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Husband-Wife Duo Use Domes, Recycled Materials To Build 300 Homes; Save 30% Costs

NOG Team
Dhamani structure, housing 22 family members in Maharashtra’s Sangli district, grabbed regional media’s attention in 2009. There was a sea of visitors outside the newly constructed yellow home, made from local bricks and recycled materials.Everyone wanted to know how the 2,200 sq ft house, accommodating mango and coconut trees, was constructed with a budget of merely Rs 8 lakhs.The monumental feature of the house, its arch which celebrates the old architecture, is at the heart of the structure. The skylight slits on the ceiling help hot air exit and allow cool air to enter from the lower rat trap cavity in the walls. Rat trap cavity method is a brick masonry method of wall construction. Here the bricks are placed in vertical positions instead of the conventional horizontal positions, thus creating a hollow space within the wall.Dhamani house“We slashed construction costs with our vernacular material palettes like stone and bricks and use of climate-responsive designs such as brick vaults and arches,” Praveen Mali, co-founder of ABHA Architect tells.The aesthetic and architectural principles of Dhamani house can be reflected in the 19-year-old firm’s construction projects. Mali started the sustainable firm along with his wife, Vidya, with the sole purpose to build green homes by using traditional practices. Integrating aesthetic designs like a dome, arches and vaults is their unique selling point.The Sangli-based husband-wife duo draw inspiration from William Laurie Baker, the British-born Indian architect and pioneer in constructing sustainable homes using mud and other local resources.“As the construction industry flourished with an influx of modern construction materials like cement, glass and marble, we started devaluing traditional methods. People’s definition of a house changed, as it turned into an asset with a long-term investment. Investing money in a house that didn’t match modern conventional standards was not appealing any more. We wanted to remind people that ancient constructions have lasted for centuries in India. Buildings were built in a way that respects the climate and we need to reinforce that,” says Mali.Praveen and Vidya MaliFrom residential, commercial to institutional structures, the duo has constructed nearly 300 houses across Maharashtra and Karnataka. In the majority of the houses, the duo has been able to save 25 to 30% of costs with their innovative designs.Mali and Vidya share why they are bringing back the norm of domes and arches along with insights into their eco-conscious material palette and passive cooling strategies. These are not only cost-effective but are known for their durability and disaster-resistant features.Repopularising Domes to ArchesBesides, the historical significance and symbolism, the semi-circular arch, the vault — an arched covering of stone, and the dome hemispherical structures have several architectural advantages.“Due to its ratio of high volume to the surface area, domes require less building materials and thus use less energy. It promotes thermal insulation and maximises solar gain. Since domes are corner-less, they allow for optimum air circulation. As for the arches, a two-dimensional curved beam construction, they can carry a much greater load than a horizontal beam can support. A vault [French voûte, from Italian volta] is a type of arch, usually of stone or brick, serving to cover a space with a ceiling or roof,” says Mali.Based on their low-cost and aesthetic appeal, Vidya and Mali have successfully convinced many clients to adopt biblical designs.Recycled Materials, Fly Ash Bricks & MoreEntering with ideas of eco-architecture in an arena littered with carbon-emitting construction materials was not easy. Not only did they have to deal with a lack of sustainable construction materials but also grapple with people’s ignorance.“More often than not, we have to hunt for appropriate and quality building materials that may delay the construction process. We even started manufacturing our own bricks in the process but had to stop due to some reasons,” says Vidya, adding, “We patiently explain the benefits of all the materials used and their historical significance."Brick is the most striking material in every structure by the Malis. Different types of bricks like burnt bricks, recycled, fly ash and compressed mud-brick form the foundation of the building.“While burnt bricks are durable and resistant to abrasion and fire, fly ash bricks are lightweight and absorb less heat. The wire cut bricks can be made from discarded bricks and mud bricks are low cost and low embodied energy,” explains Mali.The use of bricks and other materials like stone, tiles, wood, walls and fillers depends on the geographical location. For example, in Konkan regions, they use laterite stones and wire-cut bricks dominate in the Southern region of Maharashtra and Karnataka.Cost-Effective & Climate-Responsive StrategiesVidya and Mali have always eschewed modern architectural techniques like Reinforced Cement Concrete (RCC), steel bars, steel plates due to their carbon emission-causing factors. And facts back their claims. For instance, cement generates around 8 per cent of global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.Malis opt for load-bearing structures over RCC constructions. In this system, walls bear the load of the roof. It is more economical and ecological than RCC.Ventilation, controlled open spaces and distinguishing passive cooling methods are reflected in each of their near-perfect projects. This is achieved through verandahs, courtyards, rat trap cavity walls, roof tiles and filler slabs.Explaining the technicalities of such methods, Vidya says, “Filler slab is an alternate slab construction technology where part of the concrete in the bottom of the slab is replaced by a filler material like Mangalore tiles or clay pots. Both the rat trap method and the filler slabs provide thermal insulation, resulting in cooler interiors during summer and warmer interiors during winter.”On a parting note, Vidya and Mali reinforce the need to combine sustainable practices and traditionally significant designs for a greener future.“We must try and treat the Earth as our home and refrain from polluting it. Civil construction plays an integral role and if architects, builders and engineers move towards the eco-friendly process now, we will see a tangible result in future,” adds Vidya.The story has been extracted from Couple Use Domes, Recycled Materials To Build Homes; Save 30% Costs (
