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Grand Challenges

|Author: Evan P.|


Last week we started working with our partner organizations. My group, Team SELCO, spent our first week visiting different migrant slum and low-income housing communities. This week we have been faced with the task of beginning our project for SELCO, and more dauntingly, starting to define problems within our grand challenge and come up with solutions.


We brainstormed potential problems related to low-income communities and solutions to these problems. We only have 5 weeks left to work on our projects and come up with a final deliverable. This is daunting. How can we expect to make a positive impact in these communities in such a short time? How can we expect to try to solve a grand challenge when we have such little experience in Bangalore, in India, and working with these issues? These are questions that I commonly ask myself.


So far members of SELCO have seemed really excited by our ideas and the impact that we can make. To some of the problems they have mentioned things that members of SELCO have tried, and insights that they have gained about the community and their thoughts on these issues. Because there are people at SELCO who have spent years working 60+ hours a week on these same issues, it has been easy to feel worthless. How can we expect to help them with only 5 weeks, little to no experience, and only 3 full days a week to work on these issues? Optimistically, I would like to think that our world class education at the University of Washington has prepared us for tasks like this, but if we were really prepared why would we be here.


Grand challenges are so hard to wrap your head around. These challenges are grand for a reason. They aren’t supposed to be solved by a single person, and maybe not even by a single generation. In India at times I have felt that no one is working to solve some of their abundant problems, like garbage on the streets, air pollution, and lack of clean water.


During the past month I have been pleasantly reminded that there are in fact many groups that are tackling these issues and are making a lot of progress. Our visit with Hasiru Dala reminded me that people have dedicated their lives to cleaning up garbage and improving the waste management. Julian and the entire ILK team when they aren’t working with us have been working on air pollution research, showing that people care about the air quality, and want to make it better. Our visit with Biome showed us rainwater systems and sewage treatment systems that are extremely efficient and could be implemented on a large scale. The Ugly Indian showed me that people are working hard to clean up and beautify the city. SELCO has showed us all that they are doing to provide low-income families with energy efficient and sustainable building materials to build their homes and improve their living conditions.


This past weekend in Hyderabad we visited Hussain Sagar lake, the largest lake I have seen in India. Much to my dismay, when we got close to the lake we noticed that the shore was covered in garbage and the water looked heavily polluted. We decided to walk along the lake for a few miles and after a few minutes we came upon one of the most heartwarming sites I’ve seen in India. There was a group of people cleaning up the lake, they had two water vehicles, one equipped with an excavator that was picking up piles of trash from the lake bottom and piling it up on shore. The other was equipped with two conveyor belts, one that sifted the trash off the surface of the lake and another that unloaded this trash into piles on the shore. The group of people on the shore then sorted the piled-up trash and loaded it into tractors and took it away.


All the groups that we have met so far have made me optimistic and given me hope that these problems can be solved. Even though we are only here for a short time, we can still make an impact and play a role, however small in the larger task, solving the grand challenges.


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