It all began with a note from a senior of mine from IIT, Ashish Karamchandani. He sent a note asking me to join a 55km walk for UMMEED in Goa. I was going to be in India at that time. I had never been to Goa. Visiting Goa, meeting good friends while supporting a good cause seemed too good an opportunity to pass up. Yet a 55 km certainly was not something to take lightly! I prayed to Lord Nataraja and decided to commit myself to the walk. It was heartening to receive generous donations from so many friends in New England to support the walk. The combined donations for all the walkers raised nearly $80,000. To learn more about UMMEED please check out their website at http://ummeed.org.
UMMEED is an organization started by Dr. Vibha Krishnamoorthy to support developmentally disabled children. Vibha, a Pediatric Neurologist at Harvard Medical School decided to move back to India to address this very big need. Ashish and Vibha are people who I have much admired for a long time. I did a fundraiser for UMMEED when they had just started in 2004 (http://www.lokvani.com/lokvani/article.php?article_id=1875
). What started as a small organization have now become one of the leading centers that not only addresses the needs of the underprivileged in Mumbai but also has become a central training center for NGOs working in this space all over India. It was a delight to watch something I had supported a long time ago, grow in such a beautiful manner.
Anil and I landed in Goa and realized that we could walk only for ten hours based on the daylight. There was no way we could walk at 5 km /hour to complete the walk in a single day and hence decided to get a head start the previous day. We had never walked more than a few kilometers at a time and hence thought it wise to do a practice walk. We were staying at the Club Mahindra Emerald Palms hotel in Goa. We started with a 15 km walk and were delighted to note that we were able to do the short walk.
The next day the UMMEED team of walkers arrived. We were pleasantly surprised to be greeted by fellow New Englander, Ambar Mehta, MIT alum who is working at UMMEED as part of his America India Foundation fellowship. It was heartening to see AIF support such a wonderful organization and to see the impact the AIF fellow was creating.
Prior to the walk, we were given some training tips by a physiotherapist who had joined the team. Drink water with electrolytes; change your shoes every two hours and stretch were three big tips that came in very handy. A tip we learned a little later was to put vaseline on the feet to avoid friction and hence blisters. One of the walkers had access to a pick up truck from his family owned cashew farm in Goa. We piled into the pick up truck and landed at the beach.
People bunched into teams based on their walking speed. Our team-mate was head of socially inclusive banking at Yes bank. Our first few hours of walk went almost unnoticed as we learned about the opportunities and challenges with banking for the poor and how technology is making a big impact. We learned that for migrant workers, the ability to deposit their money as soon they get their pay is important for they have no safe place to keep their money. The use of Internet Kiosks at convenience stores for money transfer is huge plus for these workers who cannot adhere to the timings of the bank.
We continued to learn about other members of the walk team and about UMMEED. “In India today Dr. Vibha Krishnamurthy is the leading developmental disabilities specialist. To get an appointment with her is not easy. Yet she gives so much time to UMMEED to help those in need. We find this inspirational ”, said one of the walkers.
It was lovely to see Goa wake up in the morning. Fishermen were bringing their catch in. Anchored boats served as stops to stretch and change shoes.
At about 3.5 km an hour we could do only about 35 km on that day. But since we had a head start with about 15 km on the previous day we were able to make a net of 50 KM. There were about nine walkers who in the 10 – 11 hour time frame walked the entire 55 Km in a single day. The hero of the walk for 14-year-old Kabir Karamchandani, who was the first to complete the walk. More importantly he also raised nearly 1.75 lakhs on his own reaching out to family and friends.
Personally the walk was enriching in many ways. First it showed Anil and I that we could indeed walk such long distances. This was a stretch way beyond what we ever thought we could do. It gave us an opportunity to see the beeches of Goa in a way that never would have been possible. Most importantly it helped bring some funds to a very worthy cause.
The best donation came from the driver of the pick-up truck. Initially he had no idea why he was picking people up from the hotel and leaving them on the beach. He found it rather amusing. When he learned about the cause and the event, he immediately gave rupees 500 to the cause. Considering this was a 10 % of his monthly salary it was truly a lovely donation.
Anil and I sincerely thank each and every one of our friends who donated to the cause. The walk is expected to happen next year as well. If anyone would like to visit Goa and participate in the walk I would strongly urge you to do so.