Teachers Visit a Bridge Everyday to Create a Classroom for Children of Migrant Workers Stuck in India’s Lockdown

For months during the pandemic, the people of India woke up to news regarding the plight of migrant laborers.

Stranded on their way home due to stringent lockdown restrictions and the lack of basic amenities brought us harrowing tales of human suffering.

However, the news also spurred heroes into action.

Under the bridge in the coastal state of Kerala, a heartening sight awaits those who are passing by in Kochi.

Underneath the Bolgatty-Vallarpadam bridge, teachers can be found engrossed with students of all ages, deep in study.

Ten children of migrant laborers had been living under the bridge with their families. Now that temporary ‘home’ is doubling up as a classroom, thanks to the dedicated teachers of St. John Bosco’s UP School.

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When the government ordered schools to close, and classes began commencing online, the teachers realized that some children had no means to attend online classes, and would likely discontinue their education if the situation persisted.

Armed with laptops and drawing sets, three teachers—Shamiya Baby, Neema Thomas and Susan Mable—and the school headmistress Elizabeth Fernandez, came to the rescue. Since the beginning of June, when online classes officially began, these teachers have been downloading classes on their laptops and heading over to the bridge to teach the children.

‘They also carry masks, biscuits and sweets for the young kids every day,” reports Mathrubhumi News.

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As technology seeps into the education sector, stories like this serve to underscore the undeniable value of human teachers—and their selfless kindness… Priceless.

We applaud our health workers and doctors, but let us also spare a thought for society’s teachers who help keep the lamp of hope brightly lit within the minds and hearts of its youngest citizens.

– Edited from an original article submitted by Gayathry Rajeev in India 

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How an Indian Architect is Sucking Carbon Emissions Out of the Air and Turning it into Stylish Tiles

An Indian architect has developed a revolutionary new way to serve the housing needs of a population, while also fighting air pollution.

Tejas Sidnal is the mastermind behind Carbon Craft Design: a Mumbai-based startup that specializes in capturing carbon emissions from the air and turning it into stylish tile.

Using a device called the AIR-INK, the company is able to draw CO2 out of the polluted city air, combine it with a mixture of marble chips and powder, and then press it into elegantly-designed tiles.

Since Sidnal says that India is in need of maintaining the world’s third largest housing industry, his sustainable tile recipe can help meet the industry demand for building materials in an eco-friendly way.

(WATCH the Great Big Story video below)

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How a Crowded Slum of One Million People Contained the Coronavirus to Only 2,000 Cases

Since the COVID-19 outbreak began, examining the spread, the rate of infections, the international response, and how these things have varied nation-to-nation has been a source of nothing less than bewilderment.

The cramped bazaars and streets of the Medinas in Morocco are relatively fine compared to some cities in the richest nations on earth.

The amount that is known and unknown has led to all kinds of approaches and guesswork, but perhaps nothing could be considered more astonishing than the containment of the now-infamous virus in one of the most crowded slums in Asia—in Dhravai, Mumbai, where one million people live in a labyrinthine-neighborhood of tightly packed shacks and one-room houses where social distancing is impossible.

The largest city in India, Mumbai is the epicenter of COVID-19 in India, and it has so far registered 500,000 cases.

But, while the city at large has seen maxed-out hospital beds, Dharavi, the setting of the Oscar-Winning film Slumdog Millionaire, has reported just 2,000 cases and 79 deaths overall, with just 274 in June.

How did they do it?

A proactive response was initiated, with 2,450 health workers assigned to Dharavi who started going door to door every morning at nine AM to test people.

After the first person tested positive in the slum—a 56-year-old garment worker who died the same day—the local and civic task forces identified the 5 highest-risk areas of the slum and started hunting the disease down, using contact tracing to find people who were at risk of being infected.

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In total 47,500 people were tested in the opening salvo. “That gave us a head start,” Anil Pachanekar, a private doctor and head of a local physicians’ association, told the LA Times. “If [those cases] had slipped through, it would have wreaked havoc.”

Credited for insuring the low rates of infection, these Mumbai health workers endured severe heat and humidity, walking through crowded streets wearing protective plastic body suits that didn’t allow for bathroom breaks.

