message as they practice. More trees need to be planted and population needs to be reduced! Whew, I guess, writing it, makes it sound pretty difficult considering burgeoning populations and lack of space and increased consumerism! But, notwithstanding the immensity and the challenges of the tasks, everything possible has to be done with a sense of urgency.

If the ever increasing list of natural disasters is not a wake-up call then what will it ever be?

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Lighting up lives at the Lamp Post School

An estimated 35,000 street children live in Mumbai . We see them in trains selling trinkets, at traffic lights begging or selling flowers, at the vegetable market helping their parents, in restaurants cleaning tables, in our buildings cleaning cars, taking the laundry or dropping off the newspapers. What do we do? Most of us avert our eyes or buy stuff from them or plainly take them for granted. We think we are being compassionate if we say a kind word or that we are helping them by buying stuff from them. There are others with cynical hearts that feel nothing but revulsion for them. And then, there are those who step up to actually do something for them.

The Lamp Post school was one such story started by a compassionate individual, Sanjay Pasrija of Deloitte who happened to notice street kids studying by roadside lamps. Seeing their dedication day after day, and several days of nightly chats, he finally took the plunge of teaching them and the Lamp Post school was born. With support from other Deloitte employees and Deloitte, the school was given a space in the office basement, where regular learning began and now continues to boast of over 50 students now, many of which are doing remarkably well at their regular class with the ‘schools’ support. It is indeed remarkable what can be achieved if we pledged even a couple of hours a week.

It is all such individuals that I wanted to salute in this blog of mine. While most of us plainly sit in drawing rooms and criticize the government, the poverty, the corruption, the disparity between the rich and the poor, the fact that there are so many IT jobs in India, going abroad and a plethora of usual topics, there is basically no action that is being taken. I speak of the educated employed as well as educated unemployed. While everyone has their own priorities in life wouldn’t it be great if the privileged lot of us actually got up, got out and did something out there?

An organization that is doing its bit is IndiBlogger that is doing a great job of propagating the Akshaya Patra foundation of ISKCON, that is helping feed hungry mouths for education. Their cause reaches out to 1.2 million kids everyday. Read more about them at and see what you can do to help.

One more person who acted truly extra-ordinarily was an IIT-IIM alumnus, Vinayak Lohani who gave up a lucrative career for an altruistic life dedicated to serving abandoned kids in Calcutta. I do not know what motivated him to do so, but it certainly is inspiring to know that he successfully founded an NGO known as Parivaar that now serves over 400 kids. Kudos to this gentleman too who chose the difficult road less travelled. Check out

Ofcourse, all of us may not be as selfless as Mr Lohani and will venture to ask, What is in it for us? Well, in this world crunched for time, it is an important question, given our ‘important’ priorities and crazy lives.

Firstly, spending some time with a different strata in society, adds a completely new dimension to one’s life and we appreciate what we have much more. I remember what a humbling experience it was, when I heard the aspirations of these street kids in a very short stint that I had done in India. On being questioned, what they wanted to become when they grew up, the usual doctor, engineer, astronaut were replaced by the ‘high and mighty’ ‘rickshawala’ or ‘mechanic’ as the highest ambitions.

Secondly, there are so many skills out there to be picked up. Public speaking is one, especially if one is involved in teaching. I have a friend who has been involved in an organization known as ‘Samidha’ ( After digging their pockets to support the initiatives, they found that it wasn’t enough. This friend explored fund raising options and came up with several innovative schemes that keep the organization ticking (though they still appreciate more help!). Now, running an NGO is like running an organization with several project management skills that can be picked up.

Thirdly, for college kids looking for work to ramp up their resumes, working with an NGO or community service is a golden opportunity to pick up some skills along the way.

For all the professionals out there, a stint in social work is always appreciated by prospective employers.

Lastly, it is the satisfaction that can be gained by doing something for the nation that is ours and the chance to improve a life. Unless we rise to do something, the disparity and problems that our nation faces are not going to solve themselves.

If you finally think, it might be worth a shot, there are several ways to do it.

Starting a new initiative will be a challenge of course, and might take far more dedication and time than one might have. However, there are a whole lot of NGOs out there ready to help and that seek help. Googling these is not too difficult to join up in your respective city. Teaming up with friends, colleagues etc might bring a fun element that might motivate you to go to do this! If at all, you refuse to leave your homes, perhaps you could start with just our own maids' kids who wash the dishes alongside their moms and help them better their education.
Each One Teach One.

A Samidha volunteer educating kids on computers
(courtsey Amit Poharkar)

For the complete Lamp Post school story, please read