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While a graduate student at University of Maryland, Ravi Kuchimanchi founded the Association for India's Development (AID) in 1991 with the vision "problems are interconnected, so must be the solution." AID has matured into a volunteer movement for sustainable, holistic development with 50 chapters in USA, Australia and India. It brings highly skilled professionals such as the Non-Resident Indian community, to partner with the poor, and underprivileged so that there is a deeper understanding of causes beyond the mere symptoms of poverty.
In 1998, after his postdoctoral work in theoretical particle physics at University of Virginia, Ravi with his wife Aravinda focussed on development issues in India such as dams versus people and environment, rural electrification and integrated development. Working in 30 villages of Srikakulam Distrct, Andhra Pradesh, It became clear to Ravi that a poor labourer earning less than a dollar a day lived in darkness, not because s/he can't afford the energy bill, but because they can't afford to pay a large bribe of a months wage, to get the connection. In fact the kerosene for oil-lamps that poor use, is more expensive than electricity that could light their home. Such insights helped AID in the US, that raises $1 Million annually and mobilizes nearly a thousand volunteers, extend its support to tackle root causes such as corruption and exploitation rather than just treat the symptoms of poverty.
Passionately interested in pursuing appropriate technology to benefit the underpriveleged, Ravi with his colleagues recently adapted the traditional haybox for Indian villages. The "Easy Cooker" that is both made and sold in Indian villages, conserves about 50% energy, saves time and creates livelihoods for bamboo artisans and women's groups. It saves about 0.5 Kg in carbon-di-oxide emmissions per use compared to electric rice cooker. With 600 million rice-eaters in India and billions around the world, and priced locally at Rs 70-100 in villages, it is not only a green technology but is affordable by hard-working rural people who earn $1-2 a day.
In 1999-2000 with his collaborators Ravi developed the pedal power generator to light remote, off-the-grid village schools where students take turns to pedal. Demand for alternate energy in the Narmada river valley in western India, where there is an ongoing struggle against large dams such as the Sardar Sarovar, led Ravi to forge a collaboration between AID and grassroots groups such as People's School of Energy, Narmada Bachoa Andolan and Sarvodaya centre, that electrified 12 hamlets of the tribal village Bilgaon. This inspired the Bollywood film Swades (2005) that became a symbol for Non-Resident Indians interested in India's development. In 2006, Ravi drafted a crucial petition that challenged engineers of Sardar Sarovar dam who were exaggerating benefits of the dam, in their effort to speed up its construction, at the cost of tens of thousands of village families, whose dwellings would be submerged without rehabilitation.
Recently, Ravi has been interested in Indian democracy's latest achievement -- the Right to Information (RTI) Act, that gives citizens of India access to government documents and increases transparency. This along with the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) which promises 100 days of work to all rural families at with an annual budget of $3 billion, has the potential to change the face of India. With collaborators in the Indian state of Orissa, he has conducted audits of the government employment program where significant parts of the funds were being siphoned off by contractors and officials. In the USA, AID has set up an Anti-Corruption Fund and team, that has helped support activists in India as well as has forced the Indian embassy in Washington DC to implement the RTI Act, so that Indians in USA can access information from Indian government.
Ravi has a B.Tech in Civil Engineering from Indian Institute of Technology, Mumbai and a PhD in Physics from University of Maryland. He has published several papers in international physics journals including Physical Review Letters. His interests and work in physics include the Strong CP Problem, Neutrino masses, Family triplication, Supersymmetry, Parity-symmetric theories as well as the intriguing nature of Quantum Mechanics. In 1989 while a graduate student, along with a friend, he obtained a US patent for a toy-puzzle that was featured by NY Times and several Television channels in USA. This was one of his early ideas for raising money to help tackle poverty. However as the economy was slow at that time, despite the interest it generated, it did not get picked up. That was when he hit upon the idea of AID and ever since has been focussed on it. Aravinda and Ravi have a charming 4-year old daughter Khiyali who has made several friends in villages and cities.
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Kamayani Swami started delving seriously in the field of social change and development as a Masters student at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (Bombay). After 17 years of formal schooling she had previously gone through kamayani, like many others, had a lot to learn and unlearn. She started her learnings and unlearnings in the real world as a full time worker of the Shramik Adivasi Sangathan (SAS, Beitul district, Madhya Pradesh), National campaign for the Peopleís Right to Information (NCPRI) and was associated with the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS) and with the Her learnings with MKSS have been guiding her work since.
