Ashraya Initiative for Children, Inc.

The Ashraya Initiative for Children (AIC) is dedicated to improving the lives and shaping the futures of vulnerable children in Pune, India by advancing educational opportunities, nurturing holistic development and building healthy, empowered communities. AIC has shown throughout its organizational life a deep and unwavering commitment to serving some of the most vulnerable populations in India. Its organizational approach has been community-centered and bottom-up from the onset. AIC has developed in conjunction with the community and formed deep and lasting relationships with all of the families with whom it works. In the last five years, AIC has built a network of intertwined services ...
Aug 26, 2014

A Commitment to Education, Children, and AIC

Tea and snacks
Tea and snacks

It’s no secret that active parental involvement in a child’s education enriches the learning experience. This year, one of our big focuses in the Education Outreach Program is to provide more opportunities for parents to partner with us and to concentrate on creating deeper, working relationships that ultimately set a standard of solidarity on which children can rely for support and encouragement in school.

Spearheading our efforts this year is Barnali Bhaduri, head teacher of our pre-primary department, who believes that “parent power and positive involvement in [the] school environment” plays an important role in the success of students. The school year began with a parent-teacher meeting that established the importance of mutual communication, students ‘attendance, general hygiene, and the school’s rules. According to Barnali, the meeting “gave them the idea of [an] inclusive school culture where their concerns [can] be equally respected and heard” and has resulted in such “great rapport with them that they make it a point to call up or personally inform [us] if there is any problem”.

Historically in the family networks of most of the children in the program, it has been (and continues to be) difficult for parents to become involved at the school due to work hours. The majority of parents are daily wage earners whose days offer little flexibility, and cannot leave work to attend school functions or help as much as they’d like at home due to other responsibilities. Keeping these challenges in mind, Barnali has been working with the parents to organize activities that are as mutually convenient as possible, to give them a chance to enjoy the experience of learning with their kids once every two months.

During the holiday of Rakshan Bandan on August 12th, a day that is usually dedicated to the declaration of commitment between brothers and sisters, Barnali organized the center’s first ever parent-student activity event with the help of the other teachers and administration, which gathered almost 90% of parents and their children! Pre-primary teachers Shital, Shampa, and Vaisali oversaw experiential learning and craft activities that helped parents to understand the daily learning process that occurs in the Ashraya classroom, and event aides Sonal, Shobha, and Rekha flitted from room to room, helping where needed. At the end of the event, parents, teachers, and students each made a symbolic commitment to their partnerships in education by tying rakhis, red bracelets, around each other’s right wrists.

Reflecting on the event, Barnali shared that in her conversations with parents that “some of them admitted that this was the first kind of event in their life when they were so relaxed and enjoying the moment. We know what economical and mental trauma they undergo in day-to-day life so this event was like fresh air for them. Their smiles, their joy during the activity, parents interacting with each other, getting friendly…countless achievements were there during the event.” She continues to say that by involving parents in these learning experiences with their kids at the school, “they begin to see why their kids love to come to school and why they should be in school and how learning can be great fun”.

It is an overall aspiration that organizing events like this one will encourage parents to place a greater emphasis on the importance of their children attending school consistently and for more years than they may traditionally have in the past. By seeing the value that school adds to their children’s lives, parents can make these small incremental changes that will, over time, make a real, positive impact on their community.

We owe much gratitude to Barnali Bhaduri for her initiative, teachers Shital, Shampa, and Vaisali for overseeing classroom activities, aides Sonal, Shobha, and Rekha for their assistance during the event, Bunty Pai and Mary Kay Hazel for their support, and Vidya for organizing all the resources needed for the event. Thank you all for your hard work to make events like this possible!

Parents
Parents
Rakhis symbolizing commitment
Rakhis symbolizing commitment
Fathers
Fathers

Links:

May 12, 2014

A Pre-Primary Field Trip

Arriving at the gardens
Arriving at the gardens

As the school year came to a close last month, the AIC Pre-Primary School children were treated to a field trip at Pune's historic Empress Gardens to celebrate the hard work of all of our students and teachers this year. The children were thrilled to have an opportunity to trade the crowded, slum environment of urban Yerwada for the lush, green landscapes of the so-called "Jewel of Pune." On the morning of the outing, they were so excited that they even began lining up at the AIC Education Outreach Centre several hours before the bus was scheduled to depart! 

Following a bus ride that can only be described as "rousing" (lots of singing, nursery rhymes, bouncing up and down in seats!), the children could barely contain their excitement as Bunty didi sorted out tickets and they were allowed to walk through the entrance gates. Once in the garden, the teachers and caregivers divided up the children and let them loose on the playground, where they spent the next hour enjoying slides, swings, balance bars, climbing ropes, and merry-go-rounds.

When the mid-day sun started to get hot, the children tromped through the stream that flows through the garden, cooling off briefly before taking rides on the miniature train that runs through the sprawling lawns. Judging by the kids' delighted shrieks as the train rounded each corner, this ride was definitely among their favorite parts of the trip! 

