Tag Archives: Global

World Health Organization: The Lost Genie

Love him or hate him, you can’t ignore US President, Donald Trump. Known for not mincing his words and rarely playing diplomatically, he recently tweeted that, Corona Virus is a very bad ‘gift’ from China to the World. 

https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/1266014911127306240?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw%7Ctwcamp%5Etweetembed%7Ctwterm%5E1266014911127306240&ref_url=https%3A%2F%2Findianexpress.com%2Farticle%2Fworld%2Fvery-bad-gift-from-china-trump-in-his-latest-rant-on-coronavirus-pandemic-6431932%2F

Whatever Trump says or does makes a difference. He has provisionally suspended the funding to the World Health Organization (WHO) and accused the WHO of being Pro-China, mishandling the Corona Crisis. A few days back he wrote a letter to the Director-General of the WHO, threatening to exit the global organization. 

Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of WHO.

And now he has finally announced to end US’ relationship with the World Health Organization… 

It is evident in history that whenever any crisis emerges, it challenges all the previously existing structures, organizations, and institutions. A global crisis like COVID-19 is very much capable of either reducing our existing institutions as redundant or tagging them as completely outdated.

Donald Trump has put WHO in an embarrassing spotlight and while, we may or may not agree with him, we also cannot ignore a few basic analysis points.

WHO came into existence on 7th April 1948 and its identity centered around the global population’s health. WHO, as a global health body, should be held liable, accountable, and responsible for missteps regarding the current pandemic.

Covid-19 has threatened the very existence of humanity. The invisible attack has proved that the WHO is not adequate enough for serving Global Health.

From the very beginning of the pandemic, WHO failed to gather timely information with its epidemic surveillance system, and paradoxically praised China for its effort to contain the virus. 

China mislead the World, as well as the WHO, about COVID-19, many global reports clearly suggest. Whistleblowers were targeted by the Chinese government and human-to-human transmission was completely denied, initially. WHO should have kept a close eye on misinformation and disinformation surrounding COVID-19.

WHO is obligated to inform communities about their rights and obligations with respect to health. Undeniably, acting as ‘Information Intermediary’ is the most vital function of WHO.

If one goes on to analyze the WHO’s Constitution, Article 1, states the objective of WHO is the attainment of the highest possible health for all. Article 2, highlights various functions of WHO, which include taking all ‘Necessary Action’ required to attain the highest possible level of health. Note that, Article 2(q), says that it is the function of WHO to provide information, counsel, and assist in health-related fields. Article 2(r), says that WHO work will be to assist in developing an ‘Informed Opinion’ among all the people about any matter related to health. 

Generally, there are few distinguishing essentials that determine efficient governance by any international organization.

First, the one who leads the organization makes a significant difference. Without a proactive leader, an organization as paramount as WHO may remain inert and passive. This is especially true in WHO’s context, where Article 28(i), authorizes the Director-General of WHO to take all necessary steps to combat epidemics.

Second, what power does the organization has if any member State violates its guidelines or recommendation?

According to the WHO’s constitution, Article 63 mentions that each member shall communicate promptly to WHO on important laws, regulations, official reports, and statistics related to health. Article 64 says that each member shall provide statistical, epidemiological reports in a manner determined by the Health Assembly. And Article 65 points that each member State shall transmit on the request of the Board such additional information pertaining to health.

To ensure the credibility of any organization, it is most important that its guidelines are binding on member States. In case any member violates its mandate, then the organization should have the power to penalize it. 

Lastly, the organization’s source of funding should be transparent and autonomous. Independent sources of funding make a tremendous difference in the efficiency of any organization. Financial autonomy plays a very significant role in making any institution equitable, fair, neutral, and bold in taking decisions. But WHO lacks financial autonomy and transparency in its funding.

USA has been the biggest donor to WHO contributing almost 15 percent of its total Budget under Assessed Contribution, the amount each member State pays to WHO according to the GDP. Over time, the Assessed Contribution has declined and Voluntary Contributions have risen, which include funds from private organizations. This reliance on Voluntary Contributions should be reduced to contain transparency of funding.