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Low-Cost, Innovative Check Dams Help 8,000 Jharkhand Farmers Save Water & Earn More

Around 25 years ago, villagers in the Khunti district in Jharkhand saw a massive amount of tree cutting carried out for development purposes. Locals say the activity was so rampant that about 100 trucks of wood were being carried every day.Moreover, the absence of afforestation drives to compensate for the massive environmental damage led to depleting groundwater levels and water shortage. The natural water springs and canals dried up. The situation worsened, when from 2010 onwards, the villagers no longer had water to bathe, and drinking water became scarce.Despite spending lakhs of rupees, water conservation efforts taken by the state government failed. The check dams built from concrete could not sustain under the strong water current and heavy flow during monsoons.However, bori bandhs, an innovative concept of low-cost check dams, have turned out to be a game-changer. The idea, conceived in 2018 by Ajay Sharma, founder of NGO Sewa Welfare Society, has solved the water crisis and doubled farmers’ income. So far, the check dams built under this initiative have benefitted about 8,000 farmers across 70 villages of the district.“As a journalist, I have witnessed the hardships faced by the villagers in the district and tried to raise their concerns through my writing. The water crisis has affected the agricultural produce as well as their personal lives,” he says. He explains that contractors often give away gunny bags used for cement transportation during construction. The same bags can be filled with soil or sand and arranged in a dam-like structure. He adds, “I thought it would be a good idea to introduce shramdaan (voluntary labour work) to them.”A volunteer effortTo encourage villages to volunteer, Ajay gave the initiative a traditional twist. “The villagers follow a tradition called Madait, wherein people come together for a community cause and to celebrate good work done, have a meal together,” the 49-year-old says. Based on the same principle, Ajay ensured that after a day’s work, the villagers came together to eat meals to celebrate their achievement.Bori bandhs, made on small rivers, streams and canals, are at least 30 feet wide, with a barrage-like structure made by arranging gunny bags on top of another. The biggest check dam structure built so far is 80 feet, and requires around three hours to construct. Ajay says gunny bags filled with grass (in addition to the soil or sand) prove to be better, as grass grows in water. “The strength of the dams increase, with the grass holding the soil. The wall-like structure is strong enough to last for a couple of years, and needs minor repairs, depending on the intensity of rain or floods,” he says.Madait involves consuming food together to celebrate the good workThe NGO was launched in hopes of attracting donations for the cause. With the help of some funds, the work began on a budget of Rs 2,000. The funds collected from donors are used to procure groceries and feed the volunteers for the day. After convincing some villagers to volunteer for the trials, Ajay built five dams in the Tapkara block during the summer of 2018. Locals benefited from the rainwater that was retained, and subsequently, other villagers from other areas volunteered as well.“We built 118 bori bandhs in 2019,” Having seen the success, many villagers started building these dams themselves. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, only 40 bori bandhs could be set up in 2020.The farmers have been reaping the benefits of volunteer work.“The concept has turned out to be a game-changer in terms of water conservation. There is no village which has not built a bori bandh in the Mandal. Farmers have arrested water in small streams, canals and rivulets, which has allowed them to take two crops a year, as against the restriction of one harvest due to shortage of water,” says Wilson Purti, Mukhiya at Hassa Panchayat.‘A good alternative to cement structures’Wilson says that apart from being affordable, bori bandhs are highly beneficial. “The farmers do not remain unemployed after harvesting the first crop, and are engaged in agriculture activity throughout the year. The rainwater that used to run off earlier now gets arrested and percolates inside the ground,” he adds.The panchayat head, who leads eight villages, says the farmers have also doubled their income. Along with traditional crops like paddy, wheat and mustard, they now also grow corn, watermelon and other vegetable varieties. “The villagers are also in a bid to recharge groundwater levels by reviving the springs,” he adds.Ajay’s initiative also won him appreciation from the district administration and an award of excellence from the Central government’s Union Jal Shakti Ministry, under the participatory water management category at the National Water Innovation Summit 2020. He also won the SKOCH award.In a video recorded in January and shared by Ajay, Deputy Commissioner of the district, Shashi Ranjan, says, “The cement structures suffered damage in heavy rains, and the bori bandhs serve as a good alternative. The water storage in these check dams will last until March, and farmers use the water for multiple daily uses including agriculture.”However, Ajay feels that a lot more can be achieved with more funds and contribution of volunteers. “The hardest part is to change the villagers’ mindset. They’re often under the impression that the solution won’t have any long term benefits and thus won’t work. It’s also difficult to unite different groups for a common cause. It takes days of convincing before they agree to the task. The shortage of funds is always a problem. Sometimes, I use my personal expenses for the trips or to organise events,” he tells. “The region is also affected by Naxalites, and if the state government supports us financially, a lot of hardships can be eased,” he says.The story has been extracted from Low-Cost, Innovative Check Dams Help 8,000 Jharkhand Farmers Save Water & Earn More (
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The Magic of Money Management

