Ink and Metal of American High School is on a mission to bring STEM education to students in the Bay Area, combine their efforts in times of need, and inspire students through their outreach.
How could they help the most people while bringing many people together?
Rishi Gurjars tell us: “Once we decided to raise money for a food bank, we started looking for food banks. The Alameda County Community Food Bank really stood out to us when we saw the impact and influence they have on the county. They distribute food, support Alameda Community’s youth, help underprivileged families, and work with all the levels of the government to achieve their vision. The ACCFB also partners up with organizations like Stephen and Ayesha Curry’s Eat. Learn. Play. Foundation and our robotics team, Ink and Metal. Their hunger-relief efforts were very inspiring for our team.”
“In order to raise $5,300, we had massive goals, and we knew that only fundraising would not be enough. We raised money through social media including Facebook and Instagram, but we also held engineering and coding classes to raise money. A thorough open-source curriculum was created by our team, and it is posted on our website for We asked the students’ parents for a small donation each class, and we put all of that funding straight into the fundraiser. We made a website, where we raised money. We plan to continue to donate a portion of our outreach donations to the food bank in the coming years.”
They believe their efforts have helped them get this far but if you want to help them reach their goal of $10,000, donate here!
Srishti Prabha is the Assistant Editor at India Currents and has worked in low income/affordable housing as an advocate for children, women, and people of color. She is passionate about diversifying spaces, preserving culture, and removing barriers to equity.
When Covid closed down Jaipur’s teeming streets, Harmendra Singh, like many other daily wage laborers, panicked. How would he feed his family of six? For Harmendra, a blacksmith who makes INR 300.00 per day and lives in Jaipur’s Dhoongri slum, the shutdown in India was particularly brutal–he needed his income for his family’s basic daily survival. The government took its time stepping in to fill the gap created by a cratering of daily wage incomes, and it was left to local charities to help desperate people like Harmender and his family.
The charity that came to his rescue was Edu-GIRLS, whose school his daughter, Riya Kaur, and her younger sister were enrolled in. Like other charities across India, the suddenness of the Corvid lockdown transformed Edu-GIRLS higher mission goals of educating and mentoring girls living in some of India’s poorest slums into more immediate, lifesaving ones.
“We adapted fast,” says Anand Seth, who founded the non-profit in Washington DC, in 2012. (Since then, it has expanded out of Jaipur and taken its successful model of educating slum children to three other locations–Bengaluru in India, Saraswati in Nepal and Kohat in Pakistan).
“From the first day of the lockdown we gathered basic rations and made packets of essentials which included atta, dal, rice, oil, salt, sugar, chai, etc. and distributed them. The girls were put in charge of identifying families in need, and they went around the slum delivering supplies. If there could be a silver lining to something as awful as Covid, it was the way the girls began to be viewed. They were the source of the family’s survival because of their enrollment in our school, and they’ve become a prime asset for their community.
As of May 2020, Edu-GIRLS has provided 600,000 meals to 1000 families.
“We haven’t slowed down,” says Shubhra Garg, the Secretary/Treasurer at Edu-GIRLS, and a hands-on volunteer who communicates regularly with Edu-GIRLS partner school, Vimukti, in Jaipur. “We’ve innovated.”
“In the beginning of the Pandemic we got the girls to make and distribute masks. They made over 4000, with donated cloth. After basic needs like food were provided for, our next emphasis was how to make sure educational time wasn’t lost. The girls had no access to laptops or computers at home and the staff had to innovate to provide virtual learning to them. A teach- by phone- program was initiated during the shutdown––students had to borrow their parents’ smartphones for three hours every day and teachers posted lessons and activities and homework which they were accountable for. This has been quite successful.”
Another consequence of the lockdown has been the urgency to push the digital learning program into high gear. Edu-GIRLS had already partnered with Khan Academy and the digital education provider BYGU to bring online learning to its upper grades. It now aims to push for a faster evolution to digital teaching for its lower school as well and has begun a Facebook campaign to raise funds towards that goal.