One thing that is clear is that the WHO has a GREAT responsibility in global health scenarios. The saying goes “with great power comes great responsibility” but the saying holds true the other way around as well. At least some bare minimum power is needed to ensure the efficient working of any institution. If this great responsibility is not complemented with bold, autonomous decision-making power, then failure of such an institution shouldn’t be surprising at all. 

Priyanka Singh is an Economics Assistant Professor, Delhi University(India). 

Sujeet Singh is Political Science Assistant Professor, Delhi University(India).


Featured image by Thorkild Tylleskar and license here.

Image of Director-General by ITU Pictures from Geneva, Switzerland and license here.

Our Planet To Save: Teens Educate

Many say that we have seen three wars in our lifetime: 9/11, the housing crisis, and the most current one, Coronavirus.

In the background, looming like an avatar for death, are cities covered in billowing smog from factories, blackened skies, and people gasping for the last bit of fresh air.  

Let us not forget the ongoing battle for clean air, fuel, and water….

In the race for power among competing foreign nations, many have pushed for industrialization to develop economic and social prowess. Toys, weaponry, and clothes all became commodities as a result of mass production, delighting many. 

It has been about 250 years since the industrial revolution and not much has changed in the fight to mitigate what we now call the climate crisis. Profits have been prioritized over well-being, as safety has taken a back seat to ease of life.

Climate change is something that is often overlooked by many who view the phenomenon as a “hoax” and question its existence due to lack of awareness and miseducation.

Is what we have done to our planet acceptable given the benefits of industries? What more can we do? Was this a problem waiting to happen?

These are questions we must ask ourselves daily, and frankly there isn’t a straightforward answer. Every individual, however, can make a change, and that’s what The Incentive, a climate change news publication built by a team of bay area high schoolers, is tackling head-on.

Founded by – Arun Balaji, Kaushal Kumar, and Sudhit Rao – juniors at Monta Vista High School, The Incentive joins the climate change movement and shakes things up.

The Incentive’s goal is to create a platform where people can receive reliable information regarding the implications of climate change. They are moving away from the average, uninspired, and repetitive news site that only reports on how climate change is impacting the environment. The Incentive’s angles on climate change are novel, as they take a look at the economy, societal culture, and local policy to frame their narratives. 

Imaged pulled from The Incentive website.

Part of their mission is to raise local awareness on the more subtle impacts of climate change by involving the next generation. In order to accomplish this, they have worked with middle school teachers in their community to increase the environmental literacy of their students by engaging with articles on The Incentive.

The organization strives to expand across the United States and turn their non-profit into a global institution. Currently, they have two affiliated chapters – one in New York and the other in Virginia – that are working to make an impact in their respective communities. They encourage their chapters to attend city council meetings, reach out to schools in their area to incorporate our website, attend climate change rallies, or create a club at their school. 

Due to collective efforts, the publication has managed to garner thousands of monthly viewers. Next steps include creating more chapters of The Incentive across several states and countries. If you are interested, here is a link to learn more about their outreach program.

The Incentive team hopes that through their publication and outreach, they will be able to make a significant impact on mitigating climate change and are strong believers that any individual, no matter their background or power can make an impact on mitigating climate change. All it takes is focus and dedication for any individual to make an impact.

Sudhit speaks on behalf of his organization, “We encourage all readers to get on social media and post ways they are mitigating climate change, whether it is planting a tree, telling your friends to do so, or being a full-on activist. It is our planet to save, and we are its last lifeline.”

For more information on The Incentive, follow their Instagram.

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.

6 Indian Habits That Travel With Me

When it comes to leaving India – there is a storm of mixed emotions. I want to fill up my pockets with all the beauty that exists here and leave behind the few things I hate. Global Indians and NRIs understand the duality of leaving a place like India. Having lived in India my whole life, there are a few things I’m unwilling to give up. Digging deeper on what influences my life, here are six habits acquired from Indian culture that stick with me, regardless of where I go. 

CHAI – THE MIGHTY CUP OF TEA!

