Saturday, November 26, 2005

Training under tough conditions.

It was a scheduled 16 miler today. Only sanjeev and I were there. The rest of the team is doing it on Sunday.

We didn't get the best of starts! It was raining like crazy..and even by the time we started we were completely drenched. My shoes felt pretty heavy with all the water squished into it.

Later on the weather got better. Thank god, the sun did not come out harshly!..Because thats when it becomes real humid and its like hell running under those last year's freescale (Austin marathon). I had blisters and a great deal of chaffing along with the ususal shin trouble!

Today was better than that. The socks were 'running' material and so I didn't get into trouble. But, with all the rain, all my clothes became pretty heavy with all the water. This is when there is a good possibility of chaffing.

O.K..this might sound gross :) ...chaffing occurs mostly in the inner thighs, under-arms and around the nipples. These are the areas where the clothe gets into diect tight contact with 'moving' parts or skin brushes against skin a lot. Because of the heaviness of the clothes when they are wet, there is more friction and so, skin gets 'chaffed'.

So, I got my first 'nipple' bleeding! the Mile 16 turn around point I decided to do 18 as I was feeling good and not too tired. But, around Mile 14, I started getting this 'itchy' feeling...but, only when I finished, I realized that there was blood on the T-shirt. Its actually not that painful, but its itchy and irritating!

While its seems so amusing to me, sanjeev has had this problem for long. Some runners might get it pretty frequently. But, today the conditions were not that good and thats the reason I saw a lot of ppl (other rogue runners) having the same problem.

O.k..enough of 'Chaffing -101' ;) ...The run as such was pretty good..and hey I ended up doing 2 miles more than what was scheduled! hmm....I am really starting to dig this 'running' thing !..Maybe, I could aim for a 'Under 4 hr' marathon...No, let me not think too far ahead...'No tension'..'No tension'..lets take it nice and easy :)

Hey, if you are reading this blog ,do send me an email and let me know. I am tirelessly filing all information..and I have no idea if anyone is reading this thing!!

Friday, November 25, 2005

The Banyan - Vocational training..

We sent the check to the banyan for the vocational training unit from the marathon funds raised last year. As the project co-ordinator, I have been in constant touch with the banyan. Here is an update from them on the vocational training.

We had supported only the tailoring stream to start with. The Banyan bazar hosts products from all streams though. We will be reviewing our progress in this stream periodically to see how we can support the banyan in the future.

Here is the report:

Greetings from The Banyan !!!

Hope you are doing fine. Here is the report from the Tailoring unit of The Banyan.

The month of September has been very good at the Tailoring unit as we saw a lot more additions and innovations and the pace having stepped up with the residents. We have at present 20 residents in the unit each being given individual attention in specific areas in tailoring. Let me introduce their names to you………

<<< I have edited this part out >>>

Last month we started off a Design Studio, where the coordinator and skill instructors and residents of the Tailoring unit get together and design products, the patterns, colors for our products etc. This idea has worked out well and we did a good sale last month of the products that we made at the Tailoring unit. Some of the new innovations in products are Letter holders, college bags, fancy pouches, purses and files.

The expenditure at the unit for the last one and a half month has been Rs.5,300.

· Purchase of materials : Rs. 3,300

· Servicing of the machines : Rs. 1,900

· Buttons and other accessories : Rs.100.

We made a sale of products in The Banyan Bazaar to a tune of Rs. 8,215.

Hope this information would be useful to you in explaining how valuable your funds have been to the Tailoring Unit of The Banyan.. If you feel there is a need for any further details please feel free to ask us. Once again we at The Banyan would like to convey our thanks to you for having come forward to support us in such a noble way.

Thank you,



Co ordinator, Vocational Training & Employment

The Banyan

The Banyan - How it started and now.

Here is an email that I sent to the 'Team' to let them know about Banyan.

Hi All,

Battered, bruised, brutally abused, both physically and sexually, ignored by everybody, eating out of garbage bins and with no place to call home. This was the situation of Chennai's homeless women with mental illness even just a decade ago. They were an invisible minority, and would have stayed invisible had it not been for two young women who put them firmly back on Chennai's social agenda.