Chatting with the team of Edu-GIRLS board members and volunteers in Washington DC, I see that they haven’t lost any of their pre-pandemic enthusiasm for continuing fundraising and expanding programs, even if they can’t make the supportive visits to the schools in India which used to be a regular feature before COVID. They have gone into high gear with virtual and paper mail alternatives for communicating with the Edu-GIRLS family, and are innovating new formats for fundraising drives.
“We were not sure what to expect from our donors when faced with a highly unusual catastrophe like Covid. In fact, we’ve had a surge of interest from our donors—many new ones have stepped forward after seeing the havoc Covid is wrecking on the poor in India. I think the fact that we kept donors extremely well informed throughout of how we were continuing to serve the slum community and on how we had innovated during the Pandemic, contributed to their support. We raised almost 30,000.00 immediately for Covid relief from 100 supporters,” says Anand.
Edu-GIRLS goals for 2023 include educating 1450 girls with a 100% pass rate and placing at least 110 in jobs which will double their family’s income.
“We feel vested in these girls,” adds Sangeeta Agarwal, who contributes her skills as a filmmaker towards designing the organization’s media offerings
“We support them from primary school to higher education and, eventually, financial independence. What’s the point of all that education if the girl can’t become financially self-sufficient? So, it’s a particularly satisfying connection from a volunteer point of view because we follow the same children for their whole educational life and beyond. We look at all the factors that might limit their access to education—transportation, family attitudes, even basic hygiene, etc.”
“Yes, even basic hygiene can be an obstacle to a girl’s education,” Sangeeta says in response to my surprised expression.
“Many girls drop out of school when their periods start because they can’t afford sanitary pads and they’re ashamed.”
Edu-GIRLS has adopted a Ten-Mantra program that addresses all the invisible obstacles to a girl’s education like the monthly menstruation cycle and safe transportation to school. There are 10 things they focus on as goals—these include a free, quality, English curriculum, with short school days and a long school year, safe transportation to and from school for the girls, nutrition health and hygiene training, community outreach, exposure to science and math, vocational and college scholarships and performance incentives.
Priti Jain, who organizes outdoor walkathons for fundraising, is currently working on the next one. “I was attracted to the charity by their focus on girls’ education,” says Priti, whose Facebook tagline says, ‘If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.’
“At least walking is one fundraiser which will involve time away from a screen. Since we must emphasize safety, we are looking into holding a virtual walk-a-thon. Participants walk on their own at an assigned time and post their miles and contributions online.”
The team is all really pleased with how the girls have risen to the crisis in their communities and have made masks and distributed food while mentoring and teaching the younger children, whether it’s proper COVID hygiene or other lessons.
“They are the true heroes of their community,” Shubhra concludes.
Jyoti Minocha is a DC-based educator and writer who holds a Masters in Creative Writing from Johns Hopkins and is working on a novel about the Partition.
Edited by Meera Kymal, contributing editor at India Currents
Image credit: EDU-GIRLS Riya Kaur (10) lives in the Jhalana Doongri slums, Jaipur. and is a class IV student.
Are you feeling anxious during these troubled and difficult COVID times? Anxiety starts to affect our mental and physical status. We worry about our families, friends, and ourselves. What if something happens, what next? Fear, and anxiety, come from thinking of the future.
Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is a motivational theory in psychology comprising a five-tier model of human needs. In the traditional Maslow pyramid, we see that the basic physiological ( food, water, warmth, rest) and safety needs ( security, safety) are not met for many of us. Many have lost their jobs, do not have a roof over their heads, or even food to eat. This causes immense anxiety, frustration, anger, and fear. However, even for those whose primary needs are met, there is still a tremendous amount of anxiety. To help understand and cope with this feeling in these unusual times I have redefined the upper part of the pyramid.