 ‘Chai’ should be declared as the national drink of India. The joy of drinking the carefully brewed tea with milk in clay cups is beyond this world. With a dash of spices like ginger, cardamom, holy basil, pepper, and cloves – it’s not just healthy, but mystifying. There is nothing as soothing to the senses and calming to the mind as a hot cup of tea in the morning. It rejuvenates!

World food chains like Starbucks and Teavana have gloriously adapted to the Tea Culture and now serve Indian Style tea labeled as ‘Chai Tea’ around the world. Being an Indian knowing the drill of making a mighty cup of tea it’s difficult to love the taste that is brewed abroad. My love for chai stays with me wherever I stay in the world!

INDIAN FOOD & THE HABIT OF EATING WITH HANDS

Unlike the world, India doesn’t have a cutlery or fork & knife culture. Most of the Indian cuisines are designed to be eaten with bare hands, lapping up the essence of the taste. While the luxury of using the fork and knife shall remain in restaurants, the habit of eating the food items like Rice, khichdi, chapatis, etc., with hands, shall remain.

The certain communion with the food, enhancing the digesting abilities is the main aim for the use of hands. Hands help in texturing the food, making the partaking of sustenance, more intimate. Seeing it scientifically, the use of hands for eating is advisable to a certain extent, as the flora present on the fingers is swallowed, beneficial for the health of various parts of the body like mouth, throat, and intestines as fingers release various digestive juices. This practice of eating with hands is something I look forward to, as I go around the other parts of the world, for its benefits and digestive advantages.

BARGAINING AT STREET SHOPS

Street shops are the powerhouse of all things fashionable at budget-friendly prices. In India, all the latest home décor, clothes, and jewelry are available at great quality and cheap price at the street shops. ‘Cheap’ because the hefty prices quoted by the shopkeepers are bargain-able. Travel anywhere in the world, the most authentic shopping experience lies in street shopping. Being trained in slashing down the prices by almost half in street shopping, the ability to bargain stays as a habit for me. No matter where I go, the trips to street shops would come as a choice, and bargaining will be something I will stick to.

YOGA – THE ART OF LIFE!

Yoga originated in India centuries ago. From ancient yogis to the modern-day yoga instructors, Yoga is a gift of Indian history. The benefits of Yoga for health and life balance have been mind-blowing. It aids in the balancing of the body, mind, and soul for a fulfilled life.

Having grown up in India, Yoga has become one of the daily rituals that keep a check on my physical health and fitness alongside my mental health. The ritual to spread that yoga mat and start practicing with an intention is something I would not give up for anything!

Yoga is fast becoming popular even in the West, for its ability to secure spiritual, mental, and physical health. However, not all its aspects have been tapped in the West; with physical fitness regime widely practiced, to attain body flexibility and stability.

AYURVEDA – SECRET OF NATURE!

Deepest darkest of nature’s secrets rest into the arms of nature! Ayurveda, the science of nature has been of close relevance in India. From home remedies to ayurvedic supplements and medicines – it is something that treats us to live a healthy life.

My Indian living has brought me closer to ayurvedic recipes like that of Turmeric milk, neem leaves, aloe vera extracts, etc, for a healthier life. While the world is educating itself on Ayurvedic benefits, my little world of ayurvedic knowledge stays with me.

The major benefit of Ayurveda is its ability to not harm the patient’s body with the side-effects of the prescribed medicine. Apart from its natural and organic way of healing, it also prescribes better eating habits for a healthy lifestyle and wellbeing. 

ADDRESSING PEOPLE WITH RESPECT

Indians are used to calling every other man as ‘bhaiya’ or brother, especially when they aren’t related to you. This brings in a sense of respect and affection for the person. So when I address a driver, cleaner, shopkeeper, or any man of service around me – it would go as brother or uncle.

For women, the words are didi (sister) and aunty. Instead of addressing people by their names or surnames – I would stick to this personalized call to utter respect in conversations. And yes, ‘Namaste’ wouldn’t be forgotten too!

Greeting and meeting people with warmth is the basis of such a practice. It also binds two (or more) people, with sheer kindness through soothing words. Another way of looking at it is, giving respect to every human being, irrespective of their status, and creed.