Vandana Gopikumar, then still a Master's student of Social Work, came across a half-naked, mentally ill homeless woman in absolute distress on the road in front of her college. Nobody else seemed even to notice her. With the help of a close friend, Vaishnavi Jayakumar, she tried to find shelter for the woman. Mental health institutions and NGOs were reluctant to admit the woman in desperate need of medical and psychiatric attention. Several more such encounters over the next few months left the idealistic duo disillusioned and the idea was born that they should do something about the problem themselves.

They started The Banyan in 1993, after Vandana finished her Master's in Medical and Psychiatric Social Work and Vaishnavi dropped out of her MBA to join her. They were 22 then. The Banyan started off as a shelter and transit home for homeless women for mental illness
who had wandered from their homes across the country and ended up in the streets of Chennai. One of the duo's core beliefs was that the women needed to receive timely treatment and to be rehabilitated in mainstream society. Twelve years later, after reaching out to over 1500 women, and successfully rehabilitating over 700, their beliefs have been vindicated.

Asha austin has been associated with the banyan since last year. Asha supports vocational training streams for the mentally challenged destitute women at Banyan. The traning is not only
theurapatic but also provides an opportunity for them to work their way back into society.

You can know more about asha's support for the banyan here

and to know more about the banyan click here

Here is an article published in 'The Hindu' (One of India's leading dailies) by Vandana Gopikumar recently.

What about the right to care?
The homeless mentally ill may be invisible but they belong to society and society needs to take care of them.

Stigma, myths, lack of facilities and the nature of illness are sufficient problems; homelessness further compounds the problem.

RUNNING a rescue and rehabilitation service for the homeless mentally ill brings me face to face every day with powerful instances of the struggle of the human spirit against all adversity.

I was walking past the Out-Patient Clinic at The Banyan, our NGO, a couple of weeks ago as per my normal routine. Some familiar faces, lots of hustle and bustle... all typical of a regular out patient day, quite a contrast from the transit and emergency care service that is our primary focus. It is a relief to watch family members participate in the treatment and care process at the clinic, as opposed to the total lack of support structures faced by the abandoned women in our
emergency care. Due to force of circumstances, it has become a habit at The Banyan — and I'm sure in other organisations working with the homeless — to be the sole caregiver for homeless persons with mental illness rather than involve the families.

Sole caregiver
That day, Bharati caught my eye. Entirely preoccupied with managing her brother and two sisters — all facing mental health problems — Bharati seemed on the brink of a breakdown herself. I called her into my room for a chat and, despite the tears in her eyes, her sense of pride and self-esteem prompted her to talk in a very dignified manner. Her desperation, however, was quite evident. Her mother had a history of mental illness; her father had a cardiac problem. Both were in their seventies. Radha and Jamuna, her sisters, both in their thirties, had been ill for two years. Her brother was mentally retarded. The only support for the family, both emotionally and
financially, was Bharati. She has had more than her share of problems to deal with. As if that were not enough, the community in which they lived had a freak accident in which 11 huts, including Bharati's, were burnt down.

With two sisters facing serious mental health problems and frequently turning suicidal, wandering away and disrobing, the street was obviously the last place to call home, but that was where they lived now. Bharati was at The Banyan to seek treatment for three members of the family. Questions that stare us in the face then: How does Bharati manage all these issues without even the semblance of a home? Are we driving her to a crisis situation herself by expecting that she tackle such complex, multiple problems single-handedly? Does she work to feed her family or does she stay at home to care for her sisters who need the focused provision of care and support at least for a certain period? If she has to stay at home, then who provides for them?

Vijaya is a homeless person with mental illness, rescued by the police from Parrys, in North Chennai. We have information from her that indicates that she sold her one-year-old child for a bowl of curd rice and Rs. 100. Hasina is a homeless person with mental illness brought
to The Banyan bound in chains. Eighteen years old; an innocent smile alternating with sudden traces of intense fear and anger.

Jennifer is a homeless person with mental illness abandoned by her alcoholic husband and devastated by separation from her school-going children. These are real women, real situations and sadly, only the tip of the iceberg. The common factor is a mental health issue to deal with, coupled with homelessness, alcoholism, utter poverty, abuse, social inequality, stigma or a combination of all. Stigma, myths associated with the illness, lack of facilities and the nature of illness itself are sufficient problems to counter; the homelessness further compounds the problem. Mental illness leading to homelessness is not always as the result of abandonment. Often, the family is left with not too many options, especially among the lower socio-economic groups where access to care and support is minimal or non-existent. In most rural areas, the problem is often treated more as spiritual and less as a psychological issue.

