Vasanth’s Story Lighting Up Lives

(Project completed Jan 2013) Vasanth Kommu, 13,  is a One Million Lights student ambassador to India. He wrote the following about his experience.

Vasanth Kommu and family, packing their solar lights for India

During the winter of 2012, I visited India, and one of the goals I had set for myself was to volunteer in India. When I learnt of One Million Lights’ program, it immediately struck chord with me as a program that would be very useful in countries like India, where there are electricity shortages. Before, I narrate my various experiences in India, I thought I should give some background about myself.

My name is Vasanth Kommu. I reside in California and am currently in 8th grade. I have had a very interesting journey so far in my life. I was diagnosed with a brain tumor when I was 5 years old. I went through an intense treatment at Lucille Packard Children’s Hospital. That is where I learnt the meaning of volunteering and dedication to fellow humans. I used to have wonderful people visit me during my treatment, spend time with me, play with me, bring beautiful dogs and gifts. There were some children in our neighborhood who would visit me and made sure that I was always engaged and smiling, all through my treatment. I had people from all religions praying for me.

I am thankful to those volunteers, to the doctors, friends and to my family for always being there. It is very difficult to reciprocate in-kind, however, my philosophy is that if I help people in need, it is all good.

I have been imbibed with these morals since childhood, since my family would get involved in charitable causes like donating money for housing poor people in the backward villages of India, and to various other charities like Red Cross. Every time we went to India, we made it a point to visit some places like an Ashram for orphans, or projects like housing, hospitals and schools in backward areas. I also used to collect money by selling lemonade and chocolates, etc. with my sister and friends. My collections would then be given towards any project that helped people.

When my mother told me that she heard about One Million Lights organization from a friend of hers, and gave me information about it, I thought that this is a fantastic cause! I applied for volunteering, and was fortunate that Sadaf Minapara, who is in charge of Global Ambassador program, accepted my application. I also sincerely thank her for her support and guidance after accepting my application.

I took all my earnings so far, and got it quadrupled by getting matching amounts from my parents, and my dad’s employer! That was a good start. Next activity was to select the recipients of the award. Since we always visited the Sai Ashram in Hyderabad, where the orphaned kids were brought up in a home like atmosphere, I asked my uncle if that would be one of the appropriate places for donating solar lamps to the kids. He mentioned that the kids wake up at 5 and sleep at 10. Some older kids have to wake up longer to finish studying. Frequent power cuts were an issue. Another issue the kids faced was subtle but equally important. The kids shared a couple of large rooms. If one kid had to study for an exam (kids went to different schools), and others had to sleep, keeping the lights on in the room disturbed the sleep of other kids. Therefore, having an individual solar lamp for their studies was a very good idea and solved the problem with lamps and wires that kids tripped upon. Therefore, I slated 40 lamps to this institution.

Another place was a remote village near Nellore in India. I targeted 2 areas for the remaining lamps : one was the hospital – just imagine how people managed in night there with limited lighting and during power cuts, the services were very impacted. Next was the housing project where one room houses were built for the most indigent people in the area, who have no shelter from the weather. They use Kerosene lamps for lighting at night.

At Ground in India

We landed in Bangalore where we went to my uncles flat. It was good to see very well maintained flats and grounds within. When we went up to the terrace, the view was generally very good. However, one side of the complex, we saw what appeared to be like a slum. This is where many laborers used to live after working all day. Seeing this, I discussed the possibility to diverting some lamps to people living here, since they have no electricity at all. They liked my idea and we thought of donating about 20 lamps to the people living there, especially women and older kids. We went down and approached the slums.

People there were very untrusting, however, who can deny free and useful items. They accepted the lamps – just they did not allow us to take any photos, which we had to comply with. I felt happy that I was able to do some good immediately. We had also gone to India for some other personal work, with which I got busy for a week. Then we went to Hyderabad and the Sai Ashram there. I was over whelmed with the response that I got at the ashram – it is always so, the kids are like my brothers and treat us with a lot of warmth and friendliness.

After prayers to god, my uncle and father spoke. Then I spoke and thanked the kids for giving me such a friendly welcome. I talked about One Million Lights Organization, and its goals. After several questions and answers, where I explained how the lamps worked, we stared the lamp distribution. I wanted the generous lady who setup the Ashram, and the Ashram co-ordinators and teachers to come and distribute the lamps. I handed the lamps to them, and they distributed these. I could see curiosity in many faces, however, since they were very disciplined, they didn’t take the package apart. Some of the older kids were teaching younger kids about the lamps. I have included the photos from the distribution below.
We were unable to go to backward villages near Nellore (hospitals and housing project) due to health reasons. However, I sent the lamps to the person in charge of the housing and hospital projects for distribution. They have promised to send photos and the local people’s comments to us, which I will share at a later time.