By: Leisha Lininger
Produced and edited by: Leisha Lininger
Home to the largest slums of Asia, the Republic of India boasts a 9.8% poverty rate with 29.8% of the population living below the poverty line. However, students in Columbus, Ohio, are determined to make a difference. Thus, with the formation of the Columbus chapter of the non-profit Association for India’s Development (AID), poverty meets a formidable foe.
According to their website, “AID is a non-profit, volunteer movement that supports grassroots organizations in India and initiates efforts in various interconnected spheres such as education, livelihoods, natural resources, agriculture, health, women's empowerment and social justice.”
With meetings hosted on Ohio State’s campus, interested community members and students alike unite to brainstorm fundraising ideas and solutions for specific issues in India.
“We meet every Friday at 7 pm at Lazenby Hall. We always have a core group of 10-15 people,” said Aparna Lakshmanan, a student of the Ohio State University. “There are people from the community in the core group as well as undergraduates and faculty.”
Led by Lakshmanan and Rohan Mishra, the group’s aim is to address the root cause of issues, rather than simply treating the symptoms.
“We, at AID Columbus, believe that small initiatives such as the projects we support help shape the future of our nation.”
With over 70 chapters of AID active worldwide, especially in the United States and in India, the divisions tend to meet weekly or monthly to identify issues in specific regions and think of ideas of how to alleviate those issues.
According to minutes of a meeting held in August 2012 for the Columbus branch, the chapter approved 2 Lakh 25,000 rupees for the RTI NREGA Awareness campaign. RTI stands for the Right to Information Act and NREGA stands for the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment GuaranteeAct.
The amount approved is equal to about $4093.36 in U.S. dollars (as of November 2012 currency conversion rates).
In addition, the group is working on six issues, described further in detail in sidebar 1.1 and has identified solutions for each one, some of which involve education, and others which involve political and legal action against the government or in enforcing laws. This project also has the support of the Boston and the Johns Hopkins University chapters.
Other projects sponsored by the Columbus chapter also include Community Environmental Health Monitoring in Cuddalore and Tamilnadu with the SIPCOT NGO. The AID chapter in Boston also sponsors this project.
This project focuses on the five main values that comprise a successful community monitoring system. They entail providing environmental & health monitoring skills, building awareness and mobilizing support, creating an emergency response team with the region’s youth, establishing an emergency relief fun, and creating a clean livelihoods program via modes such as “environmentally sustainable livelihood[s]."
Another project includes the Sangtin Kisaan Mazdoor Sanghatan 2011 Project with the SKMS NGO in the Uttar Pradesh. In addition, the RTI program mentioned above is located in the Rajasthan region and is partnered with students at the University of Rajasthan. All of these programs focus on building community empowerment.
Coordinated by Mr. Kamal and Mr. Tejaram, the Right to Information Manch project focuses on “improving government accountability and advising people on the opportunities and facilities that are available to them via the government,” according to the 2011 RTI Manch report.
“RTI requires timely responses to citizens requesting for information about government authorities. NREGA guarantees 100 days of employment yearly to a rural household in the form of manual labour.”
The group has been involved in serving as a watchdog and investigator of the government, and discovered that Rs 40 lakh was misused in a public hearing hosted in fall of 2011 for villagers who needed compact fluorescent lights, according to the 2011 Manthan project report, located on the AID homepage for RTI Manch: Awareness Generation and Facilitation of RTI and NREGA.
Yet another project sponsored by the Columbus chapter focuses on creating a short-stay shelter for Women, according to the July 2012 meeting minutes. The history of the shelter indicates that it was approved in 2010, but faced delays due to Fair Credit Reporting Act clearance requirements that were unmet.
The following year, however, it gained monetary support of $2,000. The organization’s aims are to expose female infanticide, support the education access for female student dropouts, and assist rape victims.
“We’ve been doing that for more than a decade,” said Lakshmanan. “[For about] fifteen years or more now at the Ohio State University at the football games. It’s a really well-organized system by the university.” In order to obtain permission to sell dogs for development, the chapter must sign a contract with the university.
The group is always looking for new members and for fresh ideas of funding. If you are interested in joining or in donating, check out their weekly meetings in Lazenby Hall 002, located at 1827 Neil Avenue Mall or check them out online at columbus.aidinidia.org.
The Association for India’s Development is a 501(C)(3) (Federal Tax-ID 04-3652609) non-profit charitable organization. All donations to AID are tax-exempt.
Boston’s Amit Soni and Columbus, Ohio’s Preethi Jyothi contributed to this report.