Today, Bharati receives support from a few concerned individuals besides The Banyan, where two of her sisters live temporarily. Her sisters are on the road to recovery and Jamuna, a graduate, may even be able to earn a little for the family. Vijaya, now a lot more coherent, has filed a petition with the Legal Aid Clinic at The Banyan to trace her child. Hasina, now treated, is back home in Madhya Pradesh with her husband and child. She was chained to exorcise the evil spirits that they believed had possessed her. Her community was sensitised to mental health issues and they now recognise her behaviour as a psychological and medical problem. Jennifer is now an empowered individual, working in a beauty parlour, taking care of her children and proving a source of inspiration to others in similar situations.

It is usually a tight balance between the needs of the person with mental illness and the family. Often, the needs of the person are compromised and he or she leads a bleak life based on norms dictated by the family, care-giving organisation and society. Is our society comfortable with this inequality? Shouldn't every individual have the right to care, the right to freedom of choice and the right to dream?

To walk this path is to walk a tight rope that calls for a balance between the family's needs and the individual's. The only way ahead seems to be to increase stakeholders in this sector. Over 1,600 women from across the country have passed through the doors of The Banyan in the past 13 years, several hundred frequenting the out patient services. The collaboration between the Chennai City Police and The Banyan has seen 120 homeless persons rescued in the past six months. They are now being treated at the Institute of Mental Health, Chennai. While several have received the care and support that they need, many others have died on the streets, uncared for, lonely, abused and forgotten...

Combination of initiatives
The need for more transit care, emergency facilities to provide immediate access to treatment — as in this case, we believe the right to care precedes the right to self-determination — more rehabilitation programmes, more options for employment, more day-care centres, more hostel facilities, more community-based localised treatment programmes, more compensation schemes... a combination of all these initiatives needs to be undertaken immediately.

While I appreciate the effort from clinicians, social workers and activists, some strategic management inputs would add value to this sector. A few more action-oriented leaders may need to ponder over this as an issue of serious concern as the numbers we are addressing are by no means marginal. The Banyan has scaled up owing to the timely intervention and support of a sensitive and responsive Chief Minister, several funding organizations and numerous concerned citizens who have contributed their time, skills and funds based on their assessment that the need existed.

Finally, it is my belief that we, as a society, are responsible for every person and that we owe it to ourselves and to each other to work towards creating an equal, inclusive society. Invisible as the homeless mentally ill might be, they exist and they are certainly a part of our society.

Vandana Gopikumar along with Vaishnavi Jayakumar, founded The Banyan in 1993. The Banyan has grown from being a transit care centre for homeless persons with mental illness to a movement that now advocates rights for this group. Names of persons and places have been changed to maintain confidentiality.

The Banyan and Me.

For those who don't know, I did my class IX to XII at DAV senior secondary school, gopalapuram, chennai.

Our english teacher in class XI (Year : 1996) gave us an assignment: Prepare a pamphlet/flyer for 'The Banyan'. Banyan is an organization that strives for the mentally ill and destitute women. They have found a permanent home for the underprivileged and would like to invite everyone to their house warming ceremony.

Funny...It took me more than 6 years to realize that I could have done much more for The Banyan than just design the pamphlet in class...Though the full impact of what I came across didn't really hit me, there was this nagging feeling that I am conveniently ignoring something.

I passed out of my XIIth, went to REC, wrote my GRE, came to the U.S to do my masters at Univ of Wisconsin part of the Indian Graduate Student Association we had a charity clothes drive in honor of our ex president Shrikanth rao's first death anniversary.

'Banyan' rang a bell...and I volunteered to do some research on it. The more I learnt about the banyan, the more I was convinced about the wonderful work they did. Around the same time I also joined Asha and AID at UW. As I got more involved, it helped me understand how Asha and AID work. The transperancy and grass-roots approach really impressed me (Again, I had heard about Asha when in India..but, again it failed to create a full impact.)

Ironically, I came to understand more about my home only when I got away from home! The sarcasm and helplessness in making even a single effort to make a change was slowly disappearing. Rather than saying that my single act would not change anything - I learnt to say to myself that every single act of mine would not be too hard to do, but surely it would make it better than if I did not do it.

