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The wrong side of the tracks? The charity helping India’s railway children



I’ve been to India many, many times – I even lived and worked there for a time – but even I found the situation at Sealdah Station in Kolkata very intense. Some 2.7 million people pass through the station each day, against a clamorous backdrop of traffic and trade; the streets outside littered with human excrement and other filth.

When we visited in October, the whole city was in full festival swing with the colour, lights and noise of Durga Puja; Kolkata was lit up with makeshift temples and shrines, and thousands of drummers were outside every station. For our cameraman Andy and Rob from the Railway Children charity, it must have been shocking; the full-on rawness of it all is difficult to prepare for.

We were there to make a video (below) to document the charity’s launch of a new model aimed at helping the thousands of children who arrive at India’s railway stations each year, the equivalent of one every five minutes. If we found the place unsettling, these kids must be terrified.

There is a huge problem with street kids here. They leave home for a host of reasons: domestic or sexual abuse, poverty, they are sold by their families, or they are just in search of work in the city. They stay in the station simply because that’s where they arrive by train, or because they can often find shelter and scraps of food among the platforms and stalls.

It’s a very daunting place for kids to end up. Pimps, gangs and people intending to sell them into domestic work will go to stations specifically to find vulnerable children. Railway Children’s mission is to get to these kids before the streets get to them.

Railway Children 2013 from Be Inspired Films on Vimeo.

The charity’s strategy to beat this huge problem is the Child Friendly Station model, which includes the foundation of dedicated booths inside railway stations. These are a referral point for Railway Children to help the child by trying to get them back home, and if that’s not possible, finding them short and long-term care solutions.

Railway Children has brought together stakeholders including the railway police and platform vendors to highlight the problem and ask for their assistance in mobilising the model’s launch in five stations. A greater rollout could potentially make a massive difference, so the charity commissioned us to create a high-impact video to screen at the Railway Ball, an annual fundraising event in London attended by members of the railway industry. The event generates more than £300,000 each year; we hoped our video would help to beat that. (I’ve since heard that the final figure reached £400,000 this year.)

We did a lot of planning in advance with the team in India via Skype, storyboarding the video, arranging access and travel and a hundred other details. First and foremost we had to ensure child protection was maintained throughout the project.

The finished video shows three children (whose names have been changed) and their progress from the platforms of Sealdah Station to Railway Children’s help centres. All of the kids were brilliant – real characters, happy to meet us and patient and cooperative with the filming, even when they were asked to re-do scenes a number of times.

We filmed scenes at drop-in centres, run in partnership with Railway Children, that offer food, shelter and clean clothes as well as lessons in subjects like reading, dance and karate, but their main concern is finding the children’s families. If that’s unsuccessful, the kids move on to long-stay centres that can give them more education and a permanent place to live.

Workers’ face-to-face dealings are sincere, genuine intervention. They are really dedicated to making a difference to kids’ lives and it was heartwarming to see how the kids are getting on with the help of the charity. It’s about bringing together all of the key stakeholders who can make a difference to these vulnerable children and uniting them to provide more intensive, thorough and strategic interventions around railway terminals where children congregate.

In India, nothing happens quickly. Red tape and politics mean that Railway Children’s plans have to be long-term. Things are happening now, but I know it took years of strategic planning to get the partners on board. The charity is taking an innovative approach with its new model that aims to resolve the situation for good.

While some of the project was scary – having my camera spotted while filming in the red light district, for instance, despite having it strapped to my chest – it was also an adventure; an intense and amazing experience. Railway Children’s work and dedication is truly impressive. I hope our film reaches those with the means to help that work go further.

Ravinol Chambers is founder of Be Inspired Films, a Birmingham-based video production company specialising in working with organisations looking to demonstrate positive social impact. Photo courtesy of Andrew Davies.

Further reading:

Philanthropists including Bill Gates praised as India becomes ‘polio-free’

Africa told to invest sustainably for the long-term

Life changing travel and travel changing lives

UNICEF: climate change a major threat for children across the world

Ravinol Chambers is founder of Be Inspired Films, a Birmingham-based video production company specialising in working with organisations looking to demonstrate positive social impact.


How Going Green Can Save A Company Money



going green can save company money
Shutterstock Licensed Photot - By GOLFX

What is going green?

Going green means to live life in a way that is environmentally friendly for an entire population. It is the conservation of energy, water, and air. Going green means using products and resources that will not contaminate or pollute the air. It means being educated and well informed about the surroundings, and how to best protect them. It means recycling products that may not be biodegradable. Companies, as well as people, that adhere to going green can help to ensure a safer life for humanity.

The first step in going green

There are actually no step by step instructions for going green. The only requirement needed is making the decision to become environmentally conscious. It takes a caring attitude, and a willingness to make the change. It has been found that companies have improved their profit margins by going green. They have saved money on many of the frivolous things they they thought were a necessity. Besides saving money, companies are operating more efficiently than before going green. Companies have become aware of their ecological responsibility by pursuing the knowledge needed to make decisions that would change lifestyles and help sustain the earth’s natural resources for present and future generations.

Making needed changes within the company

After making the decision to go green, there are several things that can be changed in the workplace. A good place to start would be conserving energy used by electrical appliances. First, turning off the computer will save over the long run. Just letting it sleep still uses energy overnight. Turn off all other appliances like coffee maker, or anything that plugs in. Pull the socket from the outlet to stop unnecessary energy loss. Appliances continue to use electricity although they are switched off, and not unplugged. Get in the habit of turning off the lights whenever you leave a room. Change to fluorescent light bulbs, and lighting throughout the building. Have any leaks sealed on the premises to avoid the escape of heat or air.

