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8 Mobile Phone Ideas That Are Changing Lives In Rural India #Mobile4Good14

From helping women deal with the scourge of domestic violence to sharing secrets for growing the best coffee, these interesting initiatives using mobile phones are transforming the lives of people in Indian villages. Here are 8 amazing initiatives that show how a simple mobile can be used as a medium of change.

Isn’t it amazing how mobile phones have brought the world into your hands? With a mobile service subscriber base of 377.73 million in rural areas as on March 2014, it indeed is a good idea to use mobile to bring social change.

Vodafone Foundation through its Mobile for Good Awards facilitates greater cooperation and collective problem solving using mobile technology. And, facilitating greater co-operation and collective problem-solving using mobile technology is Vodafone Foundation through its Mobile for Good Awards. The flagship initiative recognizes and supports emerging talent and innovative mobile solutions from NGOs/NFPs that facilitate community empowerment and inclusive growth.

From its foundation in 2011, the M4G awards have so far supported 13 mobile technology solutions that are bringing about immense social change at the grass root level in Indian villages. With a focus on five main areas that are of paramount importance in rural India, namely m-health, m-education, m-governance, m-women and m-agriculture.

Here are few of the previous year winners who are using mobile phone to transform the lives of people in rural India:

1. Tracking & ensuring that government entitlements are being distributed correctly to the communities by WOSCA

This mobile-based monitoring system, created by WOSCA is tracking livelihood entitlements of rural communities. In the remotest villages of Odisha, the tribals are unaware of several government schemes like the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Generation Scheme, Public Distribution System and Pension schemes due to lack of information. They are usually excluded from various government schemes they are entitled to benefit from. The mobile based monitoring system by WOSCA is addressing this issue by tracking the accuracy of social protection delivery services by the government to the poor. Volunteers from WOSCA use SMS or MMS to disseminate information about public distribution to the Management Information System. These reports are then shared by government officials and local communities for transparency.Learn more about the initiative that has helped 87,000 families so far here.

2. Teaching rural women to learn basic mathematics & other topics by Mahila Shakti

This initiative by Human Welfare Association aims to empower the most disadvantaged section of rural women in Varanasi. Through 100 Self Help Groups (SHGs), this initiative is empowering rural women to experience an quality of life through education initiatives. Mahila Shakti uses mobile as a powerful tool to impart education at a very basic level. Through this initiative, many women have learnt basic mathematics. A lot of these women now efficiently play the roles of entrepreneurs, bankers, teachers, accountants, etc.. More about them here.

3. Providing valuable information about agriculture to Indian farmers by Kisan Sanchar

This amazing initiative is solving the Indian farmer’s problems through SMS, voice and a dedicated helpline service. Kisan Sanchar provides valuable information about agriculture with the help of a network of over 35,000 farmers across India. Many farmers risk their health and crops by using strong chemicals. Ishwar was one of these farmers in Haryana. But he soon realised the harmful effects of chemicals and invented an organic fertilizer. Kisan Sanchar is connecting farmers like him to others across the country so that their solutions can be widely adapted. Learn  more about the initiative here.

4. Helping pregnant women get access to free governmental health facilities by My Health, My Voice

As per The World Bank reports, India witnessed 190 women deaths during pregnancy and childbirth per 100,000 live births in 2013. With a grave lack of awareness and facilities, rural women tend to suffer the most. The “My Health, My Voice” initiative started by Sahayog India organization in Uttar Pradesh is improving this situation with help from a mobile phone. This mobile-enabled Interactive Voice Response system (IVR) focuses on helping pregnant women get access to their rightful free governmental health facilities. Women can use the dedicated helplines and report pregnancy-related issues in their preferred language. You can learn more about this service on the Sahayog website.

5. Connecting coffee farmers with each other & providing valuable information by Livelihoods 360

In some of the remotest villages of Andhra Pradesh, farmers still follow traditional methods of farming which are both time-consuming and costly. The Livelihoods 360 initiative by Naandi Foundation is empowering farmers through mobile phones. This mobile-enabled Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) solution links marginalised coffee farmers with each other and also provides them valuable information on the best ways of farming along with important market linkages. Using SMS and voice notifications, farmers now have access to the most suitable methods of producing the best coffee and are connected to the right market even with their limited resources. Learn more about it here.

6. Notifying rural youth about various job opportunities by eduVARTA

Often in rural areas, the youth fail to avail the right job opportunities due to lack of information and awareness. As a majority of the young minds have access to mobile phones, eduVARTA decided to use it as a tool to notify the youngsters about various educational, job and career-related information through regular SMS-based alert system. This interesting initiative already has 30,000 subscribers and has reached out to over 1,20,000 beneficiaries. The alert service provides valuable information on several scholarships and courses that help the students get one step closer to their dreams. More information about the project can be obtained here.

7. Supporting victims of domestic violence by Hello Sakhi

Around 70% of all women in India are victims of domestic violence, and as per National Crime Records Bureau, one case of cruelty is committed by either the husband or a relative of the husband every nine minutes. The “Hello Sakhi” initiative by Kutch Mahila Vikas Sangathan (KMVS) and the police department of Kutch in Gujarat is helping the victims of domestic violence through mobile phones. A mobile helpline is providing valuable support to women in distress and helping them with legal assistance, counselling and rehabilitation support. A familiar voice at the other side of the phone and an assurance to help is all the women in need ask for and Hello Sakhi has become their closest friend by helping over 11,000 women across 940 villages so far. For more information, visit the KMVS website.

8. Educating and enabling women to share their views, ideas & issues by Barefoot College

In the rural Tilonia district of Rajasthan, a mobile phone and a community radio is bringing a wind of change by enabling rural women to get knowledge on issues like healthcare, environment, education, employment, etc. Through Barefoot College, women share their views, ideas and issues by simply making a call, enabling them to become change agents. People can get access to the latest information, call their dedicated helplines and even send SMS to get information on local panchayat news, weather, etc. The community radio that connects people through a mobile phone reaches out to 1,00,000 listeners spread across 15 villages. Learn more about this project here.


They Are Making Emergency Healthcare Easy And Available For All

With increasing population and limited resources, emergency healthcare sure needs immediate attention in India. In an emergency situation, when both patients and their families are clueless, we need a centralized system that could bridge the information gap between hospitals and patients. Started by four friends, KMES helps you get access to the right medical care at the right time.