The Banyan was my inspiration to do my bit. All it required was a visit to the banyan when in chennai. I spoke to the co-ordinator, Lily. She spoke to me about the vocational training unit and the support they badly needed. I promised to do my bit. My association with Asha and AID was fruitful. After I tried presenting at Madison and later in austin, when I moved there, Asha expressed support after the rigorous project approval process.

Meanwhile, my parents and the rest of my family started to gain interest in the work of banyan too. Even quite a while back.. my aunts, grandmom and mom had organized a local clothes drive to support our efforts at Madison.

This is the brief story on how I came to know about banyan.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Sanjeev, Anita and Seva Chakara Samajam.

Sanjeev and Anita are long time asha volunteers who have been associated with Seva chakara samajam, the orphanage in chennai that Asha austin supports.

Last year they set out to raise $10K+ to help the children of the orphanage move into their own home instead of the rented premises. They were successful in their goals! Here is an update and follow up from them for donors and well wishers.

Dear friends,

We are writing to you to update you about the Seva Chakkara Orphanage. As you know Sanjeev and I trained and ran the half marathon and marathon respectively to raise funds for the building for the orphanage.

We might have also written to you about a couple of specific children we have been following over the years, in specific– Lakshmi who is now almost done with her college and Sivakumar and his brother who had left the orphanage with his parents and had managed to complete at least his 10 class.

1) Updates on the children:
- The children at the orphanage have been doing well in school and improving their chances of surviving in the real world. Recent rains that hit Chennai hard have also caused much inconvenience at the orphanage with power cuts and water accumulation, but things have improved.
- Lakshmi is in the last yr of her college and is looking forward to taking up a job or working at the orphanage as a teacher.
- Velayudham (the founder of Seva Chakkara) and the folks at the orphanage never gave up on Sivakumar; they have got back in touch with him and had him enrolled through the government-training program to be an electrician. These programs have a confirmed placement for all children who qualify to register for the program so this is very

2) Fundraising
As we promised we matched dollar-to-dollar your donations and contributed $5,300 till we met our target of $10,600. This we hoped would put the orphanage in a good position to purchase the building.

Also Suma Adapala, a volunteer at Asha NYCNJ and our long standing friend has taken up complete responsibility of coordinating the support-a-child program to continue raising funds for the recurring expenses at the orphanage.

3) Building Program
We eagerly awaited the possibility of the orphanage owning the building. Since the owner owed the bank funds they spoke to the bank and received an agreement from the bank to release the building from being held as collateral and also not penalizing the owner with the penalty of interest. This would, we had hoped, work well for all people involved and the owner would have left with some funds in his hand to help him rebuild his life.

However, when it came down to the final sale and closure of the agreement the owner filed for bankruptcy. It finally became clear that he had taken many more loans than he had been honest about and was using the fact that he owned a building to keep all his debtors at bay.

The building then moved to the courts to auction and pay back his debtors (including Seva Chakkara for the deposit to rent this place). Here the case lay for six months waiting for the wheels of justice to turn. They have now turned, the building goes on sale on 8th Dec 2005.

We spoke to Velayudham about the chances of getting the building. He says that none of the local people will bid since they would not want the orphanage to lose it's home. However, it is possible for large contractors who want to teardown the place and build an apartment complex not to care much about who lives there. In such a case if they are unable to get the land for a reasonable price they will have to move. He believes that they will be given at least a 6-9 months to find alternate accommodation by the court even if they are outbid.

We would like to thank you again for your generous contributions that have helped us get to the point of a reasonable chance of getting the building. We hope we have raised enough to either allow them to purchase this building or continue to look for a place they can finally call home.

Thank you and take care.

Anita and Sanjeev

Tuesday, November 22, 2005


As I keep blabbering and boasting of my insignificant attempt at running a marathon, I thought I should also let everyone know about why the hell we do it!

Here is a story of a woman who stood up against all odds in life to stand behind a community....Siddamma recently won an award from Sonia gandhi for her stellar work. Asha austin supports her fellowship. You can read more about our association at Siddamma's fellowship

The following article was by Sanjeev for our second edition of the newletter.

Siddamma is a grassroots activist and an educator working with the marginalized Irula Tribals for the last 12 yrs. Knowing how it felt to belong to a marginalized section of the society was an early lesson for Siddamma after she was brutally attacked as a child by a bear. Though she managed to survive after 20 days in coma she had many facial and shoulder scars. As a young girl she had to suffer much discrimination and ridicule, but her mother did not let her quit school encouraging her to work even harder. Her experience made her determined to stand by those who were marginalized and gave her faith in education as an empowering tool.