Along with the disease, the task force encountered the paranoia and misconceptions about it. “When we went around Dharavi, we also started educating people about it,” he said. “We told them it is not a crime to be tested positive for coronavirus.”

Fear is a killer

Alleviating the fear of COVID-19 in people, especially as it related to the fear of visiting a clinic or medical office for testing, ended up being a very effective way to treat the disease.

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By April 20th, nineteen days after exposure, the door to door testing stopped, and 350 private clinics there were allowed to reopen. By then, the education efforts had paid off, and lines of people looking to get tested were forming outside of testing centers.

Meanwhile, city officials began converting buildings like wedding halls, schools and community centers into quarantine shelters with food and healthcare provisions. People who tested positive were quarantined in their homes while volunteer “COVID warriors” ensured those who were quarantined could get the medical supplies or groceries they needed.

With less than 20 deaths recorded in the slum during June, it seems like the worst is over for the residents of Dharavi—but what is being called the “Dharavi method” stands as a model for the future.

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It demonstrates that no situation is too dire for human resolve and ingenuity, and that even people living in squalor have something to teach the world.

Need more positive stories and updates coming out of the COVID-19 challenge? For more uplifting coverage, click here.

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Principal Rallies His Community to Serve 10,000 Cooked Meals to Seniors During 40 Days of COVID Crisis in India

A union territory in India with lovely beaches and serene streets is one of the most attractive weekend destinations for busy folks in Southern India. While normally offering a mélange of culture and heritage, Puducherry’s currently-deserted beaches are sufficient to indicate the magnitude of the COVID-19 crisis here.

But, one man has taken to heart the idea that ‘a crisis provides the opportunity for us to do things we could not do before.’

“This phrase has proved absolutely true for me,” said Sasi Kanta Dash, PhD, who has recently completed 40 days of food distribution to the elderly.

Principal of Tagore Government Arts and Science College in Pondicherry, he has been serving hot meals to those confined in their homes during the local lockdowns which started in March.

“It had been my dream to give back to society and the nation. My soul guided me to take the first step. I took the initiative of channelizing the positive energy of the local people and started with feeding 250 people on day one,” Dash told GNN.

“We didn’t know the extent of the lockdown when it was announced for the first time on March 24th,” Dr. Dash continued. “But the immense satisfaction at the end of the first day catalyzed the actions for the future.”

A volunteer visits with food and supplies

Starting with a WhatsApp group of senior citizens who were unable to visit a pharmacy for medicine due to closures in public transit, Dash began to deliver prescriptions to those self-quarantining.

For about 15 days after that he took to bringing families packets of essential cooking supplies like rice, sugar, salt, oil, assorted vegetables and dal (a dish of lentils and beans).

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Gradually the word spread and a few local organizations came forward to support the efforts. A helpline number was set up to receive the calls requesting help.

Along with elderly and daily-wage earners who are unable to eat if they don’t work, Dr. Dash’s charitable mind turned also to the “section of our population dependent on the alms offered by places of worship and other commercial and public places,” after which his operation expanded to those villagers within a 10 kilometer radius of the beach town.

The kitchen in his campus of Tagore Government Arts and Science College is one of the kitchens being used to cook food for people, and his team currently provides groceries for 600-700 families, as well as catering for 250 people of 14-15 different villages.

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“Today, June 3rd, we have entered the 40th day of food distribution and more than 10,000 meals have been served. The food is prepared under the supervision of volunteers to ensure quality, hygiene and nutrition content, and we have a group of 20 volunteers who have come forward to extend their support.”

Dash family photos

An advocate of a clean and green economy and environment, Dr. Dash also works as an organizer and member of numerous planting and cleaning drives in Puducherry.

For readers familiar with Indian cuisine, Dash’s delivery and catering are certainly fortunate in that they get to enjoy dishes like mushroom pulav, egg biryani, karakkuzhambu, groundnut rice, veg pulav & biryani, laddu, and bananas.

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Need more positive stories and updates coming out of the COVID-19 challenge? For more uplifting coverage, click here.

