Posts Tagged ‘India’

After a Long Hiatus – Meet the Sheroes

My apologies to readers–it’s been too long since I’ve posted here on my blog. We all get into those frenzied busy states and inadvertently push things to the back burner. Well, I pushed the wrong things back, and I’m sorry that Change by Doing got neglected. My world is no less busy at the moment, but I hope to right my priorities and continue to find ways of inspiring, connecting, and informing. Please use this space as a place of dialog, and send ideas or requests for what you want to see here–I truly love hearing from you.

the staff of Sheroes Hangout in Agra, India, sit in front of mural

Photo: Staff at Shero’s Hangout


In India, where the cruel and inhumane crime of acid attacks is perpetrated against women with frightening regularity and beyond the reach of current laws, a group of breathtakingly powerful survivors is flying against the wind of tradition and bringing new attention to survivors. In India, at least five women are attacked with acid, usually targeting their faces, every week, and it is rare that they get the immediate medical or legal attention required to begin a long and difficult recovery.

Sheroes Hangout is a coffeehouse and cafe based in Agra (where you’ll find the Taj Mahal), where survivors of acid attacks not only proudly eschew veils that would cover their scarred faces, they work tirelessly to empower women and advocate for desperately needed change. The Hangout has a cafe and a growing donation library of books and magazines, a community radio broadcast program, an activism workshop and meeting place, and a handicraft exhibition space and gallery.

Workshops train girls to use computers and social media for change and expanding education and employment opportunities, teach the community of survivors and supporters about legal rights and routes for judicial procedures (acid attacks are not always prosecuted, and are most often perpetrated by family members—fathers, husbands, brothers…), and cultural programs like film screenings, art classes, poetry, and gender issues.

The Sheroes Hangout is an initiative of Stop Acid Attacks and the Chhanv Foundation in New Delhi and just one program of their diligent work to change laws and support survivors. Due to scant access to care and support, most survivors find no hope and live out their lives as outcasts. The Sheroes are changing that in a big, bold way. Consider lending your support here.

Here is a short video with some of the Sheroes:

Barefoot College-Solving Problems from the Inside Out

Solar energy, water, education, health care, rural handicrafts, people’s action, communication, women’s empowerment, wasteland development…they are huge issues, and are being taken on at a grassroots level in rural Indian communities by Barefoot College. Started in the 1960s, it was originally a series of projects by dedicated young professionals who chose to completely immerse themselves in rural villages to learn what the issues were being faced by communities, and to find solutions that spring forth organically from within those communities (instead of an international organization dropping in to tell people what they need). The focus gradually evolved to truly empower the local villagers, and over the decades, projects huge and intimate have moved quality of life forward. Now the vast majority of individuals working with the organization come from within the served communities. They receive training and education to undertake challenges they would not previously have had access to tackling. The dream is to lift individuals and entire villages above the poverty line. This project shows what happens when the very poor are allowed to develop themselves–it is organic and intuitive and supremely sustainable.

Check them out–if you are up to creating change, or simply interested in this day and age of countless NGOs of widely variable effectiveness, ethics, and efficacy, it is nice to see models that have a long history of quiet success.

Can You See Me Now?

Summertime squinting–I swear that all the moisturizer in the world can only fight a losing battle against the crows feet progressing outward from my eyes reflexively protecting themselves from the sun. It’s a small complaint when put side-by-side with the people living in the deserts of India where cataracts arrive at a young age and steal vision. Sunglasses are unknown and eyes are not protected (from constantly blowing dust and sand as well as UV damage). I saw this crisis firsthand when doing my Rajasthan Humanitarian trip (on horseback–with Relief Riders International) where one of the activities of our band of traveling volunteers was helping at a free cataract eye surgery camp.

