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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After Finding His African City Missing From Maps, Zimbabwe Man Creates 2,000 Miles of Google Street Views

After discovering that his hometown was entirely absent from Google Street View, one man from Zimbabwe decided things had to change.

When Tawanda Kanhema moved to the United States in 2009 from Harare, the capital of his country Zimbabwe, he might have looked forward to showing people what his hometown looked as a major African city. However the self-described tech enthusiast discovered none of the streets and quarters of Harare were visible on Google Street View.

If you can imagine the disappointment of noticing your home city of 1.6 million people somehow didn’t exist on one of the world’s largest collection of digital maps, Kanhema also realized that his entire country was absent from street view.

He further learned that a bunch of other African countries were absent as well.

“When you look at Street View, you’re looking at this mosaic of images that show how people live across the world, how people conduct commerce, how people get around,” Kanhema told National Public Radio. “I found it quite jarring that a lot of the countries in the region were not on the map.”

A New Hobby

Currently working in Silicon Valley, the Berkeley resident volunteered to help Google get eyes and boots on the ground in some of what Kanhema considered Africa’s techno-neglected countries. After all, travelers from around the world might like to better plan their routes through these diverse states by seeing what they look like.

He wound up borrowing a 360-degree camera through Google’s Street View Loan Program and using it in a car as well as on the end of a 4-foot rod attached to his clothing. His trip in 2018 included a safari through a national park, boating down the Zambezi River, shooting Victoria Falls (below), and traversing over 2,000 miles of roads in Harare and other cities—it put Zimbabwe on the map.

“It’s so conspicuous to have a 4-foot contraption attached to the roof of your car,” Kanhema told NPR. “People are walking up and asking questions about, ‘Is that a camera? What are you recording? What are you filming? It is for Google Maps? Will my house be on the map? Will my face be on the map?”

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Atlases, globes and maps are an incredibly important part of how we conceptualize the world. Google Maps can confer a tremendous amount of information quickly, from the names, addresses and contact information of businesses, to local landmarks, to customer reviews and also grid patterns and street names to help plan commuting routes.

“We should do more to make sure that those communities are represented,” Kanhema says. “We should do more to showcase the businesses, the local businesses in those areas and also the tourist attractions.”

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A Kind of Documentary

Having spent $5,000 of his own money on the project, Kanhema sees it as a sort of documentary, with the gigabytes worth of sometimes stunning, sometimes quaint, sometimes informative photographs possessing the potential to connect people to his homeland from across the globe, perhaps contributing to her historically-troubled economy by adding tourist revenue.

His work has also seen him map the frozen ice-roads which the Mushkegowuk Nation in Northern Ontario use to traverse the land in winter.

“Imagine being able to lend a ticket to get on a helicopter tour of one of the seven natural wonders of the world and being able to bring at least a million other people with you by creating these images that people can look at and feel as though they were there,” he says.

WATCH an interview…

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More Than 200 Volunteer Firefighters From US and Canada Have Deployed to Help With Australian Bushfires

Back in 2018 when wildfires were raging through California, 138 firefighters from Australia and New Zealand flew into the United States so they could help combat the blazes.

According to the National Park Service, “the Australian and New Zealand personnel filled critical needs during the peak of the western fire season for mid-level fireline management, heavy equipment, helicopter operations, and structure protection”—and now, the US is repaying the favor.

For the first time since 2010, the US federal government has deployed a team of 100 American firefighters to help with the emergency response crews in Australia—and they are deploying several dozen more volunteer firefighters this week, according to The Los Angeles Times.

Due to extended drought combined with hot and dry weather conditions, Australia has been experiencing devastating bushfires—particularly in the states of New South Wales, Queensland, and Victoria—since August.

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The US firefighters—many of whom were part of the firefighting teams in California— have been deployed in several separate teams over the course of the last 30 days. The international relief mission is part of the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC), the nation’s support center for wildland firefighting. Based out of Boise, the coalition is made up of eight different agencies and organizations including, the Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Indian Affairs, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service, National Weather Service, U.S. Fire Administration, and the National Association of State Foresters.

“We’re sending a contingent from several federal agencies that reflects decades of fire management experience,” said U.S. Forest Service Fire Director Shawna Legarza. “We face many of the same firefighting challenges in each country. We’ve utilized their expertise in the past and welcome the opportunity to reciprocate.”

The US is not the only country sending aid to Australia, either—Canada has also sent several teams of wildfire specialists as well, bringing their total amount of volunteers to 87.

According to CBC, this is the first time that Canada has deployed firefighting assistance to Australia, although Canada also benefitted from the firefighting teams of Down Under during the devastating British Columbian wildfires in 2017 and 2018.

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