When it comes to transforming the society through the usage of technology, today’s young generation is right up to the mark. Three students from the southern part of India bear an effective testimony to this. They, with their talent and vigour, have been positively impacting the lives of many. These students were rightfully awarded silver medals at the 8th Annual Pramerica Spirit of Community Awards, the largest youth recognition programme in the United States of America (USA). In an exclusive chat with these talented students, Bhawna Satsangi of edInbox tries to find out the inspiration behind their innovative projects.

Adhya Menda on the Right

For Adhya Menda, a Class X student of Mallya Aditi International School in Bengaluru; Jeyakumar M, a Class X student of Government High School, Naranapuram at Sivakasi in Tamil Nadu; Hariharan.S and his friends, Class VIII students of P.U.M.S Kalachery West at Thiruvarur district in Tamil Nadu; life has been an intriguing experience as these young minds have not just prospered at their schools but have actually found out social solutions to complex issues.

These young minds have been helping the deprived sections of the society in one way or the other. Their contributions have also been duly recognized in the form of various awards.

Adhya Menda, a native of Bengaluru, never imagined that her innovation will make such a positive impact. Her innovation helps the underprivileged by making them shelters. Realizing that accommodation is a huge issue in India, she established WeRise, an initiative that empowers marginalised people with the means and assistance to build their own homes.  In her chat with edInbox, she underscores the essence of her efforts.

edInbox: Please throw some light on the model of WeRise.

Adhya: Inadequate shelter is a chronic problem in India, with many parts of the country suffering from acute housing shortages mostly affecting the marginalized sections of the society. Having been deeply moved by the hardships and challenges faced by the less fortunate amongst us, my goal is to focus on individuals who have land but cannot afford to build homes and often fall beyond the realm of organized finances. The result is WeRise, a social enterprise initiated in 2016 with an initiative revolving around collaborations and co-creations, built on the five pillars of technological empowerment, financial inclusion, sweat equity, sustainability and communities. WeRise aims to provide the marginalized populace with the means to build their own homes, bringing health, safety and a sense of well-being to their lives.

edInbox: How can it help the people?

Adhya: WeRise intends to empower the underprivileged sections of the society by providing them the technical know-how and financial capability to construct eco-friendly and sustainable houses. The initiative also aims to build a community which propels each individual towards development and a stand in the society.

What WeRise does is empower the marginalized through:

  • Social Innovation: WeRise is a social enterprise that has emerged to identify and bring about a transformative societal change.
  • Technological Empowerment: The primary focus of WeRise is to transform lives by providing the technology and assistance that can enable the deprived to breathe life into their dreams and aspirations
  • Financial Inclusion: WeRise Facilitates access to government schemes meant for housing for the marginalized sections of the society. It also facilitates access to bank finances under applicable schemes, if any.
  • Sweat Equity: It involves the effort put in by the beneficiaries themselves, which is central to the construction process, increasing their participation to make them an integral part of the endeavour.
  • Sustainability: It focuses on minimizing the impact on natural resources. The basic building block of the communities is the ‘soil-cement’ block, which is essentially made from a pre-set combination of locally available soil, cement and water.
  • Building Social Communities: With the hands-on efforts of the homeowners and assistance from their neighbours playing a major role in shaping the homes, WeRise is working towards creating supportive communities and the pride of ownership resulting from sweat equity.

Adhya Menda

edInbox: What inspired you to get involved in creating this model? What were the challenges faced?

Adhya: My journey towards WeRise began at a very early age with Lakshmi, who takes care of our house, and continues to be an integral part of my life. As a child, I would often listen to her stories about her family spending their days in a makeshift shelter, without even the most basic security and protection from the elements. Her narratives helped me understand the deplorable conditions that they had to endure, even though they owned land in the village, only because they lacked the financial capability to build a home.

