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Report Dated June 5, 2016 11:20 AM
Summer is a busy season for Ashraf Thamaraserry, an Ajman-based social worker, who has been voluntarily helping repatriate dead bodies from the United Arab Emirates.
Recently, when the husband of an Indian Consulate staffer died of pneumonia, the consulate official sought his help to speed up the repatriation of her husband’s body.
Similarly, a 42-year old Chinese man died of heart attack and a Chinese woman approached Ashraf seeking his help to repatriate the dead body.
Ashraf using sign language, as he does not speak Chinese, helped with the repatriation of the deceased Chinese.
Ashraf says there is no language barrier to communicate with the bereaved family members, because they all speak one language – what they need in such a situation.
“They want help with the speedy processing of documents from police, hospitals, embalming centres, cargo and airlines.”
“This May (2016), I have helped with repatriation of 13 dead bodies. The summer is a season of heart attacks and many heart attack cases are reported when the temperature goes up,” he said.
Ashraf said he has helped repatriate over 3,320 dead bodies from 30 plus countries and with 600-plus local burials in the UAE.
“Earlier, I did not keep all the details. Now, I keep a copy of the death certificate, the cargo and airline tickets and other certificates,” he said.
Most of the dead bodies that he has repatriated belong to Indians and Pakistanis. Dead bodies of other nationalities from Europe, America, China and Middle East are also included in his list of the dead.
‘The Man who Embraced the Dead’ written by Mrithyuvin Karam Pidichhu, was recently launched in Dubai on Ashraf.
The sketch of Ashraf’s life in the book published by Dubai-based Chiranthana Publishers says he was a truck driver in Saudi Arabia for a few years, and in Ajman he used to ride a cycle to reach his office. Today, he runs a garage in Ajman, but much of his time is devoted to helping repatriate the dead.
A movie is also planned about this real life hero.
Report Dated February 25, 2016 6:58 PM
A financial consultant from Sharjah, UAE is helping turn the lives of women in a northern Indian village around by appointing teachers to school them in languages and mathematics.
Called “Appi ka centre” (elder sister’s centre) by the students – many of whom dropped out of school – the classes are held daily in the homes of teachers funded by Shazia Kidwai.
“It is amazing to watch the confidence on a girl’s face once she realises she can read,” said Ms Kidwai, who spends her holidays in Badagaon village in Uttar Pradesh to keep tabs on the girls’ progress. She also supervises their reading and writing tests.
“My first objective was to make them literate. Now many want to go to college. To see girls picking up a newspaper and reading gives me satisfaction,” she said.
“They may not read the main news and may only want to know what [Bollywood star] Katrina Kaif is doing. Still, it’s a start.”
The girls are taught English, Hindi, Urdu and maths with colourful posters on the alphabet and numbers tacked on the walls.
For some, it is their first classroom experience.
Dozens of girls and women have enrolled for high school after attending the free classes that Ms Kidwai started in 2010.
Thirty-two girls and women between 12 and 26 years of age attend the classes, which Ms Kidwai funds with her personal savings and her family’s support.
It has been a challenge convincing Indian parents that it was better to educate a potential breadwinner than to have them work as a farm labourer or handloom weaver.
Girls tended to marry young, meaning their attendance was not consistent. Nevertheless, Ms Kidwai was undaunted in promoting the benefits of education.
India’s national literacy rate is 74 per cent, but in her home state of Uttar Pradesh the literacy rate for women is 59 per cent.
She started the classes to help raise the standards of young Muslim girls in villages nearby.
Schools in many parts of India are located away from villages, making parents apprehensive about having their daughters cycle or take the bus to school.
Ms Kidwai said her meetings with parents and children during her visits home gave her the idea to hold classes in villages.
Seema Khan, 20, is one of five teachers who instruct small classes of up to six students.
“Some have to be taught to colour between the lines. Some can’t write and have always used their thumbprint instead of signing documents,” said Ms Khan.
“Then they learn the alphabet, learn to sign their name and are so proud of themselves.