Sabari, a mother of six from Jharkhand, was hopelessly trapped in a cycle of debt. Her husband, a daily wage worker, spent most of his earnings on alcohol. Though Sabari herself had a job as a Krishi Mitra (a Government-appointed agricultural counsellor at the village-level), her monthly income of INR 5000 was never enough to cover the household expenses. This left her with just one option: borrowing from the local moneylender (sahukar) whenever the need arose.This is a common story across India — and indeed, around the world — where the poorest are often the worst affected by the ‘debt trap’. People from the bottom of the pyramid hardly ever have access to banks or financial institutions. They have limited earnings, little or no savings, and no assets that can be used as collaterals. Thus, they are forced to borrow from private moneylenders, who have a tendency to charge extremely high interest rates.  The dependence on such loans grows in times of crisis, such as the Covid-19 pandemic. Failure to repay adds to the borrowers’ existing problems, often subjecting them to harassment, bullying, threats, or even worse. Is there a way out?For Sabari, the answer came through a financial literacy programme that trained her to manage her money better and take the right steps to achieve financial stability. By applying the learning imparted in the training sessions, she was gradually able to free herself and her family from their dependence on the sahukar. The name of the programme: Jaadu Ginni Ka (literally, the magic of the ‘guinea’- the name of a traditional gold coin, now seen as a symbol for a unit of money).Through this unique initiative, Vodafone India Foundation and Learning Links Foundation are teaching the essentials of financial management to youth, the urban poor, micro-entrepreneurs, farmers, artisans, rural women and housewives across the country. Its specially designed curriculum is available in 10 different languages. The course material uses simple vocabulary and relatable, day-to-day examples to explain basic financial concepts like income, expenditure, inflation, investment, banking, loans, insurance, investment, budgeting, mobile banking and Government welfare schemes. The method of instruction employs videos, pictures, charts, puzzles, card games, group discussions, Q-and-A and reflective journaling. A free mobile app ‘SamVaad’ also makes the content available to users. Why financial literacy?Findings from a pan-India survey in 2018-19 revealed that only 27 percent of the respondents were financially literate. The study, titled Financial Literacy and Inclusion in India, was carried out by National Centre for Financial Education (NCFE). It found that the financial literacy rate was 24 percent in rural areas and 33 percent in urban areas. 21 percent of the women and 29 percent of the men were financially literate. In general, educational and income levels showed a direct correlation to financial literacy.A financially literate person has basic competences linked to earning, spending, budgeting, borrowing, saving, and using financial services such as banking, insurance and money transfers. Financial literacy involves a mix of awareness, information, skill, mindset and actions, through which an individual can take good financial decisions and, in due course, attain financial security. It is important for achieving financial inclusion, which in turn is crucial for empowering individuals, as well as strengthening the overall financial system. Financial literacy and inclusion together can encourage general economic growth and the achievement of larger development goals.The ‘Jaadu Ginni Ka’ Value ChainJaadu Ginni Ka creates a value chain that can spread awareness about financial literacy across communities. This enables rapid scaling-up of the benefits of the programme. For example, Rinky, a Community Resource Person from Odisha, has learnt about savings, investments and financial record-keeping by attending the programme. This has helped her to manage her own household finances better and recover from past setbacks caused by poor investments. In fact, Rinky has also started using the SamVaad app to teach other women in her village. Bidyabati, a participant in Rinky’s training session, has started saving regular sums in a bank account and has invested in a Government-backed scheme to secure her daughter’s future. Similarly, Madan Lal from Rajasthan and Vidhyak from Jharkhand are using the learning from the programme to run their own small businesses more efficiently. At the same time, they are teaching and encouraging their customers and neighbours to adopt modern financial practices. The program has already benefited lakhs of youth and adults across 16 States of India.Financial literacy is the first step on the road to financial freedom. A financial literacy programme like Jaadu Ginni Ka helps in bridging the gap between the mainstream and marginalized sections of society. Its ultimate aim is to empower people and bring sustainable change that leads to financial security and eventually prosperity. Learn more about the program at
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EnglishHelper - Providing Uninterrupted Learning During School Closure

“No child should be left behind! Our deployment of AI technology for English in thousands of government schools across India has created a tech-enabled learning model that signals a transformative opportunity for large-scale change across the country. Our technology is provided as a classroom solution (ReadToMe School Edition) supported by the same technology as a phone app (ReadToMe Student Edition) for self-study at home. It is true that not all government school students will have access to Android devices, and that gap needs to be closed with public, private and philanthropic sources of funding. The aim is to provide each student, anywhere in the country, the ability to access ReadToMe Student Edition.” - Sanjay Gupta, CEO, EnglishHelper Technology that Is Integrated with School CurriculumNationwide school shutdowns over the past several months have created new challenges for students and teachers. To help students learn while at home, EnglishHelper’s ReadToMe® software, which has been traditionally used in school classrooms (ReadToMe School Edition), is now also available to students on Google Play Store as ReadToMe Student Edition. This app is accessible to students across India through an Android smartphone or tablet. ReadToMe Student Edition is an AI-enabled multi-sensory reading and comprehension app that is trained to read textbooks in the English language. The app supports reading and comprehension for K-12 learners and is designed to facilitate self-learning for students.The journey began in 2013 with 100 government schools using ReadToMe® to read English textbooks under the RightToRead project – EnglishHelper’s flagship program, now having a footprint in 27 states and 4 union territories across the country. The new app, developed in 2020, widens the access, since students can use this powerful software to learn on their own at home. The technology is expected to reach 20 million students by 2021. Presently, ReadToMe Student Edition is trained to read NCERT textbooks in English including subjects like history, geography and even mathematics. The scope of the app is constantly being enhanced with the coverage of textbooks prescribed by various states. The program is also used for CBSE and state boards, too.  