Some habits inculcated from childhood are a gift of being born as an Indian. No matter how much I travel or turn into a global citizen – the 6 habits stay with me when I leave India!

Abhishek Bade is a writer and a rover with a passion for writing. He is adept at writing travel-based content which is informative and insightful. 

Adversity, A Blessing in Disguise

Worlds over, the COVID-19 lockdown has brought out the creative potentials of millions of the people. Numerous anecdotes have been shared in the media about how migrant workers were returning to their homes on foot walking hundreds of kilometres, a mother from Telengana making a solo motorbike trip of 1400 KMs to Nellore to bring back her son stranded there, and a host of similar experiences. Our family had one such real-life experience to share. 

My brother’s daughter and her husband are residents of Australia and living in Melbourne. She was expecting her first child by the end of April 2020. February 2020, her mother left for Australia to be with her daughter during the period of delivery, as many of us have been doing for our children living abroad. In Australia, the parents of my brother’s son-in-law had gone to Sydney where their elder son was residing. They were also awaiting the happy news of grandparent-hood. Come COVID-19, the whole world appears to have come under a single-command universe. All around the world, there were lockdown of all shops, malls, offices, and advising the staff to work from home. Social distancing has been on everyone’s lips. Wearing a mask has become mandatory. A uniform pattern has been emerging in fighting this COVID-19.

On 22nd March 2020, I received a WhatsApp call from my brother’s wife. I wondered if her daughter’s delivery date had advanced and she wanted to share the good news of the newborn baby girl. 

“Hope, the delivery was OK!” I asked, as I was trying to cope with my onslaught of thoughts.

“No, Mama, I have come back to Chennai and so have our son-in-law’s parents. We traveled together from Australia.” 

“What about the delivery of the child? Why did all of you come back?”

“In view of COVID-19, the Australian government as an abundant precaution has advised those foreign nationals who are above 50 years of age to go back to their respective countries. So, our son-in-law and our daughter expressed their concerns that if we fall sick under COVID-19, our medical expenses will not be covered by the insurance policies and the hospitalization expenses will be prohibitive. We decided to return, leaving both of them to manage themselves during this critical period,” she reasoned.

I was shell shocked. My thoughts raced back to my childhood days. In the fifties and sixties of the last century, childbirth events in our home used to be facilitated by a mid-wife visiting us; she would help the woman in labor pains delivering the child. Later, this system was replaced by a nurse doing the same tasks. Slowly, taking women to hospitals became the norm. But, almost in all these cases, the entire support system will be from the girl’s parent’s side, everyone chipping in to reduce the rigor of the tasks. To the best of my knowledge, there has never been a child’s delivery in the absence of this familial help. 

“Hey, in your absence, who will take care of her?”

“Don’t worry, Mama, she is a real courageous Mumbai born woman. They are confident in handling the events themselves. Fortunately, COVID-19 has made both of them quarantine at home and they have stacked their house with staples and vegetables for one month. The hospital is just a ten minute drive away from their home. So, let us hope things will turn out good for us.”

“Offer your prayers to our Kula Deivam (family deity) and keep a ten rupee coin tied in turmeric water-soaked cloth. Keep me posted. I will also speak to both of them.”

“OK, Mama. I will do as advised by you.”

On 27 April 2020, my brother phoned up and conveyed the happy news that his daughter has delivered the girl baby at 08 09 hours. Both the mother and the child are safe. A cute photo of the child was immediately shared through WhatsApp with our family members.

Adversity is a blessing in disguise and it brings out the best in us. These young couples have proved it. While COVID-19 has affected the livelihoods of thousands of workers, it has a flip side too. It makes one stronger. See, my brother’s daughter is the first woman in our family who has delivered a child and managing chores without any support from the parents. Hats off to this 21st Century woman and her newborn girl.

Dr. S Santhanam is a writer, a blogger, and a retired General Manager of the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development. Born (1948) in Kumbakonam, the temple town of South India, I studied in the popular Town High School (Where Great Mathematician Shri Ramanujam also was born and did his schooling) and graduated in Mathematics from the Government College. 

