One of the comforts for human beings all over the world is when we have somewhere to call home. For Saroo Brierley home was very far away. Hailing from a small village in India, Saroo was accidentally separated from his family in 1986 when he fell asleep on an empty train that travelled somewhere between 12 to 15 hours and took him 1000 kilometres away from home. Saroo was just 5 years old and ended up on the streets of Calcutta. After the authorities failed to locate his family, he was sent to an orphanage where he was adopted by an Australian couple in 1987 and grew up in Tasmania, Australia.
Interested and keen on finding where he came from and where his family was, Saroo started searching for answers. More than 25 years later and years of searching he found his family using the internet. Saroo calculated the hours he spent on the train back in India and the speed of trains in 1986 in order to create a radius around the city of Calcutta. From there he narrowed down where he would search on Google Earth where he explored 962,300 square kilometres of territory to find his way back home.
How did Saroo use open source tools to help him find his way home? He used three tools from the online world: Google Earth, Facebook, and YouTube.
Google Earth to look at the satellite images and identify landmarks he recognized childhood memories such as a water tower. Saroo remembered his home was a town within the city of Khandwa and it was called Ginestlay. In 2011, Saroo found his hometown of Khandwa on Google Earth.
Facebook to communicate with locals to confirm landmarks. Once Saroo identified his hometown on the map he went to Facebook and found a group called Khandwa: my home town. He asked the group if anyone knew about a town in Khandwa that started with the letter G, suggesting the possibility of it being called Ginestlay. Someone from the group answered with Ganesh Talai – Saroo was taken back, this was a remarkable discovery as he realized that as a child he has been mispronouncing his place of birth as Ginestlay.
YouTube to watch videos of the train station in Khandwa that he suspected was his hometown.
In 2012 Saroo reunited with his family in Ganesh Talai. As I was reading this story I felt a great sense of optimism with how open source was applied in this case. We often hear stories in the news about open source websites being used for malicious purposes, but rarely do we hear stories where open source was used for good in our world. This remarkable and inspirational story was published by Saroo as a bestselling book called 'A Long Way Home: A Memoir”. The book was adapted to a movie titled 'Lion', and the book was renamed the same. The reason for choosing the title of the movie and book as 'Lion' is because Saroo had been mispronouncing his name since he was a child; his mother named him Sheru which means Lion in Hindi. Here’s to happy endings!