For the past decade she has been working in the field of social change and justice. In 2008 she became part of the effort to mobilize workers of Bihar and form a rural workers trade union called Jan Jagaran Shakti Sangathan (JJSS). JJSS has empowered the rural community of Araria and Katihar districts of Bihar to struggle for their basic rights which is so easily denied by the corrupt govt machinery and vested interests. The work of the JJSS at the district and state level has helped workers get work and avoid distress migration. The JJSS has also been instrumental in initiating wide scale social audits (MKSS has pioneered social audits which means audit by the people) along with the government in Araria district to help curb corruption and to involve ordinary mass in the implementation and monitoring of the govt. schemes. In 2012, the JJSS was part of conducting ICDS Social audits, in East Champaran (Motihari) district, along with the ICDS directorate. The work of the JJSS has lead to greater awareness about the rights in the rural poor.
Kamayani feels the JJSS with itís gender, caste and class lens has tried itís best to build a democratic and progressive organisation, within, while fighting the system outside. She and the JJSS hope now to expand in the field of inculcating progressive values in the younger generation.
More about her JJSS Activities
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Aravinda Pillalamarri has worked with people fighting for social justice in India since 1998. Raising awareness on fair trade and sustainable livelihoods, she works with tailors designing and marketing khadi (handspun) garments with a view to sustaining traditional living in modern times. Recognizing the role of natural birth, breastfeeding, babywearing, sleepsharing, natural hygiene and free learning in promoting maternal and child health and empowerment, she works with parents and teachers in better understanding the value of these practices, how they are already in use, and how they are threatened and resources required to sustain them. IN this context she also works in Srikakulam to promote programs that help people take control of their learning, food security, and health, such as village libraries, kitchen gardens, whole foods, and accountability in government services to mothers and children. She also serves on AID Publications Team, working to ensure that people who are marginalised by poverty, oppression or disasters appear as central and active driving forces for change rather than as victims or targets. Through this AID newsletters, calendars and ocassional publications help urban middle class people to understand the perspectives and analyses voiced by the people central to the processes of social change, who are too often marginaised from prevailaing development planning owing to poverty and oppression.
You can find her articles at AID's publications page and for one here Believe in your dreams, in yourself!!
Her articles have also appeared in Economic and Political Weekly, The Hindu, India Together, The Alternative, Manushi, Himal South Asia, Teacher Plus, Z Magazine, and other publications. Aravinda's Blog: aravinda.aidindia.org.
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Dr. Balaji Sampath, is a central figure in AID. He has made several vital contributions in planning and executing large-scale campaigns in health, literacy and improving quality of education in India. His work has culminated in the Hundred Block Plan (HBP), a multi-pronged rural intervention and development program across India - which he pioneered with the All-India People's Science Network (AIPSN). In the recent past, he has played a key role in AID India's large scale primary education program, the Eureka Child initiative, which reaches out to 1 million children in Tamil Nadu to improve reading, math and science skills.
Dr. Sampath is a graduate of IIT-Chennai where he had stood All India No. 4 in the Joint Entrance Examination. He received his doctorate from the University of Maryland, College Park's Electrical Engineering program in 1997. At graduate school Dr. Sampath became a volunteer for AID-College park when AID was still a local organization. As a graduate student, he mobilized 500 volunteers and started 25 chapters of Association for India’s Development in the USA.
Dr. Sampath returned to India and started working fulltime on social issues in 1997. Founded AID INDIA. He worked with Center for Ecology and Rural Development and the People’s Science Movement on various health and education programs. He was also a National Organizer of the People’s Health Assembly Campaign in 2000.
Dr. Sampath is a recipient several awards for AID INDIA’s work in reading and science education - Ashoka Fellowship, Lemelson Innovator’s Award, Rotary Distinguished Service Award. He also demonstrates a popular weekly science program for children on TV. Dr. Sampath is an author of several books and videos on education, science popularization and health.
Learn more about Balaji’s work please visit: http://www.eurekachild.org/
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After many years, AID is proud to announce a new Jeevansaathi! Ravishankar Arunachalam has been elected by AID Austin, AID Pittsburgh and AID Maryland to join the ranks of Ravi, Balaji and Aravinda.