“The girls would say they have housework to do or shawls to embroider. We ask them to spare a few hours to learn something new.”
Women from nearby villages now approach the teachers to set up classes in their village.
“If these village level personal classes work and spread, it will improve the girls’ confidence,” said Khursheed Jehan, a retired principal of a nearby high school.
“We try our best to encourage the girls so that they don’t give up studying.
“Whether they are 18 or older, they can still get back into school. They should realise that they need not stop studying because of their age – that education is a lifelong pursuit.”
Courtesy : The National
Report Dated January 14, 2016 6:35 PM
In a world inundated with gadgets, technology and virtual reality, getting kids interested in simple pleasures like reading a book can be a mammoth task. But Nishita Bhayani, the Dubai-based children’s author of Expi Elephant travels to Dubai, and Expi Elephant travels to India, seems to have come up with a solution.
“I think you have to make a book more interesting than just the book – you have to have something else with it, like a song, a play, some role play, games, or an activity book! Once you have a central character and it’s popular, children always need something else.”
Nishita, who plans to launch a new book in the Expi Elephant series at the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature in March, believes festivals like this are integral in creating and maintaining a reading habit.
“I think it’s a really important event in Dubai for children where you actually get to meet authors and participate in workshops,” she said.
TRAVELLING THE WORLD
In Nishita’s books, the central character Expi the Elephant travels to different places, learning about new cultures and has fun in the process. The stories mirror the author’s real life experiences in some ways, she said. “I chose the first book to be about Dubai because I’m based there. India obviously because I’m of Indian origin. The third book in the series sees Expi off to Kenya, because I’m Kenyan born and still have family there. The fourth book will be set in France, because I grew up in the UK and we had some lovely school trips to France which I have wonderful memories of. And since I decided to have Expi visit one place in each continent, I chose Hawaii for the last book because I felt the Polynesian culture is very colourful and the illustrations would be amazing, what with the hula dancers and everything.”
EXPI’S PICTURE PERFECT JOURNEY
Nishita was first inspired to write while still in the UK. “I used to work in marketing but after I had my children, it was extremely hard to continue with those hours. My mother suggested I do a learning support assistant course and to get the diploma, I worked for Orley Farm School in Harrow and the Learning Tree Montessori in Wembley Park. I really enjoyed working with children, and when my children’s school friends used to come home – I used to tell them stories, which they really enjoyed. And then once my children were a little older and we shifted to Dubai, I worked at GEMS Wellington School, and Jumeirah Primary School. I also worked for a year at JPS in the library and do storytelling sessions – I’d do different voices, make very interactive sessions, and to add that extra bit I’d bring a couple of things from home to show the children.”
And how did Expi the Elephant come about? “I researched the character for about six months. I really had no clue as I’d not written a book before. I wanted a character that had alliteration in it because that’s easier to remember, and it had to be an international name. So basically I wrote down the alphabet A to Z and wrote down three names to each letter. And then I researched every single name on that list and finally I came up with Expi Elephant!”
The illustrations in the Expi Elephant series are by Leilani Coughlan, who Nishita met in Dubai. “She had designed the logo for my beauty salon, and when she mentioned her background in illustration I told her all about Expi Elephant and things took off from there.”
Nishita said the books are just part of what she wants to achieve.
“I felt travel books for children would be able to teach them in a very fun way facts about different countries, about different cultures, nationalities and songs, and bring people together. And I love doing my work not just for the books but with song and role play in mind – that’s a very important part of the work that I want to do and what I would like to give back to children.”
She also has big plans for Expi. “I want to make it into a big success and make Expi into an international brand that one day will be recognised in Orlando, at Walt Disney World or Pixar, that would be my biggest break ever.”
Report Dated August 24, 2015 7:02 PM
Call it a blessing in disguise, but losing her job as a science communicator last year has changed Tasmania-based Sonia Singh’s mission in life completely. It gave her some time, while applying for other jobs, to work on a creative project she had dreamed up. Now she is successfully running a venture called Tree Change Dolls and has also embarked on a social mission.