India’s Annual Carbon Emissions Fall for the First Time in Four Decades

With a population of 1.2 billion people, any news of renewable energy success in India is a cause for celebration. One would undoubtedly expect to see decreasing carbon emissions due to widespread travel reductions due to COVID-19 prevention measures, but a further analysis shows us that coronavirus doesn’t get to take all the credit, and the unholy trinity of oil, coal and gas seems to be on the downward slide.

In a report from carbonbrief.org, daily statistics on energy consumption and power plant activities demonstrate that India’s total year–over–year emissions has, for the first time in 4 decades, fallen.

The country’s CO2 emissions fell by 15% in March, and 30% in April, in what could primarily be attributed to COVID-19 measures. However for 12 months, the rate at which Indians were demanding more power slowed drastically, and it was the March shutdowns that capped the new growth of power generation from oil, coal and gas below zero for the first 12-month period in 30 years (falling 1%).

Moreover, in March, when coal-fired power generation fell by 15% it was married with a 6.7% increase in use of renewable energy. These were also joined by a year-by-year fall in total coal deliveries, both imported and domestic—the first of such demand drops in 20 years.

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This was despite the fact that more coal was mined in India this fiscal year than last year, indicating that the slowdown is not due to limited supply but a milder demand for coal as an energy source.

Production for other fossil fuel energy sources is also falling, with fiscal year 2019-20 seeing a drop in crude oil production of 5.9% and natural gas of 5.2%.

Twilight of Indian Coal?

Good News Network has reported extensively already this year about such market forces pushing coal use, and in some cases oil use, to the point of complete and total unprofitability—not just in countries like Sweden, but in the U.S. India, and China.

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Coal is becoming less and less profitable in India, and a recent energy contract auction—used by public sector planners to encourage private energy development, investment, and production—secured 2,000 megawatts per hour of solar energy at a price of $34 per hour. In contrast, oil over the same time period, when the contract was awarded, was costing $45 per hour.

According to a report from Carbon Tracker entitled “How to Waste Half a Trillion Dollars” economists warn that half a trillion in coal-plant investments around the world are at risk of becoming so unprofitable in the future as to totally impair the repayment of any investment dollars, as it is already 50% more expensive to operate an Indian coal-fired power plant than renewable sources. This number will rise to 100% by 2030.

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India recently began setting records for cleaner air, and now it seems the country is leaping on the opportunity to keep it going.

This is just one of many inspiring stories and updates that are coming out of the COVID-19 news coverage this week. For more uplifting coverage on the outbreaks, click here.

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Himalayan Mountaintops Visible for the First Time in 30 Years as Air Pollution Continues to Plummet in India

As more and more global communities enforce stay-at-home orders and social restrictions, rates of air pollution have plummeted.

The most notable example of this phenomenon emerged on the horizon of Jalandhar in Punjab, India earlier this week.

For the last 30 years, the tops of the Himalayan mountains have been obscured by air pollution and smog. Now as the city streets are emptied of traffic and gas-guzzling vehicles, the mountaintops were clearly visible to the millions of local communities in quarantine.

Photographers living as far as 200 kilometers (124 miles) away from the mountain range have since posted awe-inspiring pictures of the snow-capped peaks to social media in celebration of the spectacular sight.

This is not the first time that people have taken notice of cleaner air amidst the COVID-19 shutdowns; following similar reports in China and the US, air pollution is continuing to plummet in countries with social restrictions, such as the UK and India. In New Delhi alone—which has some of the worst air pollution in the world—airborne particulates plunged by 71% in just one week.

Particle pollution in major UK cities have also dropped by as much as one-third—and the rates are expected to fall even further as lockdowns continue.

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“These are big changes—pollution levels are the equivalent at the moment of a holiday, say an Easter Sunday,” Professor James Lee from York University and the National Centre for Atmospheric Science told The Guardian about the data.
“And I think we will see an even starker drop off when the weather changes.”

This is just one of many positive stories and updates that are coming out of the COVID-19 news coverage this week. For more uplifting coverage on the outbreaks, click here.

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Landmark Ruling Finally Grants Women Equal Rights in the Indian Military

Despite years of ongoing legislative grief and gender bias, the Supreme Court of India has upheld a 2010 verdict that women be offered the same militaristic opportunities in commissioning as men.