India is a densely populated country and often when it comes to the healthcare system, patients and their families are found confused and clueless about what to do in case of emergencies. Usually a patient needs to wait for an ambulance and sometimes, due to lack of time, is transported in a vehicle without proper paramedic support.

The real trouble starts when the patient reaches the hospital. As not all hospitals have special units like the ICU, the patient has to be accommodated in the general room. Another big issue arises when it comes to getting the required blood. Most of the hospitals are always short of blood and blood products, an issue further complicated by many formalities and paper work leading to a lot of time being wasted to arrange for certain blood groups. Due to all this confusion, the golden hour of saving the patient is wasted, resulting in the loss of life.

KMES aims at bringing medical help just a call away.

In a country like India, which does not have a centralized emergency healthcare system, it becomes difficult to solve the issue and we have become accustomed to leaving everything to fate.

Four friends decided to change that. They embarked on improving the condition of Indian emergency healthcare system through their non-profit organization, Mission Aarogya. Rajib Sengupta, his wife Rita Bhattacharya, Dr. Tanmoy Mahapatra and his wife Dr. Sanchita Mahapatra old friends from school, met in the US after many years and decided to come together for a better cause.

“Initially the idea was very simple – to provide an ICT (Information and Communication Technology) platform where practice-based information would be collected for generating health evidences. This would also ensure continuity of care for individuals,” Sengupta says.

The start

After much research, they came to the conclusion that the US-based model of 911 emergency healthcare which is controlled and financed by the government, wouldn’t work in India due to the diversity of the population here.

The centralized system makes access to paramedic help, ambulances and required blood group easier.

“The only way our organization could have an impact in social issues was by making our (tech) innovations have a direct impact in the daily life of the general public. At the same time, it needed to be something that was easily accessible by all, irrespective of their economic and social status, otherwise it would be another “rich man’s toy”,” Sengupta says.

A medical emergency system consists of three stages: “Sense”, “Reach” and “Care”. The “sense” is to locate the nearest facilities, “reach” is to get to the facility under proper care, and the “care” is handled by the respective facilities upon arrival – often the “sense” and “reach” happens together.

It became very evident to us that in Kolkata, the hospitals were doing a great job in the “care” part, but the “sense” and “reach” aspects were severely lagging,” he says.

Gradually the Kolkata Medical Emergency System (KMES model) was developed which was based on the following two key concepts:

  • Instead of introducing a new emergency service, enhance and strengthen the existing one
  • Empower citizens for a crowd-sourced, quick response

How does it work?

KMES is a self-sustainable model as it is not introducing any new services but is an enhancement of the existing emergency services. A 24×7 emergency inquiry center will integrate and enhance the isolated emergency providers in urban areas, both public & private, to create a standardized, centralized and integrated, real-time Medical Emergency System.

With KMES's intervention, the crucial and "golden hour" of saving is utilized.

KMES is gathering and broadcasting the fundamentals of urgent care, the availability of Critical Care Unit (CCU) & blood products, to all, irrespective of social & economic status. Healthcare providers, emergency respondents and disaster management agencies will all get the same information.

“As explained above, KMES relies on a very simple assumption – instead of competition, let’s collaborate. And not only collaborate among institutions but bring the general public in the mix too. When proper tools (such as information) are provided to the general public, they can do wonders,” Sengupta says.

KMES helps the patient and his/her family to access the data from various sources like SMS, phone, internet, etc. This results in quicker actions and helps in saving more lives.

The challenges

Bringing a centralized system was not that easy.  “Each hospital has different workflow and it is very difficult to standardize Bed Management,” Sengupta says.

The hospital information management systems are proprietary, closed and isolated. Several of them do not have any in-house IT staff to integrate the internal systems. Also, they do not want any automated interface between their internal system and KMES due to fear of theft of patient list. These makes KMES’s task more uphill.

The future

Sengupta and his team plans to take KMES to other parts of West Bengal. They will concentrate more on making available Critical Care Units, ambulances and blood at the nearest location. In the next phase, they will also be strengthening the existing ambulance services in Kolkata and making blood bank information easily available.

The ambulances will be equipped with GPS tracking software to capture real-time location & availability information. Next, paramedic training will be provided to the networked ambulance staff and then, a multi-lingual emergency response centre will help in dispatching the nearest networked ambulance & paramedic, who, after stabilizing the patient, will transport him/her to the nearest facility.

Another step the team wants to take is to launch a Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) platform, and share the best practices for implementing an emergency medical system in densely populated urban areas.

KMES which currently operates in Kolkata plans to expand to other cities of India.

“With minimal changes, it is likely that the system can be implemented in other cities in India as well as across South-East Asia, Africa, and Latin America. KMES can help other civic bodies and governments to implement this system in their respective cities based on the best practices learned during the pilot implementation. We are already in discussion with an NGO in Cairo, Egypt,” Sengupta says.

Awards and Recognition

KMES was one of the eight winners of the 2012 Innovation Challenge organised by the Rockefeller Foundation and received a grant of $100,000 to set up FOSS. KMES also bagged second prize for healthcare innovation in the Emergency Service Award programme conducted by AIIMS, New Delhi. In addition to this, they have been winners in the Innovation Category of Ashoka Changemakers ‘Safer Roads Safer India’ contest and awarded by Grand Challenge Canada in its Stars in Global Health program.

KMES aims to become a reliable model that could change the current medical condition of the country. Sengupta and his team have come up with a solution that can do wonders with the existing resources. It does seem like if you actually think it through, there isn’t any problem that cannot be solved.

MY STORY: How I Did Not Let Psoriasis Stop Me From Becoming A Successful TV Anchor

In the MY STORY section, we present some of the most compelling and pertinent stories and experiences shared with us by our readers. Do you have something to share? Write to us: contact@thebetterindia.com with “MY STORY” in the subject line.

Alka Dhupkar has Psoriasis, a type of skin disease. Severe skin rashes all over her face and body did not stop her from living her life fiercely. Read her inspiring journey of overcoming obstacles and becoming a popular news anchor at a TV channel.

I know many of you (who are suffering from different types of Psoriasis) are interested to know about my fight with this unique psycho-somatic skin disease. But firstly, let me introduce myself. I am a 32-year-old, healthy, active and passionately working journalist. I am associated with the electronic media industry, working as a Broadcast News Anchor.