In these uneasy COVID times, it is necessary to ease our minds. What are our emotional needs during a difficult time like this? Here is a simple diagram that helps explain it. During this time it is good to go within us.
Let’s look at this diagram. We need to accept this situation as it is. It may not be what we anticipated or wanted, but with Acceptance, it will be easier to deal with the situation, rather than fight against it.
Routine is a sequence of actions regularly followed. In these times it would be beneficial to create a healthy routine. Pick things that you have control over and make them an integral part of your routine. When new things show up that are not in your control, let them go, and don’t let it affect your routine. In this process of not being able to be always in control of happenings, anger, and frustration arise, which need to be slowly released.
Would you like to connect with others? We have been asked to social distance. The effects of this have brought about sadness and a feeling of loneliness. Even though you are social distancing, you can nurture your relationships with emotional Connections. Go on, pick up the phone, and speak with a friend, text, or use social media. Share your feelings and know that you are still connected even though you are physically apart. This is not forever.
The world has slowed down so that you can discover yourself. Think about taking a pause and figuring out what is the new normal. When you Reset, what you thought meant something important to you may have changed. What seemed normal no longer seems useful to you.
For many of us, it is hard to concentrate on our emotional needs when we are filled with anxiety and fear. Use these next steps to reduce your anxiety first so that you can take care of yourself and the needs within.
Reduce watching and listening to negative news.
Enjoy family time with a feeling of gratitude. I understand it is difficult at times being under the same roof. Cooking, cleaning, teaching kids (homeschooling), video conference meetings, loud music, dogs barking. Once this is over you will realize that this was an opportune time to bond with each other. So make it happen now.
Be in the present. Anxiety, worries, and fear come from thinking of what will happen in the future. Just live for the moment as life is precious and should not be taken for granted.
I find yoga, meditation, and most of all a good night’s sleep valuable to calm my mind. Many apps and sites offer meditation sequences.
Practice gratitude. Gratitude for being you, for having the smallest of things. Gratitude for the frontline workers, researchers and so much more.
Exercise helps release your feel-good chemicals. If you are allowed to and it is safe then, walk, run, cycle with 6-foot social distancing in a non-crowded area while wearing a mask. Come home and wash your hands.
It is time to take on a new hobby, or even learn a new language. All the things you always wanted to do but didn’t have time for.
Charity is giving. Giving makes you have a feeling of purpose and control. Donate to an organization, assist the elderly, support those who need your help.
I keep asking myself what is troubling me. Is it the fear of my fragile life, that my loved ones or I am locked down at home? So many things keep flitting through my mind causing anxiety, but the best approach is to look at what I have and be thankful. Be in the moment.
“These are unprecedented times…” is probably the beginning of every email that you’ve written, received, or been forwarded over the course of the last month. While our lives have surely been changed, our day-to-day schedule in quarantine largely looks, well, pretty precedented. If you’re anything like me or my family, you’ve probably tried your hand at the internet’s favorite Dalgona coffee, baked banana bread out of boredom, or co-starred in your younger family members’ TikToks (reader, please explain to me why I’m now obsessed with the Skechers song!). In the world of social distancing, we often believe that we are at a loss to do anything other than propping ourselves up with these mundane pleasures. After all, many of us aren’t epidemiology researchers, state legislators, or doctors (as much as my parents would have hoped differently). But the truth is, there’s more we can do to help our community than we might currently think.
The Indian-American community is one of the most successful ethnic minorities in America, with the highest average income of minority groups in this country. Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey is receiving praise for his commitment to donate $1 billion (28% of his net worth) to the COVID-19 crisis, but leaders in the Indian-American community have not pledged nearly the same. Several Indian-led nonprofits have stepped in to help in ways they can. Our community has seen over 40 deaths in America. While saddening, these figures pale in comparison to the health disparities in black and LatinX communities, which shows that we have more of an obligation than ever to contribute. There’s a variety of ways for people to get involved in local efforts, donations, and advocacy, and it’s important to keep these opportunities on our radar as we brace for several more weeks of isolation.
