By Jayadevan PK & Anand Murali
Near the Mahabodhi school in Leh, at an altitude of over 3500 meters where even oxygen is scarce, you will see a solar powered structure made of sand, earth, paper and husk. Even when its sub zero temperature outside, its about 12 degrees inside the building.
The structure, called the Third Pole E-Base, houses 10 tablets and a couple of laptops. The base has Wimax Internet, a 32 inch television, 10 telescopes and many books.
This, is where the flash floods of 2010 had wreaked havoc.
One might wonder if its a government observation post or even a private research agency. But this is where students from the school, who are otherwise cut off from the outside world are meeting the the outside world.
Meet Paras Loomba, this week’s DOER who is making it all happen.
You would have seen Leh in pictures. And some of you would have gotten Leh’d on an adventure trip. What is apparent, is the idyllic beauty of the place. What isn’t apparent, is that the children of Leh grow up in seclusion.
“Children in Leh are born in an environment, which is more secluded than most places in the world. By opening a window to the rest of the world through the mountains, we would be able to broaden their horizons considerably,” says Paras, the son of an Army officer who has spent most of his childhood in remote locations of the country.
The idea was to conduct an expedition in the Himalayas, on the lines of the Antarctic Expedition,and create an educational infrastructure in the form of an E-Base. Paras spoke to his mentor Robert Swan, who is the first person to have walked to both the North and South poles, and designed a plan on how an E-Base in Himalayas can empower and enhance the knowledge of the rural student community in the area.
One of the major objectives of the E-Base was to connect the children from Leh, to children in schools around the world.
“We all have grown up in a world with boundaries, living and interacting with our communities, which is why our generations have a strong sense of being distinct and separate from others around the world. But having been born in a connected world, today’s children shouldn’t know these limitations,” he says.
Few years ago, Paras dropped out of the National Defense Academy and made a fresh start by joining an engineering college in Punjab. He worked at National Instruments for nearly 6 years. While at work, he got a chance to be part of the International Antarctic Expedition with Robert Swan.
The journey changed his life.
“We witnessed the havoc of climate change play out live. It changed my perspective on things. I decided to use technology to enable sustainable change in the remote regions of my country,” he says.
The Third pole E-Base setup was a part of the Global Himalayan Expedition. Participants of the expedition contributed a part of their expedition amount in the construction and setting up of the E-Base. Paras also roped in Luminous Technologies for solar products and Woodland to cover some of the construction costs.
Paras didn’t have much of an experience in all this. But he had the nerves to take the plunge. “10 years ago I was almost certain to get into forces and be a part of the Special forces but destiny and my passion would get me back to where I belong – The Himalayas,” he says.
Starting a venture after having been a salaried employee for many years was a huge mental challenge in itself, he says. Setting up infrastructure in remote Himalayan regions can also take a toll on the team. “But again, what is life if you don’t attempt something bigger than yourself?” he asks.
At the E base, the focus is to create an effective partnership in interactive, cross-school education program and developing a local curriculum for the E-Base. Paras and his team are also planning to start a mentorship program for students of the Mahabodhi school.
“If we can create Future leaders from these remote communities in the border areas of our country and help connect them to the outside world, we would have achieved our aim,” he says.
Paras wants to setup similar bases in north east India which connects to this one. 2041, Robert Swan’s organization, is also setting up E-Bases in the rest of the continents and the team hopes to have a network of e-bases around the world.
“With this expedition I get a chance of inspiring people by taking them to uncharted territories,” he says. Whats next for Paras? A Trans-Siberian rail journey and a marathon in the North Pole some day!