In '93 as a young sociologist and educator for slum children she was exposed to the plight of the slum women who were suffering inequality, oppression and extortion and she stood up for their rights. This eventually let her to create Bharathi Trust (named in honor of Bharathiyaar, a poet and freedom fighter, who believed in equality and empowerment of all). Her work then took her among the Irula tribals.

The trust is now a people's movement covering over 50,000 people in four districts of Tamil Nadu. While there have been several provisions of employment available by the government for tribals, like the Irulas (ST), these were beyond the reach of the Irula children most of who did not go to school. They were first generation learners with little access to schools. But, beyond that even when they had access to schools, the children were discriminated against since the Irulas were not considered fit to be part of the mainstream.

Siddamma started motivational centers; places that made learning fun and using activity-based learning rekindled the joy of learning and instilled confidence in children. In three years the motivational centers integrate the children into the mainstream schools and continue to function as additional help centers for a couple of more years. Asha for Education partnered with Siddamma in this effort and over the last five years has supported 8 centers that are now in different stages of the above cycle. The first of these is ready to be closed, since there is no need for it anymore.

But not all that efforts are directed towards hope for a better tomorrow. Bharathi Trust also helps villagers organize themselves to represent themselves better in their struggle for basic rights. The initial effort was merely to receive minimum wages. It is not enough for small groups to stand for their rights but for the whole community to stand together. This was the birth of the Sarpam. Each village elects 5 members to the Sarpam who are accountable to their village. They do not represent any formal position in the government only bring all the Irula communities together to understand each others problems, learn from each other and stand by each other in their time of need. Bharathi Trust provided the leadership training and helped in creation of this transparent institution that truly represents the people. In getting organized many communities have been able to get their basic rights and villages have been transformed.

The transformation is most visible in the release of bonded laborers from the rice mills of Red Hills (just 30 km from Chennai). Last year there were 800 rice mills in this area with an estimated 10,000 Irula tribals who were bonded laborers. A mill was a closed fortress and only those who work in a mill were allowed in and all members of a family were never allowed to leave the mill at the same time. The entire family worked at the mill – the men and women did hard manual labor19 hrs a day and the children and the elderly were responsible for cleaning the mills. Three generations of families were working in these mills. A laborer was paid Rs. 13/day (minimum wages are Rs. 89/day) and this was defended as being legal since the mill owners were providing accommodation. The exploitation reached its apex when a woman was asked to work immediately after she gave birth to a child and she died of exhaustion. This led to some of the laborers escaping from the mills and seeing refuge with the Sarpam. The Sarpam had been investigating the living conditions in the rice mills indirectly by speaking to these workers when some came out of the mills. The mill owners reported the escape to the police who came to take these people back to the mills under the context of having to repay loans that the workers owed the owners. The workers are not provided any health insurance and if anyone falls ill the owner forwards a loan to pay for the medical expenses at a very high interest that builds up to a large amount in a very small time. This was the main reason most of the laborers were caught in the cycle of bonded labor. The local police and administration rejected the claim that they were bonded laborers and insisted that they pay the "loans" if they did not want to go back. This started the legal battle in court and the Sarpam's struggle to bring the burning issue to spotlight. Their struggle was joined in by the NAPM (National Alliance of People's Movements) and the International Women's Organization. Together they finally brought the issue to be discussed in the parliament. There have been many changes since then, the most brutal of owners were jailed and around 800 laborers have been released with a small package from the government. Many mills are now paying minimum wages and the Sarpam have been provided with passes to be able to enter any mill, examine and document the living conditions. Asha is again contributing its bit in supporting a school for the children of the released bonded laborers. For all her efforts Siddamma was awarded the Speak-Out award from outlook magazine.

Siddamma's most recent effort is in the creation of a village resource center. This center would not only help communities experiment with different modes of livelihood in primary production, but also provide a building ground to teach kids who have dropped out of the conventional system of education and make them self-reliant.

Asha Fellowships are provided to individuals who have a great potential to create social change and need support for their basic sustenance. Asha-Austin is proud to support Siddamma in her efforts towards a just society.

To learn more about Siddamma and her efforts please visit:
Siddamma's fellowship

The bisons went crazy! - Motive half.