Teachers SpeakSowmyashree B. is the English teacher at Government Higher Primary School, Veerbhadranagar, Bengaluru. She has been using ReadToMe School Edition in her classes with textbooks being read by the software, and integrated for use as per the regular school time table.   Sowmyashree says that students learn better with ReadToMe® - it helps them get their pronunciations and spellings right, and allows students to understand unfamiliar words and their meanings easily, through the use of the picture dictionary and the vernacular dictionary tools in the software. She says that the familiar accent of the reading voice is really helpful, and being able to adjust the reading speed of the text helps every student learn at her comfort level. Sowmyashree adds that while the pandemic and school closure left teachers and students in a state of panic, the ReadToMe Student Edition app came as a big relief in overcoming the disruption in school learning. The app is designed to assist students with self-learning while schools are closed, and students do not have access to their teachers. Sowmyashree is upbeat about the app and encourages her students to practise their lessons daily. She says that when schools reopen, students will be able to enjoy learning with ReadToMe®, both in the classroom and at home, thus closing any gaps in their learning.  Voice of StudentsFrom Bengaluru in southern India, to faraway hilly Himachal Pradesh in the north, ReadToMe® is much loved! “I have just one goal - a job in the government sector so I can support my family”, says Komal, who is a 16-year-old, grade 10 student of a government school in Hamirpur, Himachal Pradesh. Komal adds, “my father used to work as a driver, but lost his job during the lockdown, and now my mother, a tailor, is the only breadwinner. I will be able to end the financial troubles of my parents when I grow up and get a job.” Komal is admirably resolute at such a young age. “I want to speak English like my relatives do, especially like my cousins from Delhi”, says this young girl with dreams in her eyes. Like many in India, English is aspirational for Komal. “Exams for good government jobs require English language skills. Also, people pay more attention to you when you speak fluent English. It is important that people listen to you when you are a government official.” With little or no academic help from her parents, Komal is one of the millions of students who are solely dependent on their school for all their learning needs. When her school closed due to COVID-19, Komal started using ReadToMe® Student Edition on her father’s mobile phone. She is already familiar with ReadToMe®, which was regularly used in her school before the school closure. Komal has now been reading her English lessons on the app for at least an hour daily and reports that she has improved her English language skills through this regular usage. She says, “I can study anytime and anywhere with the app at my own pace.” Komal believes she is one step closer to achieving her dream, now that she uses ReadToMe Student Edition.   Technology Enables ScaleThese are just a couple of stories from the countless heart-warming tales of students and teachers who have benefitted from ReadToMe®, primarily through the RightToRead program that reaches over 8 million students across the country. When the lockdown was announced, the program was being implemented in 25,000 schools and is expected to achieve a footprint of 100,000 schools once schools reopen. The newly developed app has the potential to reach over 200 million students, especially from the lower-income segments across the country to help them continue their curriculum-aligned English classes while schools are closed, and to consolidate their learning at home even when schools reopen.  A Multi-stakeholder Public-Private InitiativeFrom just 100 schools a few years ago, the program has grown exponentially! This has been made possible by the engagement of multiple stakeholders from the private sector and the government. The trick is to keep the model simple. The key approaches and areas of focus are the following: EnglishHelper has stayed obsessively focused on working with government schools.EnglishHelper has partnered with agencies that are well established in the sector and trusted by the public education system.RightToRead projects go through a rigorous assessment process. The assessment reports have been made available for all (they demonstrate a significant gain in students' English reading fluency and comprehension).The principle of affordability has always tempered commercial goals.This Public-Private initiative is becoming a model of replication in states across the country. In the state of Maharashtra, millions of government school students are studying with the help of this reading and comprehension technology. RightToRead is a ‘without borders’ initiative that has expanded its footprint beyond India, moving to Asia, Africa, and Latin America. After a successful pilot, the program is currently being implemented in all 10,000 schools in Sri Lanka.EnglishHelper has partnered with organisations across the public and private sector to make their vision a reality. They continue to form new partnerships to ensure that one day, every student will have access to quality English education.For more information on EnglishHelper and their work, please write at [email protected] or visit the website
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This UP teacher is making poor kids ‘literate’ in 30 hour