The landmark ruling—which the government will be required to uphold within the next three months—means that women in the armed forces can now assume the post of colonel, brigadier, major general, lieutenant general, and chief of army staff. Furthermore, they will be eligible for the same benefits and pensions as their male colleagues regardless of their years of service.

Although the Delhi High Court had already approved equal treatment for female officers 9 years ago, the government attempted to overturn the ruling by arguing that women were not eligible for promotion or intelligence positions because of their “physiological limitations”.

“Women officers must deal with pregnancy, motherhood, and domestic obligations towards their children and families and may not be well suited to the life of a soldier in the armed forces,” stated the central government, according to CNN.

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Thanks to last month’s ruling from the Supreme Court, however, female officers will no longer be subjected to such archaic discrimination.

“[The] time has come that women officers are not adjunct to their male counterparts. Physiological features of women have no link to their rights. The mindset must change,” Justice D.Y. Chandrachud and Justice Ajay Rastogi said in their ruling. “To cast aspersion on gender is an affront to their dignity and to the country.”

“All the lady officers in the Indian Army are very happy and very elated by the landmark judgment,” Lt. Col. Sandhya Yadav said after the verdict on Monday, as reported by The Associated Press. “It was a long wait and has ended. We are happy about it.”

Photo by Suyash Dwivedi, CC

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India Makes History With All Gas Stations Officially Preparing to Supply World’s Cleanest Fuel

In an ambitious bid to cut the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions, India is now ensuring that all diesel and gas stations will only be supplying the cleanest fuel.

Starting on April 1st, India will join the ranks of the few world nations offering Euro-VI grade fuel, which only contains 10 parts per million (ppm) of sulphur in contrast to the 50 ppm in Euro-IV fuels.

India is reportedly the first country to ever transition directly from IV-grade fuels to VI-grade. Not only that, they managed to achieve the transition in just three years.

According to The Tribune, it took India 7 years to transition from Euro-III grade fuel with a sulphur content of 350 ppm to Euro-IV fuel. Reports also say that most of the nation’s gas stations were already distributing the new ultra-low fuel by the end of 2019.

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“We are absolutely on track for supplying BS-VI fuel from April 1. Almost all refineries have begun supplying BS-VI fuel and the same has reached storage depots across the country,” Sanjiv Singh, Chairman of Indian Oil Corp (IOC), told reporters. “It was a conscious decision to leapfrog to BS-VI as first upgrading to BS-V and then shifting to BS-VI would have prolonged the journey to 4 to 6 years. Besides, oil refineries, as well as automobile manufacturers, would have had to make investments twice—first to producing BS-V grade fuel and engines and then BS-VI ones.”

While the initiative is just one of the many ways that India is trying to keep up with the world’s shift towards renewable energy, the nation reportedly made history last week by becoming the first country to power all of its government-run seaports with solar and wind energy.

The “green port” infrastructure means that 12 of the country’s biggest seaports are exclusively using renewable energy to power their daily operations. Not only that, the ports can use the energy to electrically power ships as they are docked.

File photo by Bernard Gagnon, CC

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Students Are Returning to Indian School After It Transformed Two Old Train Cars into Vibrant Classrooms

SWNS

This school is being hailed as one of the first in the world to start improving attendance rates by transforming old train cars into classrooms.

SWNS

The government-run Ashokapuram Primary School noticed student numbers were dropping, and they suspected it was due to a lack of properly permanent school buildings.

SWNS

The school then teamed up with the South Western Railways company to begin using two old train carriages deemed unfit for railway usage.

SWNS

The vibrant carriages now have stairways, brightly painted exteriors, desks, fans, lights, and colorful drawings on the walls.

SWNS

“The coaches, which were officially declared unfit for railway use, were renovated. At present, the school has 60 students from standard 1st [grade] to 7th,” said a spokesman for South Western Railways. “Many come from families below the poverty line.

SWNS

The new classrooms have managed to attract a new batch of students to attend regular classes—and teachers in Mysore in Karnataka, India, said student attendance numbers are now up again thanks to the quirky new classrooms, which cost just £700 ($915) for the pair.

SWNS

(WATCH the classrooms in action in the video below)

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