» Making A Difference
Personal tragedy led him to harness Net power for blood
An assortment of unrelated events made Khushroo Poacha, 33, a Nagpur resident, restless and drove him to do something for public good. One was when he visited an acquaintance only to find out that he had passed away because of want of blood. Another was when a group of young girls put up a social service site on the Internet. Coupled with a deep personal tragedy—the loss of his child—a few years ago, he understood the value of saving a life.
A year-and-a-half ago, he decided to start IndianBloodDonors.com, a non-profit venture where people could search for blood donors in time of need. Says Poacha: "It struck me that I could use the Net to save lives with a timely supply of blood." The site requests people to list voluntary donors area-wise to facilitate people's search for donors around homes or hospitals.
But, as a central railway employee from a middle-class home, he had no access to funds. His wife, an office assistant, could not offer much support either. So he dipped into his modest savings to make a beginning. He purchased a second-hand computer and roped in a web-designer friend who put up the site at a discount in February 2000. Hosted from a server in Atlanta, US, to ensure its availability around the clock, the site cost him a considerable amount. Poacha had to shell out Rs 10,000 so that the site could be hosted for three months. But he and wife Fermin were undeterred.
Once set, they advertised in the local paper. Initially, there was no response and they got worried. Says Poacha: "We'd put in our life's savings and wondered if the site would get noticed at all." But on that afternoon of anxiety, an illiterate worker from a nearby suburb called in to say he wanted to register. This raised their hopes. When the site had just about 25 listed donors, the first request came from an unknown person. A similar incident at a hospital where he was introduced to someone who had benefited from his site gave Poacha that much-needed impetus. Says Pradeep Kulkarni (name changed), who was helped by the site to procure blood for his son: "This site was a godsend for us."
Gradually, the number of donors started increasing. Poacha tried several ways of getting the message across. For instance, as soon as a donor got listed, Poacha would request him to suggest the site to his friends and send him posters to be put up at the local cafes. He would enter chat rooms and speak to people. He wrote to publications and asked several sites to provide a link. Some obliged, most didn't. He approached all the local groups for help, but the response was poor.
Subsequently, a wheeler-dealer offered to sell him a list of "registered users". He refused. Laments Poacha: "It's become such a nefarious activity that even genuine effort is suspect." Nevertheless, by December 2000, he had 800 listed donors. Meanwhile, the cost of running the site started steadily emptying the couple's bank account. The biggest expense is the monthly telephone bill which comes close to Rs 4,000. Just then a well-off acquaintance helped by providing Fermin with freelancing work to supplement their funds.
On learning of the earthquake in Gujarat, Poacha requested some sites to run his message again and the list of donors has increased to 3,100 since the quake. Listed donors in Pune were contacted by afmc, Pune, to donate blood to 150 people from Gujarat who were airlifted for treatment. Poacha's inspiration is his mother who always taught him to find happiness in giving to others.
However, to cope with the traffic Poacha needs to upgrade his computer and to get a dedicated server for which he is yet to find funds. The one thing he needs to do is change his erroneously registered dotcom suffix to dotorg but unfortunately the names have been booked. He is looking for a corporate sponsor for the donor cards. He can be contacted at 0712-526877. Address: 127, New Colony, Nagpur 400001, or firstname.lastname@example.org