Is it possible to make someone literate in just 30 hours? You will be surprised to know that Sunita Gandhi, an educationist in Lucknow, has been doing this for five years. She is making literate children of UP who cannot go to school. For this, she does not charge any fees, but teaches for free. Now she will start this model of literacy in 30 hours in other parts of the country.Sunita Gandhi told, ‘We are hoping to start it in 20 states by the end of next year. Hopefully, we will make 20 lakh literate children who cannot go to school. Sunita Gandha’s Global Dreamshala is run entirely by volunteers.‘Based on general principles’Sunita Gandhi said that all this is based on a simple principle – ask the children what they know and start working on the same. It does not apply the same structure to all students.‘Some children are illiterate despite going to school’Tom Delani, trainer of the literate program, said, "Some of my students are illiterate even after going to school. They are told that they are ‘nalayak’ (worthless) and assault. But it is not that they do not know things. They can recognize pictures, know words. We try to understand what he knows and what he does not know".Similar tool kitEach session does not exceed 15 minutes as children from poor backgrounds do not devote much time. Instead of telling those things to children, we tell them the answers to those questions.For example, when a child wants to recognize words, it is only a matter of identifying the letters. For that we have brought a cheap 50 rupees toolkit. It has a pack related to pictures of syllables. The toolkit has 30 lessons – 60 short videos, books, alphabet cutouts and stationery items.The story has been extracted from
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Man Quits IT Job To Start Aquaponics Venture, Helps Farmers Boost Their Incomes

The corporate grind might help bring in cash, but for some, remaining close to nature is paramount. Rohit Gupta (28) found himself among the latter when he quit his software engineering job to take up farming.“I never regretted my decision to quit my IT job,” he says, adding, “I’m proud to be part of the farming system, and help farmers, who are the real heroes of the nation.” Rohit sells 25 tonnes of seafood in a year, and produces over 200 kg of vegetables in a week.The engineer first heard about aquaponics from his uncle, Commander Raman Kumar Agrawal (retd), while still working at an IT company in Mumbai. “I didn’t have any knowledge of sustainable farming methods like aquaponics, which allows one to breed fish and grow vegetables using just one system. My uncle told me about it, and said that it can fetch good income as well,” says Rohit. He visited different research centres to learn more about aquaponics. Once he gained enough confidence to start a farm, he quit his job in Mumbai, and moved to his native town in Punjab, in 2018.With help from his uncle and cousin Saurabh Agrawal, Rohit opened Aarpun Farms in Lambra village in Jalandhar district. The location of the farm, which spans over 2.25 acres, was decided keeping in mind operational and commercial advantages — it provides easy and quick access to both farmers as well as consumers.“My uncle, who is a senior defence officer with vast administrative and operational experience, has always motivated the youth in Jalandhar to take up agriculture. Saurabh was also working with various start-ups and NGOs in Mumbai to provide relief to local communities and farmers in drought-hit regions of Maharashtra. That’s how we decided to start Aarpun Farms,” Rohit says.A longer shelf lifeOn his farm, Rohit cultivates exotic green leafy vegetables such as spinach, iceberg lettuce, mint, romaine lettuce and broccoli. Beetroots, cauliflowers and capsicums are also grown on the farm. The only manure added to the fruits and vegetables is water containing fish waste.He says a major benefit of aquaponics is the shelf-life of the products. “Our products last three to four times longer than those produced from regular cultivation. The production from aquaponics is 10 times more than that from traditional farming,” he explains, adding, “I have 1,000 tomato plants in the farm, and a single plant, I get eight to nine kilograms of tomatoes. So essentially, from one plant’s fruit, I get around Rs 400.”“We also grow fruits, including papayas, watermelons, cherry tomatoes, and regular tomatoes. We make sure we pack our produce keeping in mind all safety measures. The entire farm is sanitised regularly, and no outsiders are allowed to enter. We use gloves to pack the produce as well, before we deliver it to our customers’ doorsteps,” Rohit says. The products are sold at different outlets and stores across Jalandhar.‘The backbone of Aarpun’“I also breed fish at the farm, and its waste is used as manure for my vegetables and fruits. Fish and fish waste are essentially the backbone of my farm. The technique of aquaponics works around a bio-system that involves fish,” Rohit explains.Fish waste is converted into nitrite, which in turn is made into nitrates on the farm. These nitrates help plants grow quicker than they would under normal cultivation. “After fish waste is collected, it is purified and mixed with the water that we use for the plants. This is the plant’s single source to gain all the nutrients it needs. As the water level decreases, we add freshwater in the fish tank from outside,” he says.Rohit says there are around 50,000 rohu and murrel fish on his farm. “The approximate price of one fish is Rs 130. So, we get over Rs 21 lakh from 100-square metres of the fish pond. There is more demand for our fish, as it is fresh and tastes good. There are no salt-water fish on our farm,” he adds. The fish is sold to local vendors and fast food stalls.Helping farmers earn moreAarpun Farms gives free lessons on aquaponic techniques to farmers to help increase their income. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, over 15 farmers from different parts of India used to visit the farm to learn about this technique.“The aquaponics model is famous in countries like Singapore, the US, and Israel, but not so much in India. Many farmers here don’t have enough information about it. The technique uses approximately 90 per cent less water as compared to traditional agriculture. The water is rarely changed since it’s recycled over and over. We want to help local farmers earn a good income from cultivation using aquaponics,” Rohit says.Aarpun Farms also plans to set up similar projects around the city and spread more awareness among people about aquaponics. Aarpun Farms can be contacted here: 8360597323The story has been extracted from
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Dehradun Ecologist’s Home Hasn’t Got an Electricity or Water Bill in 3 Years

