Thursday, July 14, 2011

RWH at Dandiganihalli village

A group of volunteers from Canada came down and helped build a rainwater harvesting system in a government school at Dandiganihalli village, rural Karnataka. Representing "Operation Groundswell" ( they approached us through Asha and Tim of Animus Consultancy and Services, Bangalore.

Sanjana, Tammy, Adrianna and Rachael: Some of the volunteers

The government primary school at Dandiganihalli village, Karnataka

The school itself has a very poor supply of water in terms of quantity and quality. Supplied only every 3-4 days teachers say that the water is too "salty" to be used for drinking and cooking, in other words it has a high content of minerals.

To cook the mid-day meals, school staff actually source water from surrounding neighbours who in turn get their water from outside borewells which are not so "salty" - there is no sustainable drinking/cooking water supply to this school.

The volunteers from Canada chose to build a rooftop rainwater collection system since this would go a long way in alleviating the plight of the school children and staff. Kids currently bring their drinking water from home while instead they could easily drink rainwater. More over a study has shown that the groundwater is afflicted with fluoride, so even the "sweet" tasting water is in effect contaminated.

In such a scenario substituting the regular water supply with rainwater will yield great benefits. For one, the school staff and cooks do not need to go outside the school to get water for cooking, since they will have stored rainwater right in the school itself.
Secondly, even the students can drink rainwater and be saved from the ill effects of consuming fluoride contaminated water.

Playtime at Dandiganihalli Government Primary School

Our main work was building the rainwater tank and it took us 8 days to do this, along with all the other work.
The first 3 days were spent just digging a hole in the ground.. a large one! This was about 11 feet long by 9 feet wide and 6 feet deep and would prove to be the resting place for our final sump tank.

Start digging

Rachael..happy to be carrying mud :)

Once the digging finished, the team began work on the filter and also started building the actual storage (sump) tank for which there was a lot of brick laying involved.

Rainwater filter

Sump tank foundation and first course of bricks

Mr Ramakrishnappa - the key point person for this project

At work

After a hard days work

Alongside laying the bricks, we began work on the piping ie connecting all the roofwater pipes in a way that they finally lead to the sump tank. For the given roof area of 200 sq mts, the appropriate sump tank size that we built was 10,000 litres.

Once the bricks were done, the sump tank was plastered from the inside with a coat of water proof plaster and finally we cast the cover. To make a cover, the workers prepared a temporary support called as "centering" and covered this with layers of paper, cement and wet cow dung. On top of this was poured wet concrete. The cow dung played an important role in ensuring that the concrete we poured did not "bind" with the supporting structure below.

Almost done

Sump tank cover - applying cow dung

By the eighth day we had finished pretty much all the work including painting the filter. On 24th June, the school arranged for a small farewell function where various locals expressed their thoughts and gratitude for the project. Mr Vishwanath of the Biome Trust spoke about the project and demystified rainwater harvesting for the kids. The students on their part put up a small dance program and gave gifts to the volunteers.. all in all a fun evening!

Painted filter

Operation Groundswell India

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Rain water and fun with children at the Ramachandra Mission

Sri Ram Chandra Mission in Banashankari had organized a 3 day summer camp for about 80 children (7-14 years). The theme for the camp was "Nature and I" and we interacted with the children on the subject of water. Farmland Rainwater Harvesting brought in their van with a working model of the rainwater harvesting system. Interacting with children was fun - we spoke on all topics - water, sewage, treatment systems, cost of water, conservation, lakes - the same stuff that we speak about to the adults too. It all seemed to make perfect sense to them as well.

We also went around the campus - identifying the sump, borewell, downpipes, possibilities for rainwater harvesting, water bill. Its always much nicer when you are outdoors - seeing stuff - moving around. Should put together (already exists for the most part) a small/easy do-it-yourself model for demonstrating a sand filter, tippy tap and ground water recharge.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Audit of Blind School

As some of you may know, in August 2010 Biome in collaboration with Kilikili and Artist Sanjay Singh, created a mural at the Shree Ramana Maharishi Academy for the Blind (SMRAB), Bangalore. A group from Auroville and design student Nachiappan also created several other play spaces incorporating sound as a stimulus for the blind students. The details of all these can be viewed here:

Few weeks back Kilikili decided to go back and review the project to see how it was faring. The idea of this audit was to:
1. To understand how the play equipments are being used by the children in SRMAB
2. To understand how much the play equipments are contributing to enhancing the education and recreation of the children.
3. To understand how the equipments have fared and what have been the issues needing correction.
4. To understand our major learnings for replication.
5. To assess the utility, durability, usage and popularity of the equipment

Understanding the above would help us in future projects.