Born and brought up in the beautiful and natural environs of Tasmania, the southernmost island state of Australia, Sonia, along with her four sisters, loved playing with dolls as a child.
“We loved taking our toys, including our collection of mostly second-hand dolls, outside to play in the garden, the bush and at the beach. Our mother taught us to knit, sew and paint. Even as small children we would make our own toys as well as design clothes for our dolls,” she said.
“It is important for children to spend time outdoors amid nature, which helps brings out their innate creativity.”
But then as happens with all children, Sonia’s growing-up days were more about focusing on studies and dolls were given the short shrift. “It was in September 2014, following a series of Australian government funding cuts to science research organisations that I lost my job with the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation [CSIRO] Education. So, besides looking for work I took the opportunity to start an innovative task.”
Sonia loves visiting markets that sell seconds; Op shops and Tip shops, where she likes to look for different toys for her young daughter. “I believe that children do not need new toys all the time. There is a lot of value in reusing and exchanging older toys and being a bit creative with them.”
On such visits, Sonia often noticed a lot of discarded fashion dolls in the shops, and decided to see if she could give them a new lease of life by restyling them to look more like real children – something similar to dolls she would have loved to play with as a child.
“The first time I repainted the doll’s face and gave her new clothing and new shoes, I was very surprised to see the change I could make. I kept my ‘doll project’ secret at first, as I was embarrassed to be spending time on dolls as a 34-year-old rather than applying for jobs. But when I showed them to my friends and family, they were amazed.”
Putting her creativity to good use, Sonia began reconditioning the dolls by restyling their faces. “I removed the factory paint and repainted their faces, giving them a more natural look and down-to-earth style. I even made clothes for the first group of dolls that I had acquired, but later my mother offered to make clothes for them. And we put them up in the garden,” she says.
“My husband John loved the set-up and suggested I post photographs of the dolls online. With encouragement from him, I created my Tree Change Dolls Tumblr blog and shared photos of the dolls with my Facebook friends.”
She was surprised at the attention her dolls attracted. “I found my work going viral within days. While journalists from all over the world wanted to do news stories on the dolls, thousands of messages poured in from people wanting to buy my dolls. It was amazing to find that my pretty simple dolls had triggered a global conversation about the suitability and style of some children’s toys.”
Overwhelmed by the response, without delay, Sonia set up the website www.treechangedolls.com.au. Explaining the idea behind the name, she said: “The term ‘tree change’ in Australia means moving from the city to the countryside for a relaxed environment. John and I discussed several names, but somehow both of us liked this one. And it worked.”
“Through my online shop, I began selling my dolls. Now, every few weeks, I post a group of dolls for sale. To date, the prices have ranged from A$75 (US$ 55) to A$260 for each doll depending on the amount of work that has gone into them. Each time I post the dolls online, they sell within seconds. It is basically a lottery to buy one of my dolls. But I am just one artist and can recycle only a limited number of dolls.”
For this reason, the enterprising girl shares tips and provides instructional videos on “how she restyles her dolls”. The thought process that goes into each doll that she restructures is to turn it from a discarded plastic waste to a unique toy. “I want children to have the same feeling that we had, especially when we played with dolls outdoors.”
“My mother and I also sell her knitting patterns for the doll’s clothes online. I receive e-mails and messages daily from families and children who are interested in recreating their own special dolls. We encourage families and children to enjoy the creative fun of restyling their old dolls at home and provide resources to help them do this. My mother too enjoys being part of this incredible experience. She is an expert in sewing and knitting and all the dolls’ clothes are handmade by her.”
If the dolls are missing some parts, Sonia repairs them making new ones. She also fixes their hair by brushing, trimming and styling them.
In a way, she has started a movement. “Every month, I list one charity doll on eBay. All proceeds go towards a social cause. Each doll on average has raised over A$1,000 for the charity. In March, to mark the International Women’s Day, I donated the money raised from the sale to the International Women’s Development Agency. The organisation is immensely supportive to women throughout the Asia-Pacific region.