I host talk shows and report on various issues of concern. And currently, I am affixed to this very interesting role of News Manager at desk. I do so many things! So, this skin disease could not stop me from becoming a successful Journalist. (TV News Channel + Print Media) Then why am I writing this piece? You all will wonder what the ‘news point’ in this piece is? So basically let me confess: there is NO News in this write up.

Alka Dhupakr is a successful broadcast journalist.

I am writing this to share bits of my sufferings – I think sharing would help ALL Psoriasis patients; young and old, to come to terms with the disease. It will answer the question which arises in every patient’s mind who suffers from Psoriasis – ‘Why Me?’, ‘Why am I Suffering from Psoriasis?’

We have to go through this feeling. Psoriasis is not hereditary. Neither is it contagious. It is our mind and eyes which are stuck in the rashes. We should relax our mind and body and take this disease head on! We should face the reality. We should follow medication and meditation!

Depression, stress, mood swings, uncontrolled anger, anxiety, impatient behavior, irregular diet and medicines would only increase the rashes on your body. Let us unite and share our feelings, plight, guilt and pain instead of suppressing and hiding this disease.

When I was a school-going girl aged 13, I had noticed some big, ball-type rash on my body. Eventually, it took control of my whole body from hair to nail. In the last 21 years, I have consulted more than 9-10 doctors -from Allopathy to Homeopathy and Naturopathy via Ayurveda!

When I witnessed my skin falling down in pieces; I felt so sad. I cried hundreds of times. When I saw layers of my skin swollen, I became depressed. When I saw dark spots on my skin, tension started building up naturally. When I stood up from my chair and flakes of skin akin to dandruff used to fall down on my shoulders, it irritated me. I felt like vanishing from the office place!

I had even faced bleeding problems from Psoriatic skin. I overcame it with good medicines. I faced psoriatic arthritic problem too in my left leg. It never stopped me from trekking to the top of the Sahyadri and breathing in the open fresh air…looking at the sky and taking rain showers on my body!

Skin is an important organ of our body. When it has a major visible disease, of course every known and unknown person will curiously ask about the treatment, causes and so many other things. I know they do not intend to hurt the patient, but let me confess – it hurts a lot!

Subconsciously, we start recalling our own story again and again. Reactions which are full of pity and sympathy are downloaded in our mind (without knowing the cost!)

To deal with my depression, one of the doctors had advised me to not look in the mirror more than once in a day. Instead of being tense, take medicines on time and have a good exercise regime. Be happy and have healthy food every day! I had undergone a small treatment for digestion problem which many of my friends of the psoriasis community are undergoing.

I put a lot of oil on my head everyday. I drink hot water. I eat at least one fruit. I try to give fresh oxygen and the morning sunrise heat to my skin. I started spending 20 minutes in meditation. I have decided not to eat junk food every day. (I could not skip it permanently!)

Alka at Nathula Pass India-China Border in Sikkim.

One time, I had severe psoriatic skin rashes all over my face, cheeks, neck, ears, nose, behind my ears, forehead, legs, hands…. every where. But that gentleman’s advice still helped me. Also, I was constantly asked by many so-called concerned folks, ‘who will marry a girl who has such a severe skin problem?’

Initially, I thought about this. But, once I started taking an interest in reading and studying, this question has never popped-up in my mind till date. (This was the myth-based fear of my well wishers! I understood later on in my cherishing day!)

Unwanted solicited advices are available in wholesale with heavy discounts. Free! Free! Free! on every problem you share. Such advices won’t make your dry skin comfortable. Remember this and stop downloading such advices and uploading your Psoriatic problems.

A rheumatologist, a dermatologist or a very learned Yoga teacher can help solve our problem. Many people have diabetes, heart-liver-kidney problems. Heart disease is internal, and therefore not visible. But skin is a visible organ. So, our disease is visibly noticed by every one (whether you like it or not) – this is the only difference between others and us.

Don’t stretch it too much. No one is immortal. Everybody has to make the journey of death; no matter how big that personality is. So, why should we stop ourselves from living and hide in the shadow of Psoriasis? Why should we stop wearing good looking, favorite, sleeveless dresses? Mini skirts? Why care about those who are staring at my body and judging me with my skin color and disease?

Courtesy : Ram Nath Goenka Award for 2012)

These days LOOKS are so important. ‘Good looking’ is a new phrase which is commonly used to describe beauty. I don’t understand how one distinguishes between ‘good-looking’ and ‘not so good-looking’. Looks aresaapeksh! (subjective) They do not depend upon your skin. They depend on how you carry yourself – with pain or with confidence.

When I used to think only about my skin disease, I was sad. But, when I convinced myself that this disease is a very minor part of my life, and that I have to explore the whole world, I started enjoying my life and my work with a new zest. I don’t get upset if anyone points out at my skin spots and asks me “what is this?” I smile and say “I have a skin disease called Psoriasis”, that’s it.

In my teenage days, I used to have long hair which I had to cut for medication like ‘Takradhara’. I cried at the time. But, now I carry a fashionable hair cut as a style! I have no regrets anymore. I had severe spots and vertical blows on my skin; but after regular medicines I have very few spots on my body. At that time, I could not walk because I had so many spots on my feet, but I took good care of it with regular oil massage and by wearing socks. And now, I can tip toe into the newsroom studio wearing high heels and can walk fiercely into any mud side reporting fields.

In Relax moment in Buldana District of West Vidarbha)

I don’t allow any comments on my disease to pass unnoticed. If I hear any, I acknowledge it immediately with a big smile on my face. I have so many good friends, those who inspire me, take care of me and just be with me whenever required. There are so many people on this earth who are really not bothered about how my skin problem has damaged my looks and are truly interested in the work I do! My sweetest mother, father, sisters and brothers, everyone stood by me; in the initial 10 years of my severe Psoriasis.

Many a times, I thought I was the lonely and only patient of such a skin disease. But when I met younger people, older people, women and girls having much more severe Psoriasis than mine, I realized that this is a lifestyle disease and not a result of my bad luck! I continued to explore my destiny in journalism.

You can log in to your Facebook account and search for Psoriasis patient’s organizations in developed countries. Why are we, then, hesitant in sharing our experiences? Let’s start a fresh life with a big smile.Psoriasis is a part of my life it and it will go with me! The moment you accept it, you will forget that you are a “Patient”.

Whistling Can Be Used To Improve Sanitation? Yes! These Village Women Show You How.