COVID19 Testing is Our Salvation

We are weeks into widespread social distancing in many parts of the world, though it feels like months. Cases of COVID19 continue to mount, as expected, and we watch Italy and Spain for signs of when our society might be cast into crisis and chaos. Health care workers, the heroes of our time (and of all times, really), gird themselves for a flood of respiratory distress cases, projected to peak sometime in April. Physicians and nurses of all specialties are being asked to update their ventilator training in anticipation of being called to the front lines for service. Yet many fear that they will not have sufficient weapons for this fight, such as masks and ventilators.

At this time, it’s important to remember that COVID19 has a global case-fatality rate of about 2 to 3%, lower in the USA, meaning that most people will survive this. In the words of Larry Brilliant, “this is not a zombie apocalypse. It’s not a mass extinction event.” What is it, then? This is, and always has been, a health systems crisis more than simply a health crisis.

In a health crisis, we await salvation from a lucky mutation, a change in seasons (that will likely have no effect on this virus), a vaccine, or a cure. But in a health systems crisis, we can manufacture our own salvation through proper preparation, investment, leadership, and resource management.

In the early phase of a pandemic, it is possible to identify infected individuals, trace their contacts and quarantine them. Once there is community spread, the focus shifts to isolating populations and hardening the hospitals against the onslaught. We are clearly in this second half now.

At present, America’s one million hospital beds are not completely saturated by the number of serious COVID cases, except in overwhelmed places like New York. But in anticipation, health systems managers in many states are struggling to procure PPE (personal protective equipment), ventilators, and even sufficient front-line staff. But there is another way, and both Singapore and South Korea have shown us the first steps on that path.

With an extreme national lockdown that only permits movement of emergency personnel and essential services, lasting a couple of months or more, the number of new cases can be kept to a slow simmer. This is because it would take longer for new infections to occur, while allowing time for existing infections to resolve. The more severe the isolation, the longer it would take for a new case to emerge. The epidemic then recedes to a small number of active cases and a non-newsworthy number of hospitalizations.

The more lax these restrictions, and the slower governments are to enact them, the higher the peak of cases and deaths, and the longer it takes to push the rate of new infections down to a manageable number. But once that is achieved, we can all breathe a little easier.

The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) predicts that proper social distancing would see the end of the first wave of the epidemic by early June. The timing of the arrival of a second or even third wave depends on the public health interventions made when the first wave abates.

Cases in the US as of March 27, 2020. Image provided by Pharexia.

This post-lockdown, post-first wave scenario resembles the early phase of the pandemic, with a few cases and contacts. That, then, is the time to apply the force of a newly resourced awesome preventative public health system. The secret weapon is something that exists now, that we can manufacture or purchase: tests, and lots of them.

The deployment of rapid, frequent, public testing at a national scale would allow society to return to productive normalcy while keeping the disease to a simmering annoyance.

A Herculean investment in the flotilla of new testing options now becoming available, including rapid 15-minute in situ and at-home testing would give us the epidemiological data to control the outbreak. With sufficient human resources support, every case could be quickly identified and isolated, their contacts immediately traced and tested, as well.

This would require a commitment to a strong and well-maintained public health infrastructure. But such an investment would be a pittance compared to the costs of either the expansion of our hospitals to accommodate throngs of dying patients or the economic cost of many more months of isolation.

In particular, the serology or antibody test would be critical for managing our staged return to society. Such a test would detect the products of the body’s immunological response to the virus, and would therefore tell us if a person were currently or previously infected. If the latter, then they would presumably be immune, and would be granted a free pass to return fully to normal life.

While several serology tests are now on the global market, some jurisdictions do not yet licence them. The challenges are largely scientific. First, the test cannot distinguish between past and present infection, so it would have to be followed up with another test to detect the presence of the virus and therefore determine if the person was still infectious. Second, the potential for false positives is high as it might detect antibodies to other coronaviruses, such as the common cold. And third, it is not yet known how much antibody needs to be present to confer immunity.

On the other hand, the more common nasal swab test, employed on a wide scale in almost every city, relies upon a well equipped laboratory to render a result. But a global shortage of the crucial reagents has resulted in a backlog of pending tests in several places. In many cases, university research labs are being raided to help supply the public health laboratories.