It was cold at the start and slowly got warmer. The weather seemed to dance to our tunes! It was a wonderful race and I ended up having my best race ever! ...I finished with an amazing pace of 8:25 mins per best ever in a race!

Know more about how I did at motive here . Type "1741" for my Bib no. or type my name.

I guess I have been more regular for training and the long runs this year. I have been doing my stretches, icing my shins and doing a lil' bit of strength training too..Hope it stays like this!

Gaurav, vinod, ganesh and me tried maintaining a 9:00 pace right from the start. Ganesh and vinod slowed down some time before the hill. Gaurav and I actually did better than 9:00 even till the hill. I was keeping time and we were doing good at every mile. We actually did pretty good on the hills too! ..We got a negative split with the pace on the hills being better than on the flat!...and the final few miles were even better as we held on to our MGP (actually faster than our MGP)...and we finished at 1:50s for the 13.1 mile race.

O.k..enough for all the runner/marathoner/geek talk...I did much better than last year when I had a terrible shin injury. I shaved of about 25 mins from last time! The race atmosphere was in its usual glorious way!...Ppl cheering along all the water stops, Girl playing huge musical device outside her house - yes we saw the same girl again!! We thanked her and clapped for her as we crossed her.I really do admire the spirit of ppl like her who come out and cheer for all the 2000 runners right till the end!..

Team Asha had its own cheering team too! Anita and radha were our only cheering team. Poor guys had no company and they actually met us at several points!...radha even ran with aravind and ashwini for a few miles with all our extra clothing!

Asha austin might really have very few active volunteers...but, they are a dedicated bunch I must say!...

Everyone had a great race and finished injury least from how we felt immediately after the race!...Savitha went back to run the last bit with gloria ! We were truly getting together as a team :) ...

Team Asha or Team yellow(thats how ppl cheered for us for most part of the race..) was getting itself heard ;) ...We were crying out hoarse every time a yellow finished the race!...

Our coaches steve and ruth cheered for 'Asha' as well!!..They made sure they didn't shout out 'rogues' (thats the name of the training group :) ...)..and instead they managed a 'Go Team Asha!!'.

After the race, we went to the newly opened restaurant..and we did cause a stir at the restaurant as well...quite a few ppl asked us about 'Team Asha'!!...Three cheers to bright neon yellow t-shirts!

I am hoping for a great injury free season for all Team Asha starts the more rigorous, testing 2nd half of the training program..Now, we would be doing even greater distances and will be pushing ourselves to heights we have never scaled before!!

I will soon post motive half-marathon photos...

Children's day and "Akasmika"....

On Nov 19th, Saturday we had the ICC (India Community Center) Children's day event. We orgainized quite a few games. We had some good publicity and a lot of fun!! Our 'fill-in' newsletter was ready and we distributed those. The kids had great fun and I found I was talented at meddling with fuzzy sticks! (small metal wires that can be bent into any shape)..after a tough morning session, we had a movie event in the evening - "Rang" - the movie series to help the runners fundraise for Asha's cause.

Ashwini and aravind, two runners of Team Asha hail from karnataka. They wanted to raise funds for Srishti Special academy, an Asha Austin project. We screened 'Akasmika', a Dr. Rajkumar movie. Unfortunately, right on the same day the Austin kannada sangha had an unexpected event and we went short on crowd. Nevertheless, the few families who had come to watch the movie were impressed by Ashwini and Aravind's efforts.

Ashwini spoke about Srishti and her understanding of their efforts. It was a short and moving talk in kannada. It made me feel proud and happy to be a part of such a wonderful team of runners!

We hope to have more such movie screenings...

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

The event and the race!

I am pretty bad at blogs :( ..For 10 days I couldn't get time to do this thing and now like with any other thing at work..I just do it all at once!

O.K...last week was pretty easy. It was recovery. So, we did an easy 10 mile run (yep..10 miles are easy now :) ..).

The coming weekend is special! We will be organizing a fundraiser movie to support aravind and ashwini's runner funds! This is the first time we are trying out such an idea of helping runners out...heck! whatever we have done so far has been the first time in austin anyways :)

After a couple of events on saturday, we will be racing at MGP on motive half...'Team Asha's' first official race of the season- i.e. The entire team (almost) will be racing together! More about this after I finish it.

