2014 - India Update 310-02-2014
After a brief visit to Kolar, India where Mike spent two years as a Peace Corps Volunteer, he headed to an ashram south of Bangalore run by The Art of Living Foundation. Founded in 1981 by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, The Art of Living is an educational and humanitarian movement engaged in stress-management and service initiatives. The organization operates globally in 152 countries and has touched the lives of over 370 million people.
All of the trainers had one day to prepare for the classes and work with the Art of Living staff to work out the logistics for the course. It took a while to locate a suitable classroom and outdoor workspace, school busses to get them from the ashram to the training site, last minute tools and supplies and the proper filter media. Everyone pulled together and they enjoyed a successful five day training for sixty people from 16 different organizations interested in the BioSand filter technology. Between the two training sessions, the participants represented 22 out of 28 States in India, bringing us closer to our goal of spreading this clean water technology to all areas of India.
The highlight of our week was an audience with Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and his all-out support for our technology declaring that every village in the country should have BioSand water filters. He suggested that he feature the filters on his upcoming 2,000 kilometer train trip throughout Andhra Pradesh, one of the largest States in India. He is planning 21 stops on this private train trip, each one draws hundreds of thousands of people eager to hear his words and benefit from his wisdom. After the audience with Sri Sri, our group met with the trip organizers to brainstorm the logistics of placing 21 filters at the train stops near Sri Sri’s speaking platform.
With the trainings over and everyone going their separate ways, we reflect back on the experience and need to single out Shivani Kumar, our country representative for India for her outstanding efforts to organize and host these events. She spent countless hours contacting organizations in India who would be interested in the BioSand filter technology. She made arrangements with the ashram staffs in Rishikesh and Bangalore for housing trainers and participants locating a proper venue for the classroom and hands-on portion of our program. During the training session she became the go-to person who handled problems ranging from room registration and tuition issues for the participants to calling for the late school busses to take us to lunch. These trainings and the excellent results would not be possible without her…thanks Shivaniji.
Mike has spent his last three days in India with the Pragathi Organization in Mysore. This organization supports the marginalized tribal people who live in the forests and jungles around Mysore. He spent two days in the villages seeing the effect of the BioSand filter on the lives of the people who live there. The villages are in the middle of tiger preserves and the forests are full of tigers, leopards, elephants, snakes and wild boar and buffalo. The people live in primitive bamboo and mud huts and gather food from the forest. Mind you, tourists who drive through the preserves are not allowed to get out of their vehicles because of the dangerous conditions. Our tribal people live with these dangerous animals without protection. It is a common sight to see tigers walk through the villages in the evening, making their way to the rivers and lakes for a drink of water.
They had to park their SUV on the side of the road and took paths through the forest to reach the villages. Sharanappa, the founder of the Pragathi Organization, is very much at home in these primitive villages. As a young man he left his comfortable life in Mysore and spent three months in the forest living with these tribal people. At first they did not accept him and he spent many frightening nights in the forest alone, fending off the animals and trying to keep warm with a burlap sack. Eventually he gained their confidence and friendship and they taught him to avoid the animals and how to find food from the plants in the forest. He has spent his entire adult life helping these simple forest people to better their lives.
Getting filters to these villages is a herculean task. The filters need to be transported from Mysore by truck for two to three hours over bad roads and then hand carried over jungle paths to reach the villages. The water sources for these people are pits dug in the sand and mud or rivers and lakes near their villages. These water sources are also used by the animals and are highly polluted. The villagers are ecstatic about the filters which produce clean drinking water from these polluted sources. They went on and on about how the filters are changing their lives by keeping them healthy, eliminating water-borne illness and skin diseases. In two villages, because of the lack of disease, families have pooled their money saved from not buying medicine and going to clinics and hospitals. They asked Mike to tell them what to do with the savings. He suggested that they use the money to buy seeds and plant kitchen gardens around their homes. They have bamboo and thorn fences around their homes to keep animals away. These fences will also protect the gardens from animals that may eat the produce.
The two days spent in the forest were exhausting and exhilarating at the same time. Countless miles trekking in 90 plus degree heat were rewarded by grateful people who have had their lives vastly improved in a measurable way. So far, we have distributed 1,200 filters to families in this region. Our goal is to reach all 15,000 families, a major task but a goal worth struggling for. We need your support!
Cathy & Mike