These women from Self Help Groups in Orissa have solved the problem of open defecation in a very interesting way. They not only started patrolling the streets but also planted the holy “Tulsi” plant to stop people from defecating in the open. Meet the amazing whistle blowers and their story of making their block completely“swachh”.

Last month, Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan (Clean India Campaign) with a lot of fanfare and oodles of star power to inspire ordinary citizens to make all possible efforts to keep their surroundings clean and sanitary. This is the story of a group of women who decided to go in for a full clean up act in their villages much before the PM’s impassioned call.

Arati Behara, Anusuya Sahoo, Rajalaxmi Sethi, and Ammbu Behara are part of a brigade called the Whistle Bahini, drawn from various Self Help Groups in different villages of Jagannath Prasad block in Odisha’s Ganjam district, and they have launched an all out offensive against open defecation.

Meet the ‘Whistle Bahinis’, a group of 30 women from Jagannath Prasad block in Odisha’s Ganjam district, who decided to go in for a full clean up act in their villages. (Rakhi Ghosh\WFS)

Every day, from 4 am to 6 am and then again from 4 pm to 8 pm, 30 women leave their household chores to take on a task they feel merits their urgent and undivided attention. For starters, in groups of three, they have taken to patrolling the main road that connects the block headquarters to their villages in a bid to stop people from relieving themselves in the open. Armed with whistles they fulfill their duty sincerely, reprimanding those who don’t listen to them. Next on their agenda is to motivate families to build a toilet in their homes and also put them to good use.

But how did the women band together for this unique sanitation crusade? And how did they come up with the idea of patrolling with whistles? Says Arati,

“Open defecation has been a long standing problem in our area. The main road leading into the block headquarters, where the government offices and the only college in the region are located, used to be impassable because that was where all the locals came to relieve themselves. So we decided to take matters in our own hands. All of us in the group are aware of the importance of maintaining proper hygiene and sanitation to ensure good health.”

As per the statistics of the UNICEF and World Health Organization (WHO), nearly 88 per cent of deaths due to diarrhoea can be directly attributed to unsafe water, poor sanitation and inadequate hygiene. The effects of open defecation and poor sanitation also adversely affect nutrition, development, economy, dignity and safety of women.

According to Census 2011, against a national average of 69.3 per cent, 85.9 per cent households in rural Odisha do not have a latrine. In rural Ganjam, 80.9 per cent of the over six lakh households still practice open defecation while in Jagannath Prasad block only 15 per cent homes have a toilet. The rest simply head out to the arterial block road that is a kilometre and a half long. The revenue office, panchayat office, primary school, girls’ high school, college, Integrated Child Development Services office, rural development office, micro irrigation office and a petrol pump – they are located along this road, which sees nearly 1,000 students and 500-600 people walk by everyday.

“The condition of the road is so bad due to open defection that one cannot walk without putting a handkerchief to one’s nose. During the monsoon, it becomes worse. So, earlier this year, the Block Development Officer (BDO) asked the Block Mahila Sanchyika Sangha (BMASS) to find a permanent solution to the problem. Although we had been conducting awareness programmes on hygiene and sanitation they did not lead to any real change in the attitude. So we decided to involve the women members of Self Help Groups (SHGs) to take on this critical task,” shares Dasarathy Tripathy, Project Officer, BMASS, a federation of SHGs in the block.

In 1998, as part of an effort to empower rural women and improve their financial and social status, the Ganjam District Administration had set up a block level organisation under the banner of Mahila Sanchyika Sangha (MASS).

Tripathy explains, “Like everywhere else, total sanitation coverage is a necessity in our block, too. In the last few years, we found that many villagers were suffering from perennial diseases like diahorrea and malaria here. The women in our SHGs as well as others were constantly taking loans to pay off their hospital bills. In the money they were spending on treatment they could easily build a toilet, purchase a mosquito net and arrange for safe drinking water. So we decided to launch a movement, as part of which we created the ‘Whistle Bahini’ groups calling on women SHG members as committed volunteers.”

In Jagannath Prasad block there are around 1,250 SHGs with 16,600 members. From this vast pool, at first, women from four SHGs were handpicked to be a part of this action group. “Within the first five days of our endeavour, we realised that it was not going to be easy to convince people to desist from open defecation. Apart from blowing the whistle we took to campaigning door-to-door to create awareness on water contamination and the advantages of using a toilet. But when still they did not pay heed to our messages we decided to plant the holy basil on either sides of the main block road. We planted nearly 1,000 saplings as we knew that people would never go for open defection near the tulsi because we worship it,” reveals Sasmita Sethy, another member of the Whistle Bahini.

Twice a day, the Whistle Bahinis patrol the main road that leads their villages to the Jagannath Prasad block headquarters to prevent people from open defecation. (Rakhi Ghosh\WFS)

This move finally had the desired effect. Within a span of one month – the movement began in September 2014 – the number of people coming to the main road to relieve themselves has come down drastically. However, this has lead to a serious issue: if they can’t go to the main road and they don’t have a toilet in their home where would they go to answer nature’s call? To get over this hurdle, for now, the women have identified some faraway fields that people can use.

At the same time, the move to push through applications for making toilets has been undertaken on a war footing. Informs Tripathy,

“We have discussed this with the BDO and submitted applications on behalf of the villagers for construction of individual toilet under the Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan (NBA). Those who fall under the Schedule Caste/Schedule Tribe, small and marginal farmers and Below Poverty Line (BPL) categories will get added benefits under the NBA. Others will be given a subsidy from government or they would be allowed to borrow from their local SHGs to construct toilets.”

Of course, the Whistle Bahinis haven’t let down their guard yet. In fact, to do some rigorous night rounds they have asked the local police to station a couple of constables with them. “We do patrolling early mornings and late evenings but there were some villagers who still tried to go there. That’s where the inclusion of the local police has reinforced the message,” says Anusuya Sahoo, a Whistle Bahini member, who is happy that their block road is now completely open defection free.

Though SHG women have been known to tap into their collective strengths to increase economic prosperity and improve their social outcomes in terms of education and livelihood, putting their heads together for better sanitation has indeed set a positive example. Concludes Ranju Sethy, a vocal Whistle Bahini, “We have set a precedent in the region. Women from the neighbouring blocks are asking us to spread awareness on this issue in their villages as well. We all know that for good health, sanitation and security of women we should avoid open defection but it is our own negative attitude that is stopping from doing the right thing and building a toilet at home. However, the Whistle Bahinis have been able to bring about a change among people who are not really willing to accept new ideas. I am proud to be a part of this progressive women’s group.