Getting up today at 5:20 with the temperature outside at 35-40 F was NOT fun :( ...I have also been icing my shins like crazy. 12 mins each leg, twice in a day. Hopefully it shouldn't give me much trouble.

What happened last year.

If you had donated on my runner page last year and are wondering where all the money went. Here is the annual report I had typed up for our newsletter. This should explain :) .

If you want more specifics do let me know. We are a flat and open organization!

Annual Report

The past year has been eventful for Asha Austin. In the few years of its existence the chapter saw unprecedented growth in 2004-05. The chapter strength in terms of active volunteers has more than doubled in the last year. In all around $50,000 was raised in 2005 alone. From being a satellite chapter, co-coordinating four projects in 2004, Asha Austin has come a long way in supporting nine projects from five

The innovative marathon program called 'Strides Of Hope' was launched in September of 2004. This along with the long standing 'Support a Child' program has raised most of the funds for the chapter. Asha Austin also set a precedent with the 'Support a teacher' program that was launched last year. The volunteers also organized 'Play 'N' Help', a kids' fair to raise funds for the chapter's projects. The diligence, commitment and patience of the volunteers have been instrumental in the success of these initiatives.

The fundraising was not done without a goal in sight. The chapter is committed to the selfless work undertaken by our project partners. The belief in our partners and the change they bring about in the communities they interact with, inspired us to support them to the best of our abilities. Here is a brief description of how the funds raised by us are used for the underprivileged we strive for.

Asha supports recurring expenses and is also looking into development of school infrastructure at Asha Sikshan Sansthan in Reoti village of Ballia district in Uttar Pradesh. We funded a tailoring unit as part of our support for vocational training streams for the mentally challenged destitute women at Banyan, in Chennai, Tamilnadu. The training is not only therapeutic but also provides an opportunity for them to work their way back into society. We supported the Bharatiya Jan Seva Ashram located in the village of badalpur in the district of Jaunpur in Uttar Pradesh. The school aims to sustain free primary education, books and clothes for children. The school also hopes to generate an interest in children for higher education and to convince
their parents to send them to school.

Asha Austin approved a fellowship for Siddamma in the last year. Siddamma is a grassroots volunteer in India who works to provide a life of dignity for the Irula Tribals. Her work with the communities includes freeing bonded laborers, organizing the communities into cooperatives and mainstreaming the children into the education system by providing motivational educational centers. The chapter also approved funds for Gramin Shiksha Kendra. GSK runs an alternative school in a village near Sawai Madhopur (Rajasthan) and provides meaningful and quality education to 100 children. Beyond running model schools the organization will work with the communities and instill the demand and help with the monitoring of quality education in all local schools.

Our chapter supported Prasanna jyothi located in bangalore, Karnataka. Prasanna Jyothi is a home for disadvantaged and orphaned girl children. The project takes care of the boarding and education of these children. We also raised funds to realize the long-standing dream of the children of Seva chakkara samajam of having their own permanent home. Seva Chakkara Samajam is an Orphanage that houses 99 children and is located in the heart of Chennai. Srishti Special Academy is a non-profit organization, headed by a team of trained, qualified and experienced special educators who feel the need today is to provide quality services and well designed and structured intervention programs to children with mental retardation, autism or
any other intellectual impairment. Asha Austin hopes to provide able support for their structured intervention programs. Finally, Asha Austin successfully supported Raja Shivaji Vidyalaya in raising funds for building a laboratory for the school, located at Sawantwadi, in Sindhudurg district of Maharashtra.

Asha Austin is currently discussing new proposals and we are looking for a more eventful year in 2005-2006. We hope to reach out to more lives as we set upon a new year.

Funds Raised:

SAC (Support a Child) program, Marathon, SAT (Support a Teacher)
program, Matching/giving funds from companies, Play 'N' Help, General
donations contributed

Total: $49,949

Funds Disbursed in 2005:

Seva Chakkara Samajam $10,600.00
Bodh Shiksha Samithi (GSK) $6,131.87
Shristi Special Academy $3,600.00
Asha Sikshan Sansthan $3,100.00
Bharatiya Jan Seva Ashram $2,225.00
Prasanna Trust $2,160.00
Prasanna Trust $2,040.00
The Banyan $1,400.00
Bharati Trust $1,350.00

Total: $35,357

Note: The disbursal does not include planned/committed funds for the
rest of the year in 2005.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

The Lab..