Unfortunately Lakshmi’s story is far from unique, with many parts of the country suffering from housing shortages that affect most of the marginalized sections of the society. After looking at the problem from all possible perspectives, the answer is clear – sustainable social housing. This is where WeRise comes in, my social enterprise that was initiated in 2016. Team of industry experts joined as the trustees of WeRise in 2016 when the trust was formed. The initial obstacles that I faced before initiating WeRise were with regards to funding and finding the right resource who could convert this dream into reality. However, with the support of my family, friends and volunteers, I was able to overcome them. Some of the other challenges faced during the course of setting up my social enterprise WeRise included:

  • Defining the financial model as savings of the beneficiaries was very marginal.
  • The capital expenditure keeping the cost needed for building each home below three lakhs to ensure affordability
  • The sustainability factor as creating a home with features of design and choice of materials to make it environment-friendly is important.
  • Building community as it is pertinent to ensure that we develop a model of both sweat equity and community participation.

WeRise works with likeminded community partners to create social Impact. The community partners take care of the following responsibilities:

  • NIVASA: It is the design and construction partner for WeRise. NIVASA redefines rural landscapes through sustainable, culturally sensitive, site driven and cost effective architecture and design for WeRise.
  • GRAMAANTARA: Gramaantara is a community-based Local NGO responsible for liaisoning with the community and government agencies.
  • CHAITANYA: It works towards creating financial inclusion in the communities we operate under the guidance of WeRise.

edInbox: How will this model help the socially disadvantaged populace?

Adhya: WeRise is a scalable model. The aim of WeRise is to impact a large number of rural homeless with sustainable housing programmes. We have adopted two villages in the Chikballapur district in Karnataka and we wish to scale this model up to other districts of Karnataka and also across the other states to create positive social change. Upon achieving success in this first project, WeRise will leverage the knowledge gained from the initiative to aid its effort across other villages. With this proof of concept, it will add more strategic partners, open doors with various state governments and ensure continued success and enhanced momentum across other states and cities.

  • WeRise has the basic model in place in terms of the design, materials used and construction methodology. This knowledge base will get further enriched during the execution of the programme at the two chosen villages, and will allow WeRise to further understand the complexities of human requirements and the extent to which customizations will be needed
  • The experience will also help strengthen the model, while at the same time building credibility. This will potentially allow WeRise to raise even more funds to extend the reach of its programme.
  • As a result of the execution, relationships with the local government will also be strengthened at the district and even the state level. This will facilitate WeRise’s expansion in Karnataka.

edInbox: How is your enterprise raising funds?

Adhya: WeRise has raised Rs. 22.29 Lakhs so far. I am an avid photographer. As a Class 10 student living in Bangalore, I have had opportunities to develop my passion for photography. These photographs capture a crucial stage in the creation of iconic urban structures that is often overlooked, showcasing moments in the lives of Bangalore’s blue-collar workers. Close encounter with the sights, sounds and drama surrounding the ‘Humans of Bangalore’ is an experience that I feel compelled to share with the rest of the world. These images are vibrant expressions of this emotion, existing to provide a thought-provoking glimpse that leaves a lasting impression.

In July 2017, through a recent fund-raising event in Bengaluru, I was successful in raising Rs. 22.29 lakhs through the sale of ‘Photo Stories’. The amount raised will support the building of 18 homes at the remote villages of Chikballapur district. The first phase of the endeavour is underway and scheduled for delivery in the third quarter of 2018 and the second phase comprising of 42 homes will be ready for handover by the first quarter of 2019. WeRise will work with select financial partners to provide access to micro-finance to these communities. WeRise shall also facilitate the beneficiaries to avail of government schemes meant for them – schemes which they are not able to access due to ignorance of their existence or illiteracy.

edInbox: What are your future plans?

Adhya: WeRise has already won the trust of communities in which it operates. The initiative will have a direct impact on 7,500 people over a period of 5 years. The relationship with the government departments has strengthened its credibility to extend the housing benefits to the rural homes and we look forward for Coorg and Udupi districts as our next launch pads.