Say Thank You To These 5 Invisible Heroes Who Are Dirtying Their Hands For A Clean India!

From taking matters into their own hands to creating unique and innovative solutions for India’s sanitation problems, these unsung heroes are leading India to a healthier and cleaner future. Here are five amazing initiatives that are quietly but determinedly improving sanitation in India.

Poor sanitation facilities, open defecation and related health issues in rural as well as urban India is not news anymore. Here are five heroes who have been trying to address these issues in a quiet but commendable way –

1. Namita Banka – Taking the ‘Bioloo’ to every corner of the country

Namita Banka, founder of Banka Bioloo

Namita Banka and her team at Banka Bioloo is working hard to ensure that an eco-friendly toilet can be a reality in most homes in India so that the two major issues facing the country – poor sanitation and open defecation can be effectively combated.

The team is constructing bio-toilets for homes, public places, community areas, schools and institutions; bio-tanks for Indian Railways and other clients; bio-digesters (the bacterial culture) for bio-toilets and bio-tanks; and upgrading septic tanks to bio-tanks. They also service bio-toilets, and not only this, they have entered into annual maintenance and operations contracts (AMOC) with Railway zones and other corporate bodies to keep the bio-toilets in working condition. Cheers to the team which is making nature’s call more nature-friendly. Know more about Banka Bioloo’s work here.

2. Eram Scientific – Creating India’s first unmanned e-toilet

"Smart" toilet by Eram Scientific Solutions pvt. ltd.

This unique toilet design by Eram Scientific Solutions Pvt. Ltd. is solving rural India’s sanitation problem in a more technology-friendly way. These toilets work on a sensor-based technology. The self-cleaning and water conservation mechanism in the toilet makes it unique. The user has to insert a coin to open the door and its sensor-based light system is automatically turned on once you enter the toilet. It also directs the user with audio commands.

These “smart” toilets are programmed to flush 1.5 litre of water after three minutes of usage and 4.5 litres if the usage is longer. The toilet also washes the platform by itself after every five or 10 persons use the toilet.That sure solves the big issue of cleanliness and hygiene. Read more about this technology here.

3. Atul Bhide – The one man army

Atul Bhide

Atul Bhide from Mumbai is leading rural India to a healthier future, one toilet at a time. When he saw the poor sanitation condition in Maharashtra, he went ahead and constructed 10 toilets from funds of Rotary Club Thane Hill where he held president’s position. The team then constructed 200 toilets in Solgav village of Maharshtra. Each toilet is equipped with two soak-pits with special honey-comb designed brick work inside.They are odour-free, and do not require a separate drainage system. Know more about his amazing work here.

4. Swapnil Chaturvedi – The “Poop” guy

Swapnil CHaturvedi a.k.a the "Poop Guy"

Meet Swapnil Chaturvedi, a.k.a The Poop Guy. When his daughter complained about lack of clean accessible toilets in school, he started Samagra with an objective of providing awesome sanitation services to the urban poor. He calls himself the “chief toilet cleaner” and says that even if there are toilets, people will not use them if they aren’t clean. Thanks to his efforts, the urban poor, especially teenage girls, live a more dignified and convenient life. Know more about his awesome work here.

5. Dr. Mapuskar and his amazing toilets in rural India

Dr, Mapuskar

Dr. Mapuskar has been working in the field of rural sanitation for the last 50 years. His first efforts to build 10 toilets failed as those toilets collapsed in the monsoon. But he did not give up and began promoting a better technology and design of bio-gas toilets developed by Appasaheb Patwardhan. Today, there are 75 such bio-gas toilets functioning in the village, apart from 1000s of toilets in the villages which are now open defecation free. Over the next 5 years, Dr. Mapuskar modified the original design and developed the Malprabha bio-gas toilet. Know more about his work here.

Isn’t it inspiring? The change that one person or a small group can make! Three cheers to these heroes who went ahead and dirtied their hands to clean India.

He Goes To Paedriatic Wards And Orphanages To Make The Kids Watch In Wonder And Roll With Laughter

He shows a magic trick and kids become filled with wonder. He then makes a funny face and kids roll on the floor laughing. Pravin Tulpule, an ex-officer of the Indian Navy, aka Pintoo – the clown magician, is giving children in several pediatric wards and orphanages a healthy dose of laughter. Read more to know what he really is – a magician or a clown?

At the pediatric ward of a large hospital, which is full of children battling cancer, a clown walks in. He makes the children laugh, but also leaves them awestruck with a few magic tricks. A happy day for them made possible by Pintoo – the clown magician!

Pintoo – the only “clown magician” around, loves to make everyone happy even if he fools them with some quick magic tricks. The deft hands can shuffle a pack of cards and perform some breathtaking tricks. But these very hands also get extended to make a vulnerable child happy. The child in Pintoo makes the children love him more!

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Pintoo the clown-magician is Pravin Tulpule, an ex-naval officer. He served in the Indian Navy for 17 long years and retired as Lt. Commander Communications Specialist. Today codes, ciphers, tactics, strategy and planning are the hallmarks of his new avatar – Pintoo the clown magician.

Magic was his first passion – while clowning got added later. In 1973-74, Pravin was gifted with a set of three card tricks. He practiced and developed props at home. He also picked up magic related books from the pavement sellers. The first show was in front of his family. Then, with the help of his little cousin, Pravin staged his first paid show at home. Donning his father’s dressing gown, Pravin charged 25 paise per child to come and see his show. The show was quite a success. And magic tricks never stopped intriguing Pravin. Later at college and then during his Naval days, Pravin was always called upon to entertain, rather fool, folks with his magic.

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In 1995, Pravin joined the Society of Indian Magicians in Mumbai. He got to know different kinds of people who were practicing and showcasing their talent for magic. His learning curve curved steeply during the various interactions that he had with the magicians. Card, animal and bird tricks or ventriloquism – Pravin learnt the art and sharpened his craft.

In India, more than half a dozen conventions were organised around magic and from each convention Pravin graduated further. But rather than donning the top hat and tailcoat attire, Pravin added different get-ups that helped him clown around while he showcased his magic tricks. That meant he could make his audience laugh as well as leave them in wonder.