This week we did "The Lab"...Its a 3.5 mile loop done 4 times. We did the first one as a warm-up. The next two were at a higher pace called the MGP - marathon goal pace. The idea is to run at a speed you want to complete your marathon in.

Last year around this time I was limping around because of "*@#$**! shin splints!". But, this time I am not at that bad a state. Actually, the run was good. Gaurav (The A+ student with Team Asha...has been the most regular for runs/workouts/seminars etc. in our team) and me did the next 2 loops at 8 mins a mile (though the intention intially was 9 mins). The last loop was a cool down loop. Overall, we did 2:06 at about 9 mins a mile for the 14 miler. This is probably a PR for me!

We also got our much awaited "Neon Yellow - Ignore me if you can!" Asha T-shirts. Our coach, steve had this to say - " You guys are LOUD usual!".

We had a great Pasta dinner party the previous day. Well, I messed it up a bit with some burnt barbeque style 'Palkkad pasta'. I would rather not comment a lot about the pasta...I have got 'shredded' enough by junta for it!!

I will soon have more information posted on how instrumental the marathon efforts were for the different efforts Asha was invoved with over the last year.

I will be posting information here and also will send personal mails to every donor who helped me succefully raise $5424 and beat my target of $200 a mile last year!!

It was an unforgettable experience...the feeling of crossing that finish line..and more so the feeling of reaching the fundraising target.

I sincerely hope all you ppl out there would help us reach out to and create more opportunities for the underprivileged we all strive for...

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Did you think I would stop..

Mile 1....a year of schooling for one child
Mile 2....a year's total living expenses for one child
Miles 3..4...8...Certificate courses in vocational training for mentally ill destitute women
Miles 8..9...13..A year's salary for teachers at a school for the mentally challenged
Miles 13..14..16 ..A new building for a school in interior India

Did you think I would stop ?
This is just the beginning for them ....

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

A typical morning ...

Wednesday morning 12:10 a.m. I finally noticed that I can change the time on the blog posts ! I will have to get up at 5:15 a.m for my wednesday morning quality work-out. Today its going to be a bit easier...

2 miles warm-up
1.5 miles hills
2 miles cool down
Foot drills and stretches.

I hope my shins and calves don't give me trouble ! The last long run was pretty bad...the first 14 miler of the season..

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

The answer is in more questions

Why should children be working in inhuman conditions at factories, garages and other places, when they should be studying? Why should children be traded like cattle for prostitution? Why should children be denied the right to education because they belong to a particular "caste", "sex" or "religion"? Why should women who can't fend for themselves (because of being mentally disadvantaged) be forced to the streets and go unnoticed by almost everyone? Why should poverty, suffering and injustice thrive so easily right in front of our eyes?

(For people who think they have seen it somewhere before, yes..I have re-stated it from my last year's runner page)

Who are we ?

Asha For Education is a non-profit organization with 0% overhead. This means that ALL the work is done by volunteers (not employees), and that ALL your donations will go to the various ongoing /future projects. Asha for Education is a secular organization dedicated to change in India by focusing on basic education in the belief that education is a critical requisite for socio-economic change. The word 'Asha' means 'hope' in Hindi.

What do we do ?

Here's a small subset of the activities we do: Funding schools for underprivileged kids, Training teachers, Vocational training for women in slums, Rehabilitation and training for children with special needs, Schools for poor tribal children, Educating children of prostitutes and backward classes, Providing educational kits and funding school rents, Efforts towards eradicating bonded labor, Schools for the visually impaired, Orphanages for young children, Schools for kids who were dropouts, Schools for the children of landless farmers and daily laborers, Schools for mentally challenged children, Training camps for young women that teach personal health and hygiene and awareness of women's rights, Efforts towards eradicating child labor.

Why are we a team ?

We are a team b'cos we are a group of 16 ppl who will run 500+ miles over 5 months to train for a marathon. Finally the goal is to run 26.2 miles!
(Want to know more about the team ? Know the team )

The program fundraising idea or 'pledge' is a novel one - it provides runners like me, the team support and training needed to prepare myself for the marathon and I in turn, raise money and awareness for Asha through my personal network of family, friends and supporters.

At least by running the marathon, I show that I am pretty serious about my intentions. Of course, the suffering or sacrifices that I have to undergo would be nothing compared to what the underprivileged kids and women go through.