Upcoming India Run Festival aligns with spirit of Melbourne

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As a young man, Kiran Chukkapalli, 29, loved to travel and often found himself amid remote settings. One such trip to the Araku Valley in Andhra Pradesh became a defining moment in his life. He stumbled upon a small tribal hamlet that had no roads, no electricity, hardly any drinking water and no schools or medical facilities. He wanted to change the lives of these tribal inhabitants but it was not an easy idea to execute. In 2009, Chukkapalli, an entrepreneur-turned-social worker, founded Think Peace, a not-for-profit organisation to develop the tribal regions of India. His aim was to lower the development deficit of these regions and strengthen the community through strategic interventions and planned initiatives. Today, Chukkapalli is hailed a hero and Think Peace supports around 230 villages in and around the Araku Valley. Chukkapali is in Melbourne and together with Ali Mohammed, a Melbourne-based financial planner, they are organising the India Run Festival, to garner funds towards building the healthiest communities in both Australia and India. Chukkapalli talks to The Indian Weekly about the festival and more.

Firstly, can you give us a jist about Think Peace’s latest initiatives.
Think Peace has worked in the tribal regions in India for nine years. We work on a ‘comprehensive development model’ that is a scalable, replicable and sustainable across tribal regions in India. The model has been designed to involve all the stake holders and adopts a holistic approach that focuses on entire village as a single unit. The planning adopts a participatory approach that involves all the groups residing in the village to identify issues, find ways to resolve them, develop an implementation plan, identify resources within the government, community and/or third-party know-how, monitor and supervise the implementation and find ways to sustain the development. Few of the programs implemented under this model:

Aksharalaya Pre-Schools are creative learning spaces for young children of the age group 2- 6 years. They are designed to provide high quality personal care and learning experience during early childhood. The children learn through music, dance, fun and play. The school purports to make education stress free and fun for the village kids who otherwise hesitate to attend school and in general contribute to their overall well-being. On a long term, we believe this would add value to the children and families of the villages.
Samruddhi Project focuses on infrastructural projects undertaken in consultation with the villagers for the overall development of the village and improvement in the living conditions. Under this project, we have constructed cowsheds, sports stadium, smokeless stoves in the villages.
Arogyam Project is aimed at creating sustainable healthcare model at the village level by training local and rural village folk to deliver basic health services including preventive medicine, diagnostics and treatment within the village premises. The tribes trained as Arogyam workers provide preventive care, treatment to common ailments like common cold, fever etc. diagnosis of life threatening conditions, etc. The program also makes available a doctor on call or video 24/7 to take care of issues that cannot be resolved at the village level. Further, the program will link the Arogyam services to the existing government infrastructure for complicated medical cases.
Tribal Sports Club is an ambitious program to harness this potential and convert it into a reality that brings pride to the tribal villages of India. Through this program we aspire to enhance our tribal sports men and women to represent our country. The program focuses on building promising sportsmen through professional training, nutrition and exposure. The program also focuses on building local capacity for professional coaching by training tribes to become sports coaches who can work to achieve the goals set by the program.

Can you tell us in details about the India Run Festival in Melbourne?
India Run Festival is an endeavour by Think Peace Organization to bring together the entire Indian diaspora living in foreign lands to come together as one united community and to run for fitness, fun, and to give back to the society. The festival resonates with the spirit of India and her philosophy of “vasudhaiva kutumbakam” (the world is one family), where Indians around the word will unite with a goal to give back to their motherland and the land that nurtures them. The event reflects the colours, strength, diversity and dynamism of the Indian diaspora and their commitment to make the world a better place. The first inaugural India Run Festival will be hosted on 31st March at Federation Square, Birrarung Marr, and is a great opportunity to create a community engagement that works for building the healthiest communities in Australia and India.
The most integral aspect of the India Run Festival at Melbourne is that the funds raised through the event will be shared between the charities in India and Australia. The proceeds of the run will be shared between Think Peace Organisation, the families of our soldiers martyred in the dastardly attack of Pulwama, and Cathy Freeman Foundation working with the aboriginal communities in Australia.

What are the objectives and highlights of the program?
The India Run Fest is a family friendly event for all ages along the Yarra River for a perfect running experience. You can test your stamina in a fast and fun 5K race for a finisher medal or spice up an Indo-Aussie friendship 3K parade with an inspiring costume for the best costume award and a finisher medal. For our young teenagers under 15 years of age, the 3K Juniorthon race will encourage them to lead and active lifestyle along with raising funds for a charity. Every participant who finishes the run will get a finisher medal. The 5k participants and Juniorthon runners will additionally get a t-shirt. In addition, there will be yoga, Zumba and Bollywood sessions for participants to warm up or have fun.

Is it the first for Think Peace to hold the program in Melbourne?
Yes, this is the first edition and we decided to launch it in Melbourne, a great city. The spirit of India Run Festival goes with the spirit of Melbourne, a thriving city that has been internationally recognized for the opportunities it offers to all its visitors. On our last visit, we also saw a lot of commitment from the Indian community in Melbourne to give back to the society and their homeland. Hence, we decided to launch this in Melbourne.

What do you hope to achieve through the program?
We are looking at meeting great people, making great collaborations and supporting good causes. We also want to make this an annual event and come back next year to Melbourne again

How can the average Melburnian associate himself with Think Peace?
There are few ways Melburnians can associate with. They can participate in the run as a group/family or by themselves. They can motivate people to participate in the run, they can motivate children to enrol for the Juniorthon, raise funds through sponsorship/crowdfunding and create awareness.

By Indira Laisram