Soumya Prasad, an ecologist, has not paid an electricity or water bill for the last three years. She doesn’t even remember the last time she went to a market to buy vegetables.No, she is not living in any cave away from mankind. With practices like waste management, driving an electric car, growing organic food in her front yard and harnessing rainwater and sun, Soumya and her family in Dehradun have switched to a sustainable lifestyle that is not only a relief to her pocket but also the environment.The 40-year-old credits her upbringing for her deep interest in adopting multiple eco-friendly methods.“My grandmother was a firm believer in composting our food waste and my father’s company was a pioneering manufacturer of solar heaters in Bengaluru. Even today, our family uses ritha (Indian soapberry) to wash clothes. My upbringing influenced a large part of my life as I ended up doing a PhD in ecology from Indian Institute of Science in 2010,” says Soumya.Soumya’s thriving organic garden in DehradunWhile she always yearned for a lifestyle with minimal carbon footprints, the triggering point to make the switch came around in 2015 after she quit teaching ecology in Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University. At that time, she had just started her research on the impacts of garbage on humans, animals and overall ecology.“It was heartbreaking to find that the majority of the cows have ingested plastic in one form or another. The staggering amount of litter we release daily is cruel for the environment. Being in a city like Delhi, it was hard for us to implement dramatic life changes. So, we shifted to live a healthy lifestyle for our 2-year-old daughter,” she says.Instead of constructing a new house or shifting into a flat, Soumya and her husband, Dr Raman Kumar decided to restore a 60-year-old house. In the process, they vowed to not send construction waste to the dump yard. All the debris was reused to lay the foundation of other buildings. They got their friend Swati Negi, a sustainable architect to construct an additional floor using bamboo and mud.Bamboo and mud being used as construction materials“Houses in Dehradun are usually made from stone, mud or timber. But in modern times, it is not feasible to use timber due to its high cost and also because afforestation is not happening to rejuvenate the resource. Bamboo is a better alternative and is also economically viable,” Swati tells The Better India. While restoring they spent nearly Rs 4 Lakh to install a rainwater harvesting structure and solar panels. Here are some ways in which Soumya went eco-friendly:Solar Panels & Rain Water HarvestingSoumya has installed 5 kilowatts of solar panelsIt comes as a surprise to many when people in Dehradun complain of erratic water supply considering it rains throughout the year. “We get dry spells for about 15 days in the year. Most of the rainwater gets mixed with sewage and thus wasted. Additionally, the cemented roads don’t catch the water and percolate it to the groundwater, causing a water deluge. Rainwater harvesting is the best solution to solve both these issues,” says Soumya.The underground rainwater harvesting tank in the home can store up to 20,000 litres of rainwater – that suffices the needs of 6-7 people. The captured rainwater is filtered and then used for potable and non-potable needs. The family has stopped taking water from the administration completely. The surplus water recharges groundwater tables.Just like rainwater, Soumya has also championed harnessing solar energy. Solar panels of 5 kilowatts were installed two years ago that suffices all their needs including charging the electric car.“My father fought hard to avail subsidies on solar in the 1980s so I knew my installation costs would reduce through subsidies. 70 per cent of the cost was borne by the state government. The excess electricity units go back to the grid that the government uses,” she says. The government does not pay the family for the units but Soumya does not mind as getting an upfront subsidy is always a better option.Having an Electric CarOwning an electric car was always a dream for Soumya as during her research she found how vehicular pollution posed severe health risks to humans and animals. This was back in 2015 when the buzz around Electric Vehicles (EVs) was very little. Even the affordable options in the Indian market were less so when Mahindra came out with its e20 model, she jumped on the opportunity.The car was priced at Rs 6 Lakh and using her savings she made the purchase and recovered the cost within five years. “If I had opted for a petrol car for the everyday commute, I would be spending at least a lakh annually and of course further adding to the pollution levels. Buying this car was an extension of my theoretical research work where I wanted to practice what I was teaching,” she says.In a single charge, the car can go up to 120 kilometres and even more if she uses regenerative braking (applying breaks to slow the vehicle. The friction results in kinetic energy that can be used to run the vehicle). The best part about her car is the charging option takes only five hours. She only needs a 15 Ampere socket, that can be usually found in public places. Soumya charges the car daily for an hour and it is done for free, thanks to the solar panels.Soumya puts special emphasis on the option for EVs as this could go a long way in reducing vehicular emissions, “My car is designed for narrow roads and can be driven in forest and mountains. An EV is a perfect option for a daily commute of 30-40 kilometres.”Organic Vegetables & CompostingOrganic produce from Soumya’s gardenWhile composting and growing food at home was not a new phenomenon in this sustainable family, Soumya actively practised the two only after shifting to Dehradun. Now she had her terrace and front yard. Except for onions and potatoes which are hard to grow in Dehradun’s climate, Soumya grows almost all kinds of veggies including greens, tomatoes, chilli, brinjals, ladyfingers, etc.Knowledge of seed behaviour, plant varieties, required climatic conditions comes handy as Soumya grows food according to the season. At present, winter vegetables including cabbage, carrot, peas and turnips are thriving in her front yard. She purchases grains and pulses from local farmers who grow them organically. Meanwhile, all the kitchen and leaves waste is converted into manure which is then used in her garden.How Has Life Changed Post the Green AvatarCleaner, healthier and more economical – are the three words that Soumya uses to describe the transition. “Having better food, water and living a minimal but healthy lifestyle has taught us to prioritise our needs. Our stress levels have considerably reduced and I haven’t measured my blood pressure in a very long time. The best part is our daughter has enough space to play, clean air to breath and fresh food to eat,” adds Soumya. For many of us giving up something as simple as plastic seems challenging and there are numerous debates on whether a tomato will thrive in our balconies. However, people like Soumya assure that making a sustainable switch may not be difficult after all.The story has been extracted from