While not everyone can be in a place to be able to financially support local charity work, there’s plenty that can contribute with their time. In today’s climate, vulnerable populations often see their challenges exacerbated, with social-isolation, medical bills, and job losses plaguing our country. Victims of domestic violence are quarantined with their abusers, high-risk senior citizens are spending days alone, and the impact on migrant and refugee communities is terrifying. For many of the non-profits seeking to provide resources to these communities, what they need most is an increase in volunteers to reflect their increased needs at this time. Here are a few ways you might be able to get involved:
You can help with contactless driving for Meals on Wheels, a nonprofit that helps provide food and check-ins for senior citizens.
Got extra cloth? Help sew masks for your local health professionals.
Looking for a more comprehensive list of volunteer opportunities? Look no further.
While some of us might be able to donate extra hours, if someone’s quarantine-buddies are immunocompromised, or if the hectic pace of our lives has not calmed down, donating money might be an easier avenue for them. Mutual Aid collectives, which organize under the philosophy of “solidarity, not charity,” help mobilize a community’s financial resources for those who are in need. Mutual aid groups have been used in several universities and municipalities, and this locator helps a user see the aid efforts nearest to them. There are several well-known non-profits and locators that families can use to donate to at this time:
CDC Foundation: supports the efforts of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention
Feeding America: Provides food and resources to food banks across the country
Think Globally, Act Locally
While the saying might be trite, the most impact that we can make is within our own communities. Whether it’s buying gift cards to your favorite small businesses, dropping off groceries for a neighbor, or caring for the children of medical professionals, there’s a lot we can do by simply keeping ourselves aware. You can subscribe to the email list-servs of your local political representatives, who often can provide constituents with information about neighborhood efforts. Charity navigator is also a great resource that can help you identify what organizations are doing great work in your community. If you’re from the Bay Area, Silicon Valley strong is a wonderful place to start with your efforts. The possibilities are endless, and the genuine good in the hearts of everyday people is incredible. If there’s a silver lining to all of this, it’s this: we are stronger together.
Swathi is a junior at Duke University studying Public Policy and Computer Science. She hopes to continue to learn through the lens of her Indian-American heritage.
This season of Navaratri brings with it garba, dandiya, music, masti, and hordes of Indian Americans ready to celebrate! Traditionally, garba/dandiya is associated with the region of Gujarat, however, all over America, this practice has been adopted by all. Uttar Pradesh Mandal of America (UPMA) is one such local Bay Area organization that has used the love of garba and dandiya for a good cause. On Friday, October 18th, at the San Jose Convention Center, UPMA held a benefit garba, Festival of Life “Dandiya Dhoom”, with world renowned singer, Falguni Pathak. UPMA has used the money they have raised over the past year from such events to build 10 daycare centers in Chitrakoot and helped 15,000 underprivileged women become empowered and get married. I was lucky to attend such an event on Friday October 18th; it was a night of synchronization, music, energy made unforgettable by Falguni Pathak’s infectious energy.
“Every penny earned [by UPMA] is sent back to India.”
UPMA’s light and energy is sourced from founder, former President, and current Chairperson, Nilu Gupta. Nilu Gupta and Prakash Agrawal co-founded the organization in 2006 when they saw a gap in knowledge and retention of UP culture in the Bay Area.
As a Hindi professor at De Anza Community College, Nilu Ji also runs one of the few college credit Hindi courses in California; she is trying to inspire the next generation of Indian Americans to grasp their native language and keep it alive.
UPMA is not without a team of volunteers and the current president, Ritesh Tandon, is working tirelessly to keep the organization vibrant. Attending events like Festival of Life shows support for Indian culture in the Bay Area and allows us to be civically engaged transcontinentally. To learn more about UPMA, to volunteer, or to find out about upcoming events check out their website http://upmaglobal.org/.