Finally, the time came for a picnic lunch! The children and staff settled in under the trees and unpacked a special lunch of idlis, coconut chutney, chips, and juice boxes. Everyone had certainly worked up quite an appetite by this point, and the children polished off the food in no time.

Eventually, the time had come for AIC teachers and caregivers to herd the children back to the buses so that everyone could head back to the Education Centre. Since the picnic, the children have been talking non-stop about this fun-filled excursion to one of Pune's most beautiful historical sites and the memories they made on this day. Since most of these children rarely leave the streets and slums, we at AIC look for every opportunity to provide exposure to other environments and experiences. We greatly appreciate the support of our donors in making this field trip possible for AIC's youngest and most impressionable pupils and would also like to convey our gratitude to Sapling Nursery (http://www.saplingnursery.org/) for so generously donating the use of their buses to transport the AIC children to and from the gardens. Thank you!

Lining up
Lining up
Fun on the slides
Fun on the slides
Splashing in the stream
Splashing in the stream
Miniature train ride
Miniature train ride
Lunch!
Lunch!
Feb 10, 2014

Brick Walls

Suman and her certificate of achievement
Suman and her certificate of achievement

“The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. The brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want it badly enough. They’re there to stop the other people.” - Randy Pausch, The Last Lecture

She was standing near the flag pole, dressed in her gray salwar kameez uniform. Her eyes, shining with the pride of achievement, visible even from a distance, constantly flitted in a particular direction, as if seeking some sort of reassurance. I followed her gaze and saw a middle aged couple - her parents, I guessed. She was Suman Waghri, a 14-year old student of the AIC Education Outreach Program and the Chief Guest of our Republic Day function at Ashraya. She had been given this honour for her consistently good academic performance at her school for the past 3 years; a feat even more laudable due to the fact that her parents would rather she did things “women are supposed to do.” Despite these hurdles, this 6th standard student staunchly ploughed on, determined to show her parents what sheer willpower and dedication can achieve.

After the function I had a tête-à-tête with Suman, where she talked about her life, hobbies and what motivates her. A student of Agarkar Girls' High School, Suman’s day usually starts with a steaming hot breakfast at the AIC Education Outreach Centre, after which she and her friends are dropped at the school by one of the AIC drivers. She returns to the Education Centre, has her lunch and then starts with her tuition classes which go on till 3, sometimes 4 in the afternoon. After that, she heads home to help her mother with various household chores. With a flair for singing and oration, she also enjoys sketching and dancing, and takes classical dancing lessons at the AIC Education Centre.  A girl with a lot of energy and passion indeed! Her zeal was visible in the multiple performances she gave at the Republic Day function that day. Even at school she radiates the same enthusiasm, as the monitor of the class and every teacher’s favourite student (nothing surprising there!). Her favourite teachers at AIC include Ms. Vaishali, the dance and drama coordinator, and Ms. Shweta, an engaging, young teacher who helps her with her academics.

Apart from her parents, Suman has 5 sisters and 2 brothers in her family. Her parents sell old clothes for a living and have a difficult time making ends meet. Under these circumstances, it is not surprising for parents to discourage their daughters from going to school, as the sons are given preference. Even when parents like Suman's do want their children to be educated, there’s the question of funds. AIC, in such situations, acts like a last beacon of hope.

Talking about Ashraya, she said that it has really changed her life, “I enrolled here in the 1st standard and I absolutely love it! Everyone is very supportive, especially MK Didi. My life is so much easier thanks to Ashraya. We get a lot of facilities which earlier we could only dream of,” she said.  Talking about her school performance, she said, “I was ranked 1st in class I, II, III, V & VI & stood 2nd in Class IV. But what makes me really happy is that a lot of parents in our slum have enrolled their children in school after seeing me do it. I like that.” She finishes with a genuine note of happiness in her voice. When asked about her plans for the future, Suman is surprisingly clear headed, “Right now, I want to finish schooling and go to college. Someday, I want to work in the finance sector.” A very appropriate goal, considering that the young accountant is already helping her parents keep stock of their tradeable goods!

When asked about where her parents stand on her education, she says her mother has been supportive throughout and even takes pride in the fact that her daughter is doing so well. It’s her father who is opposed to it. That was the reason behind inviting both her parents to watch their daughter hoist the flag as the Chief Guest. “Maybe that would get my papa to realize how important this is to me, when he sees it with his own eyes," she says smilingly with hope in her eyes. Interestingly, it wasn’t her parents who enrolled her, but her bua (father’s sister). “She was enrolling her daughter and wanted someone to be there to look after her. My parents came to know when the entire deed was done. She (bua) took me to the school during the daytime when my parents were out selling. And that’s how it all started.”

Suman's parents were there on Republic Day when she received the special prize from AIC Director of Education Development, Mary Kay Hazel, for her academic performance. Her father at this point stood up and came to where Suman was to stand beside her in front of the audience. Looking at the pride in the eyes of a visibly touched father, I felt hope that Suman would be successful in breaking through this brick wall and all the others that will attempt to stand in her path as she works to achieve her dreams.

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