By: Nick Seymour | Photography: David Barnes
Drilling holes in wood for three to four hours doesn’t sound like anybody’s typical weekend, especially when it’s not for profit, but for Ojaswa “Oj” Prasad, it’s a reality. Prasad, a junior biochemistry major from Johns Creek, makes two to three world maps made of different sized holes drilled into wood every weekend he goes home.
The sculptures are no small feat. They require hours of work and heaps of ingenuity from the design to the finished product. “So I can only make them at home at my parents’ place because I don’t have the tools here, and I’m pretty sure all my neighbors here would get annoyed if they constantly heard drilling, so I do it when I go home on the weekends,” Prasad says. He can’t go home every weekend, however, so there’s even less time to make each sculpture. That’s why the production has “protracted a bit.”
Prasad can only make about three or four at a time. “The first time I didn’t have a template board, so it took a bit longer,” Prasad says. “But I created a template board that’s about 32 inches by 48 inches. So I gridded it out, and I also had to have a projection for the population and landmass base.” The projection he used is called the Kavrayskiy VII projection, which is one of 60 ways in which cartographers have tried to flatten our spherical world onto a rectangle. It basically comes out as squares and is based on population relative to land mass and location. “I had to use that to figure out four different hole sizes.”
Making the maps is incredibly time-consuming and detailed work. Prasad has to buy special drill bits so that the wood doesn’t tear and so he doesn’t have to re-sand it all after he’s done. He buys his wood at Home Depot, but it doesn’t come in the right size, so he has to buy larger pieces and then cut them into thirds. Creating the actual holes takes the most time, though. “The holes take forever - at least three to four hours for the holes,” Prasad says. And since he has to make sure each hole is lined up exactly, he can’t use a work bench; he has to lean into every single hole he drills, causing his arm and shoulder to hurt. To counter this, he takes a break after he finishes each continent. “With the breaks, it’s doable.”
With the template Prasad has made, the work is considerably easier. By making the board, he has cut his work down from five hours per board to just three because it’s easier to see where the holes are and what sizes they need to be. “I have the template board and then I have two boards underneath. That makes it easier in terms of strain and whatnot, and then I have to sand down the wood. Sometimes I have to sand down the front because it does tear on the front and it needs to be smooth. I stain the front so it looks a bit nicer, and for that it needs to be a smooth surface. And then I add a trim to it, so it doesn’t look like plywood - it looks kind of fancy.”
Prasad gives a map its shadow-box effect by attaching four separate blocks of wood onto the back that hold the board off by four inches. Then he puts the wire across the top for hanging. As a bonus, he can add LED lights behind the board as well.
All of that is a lot of work for something that doesn’t make any profit for Prasad, but he’s not doing it for profit. He’s making and selling these sculptures to raise money for a second service trip with MEDLIFE (Medicine, Education and Development for Low-Income Families Everywhere). For his 2014 spring break, Prasad went with about 30 other UGA students to Peru. Each day they were there, they traveled one or two hours outside of Lima, where there are millions of people living in shacks. While there, they built an enormous staircase to help the people climb up and down an extremely steep hillside. They built a house for a single mother, and they set up a mobile clinic, which offered a variety of medical services from dentistry to gynecology.
And MEDLIFE wasn’t just “sticking a Band-Aid on it” like other volunteer organizations might. Even though the volunteers from UGA and other American universities have to leave after a week, there are permanent interns and doctors that stay in Peru to perform follow-ups on the patients. That’s what makes MEDLIFE different from other organizations and creates lasting and impactful change in the area.
Prasad’s experience at with MEDLIFE is by no means singular. “It’s inexplicable,” says Veronica Benedit, a senior biology major from Loganville and current Service Chair for MEDLIFE. “I’ve been to a handful of places, but this was the best kind of vacation for me, because you spend the day helping people with their lives, and then you have the evening to spend with friends seeing this beautiful country. And then the next day, you do it all over again. There was so much worth in a single day - it’s overwhelming.”
After the program was over, Prasad, Benedit and their fellow volunteers got an email that showed how many people they helped over the course of just one week. “We helped 2,860 people, but to me, that wasn’t enough,” Prasad says. He says that the best way that he could help those in need was to become a doctor so that he could stay there and give them all the time that they needed.
Prasad says that he wants to raise about $2,400 in revenue for his next trip, which would either be in Peru again or possibly in Ecuador. So far, he’s raised $600 selling his pieces to students for $100 each. He posted on various UGA Facebook groups in January saying that he was selling his sculptures, and he’s been working on them ever since.