Saturday, May 26, 2012


Five-year-old twins Rithu and Rishika share more than parents and identical features. Both were diagnosed with blood cancer and are undergoing chemotherapy in Coimbatore. While coping with body sores and severe mouth ulcers, they often prayed for fairies who could grant the wish closest to their hearts—to be princesses for a day!

And the fairies did come, in the guise of 20-year-olds who brought pink gossamer gowns and shiny crowns, motivation enough for the duo to rise from bed! For the team from Bhojan Atews, playing wishmakers to terminally ill children is only the latest project hatched between engineering classes. They use their laptops as teaching aids in rural schools, logon to Facebook to mobilize donations and hang out on weekends at orphanages convincing wide-eyed kids to wear underwear. For members of this voluntary youth organisation, college life is as different as it gets!

At Anbagam orphanage near Tiruchi, Bhojan’s core team, Mowshimkka Renganathan, Shankar Ganesh, ShanthiniMuthuswamy, Abhilash Ronuru, Aarthi Kumar and Dheeraj Murramshetti, are busy doing what they do best. The neatly groomed kids greet us politely. “The first day we came here, most of them were indifferent to what we had to say. Today they welcome people warmly and introduce themselves smartly,” says Mowshimkka, the architect of the barely two-year-old organisation.

Though the core team are all students from SASTRA university, Thanjavur, Bhojan now has volunteers and coordinators from colleges across the state. Mowshimkka convinced Shanthini to start the organization in September 2010 with the idea of reaching out to underprivileged kids, without the limitations of an institution-run society. “I wanted to do something for kids, particularly medical assistance due to personal reasons. Our first act was mobilising funds for surgery of a child with eye cancer,” recollects Mowshimkka. The name of the society, registered in January this year, triggers questions. “We were fascinated by Greek mythology and to make the name catchy thought of Atews, an amalgamation of Athena and Zeus,” Shanthini smiles, adding that ‘Bhojan’ signifies service. In keeping with the mythological line of thought, the logo is a phoenix, representing resurgence.

Stepping ahead

Frequent interactions with kids in orphanages and slums prompted Mowshimkka and team to do their bit in bridging the gap between rural and urban kids with their ‘One Step Ahead’ project.

“Education sadly does not teach you what life demands. Our classes included fundamental spoken and written English, basic word processing and computer skills, first aid, performing CPR, socially responsible acts and etiquette,” explains Shankar. “We introduced them to concept of saving money and simple banking procedures with the help of comics available in the Reserve Bank of India website.”

The team has scheduled regular weekend classes in four centres including Anbagam and three rural schools. “We have seen Class X students opting for ITI instead of pursuing higher education,” says Mowshimkka. “They may remain welders for the rest of their lives due to lack of awareness. Starting this June, we will be bringing professionals to interact with children and introduce them to various career options.”

Out of the box

Bhojan’s most unconventional project, Newknickers, which distributes underwear to kids in orphanages, initially evoked much skepticism and even ridicule, but Mowshimkka stood her ground. “We noticed kids complaining of rashes and soon discovered that one no one donates to orphanages is underwear.”

“Why underwear, is the question everyone shoots,” says Abhilash, who has taken the project under his wing. “Even the orphanages we approach indicate we pitch in soaps, stationery along with underwear.” Newknickers has reached Pondicherry, Salem, Kumbakonam and Coimbatore. Impressed by Mowshimkka’s idea at a recent conference in Coimbatore, garment owners from Tirupur have come forward to donate free knickers.

Convincing the children to wear them is the tough part. “It took us half an hour to make one kid accept the garment,” Aarthi recalls. “We make it a point not to just hand over the clothes but ask them questions to drive home the importance of hygiene.”

Making wishes come true

Though Newknickers offered varying experiences, the ‘Wish fairy’ project, which fulfills wishes of children with HIV-AIDS, brain tumour and cancer, is dear to many, including Shanthini. “I always used to think I was not gifted enough. After meeting these kids, the first thing I did was apologize to my parents for all my ranting,” she says, her voice growing emotional. “What a beautiful life I have! I’ve been the happiest since I became a part of Bhojan. I discovered my life’s purpose.”

Volunteers and donors can choose to grant wishes of any ailing kid. Short profiles of the children are posted on the website. “This project has helped volunteers connect on a personal level with kids,” says Mowshimkka. “There may be no cure for some diseases but it does not stop us from keeping those affected happy.” Often wishes are as simple as crystal anklets, colour pencils, digital watches and bicycles.