Well the story is not too different for Hariharan and his friends as well. Realising the fact that the farmers constitute the backbone of a country, Hariharan and his friends prepare medicinal herbs to cure farmers in their village from skin problems. It is known to all that pesticides that are used in farming not only damage the soil but also damage the skin on exposure. So, many farmers in his village were suffering from skin diseases. He was candid enough in his views about the initiative.

edInbox: How did it all start?

Hariharan on the Extreme Right and His Team

Hariharan: My friends and I are using medicinal herbs to cure farmers from skin problems. Most of the people at our village, including our parents, use chemical fertilizers for agriculture which results in chronic skin problems. When our science teacher introduced us to the medicinal power of herbs like basil and henna, we decided to help the farmers by healing their skin problems through this natural remedy.

edInbox: How do these medicines help in curing the skin problems?

Hariharan: We learned about the herbs and their medicinal values from our science book (Samacheer Kalvi) and when our science teacher introduced us to the medicinal power of herbs like basil and henna, we decided to help the farmers by healing their skin problems through this natural remedy. Every evening, the team collects herbs, grinds them and prepares a paste to apply on the hands and legs of farmers to treat their skin problems. Since regular treatment is required for complete cure, we do this every day, including our holidays. Sometimes, we even ride 15 kilometres on our bicycles to a neighbouring village to bring herbs that are not available at our own village. We also use some of these herbs as a first aid treatment against bites from poisonous insects and snakes.

edInbox: Are you creating a dispensary or a society to help these farmers?

Hariharan: No, we are not creating any dispensary.  All of our parents are also farmers. Over the last three years, we have cured more than 900 farmers with medicinal herbs. We have collected money and bought gloves and masks for the farmers to reduce their exposure to toxic chemicals. We have also taught school children at nearby villages how to prepare the medicines so that they too can reduce the sufferings of farmers at their respective villages.

edInbox: Is there any funding that you received from the government?

Hariharan: No, we have not received any funds from the Government.

edInbox: Are you planning to make it as a revenue generating model?

Hariharan: No, we don’t have a plan like that.

Another inspiring story is that of Jeyakumar. He has designed an automatic fire safety device for fireworks factories in Sivakasi. This low-cost device is considered to be a boon for the ailing factories and has been installed at fireworks factories, which have helped save the lives of many poor workers. His innovation has been extensively reported by many newspapers. He is quite forthright in expressing his views.

Jeyakumar

edInbox: What has led you to develop this Fire Safety Device?

Jeyakumar: Sivakasi is famous for crackers and fireworks and there are more than 860 fireworks factories around Sivakasi. Most of the people at my village work at these factories as coolies. Fire accidents are common and in one of the accidents near my school, 262 workers lost their lives, including my friend’s father. My mother was also injured in the same accident. This prompted me to find a solution that would help prevent similar mishaps. I explained my thoughts to my class teacher, P. Karunaidoss, who guided me to do this project successfully.

edInbox: How does it work and help the factories?

Jeyakumar

Jeyakumar: I have designed a model project to stop fire accidents. At the fireworks factories, working room size is eight feet in length and width and not more than four people can work in a room. This low-cost device has a fire sensor that automatically triggers an alarm when it senses any rise in room temperature. The circuit is connected to a water tank and a motor, which immediately sprays water to extinguish the fire.

edInbox: What is the price of the device?

Jeyakumar: The devise was designed by me and I spent Rs. 3,000/- to design it.

edInbox: What is the research involved in making this device?

Jeyakumar: On September 5, 2012, there was an explosion at the Om Sakthi Fireworks Industries fireworks factory in Sivakasi. 40 people were killed and more than 70 were injured. This prompted me to gain knowledge about the types and causes of fire. I spoke to people who worked at the factories. I researched using the internet and also took the help of my teacher to buy the electronic materials required to make this device.

#StudentsSolveSocialProblems #technology


Reporting by Bhawna Satsangi
Special Correspondent, Bengaluru & Chennai

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