Two complete strangers with puzzled looks on their face cross each other, A politician with her supporters shouting slogans, a student frantically running away from his professor, an NRI, a yelling tv reporter – all trying to figure out, What is India’s biggest problem? This was also the name of the play that was first enacted on stage back in 1995.In its 25th year, it was only apt that the then volunteers came together to enact the play again.
Inaction of the people in the face of problems turns out, is the biggest problem. Association For India’s Development or simply the acronym AID (aidindia.org) was organized to challenge this status quo via Sangarsh, Nirman and Seva. This theme of AID was evident very much during the 3 day conference attended by over 220 people from 3 countries including India, UK and US in the form of the talks that were organized, the discussions that followed and the spirit with which the conference was hosted and participated.
The Keynote speakers: There are talks and then there are talks that force you to unlearn and learn, question and doubt, think and rethink. While detailed notes of the talks are still being worked on, a few one liners that capture the essence of the talks
- Obalesha asks “Why is Swach Bharat, despite spending hundreds of crores doesn’t talk about the safai karmacharis and most importantly manual scavenging?”
- Thenmozhi asks “Why are the words Dalit and untouchability targeted to be removed from the textbooks?
- Medha Tai warns “If the height of the dam is raised 17mts, then the flooding will be enough to drown everything from DC to Philly”
- Balaji urges “Education is not just about reading the ABC’s but it’s also about becoming confident and feeling good about oneself”
- Hiremath provokes “Be it the mining mafia or the land grabbers, we need to look them in the eye and confront and challenge them”
- Ashish & Kamayani reveal “MNREGA guarantees 100 days of work, but since there is no auditing and accountability, people don’t get work but the money’s already spent and when people do work, they don’t get the money”
- Kiran ponders “The problems of farmers aren’t problems for farmers alone, they are everyone’s problems and this connection needs to happen”
- Geetha Amma shocks “Bonded labor is still a shocking reality where hundreds of thousands of people are still languishing with no respite”
- Rachna skypes “Bhopal Gas Disaster was not only the worst industrial disaster in 1980’s, it still continues to be a disaster several decades later because DowChemicals refuses to own up its responsibility. The question is should we refuse to own our responsibility too?”
AID Cincinnati brought the issues of a landless farmer in a very poignant drama, the Court with a few good men, AID and Me continued to entertain and bring out laughter even towards the end of a long day, the kids performances, the auctioning of the kids work
Oh wait, yes Kids, where were they while all the talks were happening and what did they do? What were they up to?
Take a guess. Right, the kids had their own conference. The kids conference started much earlier, on Friday itself, where they had activities, ice breaking sessions and also interaction with all the guest speakers. They reflected on the current social issues and presented their ideas to tackle them.
The food and the collaborations:
Handling the food logistics for over 200 people 3 times a day and then repeat that for 3 days requires a great deal of planning, coordination and hard work. I witnessed that live in action during the conference. With volunteers encouraged to bring their own cups and plates, a great attempt was made towards zero waste.
The eatable spoons certainly contributed to this attempt. Oh almost forgot, the food was definitely different with quite a bit of variety and it was tasty.
Obviously food breaks were not just about food. It was about informal interactions, conversations that led to some great ideas and future collaborations. Not only did the volunteers enjoyed these interactions, even our guest speakers.
Geetha Amma potentially working with Balaji, Obalesh working with Hiremath and hopefully more was indeed a great feature of the conference.
Ravi was at his hilarious best taking all of us down the memory lane, reliving every moment of how it all started. The first meeting to the first cultural problem to the first T-Shirt to the first logo, many of these incidents were truly the first time many of us had heard.
As the conference reached its end, volunteers started to leave and I could hear the goodbyes and the saw the shake hands and the friendly hugs. The corridors and the hallways, which were very often the meeting ground for many, now began to feel very empty. The well designed posters on the walls started to come off.
If there was one thing that didn’t seem to wear off and never got tired, that was the enthusiasm and cheerfulness of Dr B.
At the end of each day of the conference, I would ask my 4 year old, what was the best part of the conference. The first day which was mostly driving in and he was cranky, he said “Sitting in the car was the best part”
The end of second day he said “I liked the world at Maryland” and asked me “Can we come back?”
The end of third day he was disappointed and sad that the conference ended so soon and he now had to go back home. Perfectly summarized the way I felt leaving the conference.