Jun 28, 2018

Saniya and Aditi go to Dehradun


Two of AIC's accomplished 9th standard girls recently applied to the competitive Aspen Junior Fellows summer leadership school, which focuses on developing leadership skills through theater, adventure sports, and experiential education. This summer, Saniya and Aditi will spend 10 days during their summer vacation on the other side of the country in Dehradun, living and learning with other high school students from diverse backgrounds and communities around India.

Saniya, one of the first 12 girls to join AIC's Education Outreach Program in 2006, is personally motivated to learn more about women's empowerment, which she defines as "giving them the skills to be independent.” Too often she has seen women being told to stay at home and rely on their husbands, and she wants to change this.

Saniya hopes to open an all-women software company in the future. This was an idea sparked by a school field trip to Tata Consultancy Service, where she spoke to Indian women working in Saudi Arabia on Skype, and was amazed that if Indian women are doing great things abroad, why can’t they in the Yerwada community? She even dreams of taking her future software company global one day.

Saniya attends an all-girls leadership school, Avasara Academy, and her principal is her role model. She has received many opportunities through her school, and now she’s a member of the student council and leader of the theater group. She says that she used to be shy and kept to herself, but these activities gave her confidence and developed her leadership skills. She hopes to learn more about what it takes to be a leader at this summer program.

We asked her, “What qualities make a good leader?”

She said, “Leaders need to be collaborative. They need to know how to work with different ideas for one project, and they also need to be creative, so that they can solve one problem in many ways.”

And then we asked her if she thinks she has these two qualities, to which she smiled, adjusted her glasses, and gave one quick, yet firm, nod.

Aditi, also in 9th standard, is fiercely inspired and motivated to do as much as she possibly can in her future. Not only does she want to be an engineer because of her love for math and science, but she is also passionate about effecting positive change in her community. One idea that she has is to open an NGO for orphan children, because she has seen that they are often sent to work by their extended families instead of to school.

This passion is also fueled by Aditi's school activities. One of her proudest accomplishments was her involvement in the Kids Education Revolution program, which focuses on motivating children and adolescents not already in school to attend. Through this program, she and her peers were able to convince 5 girls with unsupportive parents to begin attending school regularly.

Aditi sees this summer leadership school as an opportunity to augment the leadership skills that she obtained from the Kids Education Revolution program. We asked her, “Why is it important for you to be a leader?”

“Being a leader gives you more potential to bring change. Then we can achieve anything. We can gain respect, which is very difficult to earn, and easy to lose, but it is important because my family has faced many problems and I want the community to stand up and face their problems too. For that, they need to look up to a good leader, and I want to be that for them.”

We are very excited to hear about Aditi and Saniya's adventures in Dehradun this summer, as they grow and learn and represent AIC!

Mar 6, 2018

Learning to Lead

As 2017 was winding down, plans were underway for AIC's second annual Girls' Leadership Retreat! This year's event was held in December at Avanti Kalagram in the scenic Mulshi valley and was facilitated by Mr. Rajendra Bahalkar from the Ten Stone Social Institute. Mr. Bahalkar has conducted over 700 workshops of this type, so we were excited to benefit from his guidance and support. In total, 20 girls from AIC's high school and junior college classes were selected to attend.

After a lengthy drive in the AIC bus (made slightly lengthier by a wrong turn or two!), the girls were relieved to arrive at their destination. The activity-based morning session was kicked off with songs and ice breakers, followed by various games and sessions focused on team-building, creative thinking, communication skills, problem-solving, positivity and confidence, and leadership skills.

Group work was structured such that the girls were separated from their usual classmates and friends to encourage relationships and interactions outside of their normal social circles, and the games touched on topics ranging from how to give and take constructive criticism to the influence of the mainstream media. The morning session concluded with the girls writing letters to themselves about their dreams and aspirations, and identifying ways in which they could overcome obstacles standing in the way of these goals using the skills and talents within themselves.

After a quick break for lunch, the girls were divided into two groups to complete a crafts session, with an emphasis on creativity, perserverence, self-confidence, and concentration.

The two crafts were pottery and bamboo art, and the students were thrilled to try their hand at something completely new and different. They were especially excited when they realized that after a quick demonstration from the artisan trainer, they were able to make small pots on the wheel, and they showed commendable effort and concentration crafting baskets of flowers out of bamboo. It was especially heartening to see the girls encouraging each other to try again if their pots broke or their flowers weren't turning out the way they wanted them to. 