Reducing the common paper waste

paper waste

Shutterstock Licensed Photo – By Yury Zap

Modern technologies and state of the art equipment, and tools have almost eliminated the use of paper in the office. Instead of sending out newsletters, brochures, written memos and reminders, you can now do all of these and more by technology while saving on the use of paper. Send out digital documents and emails to communicate with staff and other employees. By using this virtual bookkeeping technique, you will save a bundle on paper. When it is necessary to use paper for printing purposes or other services, choose the already recycled paper. It is smartly labeled and easy to find in any office supply store. It is called the Post Consumer Waste paper, or PCW paper. This will show that your company is dedicated to the preservation of natural resources. By using PCW paper, everyone helps to save the trees which provides and emits many important nutrients into the atmosphere.

Make money by spreading the word

Companies realize that consumers like to buy, or invest in whatever the latest trend may be. They also cater to companies that are doing great things for the quality of life of all people. People want to know that the companies that they cater to are doing their part for the environment and ecology. By going green, you can tell consumers of your experiences with helping them and communities be eco-friendly. This is a sound public relations technique to bring revenue to your brand. Boost the impact that your company makes on the environment. Go green, save and make money while essentially preserving what is normally taken for granted. The benefits of having a green company are enormous for consumers as well as the companies that engage in the process.

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5 Easy Things You Can Do to Make Your Home More Sustainable




sustainable homes
Shutterstock Licensed Photot - By Diyana Dimitrova

Increasing your home’s energy efficiency is one of the smartest moves you can make as a homeowner. It will lower your bills, increase the resale value of your property, and help minimize our planet’s fast-approaching climate crisis. While major home retrofits can seem daunting, there are plenty of quick and cost-effective ways to start reducing your carbon footprint today. Here are five easy projects to make your home more sustainable.

1. Weather stripping

If you’re looking to make your home more energy efficient, an energy audit is a highly recommended first step. This will reveal where your home is lacking in regards to sustainability suggests the best plan of attack.

Some form of weather stripping is nearly always advised because it is so easy and inexpensive yet can yield such transformative results. The audit will provide information about air leaks which you can couple with your own knowledge of your home’s ventilation needs to develop a strategic plan.

Make sure you choose the appropriate type of weather stripping for each location in your home. Areas that receive a lot of wear and tear, like popular doorways, are best served by slightly more expensive vinyl or metal options. Immobile cracks or infrequently opened windows can be treated with inexpensive foams or caulking. Depending on the age and quality of your home, the resulting energy savings can be as much as 20 percent.

2. Programmable thermostats

Programmable thermostats

Shutterstock Licensed Photo – By Olivier Le Moal

Programmable thermostats have tremendous potential to save money and minimize unnecessary energy usage. About 45 percent of a home’s energy is earmarked for heating and cooling needs with a large fraction of that wasted on unoccupied spaces. Programmable thermostats can automatically lower the heat overnight or shut off the air conditioning when you go to work.

Every degree Fahrenheit you lower the thermostat equates to 1 percent less energy use, which amounts to considerable savings over the course of a year. When used correctly, programmable thermostats reduce heating and cooling bills by 10 to 30 percent. Of course, the same result can be achieved by manually adjusting your thermostats to coincide with your activities, just make sure you remember to do it!

3. Low-flow water hardware

With the current focus on carbon emissions and climate change, we typically equate environmental stability to lower energy use, but fresh water shortage is an equal threat. Installing low-flow hardware for toilets and showers, particularly in drought prone areas, is an inexpensive and easy way to cut water consumption by 50 percent and save as much as $145 per year.

Older toilets use up to 6 gallons of water per flush, the equivalent of an astounding 20.1 gallons per person each day. This makes them the biggest consumer of indoor water. New low-flow toilets are standardized at 1.6 gallons per flush and can save more than 20,000 gallons a year in a 4-member household.

Similarly, low-flow shower heads can decrease water consumption by 40 percent or more while also lowering water heating bills and reducing CO2 emissions. Unlike early versions, new low-flow models are equipped with excellent pressure technology so your shower will be no less satisfying.

4. Energy efficient light bulbs

An average household dedicates about 5 percent of its energy use to lighting, but this value is dropping thanks to new lighting technology. Incandescent bulbs are quickly becoming a thing of the past. These inefficient light sources give off 90 percent of their energy as heat which is not only impractical from a lighting standpoint, but also raises energy bills even further during hot weather.

New LED and compact fluorescent options are far more efficient and longer lasting. Though the upfront costs are higher, the long term environmental and financial benefits are well worth it. Energy efficient light bulbs use as much as 80 percent less energy than traditional incandescent and last 3 to 25 times longer producing savings of about $6 per year per bulb.

5. Installing solar panels

Adding solar panels may not be the easiest, or least expensive, sustainability upgrade for your home, but it will certainly have the greatest impact on both your energy bills and your environmental footprint. Installing solar panels can run about $15,000 – $20,000 upfront, though a number of government incentives are bringing these numbers down. Alternatively, panels can also be leased for a much lower initial investment.

Once operational, a solar system saves about $600 per year over the course of its 25 to 30-year lifespan, and this figure will grow as energy prices rise. Solar installations require little to no maintenance and increase the value of your home.

From an environmental standpoint, the average five-kilowatt residential system can reduce household CO2 emissions by 15,000 pounds every year. Using your solar system to power an electric vehicle is the ultimate sustainable solution serving to reduce total CO2 emissions by as much as 70%!

These days, being environmentally responsible is the hallmark of a good global citizen and it need not require major sacrifices in regards to your lifestyle or your wallet. In fact, increasing your home’s sustainability is apt to make your residence more livable and save you money in the long run. The five projects listed here are just a few of the easy ways to reduce both your environmental footprint and your energy bills. So, give one or more of them a try; with a small budget and a little know-how, there is no reason you can’t start today.

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