“In April, the donation went to Tasmania Land Conservancy for protecting the land that is important for biodiversity and protecting endangered species. Interestingly this charity was chosen by local school children when I visited them to give a demonstration of some of my dolls.
“The proceeds for May went to Indian Nobel laureate Kailash Satyarthi’s NGO Global March Against Child Labour, and the amount for June was given to Save the Children, one of Australia’s largest aid and development agencies dedicated to helping children.”
Sonia gets numerous requests to accept dolls as donations. “I refuse such offers, as I have more than enough dolls already in hand.”
Due to the extraordinary demand for her dolls, she is considering expansion of the Tree Change Dolls brand to make her style of dolls available to children across the world in a sustainable and environment-friendly way. “Plastic toys will be around for hundreds of years. It is better that they are played with rather than dumped in some landfill.”
Courtesty : Gulf News
Report Dated August 13, 2015 5:56 PM
Sundararajan Pichai, who was born in Madurai, schooled in Chennai and has now risen to the helm of Google is remembered mostly as a studious boy locally. Fiercely-competitive academically, he used to be a child with a passion “to be at the top,” recount schoolmates and family as the news of his elevation spread in the calm, tree-lined neighbourhood of Ashok Nagar in Chennai. Pichai’s parents RS Pichai and Lakshmi Pichai, are in the US. They called relatives back home in Chennai to deliver the good news. RS Pichai, Sundar’s father, had worked with the English Electric Company of India, which later became AlstomBSE.
People in the neighbourhood say the senior Pichai was a “brilliant” engineer. Pichai’s maternal grandmother Ranganayaki recalled that Pichai had prioritised work over play even during his school days. “He used to play cricket with friends but never let it affect his studies,” she says, standing behind a grilled door reluctant to take further questions. “He hated wasting time,” she said as she disappeared behind a door. The quiet neighbourhood was clearly not accustomed to the sudden media attention.
“Even as a child, Rajesh was focused. He was a child with a plan,” says a help at Pichai’s grandparent’s home, referring to the Google CEO by his childhood name.
Schoolmates say Pichai had a mix of brilliance and academic focus. “He was passionate about math and science, and had a tight circle of friends equally focused on academics.
He was not a problem child. I don’t remember him on the wrong side of law,” says Srividhya Sainathan, who had studied along with Pichai in the neighbourhood school Jawahar Vidyalaya. The principal regretfully admitted she does not remember Pichai, though she had heard of his rise well before the appointment as CEO.
Sainathan remembers a healthy academic rivalry between Pichai and a student Sankara J Subramanian, who is now a professor at IIT-Madras. Subramanian could not be reached for comment.
Pichai had moved on after finishing 10th grade in Jawahar Vidyalaya to a school inside the IIT-Madras campus. Staff of Vana Vani Matriculation Higher Secondary School said they took some time to confirm he was a student in the school before announcing it in the morning assembly, as the teachers in the late 1980s had retired. “It took us sometime to confirm that he is our student. It’s a long period of around 25 years. He studied here in the 1987-89 batch. He attended his 11th and 12th here and people barely remember him. All teachers of that time have retired. We had to confirm it through his batchmates that he is an alumni of the school. In records his name is Sundararajan P with father’s name given as Pichai,” said Vice-principal Xavier Sagayanathan.
“We don’t have the details of his contact, because in our alumni register his name is not there. For our golden jubilee celebrations we had contacted all the alumni, but not him because his name was not there in the register,” Sagayanathan recounted. He bagged a seat at IIT-Kharagpur, where he studied metallurgy. He proceeded to Stanford for a master’s in Science and an MBA from The Wharton School.
Pichai is not a talker, but can engage deeply in conversations, says Aravind Vasudevan, his cousin, who is completing his Ph.D in computer science at the Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland. “He is obviously brilliant, but also down to earth. He loves his family and very respectful to elders,” Vasudevan said of Pichai’s personal traits.