A different birthday

Pocket money and kind souls are not the only sources of funds for these projects. Bhojan kickstarted a long-term fund-raiser idea, ‘A different birthday’, to urge collegians to donate half the money they spend on birthday treats. “Birthdays are the best time to tap into people’s generosity. Everyone wants to do something special,” grins Dheeraj, backed with proof that the idea has worked. There are birthday pledges on the organisation’s Facebook page and website. “It is our responsibility to make good the pledges by contacting sponsors a week ahead of the birthday. We remind them this too is a treat for someone else,” he says.

The young brood has used social networking and web portals to send newsletters, post photos and update blogs to ensure transparency. Sponsors receive photos of kids or cards made by them as a thank-you gesture.

Way ahead

The core team are keen to continue the initiative after college, banking heavily on the virtual world to collaborate. Mowshimkka confidently reassures me Bhojan is her full-time passion. Friends eager to take the initiative to their home-towns, have fuelled expansion plans.

But it is emotionally rewarding experiences that have made volunteers stay on with the organisation, renewing hope like the phoenix in the logo. Dheeraj puts it simply. “Even when you get 100 percent in mathematics, you cannot get the satisfaction you feel when a kid comes up to and says thank you.”

7 prisoners pass Class XII exams with flying colours in Coimbatore

A life convict implicated in the serial bomb blasts that rocked the city during late nineties and six other life convicts found guilty in murder cases have managed to put their past behind them and pass the Plus Two examinations with flying colours.

Finally, the prisoners at the Coimbatore Central Prison had something to celebrate. Jail authorities distributed sweets among inmates, congratulating them for their hard work and encouraging others to take up higher education. Thirty-seven-year-old Syed Zafeer Ahmed used to be an activist of the banned outfit Al Umma, when the serial blasts took place. He was forced to discontinue his education when he was found guilty and awarded life term. He was thrilled when he received his results, scoring 918 marks out of 1200. In the Tamil paper he scored 174 out of 200 while he got 156 marks for English. Ahmed intends to get a degree in either history or Tamil under Tamil Nadu Open University.

Murder case convicts Nandagopal, Rajkumar, Nagarajan, Kalimuthu and Sasikumar too passed the exam, all of them scoring more than 70 per cent. Another convict Subhash who had failed the English paper last year, managed to pass this time around, scoring 123 marks.

Jail SP A Murugesan said when contacted that the prisoners had appeared for the examination in Puzhal Jail in Chennai as it was a very small group. They were escorted to Chennai and lodged at the Puzhal Prison till completion of the exam. They were all provided with free education. Thanks to a few generous NGOs and educated inmates, classes were conducted free of cost," he said.

Murugesan hopes that the success of the seven inmates who took the exam this year would encourage other inmates to pursue their education.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Tirupur’s Famous Five into ‘Save Noyyal Mission’

Water and soil are vital life-sustaining natural resources for the existence of mankind. Our country has some of the richest lands available for cultivation and yet we relentlessly pollute it.

Take for example the dilapidated state of the Noyyal river in Tirupur — a river that has great historical significance but has been reduced to a highly contaminated 70-kilometre stretch.

That was before five students from the PEM School of excellence at Tirupur decided to take charge. They not only raised awareness around the issue, but were instrumental in the shutting down polluting dyeing units in Tirupur.

Living along the Noyyal river belt, all five students were well aware of the difficulties faced due to the contaminated water.

Keerthana J who stayed in the worst-affected village because of pollution in the river was the first to raise this issue to her guide. She shared, “Twenty years of chemicals being dumped into the river from dyeing factories has led to the land around Kathanganni, my village, turning barren and infertile.

Farmers were left helpless because of this. I took this issue to my guide Mr Eashwaran, who told me what I could do to help ease the situation.”

She continued, “I got four other classmates Nimisha Parveen B, Geethanjaly M.T, Suruthi R and Ashwin Balaji S, and worked on a project that we submitted for the National Children’s Science Congress.

The project was a study on the Noyyal river and the resulting pollution of soil and water along 70 kms of the river belt. In a way, it sparked a fire in us to go all the way to ensure its revival. We did a simple test by growing 5 different plants in water from a well near the river and from tanks.

We also took water samples from the area around our university. We then took water samples from each tank and headed to Coimbatore Agricultural University where results proved that the water was heavily contaminated with dyeing agents, and that the Ph value of the water far exceeded normal levels for even minimal life.”

The spunky youngsters next connected the concerned Government bodies and informed them about the issue.

They got across to the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board, addressed a letter to the chief minister’s cell, and even met with the mayor of Tirupur. “In 2011, the Madras high court passed an order to have all dyeing units shut down in Tirupur.”