Given that expanded testing, absent a cure or vaccine, is our best path out of the pandemic morass, a natural question is whether the shortages and backlogs could have been avoided. The answer, unfortunately and unsurprisingly, is yes. 

Years ago, the Obama administration put together a comprehensive pandemic response plan that included policy provisions for acquiring critical equipment. That plan was scrapped by the current administration, undoubtedly contributing to the apparent inconsistencies and lack of direction in the national response thus far, and to most states’ inability to acquire PPE and testing kits.

The politics of this failure are tied up in the ideological and personal conflicts between the present and former administration, as well as in the unending tension between private and public sector solutions, pertaining to the question of which sector is best equipped to order, manage, validate, apply and monitor the deployment of tests on a national scale.

Health care system crises like the COVID19 pandemic are not elemental disasters delivered by the gods, but rather are manageable aspects of 21st century globalized life. They can be overcome with good leadership, investment, and planning. Thus far, the leadership has been disappointing, the investment late, and the planning ignored. But there is time yet for these problems to be solved, not by the rare and precious front line clinicians risking their lives, but by the administrators and policymakers, of whom we have no short supply.

Raywat Deonandan, PhD, is an Epidemiologist, Associate Professor and Assistant Director of the Interdisciplinary School of Health Sciences at the University of Ottawa in Canada. www.deonandan.com


Featured image is CDC 2019-Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) Real-Time Reverse Transcriptase (RT)-PCR Diagnostic Panel.

QuaranTeen – The Good, the Bad, the Ugly

“It’s like you’re practically living through history, Kanchan,” was the first thing my mother told me as I logged into my third period on Zoom.

I rubbed my eyes, which had become perpetually blurry after my exponential increase in daily screen time. Every day became Pajama Day, where I drowsily took calculus notes from the comfort of my bed. Every night was dedicated to hilariously cynical posts on Facebook’s Zoom Memes for Self-Quaranteens and Instagram’s Self-Isolation Bingo. I was not living through history. I was practically sleeping through it, coping with fear and mass-anxiety with a tired sense of denial. And it was only after my mother made that comment that I was reminded of the immense responsibilities that young people have during this global pandemic.

For us, the coronavirus is not a test of what we’ll endure; rather, it’s a test of whether we’ll let others survive — a test that’s meeting with some mixed responses from our generation. 

The Good

E-shopping, social media, digital marketing — the infamous hallmarks of the iGeneration now play a critical role in the sustainability of social distancing. And young people are spearheading this effort, with the trending #stayhome and the #stayhomesavelives tags on social media platforms. Digital culture has changed dramatically since the onset of the coronavirus. My feed is flooded with screenshots group Skype calls, featuring laughing friends and family. People post daily photos of their dogs lying on living room rugs, of the closets they’re about to finally clean and the new recipes they’re about to try with all the spare time. I didn’t realize it at first, but this shift is comforting in a domestic way; I think posts that document self-isolation provide a necessary reminder that all of us are learning to adjust to this New Normal, with its glitches and imperfections. 

Even more helpful is the volume of educational content that is available online, a bulk of which is circulated by young people. Everyone benefits from knowing the facts — from knowing the concentration of alcohol required for a bottle of hand sanitizer to understanding the difference between ‘antibacterial and ‘antiviral’. Students with parents or relatives in the healthcare industry often provide updates about the impending situation. One of my friends even posted a tutorial showing the spots we tend to miss when we wash our hands on her Youtube channel. Although we’re physically separated from one another, our digital communities provide a platform for compassion and group learning. It was through Instagram that I signed an online petition encouraging major corporations like Whole Foods to pay laborers for their time off. Informational content is so simple to spread. It’s a matter of a click, a forward, a re-tweet — but it’s my generation’s effort to protect some of society’s most vulnerable. 

The Bad

But for every helpful post that I find on social media, there are two more derisive comments about how only ‘old people are affected by corona’, and how ‘this is a free country’.