After a long, tiring, but very worthwhile day, the girls headed back to Pune. Upon regrouping about their experiences at the retreat, Smita, in Standard 12, mentioned that at the beginning of the morning session she felt "skeptical but the activities got me thinking and reinforced my confidence," as well as "proving that I have the skills to lead a team and I could be in a similar role in my future job." Similarly, Bhagyashree noted that she now understands what the AIC teachers and counselors mean when they encourage her to be resourceful and make use of what she has instead of giving up. 

Reflecting on the crafts session, Suman was amazed that she was able to make a professional-looking pot and bamboo flowers on her own, with minimal assistance from the trainer, and Manjeet showed admirable persistence and determination throughout the pottery process, even though her pot kept breaking. In the end, she completed a slightly crooked but intact pot, and was very proud of her achievement.

All in all, the girls felt that they had gained quite a lot from the experience, and they are already looking forward to the 3rd annual Girls' Leadership Retreat next year!

Nov 30, 2017

A beacon of light for Vardhan


Tenth standard is a pivotal year for Indian students, as passing the 10th standard board exams marks the completion of secondary school and transition to junior college. This is an especially meaningful milestone for children from AIC's Waghri and Sikligar communities, since they represent the first generation to reach this point. However, many children face incredible odds as they struggle to complete their educations. 

Vardhan is one such student.

Vardhan was born into extreme poverty and a life fighting disadvantage and discrimination as a Sikligar child in a society that still does not accept those from Denotified Tribe communities as equal citizens. He is the oldest of his parents' six children, and has one sister and four brothers, one of whom who was left intellectually disabled following a high fever and seizures in early childhood, and another of whom was given to be brought up by a relative because the family could not afford to feed all six children. Vardhan's father works as a caddy at the nearby golf course, but earns only 200-300 rupees ($4-5) on a good day and nothing during the off-season months. All of the siblings' educations have been periodically disrupted when their roadside hut of tin sheets is demolished by the municipal government and the family has to move elsewhere for several months before returning to Yerwada and attempting to rebuild.

As difficult as these circumstances may seem, however, they do not make Vardhan unique among AIC students; sadly, deprivation, disrupted educations, and discrimination are common themes in the story of every child who attends AIC's Education Outreach Program.

What makes Vardhan unique at AIC is that he was also born blind. When he was 5 months old, his parents were informed by doctors that his optic nerves were damaged and had no blood flow, and recent check-ups revealed that no treatment or surgery currently available would be able to improve his vision. 

Despite these seemingly insurmountable hurdles, with AIC's support, Vardhan has managed to excel. Earlier this year as the 10th standard board exams loomed ahead, AIC staff helped him complete and submit the projects that are counted as the external practical component of the exams. We also sponsored his exams fees and hired an exam writer, since he would be unable to complete his board exam without this vital support.

While the local government schools provide exam writing facilities for visually impaired students, a student's score is adversely affected by a disinterested exam writer who puts in minimal effort and only completes enough of the exam to ensure that the student will pass. Although it should be every student's right to have the exam completed to the best of his or her ability, with an exam writer whose effort reflects the student's knowledge and preparation, we were advised by Vardhan's government school teachers (who are very familiar with this system and its pitfalls) that if Vadhan wanted to stand a chance of going to a reputable college, his talent and potential shouldn't be quashed by an unfortunate pairing with a bad exam writer. 

In June, Vardhan received the good news that he had done well in his exams! With guidance from AIC's college counselor, he considered his options and was thrilled to learn that his score was high enough for him to gain admission to Wadia College, a well-known institution where Vardhan could pursue his dream of working with computers.

Today, Vardhan is doing well in college - he travels by public transportation with the help of friends, and feels his classes are generally easy, with the exception of Psychology, which he is finding to be a bit of a challenge. To help him keep up with his studies, we have facilitated a relationship with Niwant Andh Mukta Vikasalaya, a nearby organization that offers educational support (tutoring, scholarships, study aids) and vocational training to visually impaired students, and Vardhan is attending support classes there 6 days per week to help him with his studies. 

Vardhan's success is a testament to his dedication and determination despite the challenges that he has faced during his life. It is also an important reminder that a bit of vital support extended to a student like Vardhan who has grit and motivation will be manifested tenfold in his subsequent success and will help to change the future of his family and community.

Vardhan's house
Vardhan's house
Vardhan's family
Vardhan's family
Vardhan with his younger brother
Vardhan with his younger brother
Vardhan's mother shows their kitchen area
Vardhan's mother shows their kitchen area
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