Heal the world, Make it a better place

Maheswara Reddy speaks to three women in Karnataka’s capital City who have dedicated themselves to ‘heal the world and make it a better place for you and for me’.

There is ability in disability

Meghana Jois whose mission is to enable visually-challenged and physically-challenged women to become self-reliant received the National Award for the Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities under the category of Best Placement Officer on December 3, 2015, continues to help visually and physically-challenged women from various places in Karnataka.

Initially, Meghana worked for a reputed corporate house for a few years after completing her engineering in Bangalore, but destiny had other plans in store for her. Today, Meghana has become the ray of hope for hundreds of visually-challenged girls from rural areas. With no employment opportunities, lack of encouragement and awareness, these visually-challenged girls were perceived as just a liability for their parents. But Meghana’s efforts and dedicated service helped them to not only become self-reliant but also lead life with dignity.

It all started in 1994, when Meghana’s mother Prasantha, in association with few women of Goraguntepalya, started Prerana, a non-governmental organization for destitute women, poor children and disabled persons. Prasantha managed Prerana without any hassles until her accidental fall which rendered her bed-ridden eight years ago. With nobody to manage Prerana, Meghana had to quit her job and take up the responsibility. “I was working with MetLife after quitting Bosch. I was earning a decent salary there, while my husband was looking after his transport business. I had to quit MetLife to look after the welfare of visually-challenged people. I have been working here for the last six years and I have no regrets about quitting the job as this social work gives me an immense sense of satisfaction,’’ says Meghana.

Prerana, situated on Sonnappa Road at Goraguntepalya, accommodates more than 120 visually-challenged and destitute women. These women are given vocational training and many of them are provided jobs at the nearby garment factories. “I should thank the managements of various garment factories. These girls are being given jobs which include packing, labeling, counting and dusting. Post their placement at these garment factories, we rent a house to accommodate four to five of them. The purpose is to enable them manage their needs on their own,’’ Meghana said.

So far, Prerana has helped 850 visually-challenged girls in securing jobs. Also her efforts have made possible arranged marriages of 26 visually-challenged girls. Maintenance of Prerana depends on the generosity of philanthropists. “So far, we have 60 donors, who sponsor food for 60 days (one donor for one day). We have to struggle to manage food and other amenities for the remaining 305 days in a year. There are some people who donate vegetables. One temple priest has agreed to provide milk used for Pooja of Lord Subramanya. We are confident of managing Prerana with the donors’ co-operation,’’ she says.

How does Meghana feel after receiving the National Award? “I don’t know whether or not I deserved the National Award. This award motivated me to dedicate more time to these unfortunate girls and be more responsible for their welfare. I consider this award as an inspiration for me to work hard for the welfare of the inmates of Prerana,’’ she says.

Contributions to Prerana can be credited to SB A/c No. 54027082483, State Bank of Mysore, Yeshwanthpur branch, IFSC: SBMY0040191.

‘Don’t waste the waste’

Savita Hiremath, has been trying her best to make Bengaluru free of its garbage woes by educating communities on community compost. She also creates awareness among the residents on the importance of segregating waste at source to reduce the dependence on different landfills to dump garbage.

Savita Hiremath, through Endlessly Green, a tiny ecosystem, has been working on waste management since 2011. She is very happy with the community’s response to her initiative. A journalist by profession since 1997, she has worked with Deccan Herald, The Times of India, and The New Indian Express. She loves to write on women's and Dalits' issues, HIV/AIDS, and environment.

Her community (the residents of the apartment complex where she is residing), especially the management committee, was extremely supportive and gave her all the freedom she needed to experiment with various composting methods. All of them took great pride in being a self-sustaining community which did not depend on outsiders to clear their garbage. Everyone knew how other apartments were suffering due to harassment by contractors.

“Above all, we took pride in the fact that we weren’t contributing to the Mavallipura or Mandur landfill mess. The documentation began because I knew many passionate people wanted to establish a robust waste management system for their own community but didn’t know how to go about it. I had my own bitter experience of failing to understand what would work best for a 202-strong community. I began writing my own experiences and this eventually led to documenting the existing large-scale composting models. After I wrote a few articles, the work started getting recognized,” she narrates.

When asked how many residential apartment complexes have adopted the method of community compost, she said that it would be a bit hard to answer. “Although some communities like Brigade Regency in Malleswaram, began composting even before the landfill crisis started, several others took to it when the crisis was at its peak and thereafter. The apartments built around 2007 and after have their own composting units as it was mandated by the law. In all these cases, one particular method has been implemented for composting. However, I felt that people should have a choice as one solution doesn’t fit all the communities. This was another reason why the documentation has been useful,’’ she said.

On Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike’s (BBMP’s) response, she said the BBMP, on its official website, says that bulk generators must have their own in-situ composting units and process their waste all by themselves.

“However, the need of the hour is to investigate and recognize all the efficient systems and let people choose whichever suits their budget and space constraints instead of just recommending one method,’’ she opines.

According to her, quite a few residents' welfare associations (RWAs) have been showing interest in community composting. Many RWAs have been segregating waste and composting successfully. For instance, Ashwthnagar in Ward 35 has been doing it for years and Kalyannagar for 15 years now. Koramangala 3rd block has its own efficient system. In North Bangalore, Amruthanagar and Vidyaranyapura have their own systems in place. In Yelahanka at least, ward-level composting concept is also catching up.

Many RWAs have realized that it would make greater sense to have a decentralized system in place instead of sending out precious organic waste for land filling. This is something you can see happening only in Bengaluru

Is it viable for residential areas (excluding residential apartment complexes) such as Halasuru, Indiranagar, Krishna Raja Puram?

Yes, all it needs is a little space with a roof and a shredder which will greatly reduce the volume of the waste and also speed up composting. “We have quite a few aerobic composting methods which can be used to process waste from a few hundred houses at once. When done scientifically and in the specified manner, there will absolutely be no odor or mosquito problems,’’ she narrates.

She opines that wherever experiments have failed in Bangalore, they are mainly because of bad planning and execution. “I am part of a project in Harohalli (Yelahanka) where waste from around 100 houses is being composted successfully and this has silenced some critics around. We are now trying to scale it up to more houses. There are success stories all around. We just need to mainstream this brand of sustainability,’’ she says with hope and confidence.

Waste not, want not

Vani Murthy has been spearheading the campaign on how to keep Namma Bengaluru clean for the last nine years. A resident of Malleswaram, Vani has been associated with Solid Waste Management Round Table (SWMRT), to create awareness among the residents, especially home-makers in the city on the importance of segregating waste at source and converting kitchen waste into compost.

It all began when Vani decided to involve children at the residential apartment complex, where she has been residing, in converting kitchen waste into compost in 2009. “I wanted them to spend their summer vacation by contributing something for the city. I told them that we can manage the waste on our own and there is no need to dump it on the streets or at vacant places. Their response was very positive,’’ she recalls.

Generally, it would be very difficult to catch up with Vani since she is busy in attending one or the other programme on solid waste management either at a school or an institution or even at residents’ welfare association.

She believes in practicing what she preaches to others. The roof-top garden full of herbs, fruits and fresh vegetables on the rooftop is a testimony of it. When asked how she is managing all these activities that require lot of patience and dedication, “If you have a commitment towards a particular work, you will do it with dedication. I love to educate people on how to convert kitchen waste into compost,’’ she said.

The Solid Waste Management Round Table has launched a campaign on converting the kitchen waste into compost. Swachagraha is an initiative which focuses on three points – compost, grow and cook. “We want to reach out to as many as possible through this programme to make them take a pledge to compost kitchen waste and use it as compost,’’ she said.

According to her, the campaign goes beyond composting and wants residents of Bangalore to use compost to grow vegetables, since farmers use pesticides. “To have pesticide-free vegetables, green spots can be made at homes and schools too. To encourage school children, green spots have been made on the school premises. We told the students to bring kitchen waste from their homes in Tiffin boxes (not in plastic carry bags) to put in a drum (green spot) to convert it into compost,’’ she said.

She believes that garbage menace can be mitigated if there is determination and commitment to segregate waste at source and convert it into compost. “By doing this, we can keep surroundings clean and also reduce burden on the Bruhat Bangaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) which is struggling to find a permanent solution to the garbage woes,’’ she said.

In early 2012, she started a community initiative in Malleswaram called ‘We Care for Malleswaram’. We Care for Malleswaram organises road shows and interactive exhibits on waste and its management in Malleswaram and other neighborhoods.

According to Vani, We Care for Malleshwaram’ consists of people who want environment free from all types of pollution. “We discuss various issues like composting and create solutions like greening our homes and more. We also go out for movies and lunch together and are a close bunch of gals!” says the Ambassador of Swach Sarvekshan.

“It starts with people. If people care we can solve Bangalore’s garbage issues in no time,” she says.

All social functions held in her house are completely pro-green. “I use steel plates, cups and glasses to serve food, snacks, coffee or tea to the guests at home. Whenever I go out there is a spoon, plate and a steel straw in my bag!” she signs off with a smile.

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