Freedom, the cultural hallmark of this democracy, has been warped to accommodate selfish delusions of young people who feel invincible in the face of a global pandemic. A distinct disappointment fills me when I come across videos of lockdown parties, where college students secretly celebrate their ‘extended vacation’ by deliberately ignoring the rules of social distancing. As they cheer on a keg stand, I frown in disapproval. A painfully oblivious beachgoer responds into the camera, “If I get corona, I get corona.” Because it honestly does not matter if he goes ahead and “gets corona” while spring breaking in a jam-packed Florida beach. What does matter is the countless elderly or uninsured people he will put at risk. I wonder if he can see beyond the idyllic Florida sunlight — if his ignorance permits him to notice his city’s crowded hospitals and exhausted healthcare workers paying the consequences of these very parties.

The response from my generation reeks of the same ignorance that permeates conversations about gun control or climate change. From the right to bear arms to the right to congregate, our individual freedoms don’t mean we are not  accountable for the choices we make — and the lives we may take in the process. 

The Ugly

The moment you think it can’t get worse, it somehow does. The line between the ‘bad’ and the ‘ugly’ emerges when ignorance turns to apathy. Some of us refuse to self-isolate because we don’t understand the consequences of our actions. Others simply don’t care — and that’s a far more horrifying mindset to face.

When I first heard about ecofascism, I was convinced it was a joke. But through the ever-present Internet, I was guided into this twisted celebration of the coronavirus, where the horrifying death toll is another step towards an ecological utopia. “Coronavirus is saving the planet”, a netizen proudly claims. Yes, our air-quality will naturally improve with fewer flights and vehicles dominating the highways. But in no way is COVID-19 a step towards a hidden “Greater Good”. Glorifying a pandemic disrespects the thousands who have lost their lives to this virus. It disregards the janitors and sanitary workers who have no choice but to risk their own for a Greater Good that is far more terrifying beyond the face of a screen. As much as I appreciate memes for pulling me through my second week of self-isolation, I can’t help but reel in disgust when I see jokes about ‘BoomerRemover’, which somehow insinuates that the vulnerable elderly deserve to face this harrowing reality alone. 

All of us are living through history. Like every other high school junior, I fantasize about the essay questions found on AP US History exams ten years later. When I finally have that opportunity to reflect on the coronavirus outbreak rather than cope with it on a daily basis, I wonder what I’ll tell my children. I wonder what they’ll tell their own. Regardless of what that day will look like, I don’t want to tell them that my generation watched thousands of immunocompromised individuals buckle beneath the weight of a threatening disease. I don’t want to tell them we shut our eyes and waited for these moments of crisis to pass. Without the right to drive or vote, young people still hold immense power to fight back. And the way we use that power ultimately defines the stories we’ll tell. 

Kanchan Naik is a junior at The Quarry Lane School in Dublin, CA. Aside from being the assistant culture editor of India Currents, she is the editor-in-chief of her school’s news-zine The Roar. She is also the Teen Poet Laureate of Pleasanton, and uses her role to spread a love of poetry in her community.

Educating India’s Children: Conversation with Dr. Rukmini Banerji, Pratham CEO

Dr. Rukmini Banerji, CEO of Pratham, is in the San Francisco Bay Area for a conference at Stanford on global poverty. I met Dr. Banerji in San Jose during her visit.

First, a few facts about Pratham: Pratham started off in the slums of Mumbai, 1995. The educational NGO, one of the world’s largest, focuses on “high-quality, low-cost, and replicable interventions to address gaps in the education system.” It has helped about 50 million children to date, with 15 chapters across the United States, all run by volunteers. Charity Navigator, an independent evaluator of charities based in the United States, rates Pratham with its highest possible rating of four stars.

Asked about her vision for Pratham, Dr. Banerji says that they complete a strategy review once every five to ten years. Based on this review, they’ve decided on implementing three or four major programs. While school enrollment levels in India are high, functional literacy is not. Their focus is on raising the foundational educational levels for children quickly, on a large scale and in a cost effective manner.

