09 December 2009 ORT goes it alone for tsunami survivors Some of Indias top musicians and singers visited the Andaman and Nicobar Islands last week for an exclusive event organised by a major scuba diving organisation. For ORT India National Director Benjamin Isaac, the concert was a satisfying symbol of the hope that has returned to this remote community lying 1,200 kilometres out in the Bay of Bengal five years after it had been devastated by the Asian tsunami. There has been such a change from what I found when I first visited the Islands in January 2005, a few days after the tsunami, Mr Isaac said. It was very gloomy then: roads would crumble beneath your feet, refugee camps were overflowing and there were people begging. It was terrible. Now the region is opening up. There is already some tourist traffic and the concert showed the potential to make this an international, five-star tourist destination. And its all because of the work by government, the local people and by NGOs, including ORT. Once a backwater used to imprison dissidents, the Andaman and Nicobar Islands have received little international attention compared to other places hit by the Asian tsunami of December 26, 2004. But, already desperately poor, the Islands had the misfortune of lying close to the epicentre of the earthquake which triggered the tidal wave. More than 45,000 islanders one-in-ten of the population were killed. School children are keen to explore the possibilities of the new computer laboratory provided by ORT. Since then, World ORTs International Cooperation Department (ORT IC) has been managing a project the Andaman and Nicobar Education Quality Improvement Programme (ANEQIP) to assist the education infrastructure of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, funded by the JDC, the Jewish Coalition for Asia Tsunami Relief and the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington. Mr Isaac visited the Islands last week with ORT IC Project Coordinator Celeste Angus to inaugurate three of the five new IT laboratories installed at local schools as part of ANEQIP. ANEQIP is the name given to a basket of 12 programmes implemented by ORT IC with local partners ORT India and Bharatiya Jain Sanghatana (BJS) at 20 primary, middle and secondary schools and benefiting more than 12,500 children. The programmes have included computer education, the installation of school administration software, a management training programme, a teacher training programme (covering topics such as ethics, communication and presentation skills and classroom management), a disaster management programme, school accreditation and extra curricular activities. ORT IC has also been helping tsunami survivors on the south-east coast of Sri Lanka through the Improved Livelihood Programme, which it has been implementing with local NGO partner, the Shilpa Childrens Trust. This includes the provision of counselling, technical assistance and training programmes through the Sri Lanka Trauma Counselling and Vocational Training Project. ORT IC has also been using a generous grant from the JDC to improve the living conditions of families in the recovering communities and to improve their access to water and markets. A critical component of this is the construction of roads but it also includes the improvement of irrigation and drainage for paddy fields. However, the creation of the IT laboratories marks the first time that ORT has implemented a project directly rather than provide a local NGO with funding, administrative assistance and oversight. After three years in the Islands, BJS left so we had to go it alone, Ms Angus said. That meant extensive efforts by Mr Isaac to forge the contacts necessary in local government, schools and suppliers to enable ORT to be accepted as a legitimate aid organisation, to identify educational needs and organise an appropriate, practical and timely response. BJS is very well known in India so it was easier for them to operate. It has taken a lot of work to gain the trust of the local authorities, Ms Angus said. NGOs have often rushed into disaster areas, made lots of promises and then didnt follow through. We have shown the local people that we at ORT actually do what we say well do. The fact that the local education department has allowed us to operate on the Islands and to install the laboratories and provide the teacher training is a sign of their confidence in our ability to do the job. Before ORT came along the schools lack of facilities meant that only 45 minutes of IT could be taught per child per week and then each computer had to cater for eight students at a time. Nothing was learned, Mr Isaac said. ORT India Project Manager Elkaan Palkar travelled from Mumbai to personally supervise the purchase, delivery and installation of the 41 computers and associated equipment at the five schools, which had been chosen because they had the infrastructure and motivation to use the facilities. And last week Mr Palkar joined Mr Isaac and Ms Angus in celebrating the inauguration of three of the laboratories at the Government Senior Secondary School (GSSS) Bambooflat, together with the Principal Secretary of Education (Andaman and Nicobar Administration), Archana Arora, at GSSS Haddo, and with the Director of Education, Sanjay Kumar Saxena, at GSSS Bathu Basti. They also visited the two other schools which had earlier inaugurated their ORT-provided laboratories, GSSS Girls and GSSS Mohanpura. Everyone was so appreciative for what ORT had done for them, Ms Angus said, adding that multi-media CDs designed as study aids for the national tests in science and other subjects as well as projectors were also being provided to the schools. Mr Isaac added: I was very happy to note that the computers are being used and the schools are definitely improving. In two of the schools they are now able to offer IT as a subject for senior students and the Board of Education has approved the necessary teachers. So you can see theres a snowballing effect. These improvements follow on from the demonstrable progress made by the 20 schools which ORT has been helping through ANEQIP, from increased attendance and motivation to a marked improvement in exam results. The successful teamwork of ORT IC and ORT India has cleared the way for ORT to directly implement further programmes and plans are underway to provide IT laboratories to a further five schools next year. We hope to find funding for other programmes in the future, Ms Angus said. Local professionals have expressed interest, for example, in early childhood development and teacher training which barely exist there. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the founding of ORT IC during which time it has implemented more than 350 projects in nearly 100 countries at the request of international agencies, national governments, local communities and private companies. ORT IC has earned a reputation for excellence in providing technical assistance, training and capacity building services in a wide variety of sectors including technical and vocational education and training, health and nutrition, mother and child care, agriculture and rural development, good governance, and transportation.