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 ...
Nov 4, 2013

Two Special AIC Students

Ranjana at the AIC Summer Camp
Ranjana at the AIC Summer Camp

Devendra and Ranjana have been two of AIC's students since not long after the Education Outreach Program's inception. They are the oldest two of their parents' four children; Ranjana is 14 and Devendra is 18. Both are still in primary school. 

For years, Ranjana and Devendra were shuffled through the mainstream Indian government school system, held back in the same class year after year, because with IQs in the low 40s, their intellectual handicaps make it impossible for them to keep up with their classmates. After the Right To Education (RTE) Act was implemented in 2009, including the mandate that no student be held back or expelled until the completion of elementary education, the schools had no choice but to promote them, yet as their peers learned to write compositions and add fractions, Ranjana and Devendra struggled to write letters and numbers and were generally ignored by indifferent government school teachers. Although they loved attending tuition classes at AIC, had excellent attendance, and participated enthusiastically in activities and extracurricular opportunities, it was clear that they were falling through the cracks in a 'mainstream' school. 

For several years, we at AIC have attempted to convince Ranjana and Devendra's parents to allow us to enroll them in a specialized school, so that their needs could be addressed more comprehensively, but fear, prejudice and community misperceptions always stood in the way and their parents refused to grant permission. This year, however, a dedicated AIC volunteer, Rinku, took it upon herself to get Devendra and Ranjana enrolled into a more appropriate educational institution, no matter what it took. After many hours of hard work, including tours of schools, phone calls, counseling Ranjana and Devendra's parents, and running around to line everything up, Ranjana and Devendra were successfully enrolled in Kamayani School for the Mentally Handicapped in June. 

Since then, they have truly blossomed at their new school.  In the last couple months, Ranjana and Devendra have earned certificates of achievement in maths, handwriting, and class participation, and Devendra was even featured in the local newspaper recently! 

Their parents, initially fearful of sending their two eldest children to a school for students with special needs, have seen the transformation since June and are thrilled that they have adapted well and are finally receiving the educational services that they deserve. Ranjana and Devendra are still familiar sights around the Education Outreach Centre, of course, and everyone at AIC is tremendously proud of their progress in these last few months! 

Devendra at the AIC Picnic
Devendra at the AIC Picnic
Devendra lending a helping hand
Devendra lending a helping hand
Ranjana with her younger sisters
Ranjana with her younger sisters
Aug 5, 2013

Onward and Upward

Nursery children
Nursery children

The AIC Education Outreach Program has been running for seven years as of July 2013! It is amazing to think back on all that has been accomplished in these seven years, yet there is still so much more to do in our communities.

We have recently made many changes to improve the quality of educational services provided at the Education Outreach Centre, the first being the hiring of American volunteer Mary Kay Hazel as the new Director of Education Development to work alongside the Education Outreach Program Director. As AIC grows, we feel it is important to maintain a focus on quality, and for the first time in its history, AIC now has a paid employee whose singular focus is to analyze and improve the quality of our largest and most impactful program. Mary Kay and Bunty (EOP Director) have formed a formidable team on the ground and have worked together to implement several new initiatives, including:

  • hiring a study hall teacher to provide additional homework help sessions for any AIC student;
  • investing in new computer resources to support the needs of the administrators, teachers, children and volunteers within the Education Centre;
  • instituting subject-specific teaching workshops to introduce teachers to newer techniques and best practices for specific concepts and subjects.

In addition to this, as of June, each teacher is also now required to spend an additional one to two hours of preparation time per day at the Education Centre. We have already seen improvement in our teachers’ daily lesson plans, new educational bulletin boards designs, and attention to administrative tasks, grading, student evaluation, and classroom preparation.

The Education Centre was closed to students for break during the month of May, but teachers and staff utilized the time to plan the upcoming year, arrange and catalogue books into a library of resources to be used alongside teaching, and participate in basic computer and internet training so that they will be able to more effectively use these tools to access teaching resources and enrichment materials for their classes. They will continue this training and exposure throughout the year. We have also begun mandatory spoken English classes twice a week for the Marathi-medium teachers, and their spoken English skills are rapidly improving.

Our new in-house counselor (a clinical psychologist) began working at the Education Centre at the start of the new school year.  She has a separate office so that she can hold regular counseling sessions with children who need additional support. She has also commenced weekly sensitivity trainings and seminars with the teachers.  We are happy to know that we can now better support the emotional and mental health needs of the children, and that we can do so in a financially sustainable way by investing in our staff.

There is so much more on the horizon that we are excited to share soon, and we can't wait to see the results of these initial changes and improvements starting to take effect!

Teacher prep time
Teacher prep time
Computer resources
Computer resources
Back to school!
Back to school!
May 6, 2013

Summer Festivities at the Education Outreach Centre

Following the end of final exams and the Indian school year, the AIC Education Outreach Program children were thrilled to hear that we would be running the traditional AIC summer camp again this year. This summer's program, however, was even more ambitious than ever before, and was planned and executed in its entirety by M.K. Didi, AIC volunteer extraordinaire. 

During the summer program, the children and staff participated in a plethora of cool, educational (but also fun!) projects:

  • On movie day, we watched a movie on the terrace and enjoyed lemonade and snacks.
  • On craft day, we created wall hangings, embroidered cloth, made pop-up greeting cards, and drew elaborate henna designs on our hands.
  • On sports day, we ran races and played football with two players and several coaches from the local professional football league.
  • On dance day, we had a giant dance party on the terrace and participated in a workshop by a classical dance expert.
  • On paper printing day, we used water and pigments to make beautiful designs and then wove paper strips together to make greeting cards.
  • On yoga day, we did breathing, focus, and stretching exercises on the terrace with the guidance of a certified yoga instructor.
  • On science day, we made box cameras, learned about the structure of the human lung, and constructed and experimented with our own microscopes.
  • On scavenger hunt day, we split into groups and went to the market — the group that bought the most items on the list while staying within the budget won the contest.
  • On puppet day, we watched a puppet show and learned to make origami animals.
  • On music day, we listened to a guitar concert, learned about the science of sound, and performed songs.

The following week, we went for a picnic to Sambhaji Park, where children and staff alike enjoyed games, an obstacle course, toy train rides, ropes climbing and of course, some picnic treats like mango juice and chips!

Finally, to wrap up the summer camp, we held an end-of-year function, complete with dancing, singing, camp participation certificates, attendance awards (cash prizes for students with the best attendance all year, and small gifts for the students with perfect attendance for the month of March), and appreciation and acknowledgment to our local supporters. Of course, no function at the Education Outreach Program is complete without snacks, so all of the parents and children were treated to samosas and kulfi (ice cream) on their way out. 

The AIC summer camp, picnic and end-of-year function were the perfect way to wrap up the 2012-2013 school year and celebrate our students’ successful academic progression as they move one step closer to becoming the first graduates in their families!

Sports Day
Sports Day
Puppet Day
Puppet Day
Music Day
Music Day
Dancing
Dancing

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