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70 percent of Pravin’s interactions are with children – his first love. He conducts his clown-magic spectacle for children who are vulnerable – whether they are living in shelters, orphanages, pediatric wards of hospitals or at events organised by NGOs. These shows are absolutely free. Though commercial assignments do keep the kitchen fire burning!

Once, while performing at a small run-down shelter for children near Panvel, Pravin met Shweta Chari of Toybank. Their thoughts and passions clicked, and today Pravin is the mascot for Toybank initiatives. Be it toy distribution events or publicising the need to donate used toys to Toybank through marathons, Pravin is at the forefront. Many a times, his daughters Shruti and Malhar (both well versed in magic) accompany Pravin to lend their support.

Pravin has also conducted numerous hygiene-related campaigns in schools, especially focusing on the importance of washing hands, that are conveyed through magic tricks. At other times, he can be seen clowning and encouraging people to donate blood – Pravin himself being a regular donor. Or he motivates people to pledge their organs, which Pravin has already done.

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Pravin says his best shows are at the pediatric wards of different hospitals where there are children battling various diseases including cancer. He helps them laugh, cuts cake, distributes toys or makes hilarious shapes from balloons – simply to make the children happy. Once, a child was watching him perform from the ICU window pane. Pravin went in, met the child and made the child laugh.

Pravin believes that he is “happy fooling” – that is, making people happy while they are getting fooled with his deft magic tricks. His philosophy – life is too short to brood or be rude. Be happy.

The Engineer Who Is Creating Ice Stupas To Solve The Water Problems Of People In Ladakh

Sonam Wangchuk had been inspired by Chewang Norphel’s work of creating artificial glaciers. So when he saw people struggling to meet their basic water requirements in Ladakh, he came up with a solution of creating vertical ice stupas to store water for a longer time. The average stupa is 35 meters to 40 meters high and can store upto 16,000 cubic litres of water which is enough to irrigate 10 hectares of land. Read how Wangchuk plans to create 80-90 such stupas to solve all of Ladakh’s water troubles.

The beautiful mountains of Ladakh are a breathtaking sight and a memorable experience for the tourists. But ask those who are permanently settled here and struggling in these dry and cold mountains, and you will learn of the day-to-day difficulties they have to deal with.

The infertile land and lack of regular sources of water makes living even tougher for these communities. Water from the glaciers, which every farmer needs, comes as the only solution, but these glaciers are frozen for the large part of the year.

Typical landscape of Ladakh near SECMOL school.

Many changemakers have tried to solve the issue by creating artificial glaciers. Though the solution looks feasible and has helped the people of Ladakh to a great extent, there were some challenges which these solutions faced. Sonam Wangchuk, a mechanical engineer from Ladakh, drew inspiration from Chewang Norphel’s work of creating artificial glaciers and thought of helping to make the idea more successful.

“I saw the problems these people were facing. The artificial glaciers were built at a very high altitude and villagers or workers were reluctant to climb so high. I wondered why we couldn’t construct glaciers right there in the village. The temperature is low enough to keep the water frozen – we just needed a smart way to make these glaciers,” says Wangchuk.

This is how a regular ice stupa looks like.

To address the issue, Wangchuk along with the students of SECMOL Alternative School which he himself set up, started an interesting project called Ice Stupa. “Our aim was to find a solution to the water crisis facing Ladakhi farmers in the critical planting months of April and May, before the natural glacial melt waters start flowing,” he says. They named the project ‘Ice Stupa’ because the shape of the glacier resembled the traditional stupas of Ladakh.

Within two months, Wangchuk’s team managed to build a two-storey ice stupa that could store around 1,50,000 litres of water. This prototype was put to test and was built at the warmest possible location and lowest possible altitude on the banks of the Indus river at a height of 10,400 feet. This was done to check if it works there, because if it did work there then it could work anywhere.

Sonam's team in front of the Stupa.

How does the ice stupa work?

“I observed that for the spring sun and winds to melt the ice, they needed large surface areas. So if we reduced the area exposed to the sun and wind, then the ice could be stored in the village itself, thus eliminating the need for villagers to climb the mountains,” Wangchuk says.

Hence, he came up with an idea of constructing cones of ice vertically towards the sun, as then there will be very less surface area exposed to the sun and it will melt slower.

“For example, one ice stupa of 40 m height and 20 m radius would store roughly sixteen million litres of water. If the same amount of water was frozen as a flat ice field 2 m thick, the area exposed to sun would be roughly five times more. Therefore, the sun and the warm spring winds would melt it roughly 5 times faster,” Wangchuk explains.

By mid- March all the flat ice on ground had melted, but not Wangchuk's Stupa.

The other amazing science concept is used in the fact that there is no electricity used to pump the water to a higher level. To make the water reach the full height of the vertical stupa, a pipe is joined from a higher up-stream and adjusted manually according to the size of the stupa. As water always maintains its level, it reaches the tip of the pipe. As the fountain flows down from the tip, it converts into ice due to the low air temperature outside, freezing in a conical form.

Also, the water that melts from the tip of the stupa will flow down; and as it comes in contact with the cool breeze, it will freeze and will eventually increase the size of the stupa.

Artist's impression of the final stage of the Ice Stupa field near the monastery.

“The water has to be cool enough that it freezes as it gets in touch with the outside air, and at the same time, it should be warm enough that it does not freeze in the pipe itself,” says Wangchuk.

The average stupa is 35 meters to 40 meters high and can store upto 16,000 cubic litres of water which is enough to irrigate 10 hectares of land. It costs approximately Rs.1.5 per cubic meter.

The dream

After the successful prototype, Wangchuk and his team of five members are taking their idea to a bigger scale and planning to construct around 80 to 90 stupas at the top of the vast deserts of Phyang village.

These stupas will be 100 times bigger than the prototype and will easily meet the water needs of people till the end of June.

The budget of constructing these stupas is $100,000 (Rs. 61,34,800) and Wangchuk is aiming to raise around $119,500 (Rs. 73,31,086) to cover the extra costs of platform fees, bank/credit card charges, rewards, perks and shipment costs for supporters, etc.

This South African Is Helping To Rebuild Vishakhapatnam After The Cyclone. Here’s What He Has Seen.

