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Too Scared to Dive into Data

Putting everything that is “life” aside I look at my PhD journey, the quest for finding answers. Answers to a burning question, or too many burning questions. That’s probably how every PhD journey is like. Or maybe not. To each their own.

But I am sure we all can agree, everything in life is pretty much scary and confusing and all the other things we cluster into the word complex.

Probably because things go way beyond human comprehension and language.

With all that in mind, I have been thinking a lot on why I have been really scared to dig up into my data and do the needful to push my PhD project forward. One of the answers I found while looking back at all the conversations in person, online in Aid communities and in general is.

People. Emotional. Personal.

(That’s really not an answer but..)

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A conversation on dignity at a refugee home

Human dignity is a very simplistic term that appears in almost very often in discussions around humanity or in day-to-day life. However, when we look at the governments and how our nation states endorse it as an important value for our society, we see it appear as “Article 1 – Human dignity” or the well known Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948). It is very clear that everyone understands the concept of worth of a human person naturally, however, we also make a very common mistake of assuming that the world revolves around us, and the “I” is very important. Somehow the “I” is so important that we are constantly fighting to keep the “I” very special, unique and most of the times “better” than the “other” person. It is very easy to give in to our emotional state and fall prey to discrimination, alienation and distance from what is different to us, i.e. the other. Emotions, Identity, Collective worth etc. all matter here.

citation

Forgas, J. P., & Fiedler, K. (1996). Us and them: Mood effects on intergroup discrimination. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 70(1), 28–40. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-3514.70.1.28

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We need plastic bans in villages to protect our agricultural infrastructure

During one of my fieldwork visits last year, I was doing a daylong interactive discussion with NGO staff and community representatives. At some point we had a tea break, and the tea arrived in plastic cups. Obviously, I was not an expert in how plastic can damage our environment and all the ill effects of having that around us so prominently, because as an Indian, I was accustomed to seeing plastic being used for everything. From protecting our TV remotes, to covering anything possible with plastic as a mechanism to protect it from dust. Then it hit me that, this is a sacred land. India is what it is today, primarily because of our agricultural revolution in part. The land is also sacred, because it is where our food comes from. Moreover, the farmers are the protectors of these lands and the caregivers, not just the caretakers, of our land. These lands are also the main source of income and livelihoods for our farmers, either who own these lands or are just working as labourers to feed their families on a daily basis.

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Questioning technology and its implementation

Reflecting on some of my past projects, and trying to study the thought process of some of the projects that I have worked on, I thought of laying out some questions which can act as a set of “tips” for my future projects.

  1. Invest some time to understand the problem & hear it directly from the concerned parties or communities.
  2. Ask yourself: Is technology really needed here? Or is there a solution lying elsewhere?
  3. Study what technologies are already lying around or have been used by “concerned parties” or communities and how they are currently using it.
  4. Can your solution be built using existing technology that the people(“concerned parties” or community) already use? If not, try to spend a decent amount of time to find the answer to this question again. Chances are, it’s possible.
  5. Keep in mind that your solution should require minimal (or no training) i.e. The focus should be on a lower barrier to entry & a decreased learning curve. [If answer to 4 is still no]
  6. Build your solution in a way that you wouldn’t be needed at all after the implementation.
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Uttarakhand Government’s Operation Connect and How can you help!