The Audit team, consisted of Mr Sampathkumar, a volunteer with Kilikili and senior executive at Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), Nachiappan, the artist who designed most of the sound installations, and Karan from Biome. The team interacted with:

1.Ms Geetha Lakshmi, teacher and sister of Late Tirumoorthy (one of the founders); at length
2.Mr. Srinivasan, founder; briefly
3.A few teachers and support staff – briefly
4.Dharma – A student dancer who had visited US as part of dance troupe; at length
5.Students – over lunch; briefly

The team in addition looked at the training material used – such as marble board to teach Braille, Braille slate to write; various items used to teach texture, shape, size, etc

The feedback we got is as follows:

Textured surfaces

1. Braille Mural
This is quite useful especially for the younger kids (classes 1-4). The current mural has letters in a jumbled order i.e. not in the sequence of ABCD etc and there was a mixed feedback on this. For students who have just learned Braille it could prove to be a little confusing, but for those who know it well, it acts as a nice challenge/test. One of the thoughts was that perhaps we can have both – an “orderly” mural for learning and another jumbled one for fun. But on the whole feed back is good; children often just touch it even as they pass by.

Braille Mural

2. Elephant slide
They play a lot on this and can be left unattended. As a matter of fact, in all the play spaces – old and new, the children are left more or less unguided and manage on their own. Their sense of boundary is very strong and they don't really stray out of the school. The fact that they are quite unguided came as a bit of surprise since in the regular play area there are the kind of structures one would imagine are difficult for blind children to negotiate. These are like the ones we find in normal parks with ladder – like steps (pic below). But apparently all children, including the youngest manage it.

The steps leading upto the slide have two handrails on either side – one in metal and another of concrete. On the metal railing, we had installed some bells but these are gone. The idea was that the bells make musical sounds and let kids know when they are at the top step, as a safety measure. However we find that it is not really required and the children figure it out on their own. The metal handrail was not anchored properly on the top and on the whole they felt that the cement banister was enough. The concrete handrail did show a crack.

Within the slide, there is a small “cove” where children duck in and out (pic below). This is also hugely popular and perhaps will be nice to have more such spaces. We asked if there is any danger of them bumping their heads and so on, but the teacher (Geetha Lakshmi) assured us that this doesn't happen.

Regular playspaces

Elephant slide

3. Shapes wall
This is popular and children play here a lot. The top of this structure is textured and at one point there are some stones (pic) which we thought might be a minor hazard in terms of hurting the kids. However the teacher tells us that the children actually warn each other about this patch of stones, so in a sense it encourages co-operation among them. One idea was to combine this with an outdoor seating space.

Shapes wall

Stone patch

Textured surface

Aural equipment

1.Tubular bells (xylophone)
This is well appreciated and children play with it everyday. The mallet can be shaped differently to suit the children. In terms of maintainence, this needs to be restrung every 8 months or so.

Tubular bells

2. Sound strip
This is hugely popular but due to over enthusiasm and vigorous tugging, a lot of them have broken off. Definitely a desirable item but the durability aspect needs to be looked into. But the structure was intact and two of the items (shells and bamboo) were still serviceable. Teachers also love it but they have to be made more durable, perhaps secured with chains. Might also be better to have them indoors.

Sound strip

3. Gas Cylinder (metal drum)
The carved out gas cylinders are not quite as popular as the sound strip. One of the reasons could be that it is a little difficult to elicit a musical sound from these and requires some hard work. Having said that these did show signs of wear and tear indicating that it is being used to some extent. They are used more by the older and partially sighted kids. To make these more appealing, perhaps the children can be actually shown how to use them. Also while mallets had been provided, they did not last too long. Having strong mallets will help. One advantage of the metal drums is that they are very long lasting and if it can be somehow modified to capture the children's imagination that will be great.