Jaco Swanepoel’s heart went out to those who suffered immense damage in Vishakhapatnam during cycloneHudhud. He packed his bags and went to help the victims. “The best thing that you can do in a situation like this is just to help the person in front of you,” he learnt. Here he recounts his journey to the heart of the calamity, how he brought about change and how it affected him.

I come from a country where we don’t get any natural disasters like cyclones. This is the first time I have experienced something like this. It is extreme when you see something which involves a lot of people. A friend of mine in South Africa said one day to us, “We must run towards a crisis, towards poverty, and go and make a difference, rather that moving away from it. Maybe we will feel most alive in the midst of a crisis or in the midst of poverty, because then you experience something completely different than what you are used to and you also experience the heart and the need of one another.”

Jaco Swanepoel went to Vishakhapatnam to help the cyclone victims.

When I was staying in Hyderabad, I heard about the cyclone. I told myself that I really wanted to go and make a difference there; I booked a train ticket and just came here. I linked up with a non-profit organization that has been helping people here for many years already. I met a few people from America on the team who have also been helping in the midst of this crisis. I just came in to serve along with them all, and see what I could do. I told myself before I came here that I will do anything that will help in building up this community.

My first thought when I came here was what can I do to make a difference, I don’t even know the total cost of all this damage here in Vishakhapatnam. Questions started to rise up in my head – can we help everybody, can we just give money, and is it possible that a cyclone like this could have damaged so many things? I don’t have enough words in my head to describe this, it’s beyond words what I am seeing here at the moment.

Jaco Swanepoel packed his bags and went to Vishakhapatnam to help cyclone victims.

I can honestly say that the best thing you can do in a situation like this is just to help the person in front of you. A lady in Mozambique once said to me that you cannot help everybody, but you can help one person at a time making a difference. The place where I feel most alive is in the midst of poverty or in the context of Vishakhapatnam, in the midst of the city’s biggest crisis. It is hard to describe it for people when you are here and experiencing all the need of this crisis. Thousands of people have lost everything in Vishakhapatnam. People are in need of big things. That’s the thing about natural disasters, that I believe you cannot blame anybody for it.

The one thing in Vishakhapatnam that’s also a big problem at the moment is electricity. While I am typing this, I don’t know when the electricity will go off. For the first week after the cyclone, the people did not have electricity for 8 days. It’s quite hard for the shops here to run when they don’t have any electricity.

One of the small buildings next to the beach in Vishakhapatnam that was destroyed.

We went to a village that nobody wanted to visit as they didn’t have water and electricity for days, and gave out medicines to the people. One of the best things I saw was the joy on their faces when we gave them the medicines with another nurse from India, because they didn’t have anything like that in their village. We stayed in that village for hours and hours just to hang out with the people there and talk to them. It was so great for me to see something like that.

While we were walking along one of the slums and giving out food, clothes and just talking to the people, I had a few tears, because it’s outsiders like us who are busy rebuilding their houses. I’m rather speechless really. What I’m seeing is beyond words and what I’m doing here is almost too simple – it’s hard to explain.

There are people around the world living in the midst of rubbish tips and garbage dumps. These are the poorest of the poor, living in the worst places imaginable. And we are searching them out…to hang out with those whom nobody visits. I know sometimes it’s beyond cultural boundaries. Love exists where there is nothing.

Electricity didn't work for 8 - 10 day's in Vishakpatnnam after they cyclone.

The moment that I will never forget is when we realised while walking between these slums/garbage dumps, that the people still have joy inside them, and in the middle of this crisis they can still laugh. I believe that’s the secret of life – to retain joy in the midst of pain and in the midst of a crisis. That’s one of the things that will help you out of it. I know it’s not easy all the time.

The question I have for myself personally is whether the things that I am doing is enough for them, can I do more? I am so glad for the government of India that said they will support these precious people in Vishakhapatnam who have lost everything. Sometimes, in a crisis like this, we must see the good in this and not always just the bad side.

It’s hard to describe these things to people who are not here. Thousands of trees are lying on the grass and a lot of houses are damaged here, buildings don’t exist anymore. The local people are busy with the construction work. One of the locals told me that when the cyclone was going on, they asked 100,000 people to leave the city because it was too dangerous for them to stay here.

Next to the beach in Vishakhapatnam, the cyclone damaged all this.

I am so glad that I could experience this; be in the midst of this crisis, and just be the hands and feet for people who needed it the most. It was such a great honor for me to go and help them in this season of my life and just be there for them.

What This ‘Papersmith’ Does With Paper And Glue Will Simply Amaze You

Atamjeet Singh was always fascinated with machines and airplanes. He took his passion to a whole new level by creating these amazing 3D paper models which look just like real machines. Whenever someone sees his paper models, their first reaction is that of disbelief. And then, they eventually fall in love with the stunning craft. Take a look at some of his incredible models and understand the passion behind them.

“I was always a curious kid. I carried a screw driver with me everywhere – I would open machines just to see how they work and I was fascinated with planes and machines,” says Atamjeet Singh, the ‘paper man’.

Singh has an unusual skill – he can create machines out of paper. After he is done with his day job as asoftware engineer at an IT giant, he dons the avatar of a creator who spends hours in his room crafting various real-looking 3D models of bikes, ships, planes, warheads, rocket launchers and many such fascinating things – all just using paper and glue!

Atamjeet Singh with the Iron Man helmet.

Born to be a pilot, destined to be a Table Tennis player, happened to be a Textile Chemist, could have been a guitarist, but landed up being a software programmer, calling paper modelling as Singh’s hobby would be an understatement. He spends months with a small piece of paper and finally comes up with a model which will make your jaws drop. When you look at his models, your first reaction would definitely be disbelief after which you will eventually become awestruck and fall in love with his wonderful creations.

Singh created his first model in college, and ever since he has not looked back. He proudly flaunts over 30 models that he has crafted so far.

The small models take more time to finish as they require extra care and detailing.

The start

“Geometry and 3D mathematics came very easy to me. When teachers were not around, I would go and teach students on my fundas,” Singh says. He learnt Engineering Design in college days and picked it up really fast.

Born and brought up in Amritsar, Punjab, Singh knew where his interest lay but there was no one to push the button and make him realize the wonders he could do. And, one fine day during his first year of engineering, Singh went to the college library and started reading a book on airplanes just out of curiosity.


It had sketches of planes used in World War 2. Having always been fascinated by planes, he took photographs of the airplane pictures from the book and thought of creating their models.