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LetsEndorse: On a mission to create 10,000 MSMEs in India

The MSME sector is called the growth engine of India owing to its huge contribution to the Indian economy. However, the sector faces multiple challenges like lack of access to finances and lack of technical know-how. Mission Swavalamban by LetsEndorse is actively working to solve these problems and fuel the growth of such MSMEs. When the pandemic hit, relief measures like distribution of free meals for the needy was priority. Although the need of the hour at that point of time, this is not a sustainable way to address the problem of unemployment caused by the economic crisis that unfolded due to the pandemic. LetsEndorse has always advocated for solving social issues scalably, sustainably and irreversibly. Mission Swavalamban strived to provide a means of livelihood for the large number of people who had now become unemployed or underemployed. In this trying situation, Mission Swavalamban stood by its call for self-reliance. It added COVID-affected reverse migrants as a focus group and kept reaching out to courageous people who wanted to start or grow their business. 28- year old Ankolu Naveen from Khammam in Telangana was one such unemployed graduate in search of a way to become self-reliant. His father was making baskets at home but the income from this activity (less than INR 5000 per month) was not sufficient to manage the household. Naveen decided to do something about his family’s financial struggle. He  joined and managed their existing micro-business of making baskets and selling agri-equipments, which was something he had been learning from his father since his early days. He learnt about Mission Swavalamban when he was in search of working capital for his business and approached Team Swavalamban. Within a day, the team helped him with completing the application for SBI e-Mudra Loan. His loan amount of INR 50,000 was sanctioned and disbursed the same day. With this capital, he purchased some raw material from Khammam market and inaugurated his shop. Today, he is selling his products in the local (Medhar) market in Khammam and is able to make a  profit of INR 600/day. After Naveen has set up this business, his family’s living standards have improved. He now looks forward to being a job creator and providing jobs to others through his enterprise. He is looking to plough back the profits into buying more raw material and growing his business.The MSME sector has 14 per cent women-led enterprises and there is initiative to improve this figure. Another story of self-reliance enabled by Mission Swavalamban is that of Vandana Agarbatti in Bhadohi, Uttar Pradesh. Started by 28-year old graduate and homemaker turned entrepreneur, Vandana Srivastav, this business was inaugurated shortly after the nationwide lockdown. Team Swavalamban helped Vandana procure necessary raw materials and licenses during the lockdown and also registered her enterprise with MSME Udyam certificate.The government has announced various schemes to support the MSME sector from time to time. However, the inability of MSMEs to access the right information and required funding in a timely manner hinders their growth potential. What they need is guidance, hand-holding and access to the right channels of information. Schemes like the 3 lakh crore Emergency Credit Line Guarantee Scheme (ECGLS) are better suited to serve existing customers of banks and NBFCs. Mission Swavalamban is designed to help people who have never taken a loan from a bank before.Technology can play a key role in providing access to formal credit for the bottom of the pyramid. In India, a large number of MSME’s are not even registered and producing the necessary documents and certificates required for accessing credit is a huge challenge for them. Collaborations between government agencies and social enterprises can provide a model for accelerating the pace of enterprise creation in India. LetsEndorse is a social enterprise that has partnered with SIDBI (Small Industries Development Bank of India) to create 10,000 MSMEs in 108 districts across 5 states of India under Mission Swavalamban. The states are Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Odisha and Telangana.On the candidate’s side the process is as simple as calling on Mission Swavalamban’s toll-free number, 1800-121-265, and entering their district PIN code. After this, their profiles are created and they are filtered through many stages. The technology footprint of LetsEndorse makes it possible to work with a large number of leads and ensure that candidates who are actually motivated to start their enterprise receive the right mentorship and support. The team helps candidates in selecting business ideas suited to their skills, personas, and markets. It will even connect them to RSEITs and other relevant skill training institutions if required. The next step is to develop their business plans and profiles which is done efficiently through their tech platform, SWATI. Once these are ready, the candidate can be linked to support schemes like PM Mudra Yojana/ CMEGP/ ODOP support schemes for credit facilitation at the lowest rate possible. It does not end here as the mission also hand-holds them for a period of one year to ensure that their businesses grow. Apart from this, they are also provided support in marketing and procuring certificates. Thus, Mission Swavalamban is positioned to become the single point of contact for a potential entrepreneur thereby making it easier for them to procure credit or start-up their business. Team Swavalamban continues to reach out to motivated and courageous individuals who want to start or grow their own business. If you know someone like that, you can ask them to call on this number-1800-121-1265.