Metal drum made from gas cylinder – signs of wear and tear indicating some usage


1. Swing cum see-saw
This was not used as the rope had given way a few weeks after its installation. It is popular but some design and safety aspects need to be looked into. One problem was of children hitting their heads on the pole. The pulleys also showed rusting. Inverting the hook to avoid injury is to be considered.

Swing cum see-saw

2. Turtles
These are not really popular since they are too low and have rough edges - only the partially sighted children enjoy these. One thought was that perhaps if it was a little higher then it might work since squatting or kneeling cannot be done for any length of time. The turtles themselves are quite richly textured but for some reason have not captured the children's imagination.

Metal turtles

We were told that in general, children up to age of 12 enjoy the items; older children prefer to play cricket with the special ball meant for blind.

Overall, the same set of play items can be used as basis while doing the second project with appropriate modifications to suit the age of children and the space constraints.

Conversation with Dharma – student dancer

Dharma has been dancing for number of years now and is a former student of the school. He can see partially and knows different dance forms like Bharatnatyam, Kuchipudi, folk and Deepa Jyoti (the one done with fire).
He performs on a professional basis and has visited the USA as part of a 3 month tour wherein he performed at Washington DC, Chicago, Tampa (Florida), New York, San Francisco and many more cities. Yes he rattled off a list of places that pretty much covered the entire country!
These are rehearsed performances so we asked him how do they manage if the stage size is different from the one he is used to? Dharma claimed that this is not a problem - they just take measurements and get a feel of the space beforehand.
We asked him if it was cold there and he said yes it was, but they returned just around the time that winter was setting in.
Wherever they went, the Telugu association gave them all the support; food was not a problem. They did more of folk dance and performances were generally 2 hours.
He now teaches dance at the SMRAB and is also pursuing his graduation by correspondence.

Conversation with the gardener

There is a small nursery/garden area where the kids also play. The gardener said that playing with mud and gardening gives the children immense pleasure. We asked them if guiding the kids is a problem, for instance while planting how do they know where to place the plant? Whereupon he showed us a bunch of saplings that had been planted by them and these were absolutely ordered and symmetrical.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Walt Disney employees volunteer at Accept Society

On 17th December, 10 employees from Walt Disney Company India Pvt Ltd participated in a volunteer effort at the Accept Society, a HIV care centre located on the outskirts of Bangalore. Biome had already implemented a rainwater harvesting project at Accept India in 2009 ( )

When Walt Disney approached us via CMS Environment to help out with their volunteer activity, we felt that this would be a perfect opportunity to do some maintenance and clean-up at this site

Prior to the actual date, Ms Sajitha of Walt Disney along with Karan from Biome visited the site to determine what exactly could be done. After having a look around and speaking with Mr Samuel (the in-charge at Accept Society), we decided on the following:

1.Cleaning and painting of filters: The rainwater filters we have installed here are in the form of large masonry chambers in which the various filter media like stones, gravel and charcoal are placed. These need to be cleaned every now and again for effective functioning. The filters at Accept are fairly large so we felt that this itself would be a major task for the volunteers. We also decided to paint them different colours.

2.Cleaning the storm water drains: Part of the rainwater on the campus is directed to a “recharge well” which helps replenish the groundwater. The channels which feed into this, often tend to get filled with silt, twigs and leaves. Cleaning them would be another task.

Recharge well

On the appointed day, the volunteers along with Karan and Aswathy from Biome assembled at the site by 11 AM. Walt Disney was represented by 10 people including the country head who is actually based in Mumbai but happened to be in town at that time.
At the outset, Mr Samuel showed us around the facility and explained in detail the highly commendable work they are doing. The Accept society has a testing centre along with about 40 hospital beds for the patients. They provide essential nursing and medical facilities and have an orphanage for the children of people who don't make it.

The group divided itself up with some tackling the storm water drain cleanup while others focused on cleaning the filters.

At around 1 PM we broke for lunch which had been arranged by Walt Disney. Post lunch we put in another one and a half hours of work to complete painting the filters.

A special thanks to Ms Sajitha of Walt Disney, Mr Samuel of Accept India and Ashwini of CMS Environment for helping co-ordinate the entire activity.