“It took us almost two years of taking samples, doing tests and educating people on the issue, but it taught us a lot too,” said Keerthana.

An Interesting Fact - Charlie Chaplin look-alike contest -

American around 1915, Charlie Chaplin look-alike contests became a popular form of entertainment. (Actually, the competitions were really contests to see who could imitate the "tramp" character popularized by Chaplin, as few people would have recognized Chaplin himself without his familiar costume, moustache, and makeup.) A rising young actor/comedian named Bob Hope took first prize in one such contest in Cleveland.

Legend has it that Chaplin himself once entered — and lost — one of these competitions. It is usually said the contest was held in Monte Carlo or Switzerland, and that he came in second or third. (Some versions claim that Chaplin's brother Syd was judged the winner.) Chaplin did indeed fare poorly in a Chaplin look-alike contest, but the competition took place in a San Francisco theater. His final standing is not recorded, although it was noted that he "failed even to make the finals." Chaplin told a reporter at this time that he was "tempted to give lessons in the Chaplin walk, out of pity as well as in the desire to see the thing done correctly."

Corporation to establish 50 parks in added areas

In its effort to bring on a par the added areas with the core city areas, the Coimbatore Corporation has decided to establish 50 parks.

According to Mayor S.M. Velusamy the Corporation will establish the parks in 64 places across the 11 local bodies that became a part of the Coimbatore Corporation.

Corporation Commissioner T.K. Ponnusamy says that the civic body will spend as much as Rs. 5.97 crore to establish the parks and each will cost anywhere between Rs. 6 lakh and Rs. 10 lakh.

The parks that are to be established will come up at vacant lands and reserved sites in the added areas.

Chairman of the Corporation Committee on Education, Parks and Playgrounds R. Shanthamani says that the Committee members at Thursday's meeting submitted their wish list on the establishments of the parks in added areas.

She has forwarded the list to the Mayor and Commissioner for further action.

Mr. Ponnusamy says that North Zone will get 12 new parks, East Zone 17, South Zone 17, Central Zone 6 and West Zone 12.

The Corporation has also initiated efforts to provide underground drainage, storm water drain and a few other facilities to the added areas. It had also initiated efforts to prepare a comprehensive city development plan for both the core and added areas.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Kovai gets its own batgirl as local girl champions bats


Imagine a bat suddenly whizzing past your head, barely missing you just because it can detect ultrasonic waves from you! Most people freak out, imagine horrific Dracula-esque scenes, scream and run for their lives.
But Shriranjani Iyer from Coimbatore welcomes them with open arms — bats are her best friends.

The 12th grader from Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan School has made it her mission to care for these winged nocturnal creatures; a passion that has seen her work on a project for Pterocount — the South Asian Bat Monitoring programme for environmentalists and biologists that aims to create awareness on bat conservation.

Says Shriranjani, “I contributed data on bat population and their dietary patterns to Pterocount. My research predominantly focused on the Indian Flying Fox (Pteropus giganteus).

Sanjay Moulur, the Director of the Zoo Outreach Organisation helped me a lot. I explored roosts all over the city's parks, and ones along the Mettupalayam, Avinashi and Karur routes as well.

” She goes on, “Bats have always fascinated me, right from when I was a kid. Everybody believes silly myths about them and gets frightened, no one cares enough to actually observe how wondrous they are!”

So what about bats is so interesting? “Well, for a start, they are of great help in seed dispersal, aiding in 90% of pollination. Being insectivorous, they help with pest riddance in fields.

Also, contrary to popular belief, they groom themselves perfectly and are not unclean or poisonous. Some even think they're blind- that's ridiculous as they have great vision which helps their nocturnal nature.

They are mysterious mammals though, and not too much more is known about them, that makes me even more curious!”, she quips.

Shriranjani did have a chance to get up close and personal with her favourite mammal once. “I was once asked to take care of an injured infant bat left in the zoo without its mother.

I fed and cleaned it, contacted several vets to help me, did all I could .. but unfortunately couldn't save its life. It was an emotional experience. It got me attached even more to this cause.”

An avid-birdwatcher as well, Shriranjani is part of the Salim Ali Ornithology Centre Nature Forum and is frequents spotted around the city with her binoculars, hoping to get a glimpse of some exotic species.

She signs off saying, “I spend a lot of time watching programs on Nat Geo and Discovery, reading online journals or interacting with like-minded community members on Facebook all over the world. I hope to continue my research and aid in wildlife conservation after school as well.”