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Uplifting The Rural Education in Himalayan Uttrakhand

Uplifting  the Rural Education in Himalayan Uttrakhand In 2012, Mr. R.P. Bhatt chairman of the School came back to his village Khandukhal in Uttrakhand with the dream to provide holistic education to the children of his village and the surrounding villages. Mr. Bhatt has 21 years of experience in administration.He sold a part of his land and started Angels Haven School. The School was registered in 2013 and got affiliation in 2017 with Uttrakhand Board. The School educates low income group and marginalized farmer communities with the donations from family & friends. Angels Haven School started with 11 children and one teacher. Now the School caters for 56 children and engages 6 teachers.School is headed by Mrs Vibha Bhatt, wife of Mr. R.P. Bhatt ,a retired teacher with two decades of experience. We have implemented some best global practices, as an experiment, with an intention of discovering their values first hand.We are practising Quiet time/ Silence in our morning assembly and in the classrooms. We have discovered that we become more attentive to our behaviour, biases and attitudes. We find more focus and energy in our everyday activities. The ability to be more creative is nurtured. Reflective journaling and our weekly discussions are bringing mindfulness to our actions, thoughts and feelings, Thus endorsing our shared commonalities as a cohesive group and respecting and accepting each other's uniqueness. Compassion and empathy seems to evolve, with the practise  quiet  time, reflective journaling and weekly focused discussions.Our School has initiated two projects, to make learning more holistic and joyful involving local community. One is Community library, where along with reading habits, we aim to hone interpersonal relationship skill, storytelling and encourage community participation and cultural activities. Farming is another area, where transdisciplinary learning is being focused. Respecting Earth through our activities of Head, Heart and Hand , to produce effective learning outcomes. We are learning how means is more important than the end. The process of planting seeds and nurturing plants, is a wholesome process of sharing, overcoming challenges, adaptability, self reliance and learning of nature's rhythms. Friends, we are grateful to share our progressive development with you. During the times of pandemic it  reinforces the value of collective human potential, with collaboration, cooperation& perseverance . Our School is participating in Education today Society tomorrow’s project for 50 schools of excellence. We endorse excellence in every endeavour as an effective means to an end. As Gandhi ji said, whatever you want to do, “ take care of the means and the ends will take care of themselves.We are determined to facilitate all round development of our children with various activities like different sports ,yoga, dance, drama and music.We are also grateful for our team of global educators for mentoring & guiding our community. R.P. Bhatt  (Chairman of the School)Vibha Bhatt  (Headmistress of the School  Angels  Haven School Khandukhal (Uttrakhand)Email : vibhabhattangelshaven, Mobile No : 8394897194, 7060340529 
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IAS officer building rural libraries

District Magistrate of Jamtara Jharkhand is converting old, dilapidated buildings into librariesOne important reason for our rural areas to be backward in the field of education is the absence of access to libraries. Therefore, the sooner we promote our libraries in the country with our loyalty and vigilance, the sooner we will be able to win our glory in the field of knowledge.Every district has many big and small buildings which were constructed for some purpose but never put to use due to various reasons , also there are large number of buildings that have been abandoned. Mr. Faiz Aq Ahmed Mumtaz, District Magistrate, Jamtara, Jharkhand, has launched a unique initiative to promote libraries in the district. He is on a long drawn out mission of converting dilapidated buildings in the village panchayats to community libraries with a dual goal of saving these abandoned buildings and also making available good books and space to the village communities.Appointed as DM of Jamtara in July this year, Mr. Mumtaz is in the process of bringing about a much needed change in this backward district. He aims to build 30 such community libraries by the end of the year; And finally there are a total of 118 libraries in each gram panchayat of the district.This initiative has been more than three months, according to Mr Mumtaz in connection with organizing a Janata Durbar, he went to the Chengadih Panchayat. Meanwhile, someone pointed towards the backwardness of standard education in the panchayat and difficulty in travelling to the markets for basic books. After hearing this, he thought of doing something meaningful in this direction. In every gram panchayat of Jamtara, there are some government buildings which are not in use or in a state of absence. Therefore, he started renovating these buildings to community libraries in each panchayats of the district. The first library came up at chengaidih panchayat and the library was constructed out of an old abandoned building, with contributions coming from Convergence of Government Schemes, Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and the general public.Since then sixteen libraries have been contructed and inaugurated at sixteen panchayats covering all six blocks of the district. Fourteen more libraries are at their final stages of readiness and will most likely be inaugurated before 15th of January and after evaluating it’s success , there are plans to build 118 libraries in all panchayats in the same manner. In the early days, his plan was to build only a couple of libraries, but considering the enthusiasm of the people, he thought of expanding his scope. He thought, that in the district, reading and education should be given more importance and a library culture should be developed and promoted with community participation , he wants to create a culture of reading and study among the youth by holding different types of inter library compititions . The libraries will also benefit students whose studies were affected by the Covid19 pandimic. This initiative had two objectives. The first is the revival of dilapidated buildings and the second to develop the library facilities at the community level. Where students can sit and read easily. He believes that the library can play an important role in the development of any community. Apart from this to make commendable effort more successful he entrusted the responsibility of maintenance of library and its security to local communities. When and for how long to open it depends entirely on them. Librarian, the president of the library and the treasurer are being selected from among the locals who provide purely volunteer service .In addition, bank account has been opened for each community library where contributions from the public will be collected. Provisions are also made for purchasing books, paying bills and upgrading the library from time to time. After the library is built and commissioned, it is handed over to the community. The availability of books in these libraries is being ensured under public participation. Where modest expenditure is required, resources are being mobilized by convergence of different departments. For example, PHD is providing tap facilities, then the electricity department provides electricity the bills will be borne by the local community . At the same time, resources like tables, cupboards are being raised from CSR funds. Books through donations and contributions. This initiative of IAS Mr. Faiz Aq Ahmed in Jamtara is getting very good response with people feeling a sense of ownership and responsibility to it. Bihari Mandal, a railwayman from Jamtara says, Ever since I heard about this initiative of Faiz Sir, I have been contributing to build a library in the district ever since. This is an initiative that will develop a competitive environment here, which is better for the future of our children. At the same time, Ashraf Ali of Chengadih says, I am graduating in Hindi from a local college. There is not much learning environment in our village. But, ever since the library is built here, there has been a new energy flow among the students. As most people in these gram panchayats are visiting such a library for the first time in their lives, there is a feeling of excitement among them. All officers at the District and Block level have been asked to spend at least one hour each month in at least one library, so that library culture can be promoted in Jamtara. Administration has already been noticing a great deal of positive environment in the villages where these libraries are already functional.
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