Giving up is not an option
A blog by Srinivas Subramanian
My wife asked “what’s so funny?”, when she saw me smiling at the video I was looking at on my cellphone. It was a short clip from the inauguration ceremony of the Rajakatti school. She heard the voice of B.C. Nagesh, Minister of Primary and Secondary education and Sakala Karnataka, praising OSAAT’s will to tackle daunting challenges that no other non-profit organization dares to even talk about. When I showed it to my wife, she gave me that look of “I know where you are going with this”, recalling the time when my kids used to tease me. “Uh oh, watch out! Here comes the famous – where there is a will, there is a way – lecture”. I admit it is still a favorite one-liner that I like to throw in occasionally, and it may sound like a cliche to some, including my kids who heard it quite a few times when they were growing up.
We were practically glued to the TV watching torrential rains pounding hundreds of villages in Karnataka, Maharashtra and other parts of India in August 2019. Rajakatti is one of the affected villages in North Karnataka. Shaking our heads in disbelief, we had felt the shock, the pain, and the helplessness of people who were stranded in villages completely under water, some for as long as 2 weeks before the floods started receding slowly. What was left behind was total devastation of homes, businesses, schools, hospitals, places of worship, where there once were bustling communities full of life.
Discussing the situation in those early days of flooding with my fellow OSAAT volunteers, one thing was clear. The news channels were continuously covering the devastation and it was quite clear that the floods had not receded completely in many places. But Kishore Kumar and Gundu Rao were ready to drop everything they were doing, to go with me and visit the flood affected villages. None of us paid much attention to the potential dangers of more rains, more flooding, and swarms of mosquitoes spreading the dreaded malaria and dengue. It is definitely not the kind of sacrifice that is expected of volunteers like us. But, we just couldn’t sit back and wait. So, in August 2019, Srisha and I visited more than 20 flood affected schools and in September 2019, Gundu Rao and I visited another 20 flood affected schools.
As much as we wanted to jump in and start somewhere, anywhere, we had to wait for things to settle down. The government had a huge challenge on its hands and was overwhelmed with the sheer magnitude of rescue and restoration efforts needed. There were bigger unknowns – will people come back and rebuild their lives in villages that had nothing left to salvage? Has the weather pattern changed forever and will it continue to wreak havoc every year? Was the flooding just a fluke or is this the beginning of global warming manifesting itself?
We knew one thing for sure – we had to mobilize funds and have plans in place to help rebuild as many schools as possible. Our proposal review team spent days going through all the data and observations, and shortlisted 10 schools for adoption. Balki and I revisited these 10 schools and finally selected 6 of them that looked promising in terms of efforts vs. return on investment.
In November 2019, OSAAT USA jumped into action and organized “Vidyaadana”, a fundraiser that has now become an annual event to bring together donors interested in adopting and funding OSAAT’s school projects. The donors were presented with all the facts and figures we had gathered on the flood affected schools. It was truly gratifying to see 6 schools in the Belgaum district getting adopted. Donors M.K. Satyaprasad (Bengaluru), Sneha and Keerti Melkote (USA), Vani and Gopal Hegde (USA), Jayanthi and Ravi Girimaji, Krishnaraj Rao (USA), Friends of Cisco and Vanitha Belur (USA), and Amadeus Software Labs India Pvt Ltd., Bengaluru, came forward with their generous contributions without any hesitation.
During the period from November 2019 to February 2020, all I could think of was the endless trips Balki, Gundu Rao, Phaniraj and I made to Rajakatti, Awargola, Katrala, Melavanki, Hubbarawadi and Musaguppi to meet with the school staff, parents and members of the school development and management committees (SDMC). Prasad, Balki and I also met with several decision makers in the education department to get land records, permits and whatever paperwork was necessary. For us, it felt like navigating a huge maze in the dark while being blindfolded.
Harish, Bharadwaj and Srisha were involved in physically and mentally exhausting work of testing the soil conditions, carefully planning and preparing the building designs for each school.
Their meticulousness and attention to the minutest detail are amazing and simply incredible, since they are very serious about getting the maximum out of every penny of donation. “No one should question our judgment. That’s the reason we go the extra mile and explore every possible choice we have with construction methods, materials, quality and quantity.” – says Bharadwaj, who I think can design anything with his eyes closed. Harish adds – “Donors trust us to put their hard-earned money towards a cause that is close to their heart. So, we enjoy challenging each other to come up with the best design for the least amount.”
Just when we thought we are ready to get started, CoVid19 reared its ugly head and threw a monkey wrench into everything we had planned. So, between March and August 2020, our hands were tied. We had no choice but to wait. We saw more rains adding to the misery, forcing us to go back to the drawing board, revise some of our projects and re-negotiate the contracts. As if we didn’t have enough issues to deal with, our onsite warrior Chetan had his bike confiscated when he went out to visit the construction sites, having inadvertently violated the curfew. Sometime in October 2020 we were able to restart the projects.
Once the construction started, the engineering and operations teams faced a few unexpected challenges in the form of objections, questions about their design decisions and doubts that construction costs could actually be cut. Galagali Associates (Hubli) helped us overcome those challenges, by validating all the design decisions our engineering team had made, and clarifying the rationale behind the methodologies chosen.
It took countless visits by the engineering team and vigilant monitoring by Chetan, our on-site engineer, to address all the issues raised. Thanks to their due diligence, the projects kept moving forward smoothly. Project champions Guru Nittur and Phaniraj were in constant communication with the School authorities and SDMC members to ensure all concerns were addressed satisfactorily in a timely manner.
March 2022 marks the successful completion of all 6 school projects and we are pinching ourselves to see if we are dreaming!
“I know how much this means to you” – my wife said, pointing to the video clip. She has stood by me the entire time I have been associated with OSAAT as a volunteer. She knows every story, every anecdote and every heartfelt moment I have experienced while overseeing the successful completion of 50+ school projects to date, including the 6 Belgaum schools. I resisted the urge to say – “I told you – where there is a will, there is a way”, and just gave her a thumbs up and a wink. I hope my blog sheds light on what I do as a volunteer at OSAAT (www.osaat.org). I invite you to explore opportunities to join OSAAT in any way you can. Thank you.
These are photos of an entire village submerged in water during the 2019 flood in Karnataka, and the sad state of devastation many schools were in when OSAAT volunteers visited them.