A similar project is the Sankara Eye Foundation. India is one of the leading countries that is home to a disproportionate number of the world’s blind with an estimate of 12 million people who are visually blind and 45 million who are visually handicapped. In 1998, Mr. K. Muralidharan, Mr. K. Sridharan, and Mr. Khushnood Ahmad founded the Sankara Eye Foundation and have managed to double the funds every year to develop a hospital and treat blindness and eye damage and disease. They have performed more than 70,000 free cataract surgeries each year and can conduct more than 200 surgeries a day. Volunteers and staff work tirelessly in the name of bringing (or returning) vision to India’s poor. The organization plans to open a new hospital in Punjab by the end of 2012 with an aspirational (but achievable) budget of 4 million dollars.

As you open your eyes to being able to make a difference in the world, what if you opened the eyes of others along the way?

READ Global

READ Global is a pretty amazing organization that started by building and stocking libraries in remote rural villages of the world, and has expanded with the times to really personalize community services in the locations where they work. Places like Bhutan, India, and Nepal—Himalayan villages where education never had a fair shake, but is growing as a priority for the youth as materials and opportunities are provided where there parents and grandparents never had access.

Rather than digest their carefully explained mission and goals, I’ll let their website text speak for itself–you’ll be inspired (hopefully to support them with a donation or with your volunteer work–perhaps even travel to and visit a READ Global project).

Our Approach

Every month, 5 million people flee the poverty of rural villages and head for the city – to find work, to feed their families. The resulting urban overpopulation and squalor impacts all of us—through increased pollution and diminishing resources, the spread of disease, lack of clean water and safe food, and drained economic resources. These problems don’t know borders; they threaten the health of the global community and the strength of the global economy.

Today we face a rural imperative: the urgent need to make rural villages places where families can thrive.

The READ Global Solution

The READ model partners for-profit business enterprises with non-profit Community Library and Resource Centers (READ Centers).  This unique approach allows the local community to sustain the operations of the READ Center over the long-run while creating local jobs.
How READ Works
Enterprise: READ Global works with community members to seed for-profit business enterprises that meet local needs, provide job opportunities and generate sustaining revenues for the READ Center.

Education: READ Global works with communities to fund and build READ Centers that meet the unique needs of each village.  These Centers provide access to books, computers, educational materials, job training, health services and workshops on leadership and conflict resolution. With these resources, individuals and families can learn, grow and reach their full potential.

Prosperity: With a strong emphasis on both education and enterprise, the READ Global solution brings communities together to share ideas and build relationships that enable families and children to stay and thrive in their own communities.

Key to READ’s Success
The READ model enhances rural capabilities, it does not replace them. We work closely and respectfully with local villagers to leverage their assets and talents to meet their specific educational, community, and employment needs.  Villages contribute between 15%-40% of the total cost of the project along with land and labor and READ makes up the rest.  This local ownership of such a community solution is essential to long-term success.

Changers:Profile-Alexander Souri, Relief Riders International

souriI’ve decided to add a new element to the blog. I will be posting occasional interviews with people I’ve met who are “Agents of Change,” folks who have done or are doing astounding work making a difference in lives or sometimes providing the structure and opportunity for us to make a difference. I hope you’ll find them as inspiring as I do.

This first is with Alexander Souri, the founder of Relief Riders International and Relief Workers International. Full disclosure: I did a Relief Ride with Alexander in the desert of Rajasthan, India, where 14 of us traveled on horseback to deliver school and medical supplies, helped at free medical camps and cataract eye surgery camps, and delivered milking goats to poor families. In my field of travel writing, the description “life-changing” is bandied about loosely, but I could not be more sincere when I say this trip changed my life. (a stream of consciousness account of that trip can be found here: That experience plays a huge part in what I am doing right now…


Mission Statement: Relief Riders International (RRI) is a humanitarian-based, adventure travel company that organizes horseback journeys through breathtaking areas in the Thar Desert of Rajasthan, India.

Over the last four years Relief Riders International has held seven successful Relief Rides. During this period we were able to design and develop far reaching medical and educational programs providing school supplies, goats, medical care and cataract surgeries to rural communities in Rajasthan.