As a part of the ongoing efforts by the government, the task of reaching out to families seeking information about their relatives has been on top priority by the government officials. I was amazed at the government’s quick deployment of the “people finder” on the Disaster Management portal of the Uttarakhand government which initially had information about tracking rescued people, since army was involved in evacuation or search & rescue. Progressively the site kept being updated with more information and data being gathered and managed by the Uttarakhand government. When I saw a lot of people online volunteering to help with data collection and putting everything at one place and have their own versions of the same task which was already done by the government round the clock, I was just worried about this whole duplication of effort as something that was adding to the chaos. While I was traveling back to India and was in London, I just called the District Information Officer of Rudra Prayag, to check information and convey that some of the documents of rescued people that was being uploaded on their website were actually printed and scanned documents (some word documents but still printed and scanned and some hand written, both in English and Hindi – ref: Screenshot) are not easy to search and ask them if they can upload at least in some searchable format. That is when he informed me that although some of the documents being collected at district offices are scans, there is a separate team that is also translating (from Hindi to English) all the data and putting it online on their own DMS site in searchable format. Now on the same website, you see all the information being managed by any of the offices being put at one place. Like the website says: “This search module has been provided to track a person as per the information provided by concerned District Administration. The original list provided by District Administration has been re-entered/converted in English at State control room to facilitate its users.Kindly refer original list of District Administration to confirm the information provided through this website.” Ref: Screenshot here & Direct website link here.

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What do you need the most? Knowledge and Education.

Its been over an year now since I started working at, what they say, grassroots level on projects around livelihoods in Rural India. Well mostly UP and then Bihar, Rajasthan. When I look back at my very first interaction with the villagers on a project I was assigned the picture in my mind is still fresh mostly because of the conversation I had. It remains firmly etched in my memories.

May 26, 2010: I went on to meet the people of Ramkola Village, which happens to be surrounded by water on all 3 sides and gets submerged (read: flooded) with water every time there is heavy rain or a flood situation. Its like a “for granted” situation for them which they have accepted as their fate every year. They also have their own coping mechanism and mostly survive the after effects of flood each year.

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TEDxShekhavati – Bhawri Devi & Mishri Devi – The Illiterate Entrepreneurs

One of the privileges I have had while working at GDS was working with these women farmers as part of our project in Rajasthan. So when Masarat and I met, and she told me about her plans to do another event in 2011, I was excited and was able to invite Bhawri Devi & Mishri Devi (Founder/Directors) along with my dear friend and colleague Shivraj Vaishnav (CEO) of the company Grameen Aloe Vera Producer Company Ltd (GAPCL) to share their story.

Bhawri Devi and Mishri Devi belong to the Jawaja Block in Ajmer, Rajasthan. They own a company that makes aloe vera juice and accompanying them is Shivraj Vaishnav who is the CEO of their company. These women who can barely write their own name are an inspiration to everyone who think that lack of education is an obstacle to achieving their dreams. In this TEDxShekhavati 2011 talk, they share their story and inspire everyone else to follow their heart.

You can view their talk here (with English subtitles) on the official TEDx YouTube channel. The women also appear in the TEDx promo video by TED.

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Celebrating the Rural Spirit – TEDxShekhavati 2011: Think Ahead

the rural spirit is free. the urban is not. the rural tongue says things that the urban tongue cannot.

– Quote from Masarat Daud-Jamadar’s blog

This quote caught my eyes the first time I read this and since then have been embedded in my mind. I keep telling people that I am a strong advocate of the free(as in freedom) culture and this is exactly what I mean when I say that. Maybe I am a rural spirit as well because of my small town roots connecting back to the villages. Or maybe there is some other connection here…

I heard about TEDxShekhavati last year in 2010 while I had just started working on the first assignment at this organisation. I was working (still am) in the Jawaja (Block) in the district of Ajmer, Rajasthan primarily helping women farmers.

Primarily there were two reasons this event attracted me: first, it was a TED event happening in Rajasthan and second, “it’s the first TEDx in Rajasthan and also first TEDx in India for a largely-illiterate audience”.

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Sahana’s Response to Bihar Floods

The Sahana team is currently working on setting up custom deployments as per the requirements specific for the Bihar floods. Currently, we are working on Translating Sahana to Hindi, that could be used in the deployment.  As you might have heard there are about 1-2 million people who have been affected by the Bihar disaster. A team in Kolkata (Calcutta) has just been initiated for the deployment effort.
If you wish to join us and contribute to this response effort please select the appropriate communication channel:

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