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It was uncomfortably hot, when we climbed the last bend of the mountain; another 25 minutes added to the 2 hour drive from base camp- an excruciating journey. I was leading an expedition in Almora, a rugged terrain known for its dangerous, steep slopes. Far below, I saw the village – Bansoli, disconnected from the mainland, an insular existence. And if, perchance, a flood struck as it often did in these areas, the inhabitants would need to flee… or be swept away. I dismissed this macabre thought from my mind. After all it wouldn’t happen, as I was there to fix it.
Upon reaching the school we were aiming for, we were greeted by an early prayer, followed by announcements, ending with the recitation of the thought of the day. The principal introduced us all to the premises that boasted four dilapidated rooms offering education to 250 students. We were then invited to breakfast on fruit as the principal bemoaned the several calamities this village had endured, the latest being the recent Uttarakhand floods. Yet the villagers were loath to leave their birth place. He took us outside, pointing out the ravaged houses and destroyed vegetation. Some people had died, victims to the wrath of nature. Had they possessed a mode of communication, this could have been circumvented. I had chosen the right place. HAM Radio could help them.
As I entered the class, I was engulfed by white dust from chalk scratching on slates. The students sat in three sections, divided by level – 8th, 9th and 10th. The teacher, a tall thin man, welcomed me smiling broadly, relinquishing his place. The students gazed at me wonderingly. Deja vu- the math meetings I took at school re-surfaced. I realized that these students were not unlike us, except that they lacked our privilege and our insulation from the elements.
Thus, I began my talk, educating the class on surviving natural disasters. I explained the relevance of HAM Radio in today’s world, despite the proliferation of mobile phones. It costs a mere $0.1 for international and $0.04 per day for domestic contacts. It also works as a stand-alone, independent of mobile towers that are often rendered inoperable by natural calamities.
HAM Radio is a hobby marginalized by most due to the sheer rigor of the course that aspiring “Hams” have to complete to acquire the necessary license. They have to devote countless hours to learning the operation of a radio, and setting the rest of the equipment, all of which entail dedication. Thereafter, they have to extend themselves to interest an audience that normally holds the device redundant in relation to mobile phones. For me, HAM Radio combines my love for physics and Engineering with my desire to serve the community. It fulfills my passion to apply my knowledge and skills to raise awareness about an existing technology in society. Being the In-Charge of HAM Radio in school, I felt responsible to increase awareness in places affiliated with my school. This was definitely a start.
As I was about to leave the room, a faint voice called out. A young student, probably in grade 8, beamed at me. Ramesh introduced himself and then went on to tell me about his parents, how they had died during the Uttrakhand floods, unable to communicate their situation, ultimately succumbing to hunger. Had they known about HAM Radio, he said, they would surely have survived. The burden of holding the family together was now his. “I can’t thank you enough Sir, for introducing me to HAM Radio,” he said, in Hindi “I will work hard and will be licensed. Perhaps, one day, it would save my village and my family. Have a safe journey!” I left the room proud and smiling. I had been successful in my mission.
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