He made different parts – the cones, cylinders, etc – to assemble each part later on. It took him 30 days to prepare the different parts and to his surprise, the parts fit perfectly at first go. And finally a four feet long and three feet wide plane was ready. “I call it an engineering accident,” Singh says. He painted 6-8 layers of metal paint on it to make it look as real as possible.

He manages his hobby with a full time job.

This was his first success, and since then he has been surprising the world through his extraordinary art. He later took his art to his work place, spending extra hours in office after work to create amazing models.

“I can’t thank Accenture enough for letting me bring my passion to work. Almost every day after work, I would take out my box of paper and glue and start making these models. It felt great that my team is so understanding. Also, I got some extra attention from my peers,” he grins. With support from his office colleagues, he managed to make his first bike in three to four months.

Yamaha Bike. We can't believe its made out of paper, can you?

Why paper?

When Singh started paper modelling, he did not have many resources. He wanted to learn Balsa wood craft but it required a tremendous amount of guidance and money.

The paper he uses is not the regular thin paper. He uses ivory sheets and similar thick papers to keep the model firm. Also, he uses different types of paper for different parts of the model. For example, he uses thicker paper for the wheels of the truck as they bear most of the weight and thinner paper for the body.

Singh has created over 30 amazing models so far.

Each paper model has a skeleton (also made of paper) which fits inside the outer paper shell and keeps the final piece firm and intact.

Living the passion

The USP of his models is the fine quality, the minute detailing and the light weight. Some of his models, which have several parts glued together, only weigh 30 to 40 gms.

These serious machinery are very light weight which is the USP of Singh's art.

“Internet was my best friend at that time. I would spend hours watching videos to enhance my craft. I thought of making a more detailed model with proper labels and parts to make it look like a real plane,” he says.

He then made F4-U Corsair used in World War 1 with extra ordinary detailing of cockpit, gears, seat belts, etc., which is his most valuable possession to date. “I am inspired by the machines, I don’t need any other motivation to do this. The idea of what the final model will look like keeps me going,” he says.

The fine detailing in the models take the maximum time.

There was one time when Singh was making a Japanese battleship. It was a very complicated design which needed 3,000 individual parts to be first prepared and then fixed at the right place carefully.

“I was half way done and felt I was never going to finish it. It was so complicated and it took me so much time. But I didn’t want to give up, and finally after eight months of hard work, my most complicated creation was ready,” he says.

The Japanese Battleship took around eight months to finish.

The Future

He wants to take his art to schools and teach others to make similar models. He has been participating in a lot of exhibitions to showcase his work. Right now, taking it as a hobby, Singh wants to scale his passion and even commercialize it if the right opportunity comes along.

“I know that I put my sweat and blood in these models. I want to sell or give these models to someone who values them. Finding those people is a challenge,” he says. He wants to create high-class paper models for his clients and big corporates.

Aren't you awestruck?

Happily married for two years, Singh’s wife understands his passion and gives him his space to follow it. “I think she loves all my models and also flaunts them among her circle of friends,” he laughs.

Working as a Senior Consultant at Oracle now, Singh is living his dream of becoming a pilot by making planes. “I was destined to do this,” he smiles.

This Son Of Farm Labourers Is Now A Golfing Star

Born in a poor family, Chikkarangappa joined a golf resort as a worker to earn a paltry wage of Rs.50 per day. Today, he is a winner in this sport of the rich. Having started by using a tree branch to practice golf swings, his passion made him win his first trophy at the tender age of 11. Read more to know how this farmer’s boy became a golfing sensation.

Golf is considered as a game for the rich. So when this young man born to farm labourers excelled in this sport, the news had to make headlines!

Chikkarangappa S bagged yet another trophy as he won TAKE Solutions India Masters on November 1 scoring a total of 18-under 270 after marking an amazing two stroke victory. Chikka’s victory over Abhishek  Jha was his fourth professional victory, making him earn $12,250 and a two-year exemption on the ADT.

Jha was in six-shot lead over Chikka in the game but the latter made a dramatic comeback and remarkably snatched the victory from Jha’s hands.

This was my first win as a pro on my home course. I always felt something was missing. For the last two weeks, after my grandfather passed away, golf wasn’t even on my mind. I dedicate this win to him,” said the 21 year old golfer toThe Hindu.

Chikkarangappa won TAKE Solutions India Masters on November 1

This young golfer from Eagleton Golf Resort became the second Indian after Sujjan Singh to win on the Asian Development Tour. The journey till this stage has not been easy for Chikka. Born to a farmer father and a daily wage labourer mother in a small village Bidadi, near Bangalore, Chikka always faced various financial restrictions.

At a tender age of 10, he joined Eagleton Golf Resort to earn some money and make ends meet.  But gradually, he got fascinated by the sport. He would watch the players for hours and finally, he couldn’t help but develop an interest in the game. He made a golf stick out of a branch of a tree and practiced golf swings in his spare time.

Some time later, he managed to get a real golf stick and started practicing. One fine day, a coach Vijay Dhivecha, noticed him swinging his golf stick and asked him if he would like to play the sport professionally. It came as a great surprise to Chikka, and initially he was reluctant to take up the offer due to his family’s poor background, but he eventually agreed and convinced his family too. Since then there has been no turning back.

He gave everything he had to the sport and even quit his schooling to take up golf full time. He played his first professional tournament in Ooty and bagged the second position. Later that year, he participated in another championship at Eagleton at the age of 11 and won his first trophy.

He developed interest in the sport at a very young age and has been following his passion since then.

As he continued his journey in golf, language came across as a huge barrier. “I was really scared about my not knowing English. Things were quite difficult those days. ‘Your shoulders are shut,’ Mr. Divecha would say, or ‘open your stance’. What could I understand? For a while, we only communicated through sign language,” Chikka revealed toSports Star.

Chikka’s achievements have made him the talk of the town. He has won the India Juniors three times and the All India Amateur Golf Championships two times. Chikka is the youngest golfer so far to win the ‘India Amateurs’ championship ,which he won at the age of 16.

With regular practice, Chikka has overcome his weakness in English and now speaks fluently and with confidence. Chikka’s latest victory proves that passion does not need a strong financial or family background, it just needs a strong will power and dedication. Chikka found his way to victory against all odds. We congratulate him for his recent success and hope to see many more such young and passionate players making headlines.