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 ...
Sep 19, 2016

New Report

Developing bonds at playgroup
Developing bonds at playgroup

The new academic year began in June at AIC, and like clockwork, 14 little ones - 6 girls and 8 boys - began their bridge year before kindergarten in AIC's playgroup. 

Although timid at first, now that they have been attending playgroup for several month, the children are old pros and now march enthusiastically into the classroom to begin their sessions! The mothers have also been quite motivated and engaged this year. Several are former AIC students who were married in early adolescence, fled abusive husbands and are now young (teenaged) mothers raising their children on their own, so these young women feel an extremely strong desire to ensure their little ones do not have the same upbringing that they did and thus put in tremendous effort to learn and implement the skills and methods taught in the playgroup classes. One mother even arrives half an hour before each session starts to practice her English skills!

For the first three months of the academic year, teacher Shubhangi has focused on several core elements:

  • nurturing positive relationships between the children and their mothers
  • exposing the children to 
  • developing fine and gross motor skills
  • providing a happy, secure, and stimulating learning environment

Shubhangi and caregiver Shobha place special emphasis on selecting activities that they notice the children and mothers find the most enjoyable, since their primary goal at this stage in the year is to develop positive rapport with the women and children and inculcate habits of regular attendance and active participation. So far this year, these activities have included:

  • arts projects (paper tearing, cutting, clay, etc)
  • aerobics
  • music 
  • dance
  • video clips
  • meditation
  • yoga
  • face painting
  • balloon play

We look forward to a productive, fun year with these little ones, and can't wait to continue to see them grow and learn!

Goodnight, Gorilla!
Goodnight, Gorilla!
Listening and learning
Listening and learning
Group activities
Group activities
Paper activity
Paper activity
Developing bonds at playgroup
Developing bonds at playgroup
Jul 1, 2016

The results are in...

Part of AIC
Part of AIC's standard 10 crew

...and the AIC kids have done us proud!

Earlier this month, AIC students and staff logged into an online portal with breathless anticipation to check the results of standard 10 board exams. For those unfamiliar with the Indian education system, board exams are secondary school completion exams that are taken after grade 10. The scores from these exams are extremely important in determining eligibility for junior college, university, and other higher education opportunities, hence we take them pretty seriously here at AIC.  

AIC's first student took the 10th standard board exams in 2009 and subsequently became the first member of the Waghri community to have completed secondary school. Since 2009, over 30 more AIC children have taken and passed their 10th standard board exams!

This year was our biggest test yet, however, with a total of 21 Residential and Education Program children appearing for the standard 10 board exams. Of these 13 girls and 8 boys, many are struggling with extremely challenging circumstances. Two of the girls are former child brides (one widowed, one fled her husband); one had given birth to her second child less than two months prior to the start of exams. Another student's father broke his back resulting in paralysis shortly before exams started. Another student had just barely hung in school all year (having already had a disrupted education and dropping out previously) as her family is not supportive of education and community members scorn educated girls. Still another student's mother fought breast cancer this year and this student was forced to miss many days of school because her father is deceased and she had to stay by her mother's side in the hospital instead of attending school. These are the day-to-day realities that AIC's students go home to at night, and AIC staff work valiently alongside them to provide the support necessary to give them a fighting chance at success.

Hence it was with some trepidation that the staff and students logged in to check the results of the exams, but we soon realized that we didn't need to be worried: 20 of our 21 students passed their exams and are now secondary school graduates! Most impressively, too, this year's group achieved the three highest scores in AIC's history.

We are so proud of these hardworking students, and of our dedicated teaching and counseling staff who went above and beyond to ensure their success. Finally, these achievements wouldn't have been possible without the support of so many generous donors and well-wishers, and for that we thank YOU as well. We look forward to sharing more updates about our new high school graduates' upcoming college and employment journeys in the days to come!

Boys
Boys
Girls
Girls
Hard at work!
Hard at work!
May 31, 2016

The AIC Difference

Pinchu (mother) and Priya (daughter)
Pinchu (mother) and Priya (daughter)

Little Priya, affectionately known as Piyu, is 3 years old and just completed the year-long playgroup program in April. She will now be starting nursery school in June. Recently, we sat down with her mother to discuss her feelings about AIC, the playgroup program, and the Waghri community with which AIC works.

Her mother, Pinchu, describes the difficult circumstances that have made AIC's support such an anchor in her life:

A few years ago I got married and moved to Mumbai. There were a lot of problems there and I couldn’t adjust – there was no work, and we were staying with my husband’s relatives. How long can you eat off the generosity of others? We didn’t have a house or any money. Finally after a couple months I told my husband, “This isn’t working for me. I’m going back to Pune.” I got a job at AIC and became the sole provider for us. My husband didn’t work, so my salary paid for the rent, household expenses, and everything else.

My husband used to fight with me all the time. Then he fought with me and left me – I was pregnant at that time. He didn’t come back until I delivered the baby. He came back but was the same as before. From the time I got married, he’s always been like this. Then when my daughter Piyu was 10 months old, he left us again. He just came back 2 weeks ago – after 2 and a half years. When I talk about it, I cry – so I try not to talk about it.

Right now I live in my mother’s house. Piyu is 3 years old and will be starting nursery school at AIC in June. I can’t rely on my husband at all for help. I earn, and from that I live my life. I’ve already raised Piyu on my own – through great difficulties and hardships – for this long. But because of this I’ve managed – otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to do it. Because of that, I’ve been able to make it this far.

Pinchu also had many insights into her community, which is one of the two main groups that AIC works with:

Waghris are not interested in education. Waghris aren’t educated – so what do they know about education? We’re all illiterate and sign with our thumbprint. So people don’t feel like it’s important to educate their children. They’re only interested in eating, bathing and other basic day-to-day things. There are a lot of problems in our slum. Many families don’t have food to eat. When they manage to sell things in the market, they eat. When they don’t, they can’t eat. There are lots of houses that don’t have running water. There are families with a mother and no father, families where the mother or father ran off and left the children.

Women are the ones who do most of the work – trading and selling old clothes. Men work for a day and then don’t do anything for 2 or 3 days. Women are the ones that have all of the burden and stress – the situation of women in our community is very bad. There are a lot of problems in our community. I don’t talk about these issues much, but I see everything that happens in the community.

Attending weekly playgroup classes has given Pinchu the confidence and courage to stand up to community pressures and fight for her daughter's right to education, a stable upbringing, and a bright future. At playgroup, she is surrounded by other mothers facing similar situations, and receives the support and guidance of trained educators and counselors:

I will educate my daughter. All of the teachers and counselors here say to me, “She’s a girl, you have to educate her.” She’s such a good, smart girl. Her father doesn’t take any interest in her – he’s fine wandering around, sleeping anywhere, eating anywhere. He doesn’t feel like his daughter should learn, and he should work alongside me. Even now he says, “Come on, leave the job and come to Mumbai.” I say, “Should I come and join you out begging? You eat anywhere and sleep out on the streets – that’s not the life I want for my daughter.” I am responsible for her and have to think about her future. I need to save for her education. I told him, “For my daughter, I will never leave. I’ll leave you before I leave this place.” 

With your support, AIC has been able to continue providing birth-to-college programming to ensure that little ones like Priya are cared for at every stage of their lives. Playgroup is an integral part of our early childhood education process, and we are proud to have supported Priya and her mother on their journey toward a better future.

Playgroup mothers and children
Playgroup mothers and children
A typical playgroup class at AIC
A typical playgroup class at AIC
Priya, beading
Priya, beading
 
   

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