Ravishankar is well known to a number of AIDers – he has been an active volunteer with the Pittsburgh and Austin chapters and a member of the AID Executive Board. For the last 2 years, he has served as the Joint Secretary of AID India and has coordinated the secondary education and equitech programs of AID Tamilnadu. During the past year, he has worked tirelessly on Tsunami relief and rehabilitation programs. In light of his strong commitment and involvement with this work, he has resigned his position at IIT-Chennai and now works full-time with AID.
Rachna Dingra (Not currently active)
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Rachna Dhingra is working in Bhopal with survivors from the world's worst industrial disaster – the gas leak from Union Carbide's plant that has killed 20,000 people since 1984. A compassionate, determined and resourceful woman, Rachna moved to Bhopal from Ann Arbor in January 2003. Since then, she has immersed herself in getting the balance of compensation to survivors, initiating efforts for clean drinking water, generating employment, and mobilizing local and global communities. She has become a key organizer for the campaign, and her enthusiasm and energy is an inspiration to all.
Rachna joined AID Ann Arbor chapter in 1999, when she was an undergraduate studying business administration. Always interested in developmental issues, she found a perfect outlet in AID. Her no nonsense talk and her limitless energy became legendary. She developed an interest towards activist and women's issues, keenly following the struggles in the Narmada valley and in Bhopal. In Ann Arbor, she and other AID volunteers set up the Bhopal Action Network to echo the concerns not only of the Bhopal survivors, but also those of survivors from chemical disasters all over the world. This network has been a continuous thorn in the side of Dow Chemical, located a short distance away from the university in Midland, Michigan. After graduation, Rachna joined Accenture where her first client, ironically, was Dow Chemical! After just a few months in this job, she followed her passion and quit to join the peoples' struggle in Bhopal. She describes this passion herself - "I truly believe in the power of ordinary people because they simply are capable of doing extraordinary things. I see it Bhopal everyday and that is what keeps me going and inspired. As we say in Bhopal, Janta ki chala paltnaya Hill lai lai Jagjoor duniya!"
Kiran Vissa (Not currently active)
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Kiran Vissa has been a key AID figure since its formative years and has worn many hats of leadership and organizational roles in the past 14 years. Since 2008, Kiran is working in Andhra Pradesh as a full time activist in the role of AID's Jeevansaathi. Kiran's focus interests have been agriculture and farmers' issues, consumer awareness on food, volunteer mobilization and citizen activism, and tackling organizational challenges in AID.
Kiran played an important role in setting up many early chapters of AID, and continued to provide inspirational and organizational support to budding chapters and emerging leadership. As a member of the board of directors, he has been an important part of many of AID's initiatives. He has played a key role in promoting the sangharsh aspect in AID through the Narmada struggle, anti-communalism campaign and other human rights campaigns.
Kiran holds a B.Tech. from IIT, Chennai and an M.S. from University of Maryland. He became active in AID in his very early days at College Park, inspired by the ideas and energy of volunteers like Ravi, Balaji and Aravinda, as well as meeting many social activists from India.
Jayaram Venkatesan (Not currently active)
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Jayaram has played a very active role in AID US coordinating several multi-chapter projects and has been actively involved in a number of AID INDIA projects for several years. After moving to India in 2007 he has been an integral part of AID TN. He is involved in Eureka SuperKidz program, project management and research. AID TN has been working to improve the quality of education in Tamil Nadu over the last 15 years. AID TN's Eureka SuperKidz program is a community focused education initiative providing quality education for more than 30000 children in 650 villages of Tamil Nadu. AID TN has also started programs in Agriculture and Health and have a vision for building model villages on a large scale through community based Education, Health and Livelihood programs.
For the last three years he has been researching livelihood projects across the country. He is very passionate about livelihood projects and has started work on livelihood initiatives. Jayaram is focusing mainly on improving the livelihood of small and marginal farmers. He will share about his work and ideas on producer-company enterprises and how such collective enterprises have the potential for improving the lives of small and marginal farmers. Jayaram will also share about AID TN's new effort in setting up Experiment Farms where improved techniques for increased productivity and lowering input costs will be compared against existing practices