I ask her what differentiates Pratham from other educational NGOs, considering that the Bay Area alone has over 160 registered institutions working in this arena. Dr. Banerji says Pratham’s mandate is not to buy school buildings. They don’t want to come in as outsiders, tell communities how to educate themselves, then leave. They see themselves as facilitators who facilitate community building through education. This emphasis on structuring learning is not just for the kids, but for whole communities.

According to Dr. Banerji, as these kids enter the workforce, they will need to learn to work in teams, they will need to learn to collaborate. This, she feels, is best done outside of the school curriculum.Towards this end, they bring together children in groups. Funding from companies like Google and Facebook, allows Pratham to provide each group with a tablet computer preloaded with projects, in their regional language of instruction. These tablets have a choice of mini courses. The content is grouped into videos or games; it is up to the kids to decide what they use. As a group, the kids choose a course or a plan, it could be a football game, if that’s what they want. The kids are required to find their own coach, present their plan, then ask for mentorship. This coach is someone within their own community – it could be an older sibling, it could be someone’s grandmother. But it has to be someone who can hold the children accountable. For maintenance of the hardware, Pratham assigns a mentor, one for every villages.

Dr. Banerji recalls a group of kids who came up with project on skeletons. For this, they sought out the local bone setter as their coach. Dr. Banerji feels that schools are so focused on academics that they sometimes leave behind kids who do well in collaborations. In sharing a tablet, and a project, these children learn to work together, learn how to use content that is made available for their use, and how to apply what they know. In this ‘hybrid’ learning model, the children are responsible for their own learning.

The previous year the kids were given a choice of themes – water, mango etc. The kids could choose to go with the theme, or pick something on their own. So many videos were created that village level juries – picked the kids themselves, voted on the best ones, and then uploaded them to Pratham volunteers. Currently, this program covers about a thousand villages. Pratham tests out various such projects in focus labs. Once they begin to show results, they are moved to the mainstream.

Another area that Pratham focuses on is the development of vocational skills. They have tie ups with companies like the Larsen and Toubro and others. Pratham helps train young people for entry level jobs. These youngsters are then absorbed by the organization with which they have an existing tie-up. Dr. Banerji estimates that people have been able to take advantage of this program.

On a smaller scale, Pratham runs a program for women who had to drop out of school, called “Second Chance.” Since 10th class certification is necessary for so many government programs, including government jobs at the village level, Pratham provides help to finish high school studies if the women choose to do so. Dr. Banerji estimates that young women have taken advantage of this program.

Dr. Banerji is very optimistic about the future – “India has changed quite a lot,” she says. There are major shifts even within the government to explore new technologies. When asked how people in the United States can help Pratham, she points out that most of the work of the NGO happens on the ground in India. The best way for people based here to get involved, is through fund-raising believing in the organization’s laudable vision and mission.

 

Rasana Atreya is a novelist and technical content writer.

 

The Heritage Arts Initiative

Over the past 31 years, India Currents has mobilized compelling shifts where we have conveyed fine stories and have ignited passionate revolutions. What has been our pride, in an interconnected international community, has also been the reciprocal trust of our readers.  With intentional leadership, India Currents has inspired and championed thought-leaders to create an immense social, cultural and emotional impact on our growing communities. As we evaluate the emergence of Global Indians and their successes in a diasporic cultural arena, we are confident in our contributions towards this cultural rising. Each revolution sparks opportunity for leading and engaging excellence, as we seek to build spaces to be who we are in our own right, while seeking the sense of rootedness even when transplanted.

India Currents finds fulfillment in this international cultural momentum and calls for the net to be cast further ashore so that we may embrace the impact of our international capacities and striving creative economies. In the coming months, India Currents will feature stories from all over the world.  Our Heritage Arts Initiative in partnership with the Bandish Network, will bring the finest of international opportunities, platforms and artists’ stories right at your digital doorstep.

Over the next months, India Currents seeks to redefine our overarching role as a digital magazine with exclusive features which speak to our sensibilities and rich potentials.

In lead up to the India Currents Global launch, we encourage our readers to bring on board their friends, families, communities and allies from around the world as we up the volume for our collective global heart beat.

You mustn’t miss a Sur, Taal or Taan!

Welcome aboard! We are as excited as our partners for our upcoming launch.

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