To date, our medical programs have given us the opportunity to treat over 15,000 villagers, including 7,800 children.

Building on the success of these programs we are always researching new ways to provide effective medical care to rural areas. Relief Riders International is pleased to introduce our free Dental Surgery Program. Villagers will be able to receive free dental care and minor surgeries on our Relief Rides scheduled for the winter of 2010.

This past year was spent launching Relief Workers International (RWI) offering a different travel experience while incorporating the same humanitarian programs without the use of horses.


Firstly it all had to do with where I was at in my life. I’d reached a point where I had been lucky enough to travel the world and do all sorts of colorful and interesting jobs—but there was no alignment. I was an observer and could do this skill here and that skill there, but it didn’t add up. I realized there was much more to life than what I was living. Mostly I looked to provide an opportunity to help other people, to give back, to start taking care of the planet, the place I lived. I started the journey of unraveling a wonderful childhood—no negativity or bad experiences—but unraveling the conventions of …childhood…getting back to myself. It was the real reason of me starting these trips. It’s been a five-year journey and it’s still continuing and it’s wondrous.

If we go into finding out why this, why did I try to create this experience, it has also to do with my sense of freedom. I have an interest in being free, both in the mind and the body and also on the planet. Being able to jump out of the mainstream and say I’d really love to go to a beautiful place and see if anybody needs help, and if so, create a system to provide that. It’s part of what I am, the archetype, the ability to jump on a horse or a motorcycle or [pilot] a plane always gives me a sense of replenishment and nourishment.

Continue reading

It Takes a Village

rwandaFXB, the Association Francois-Xavier Bagnoud, was named for a helicopter pilot who lost his life in service to others when his chopper crashed during a mission in Mali. The charity, founded by his mother, is dedicated to children of the world affected by HIV/AIDS and poverty. They support orphans and vulnerable children left in the wake of the pandemic and provide direct support to caregiving families and communities.

The past two decades have seen FXB help children by fortifying the social and economic capacities of the larger communities in which they live.

One of the most amazing initiatives of this organization is the FXB Village program. They set up entire communities where community-based responses to AIDS and poverty are driven and maintained by the village locals. There are 48 FXB Villages in the world…so far…4 in Burundi, 5 in India, 22 in Rwanda, 4 in Thailand, and 13 in Uganda. Each village serves 80-100 families (between 500 and 600 people, mostly children) delivering income producing programs, legal rights and advocacy, water and sanitation programs, education, health services, HIV prevention and treatment, and psycho-social support. There is a three-year intensive integration operation to then empower the villages to progress onward with lessening outside support and developing their own financial security.

It’s an extraordinary endeavor. Look into it. I’ve given the barest, skimpiest idea of the programs. Watch this 6-minute video to get a better idea.

You won’t lack inspiration after this–I promise

Matt Damon is All Wet

RTS_imageI’ve had this DVD for a while and have been meaning to watch it, but didn’t get to it until today on the airplane. Running the Sahara is a terrific documentary, produced and narrated by Matt Damon, about three friends who run, without a day off, for 111 days across the entire Sahara Desert, covering the equivalent of more than a marathon, sometimes MUCH more than a marathon’s distance, each day. Crossing the continent of Africa on foot is a huge undertaking and takes a huge toll. It is a great film filled with outstanding imagery and an inspiring tone about believing you can do what ought to be impossible. I really recommend it.

The three runners (not all elite athletes, by the way) then created, a clean water initiative, also co-sponsored by Matt Damon (he’s the water guy), to create global awareness of the water crisis in Africa and practical support for projects getting clean water to change lives and health for thousands up0n thousands.

Damon’s aqua-efforts are widespread. Here is a video from the One Foundation where he thanks One Members (you are one of them, aren’t you? Click the link above and Look into it) while he is in India working on projects, with your support, that will bring water to millions of people.

We think we know drought…and we surely do in many places where we live and work, but few of us ever have, nor even know someone who has died from dehydration—yet it happens all the time.

You can help water, quite literally, save lives.