Friday, October 11, 2013

Happy International Day of the Girl Child!

The U.N. has declared today, October 11th, "International Day of the Girl Child" (admittedly, a bit of a mouthful and not to be confused with India's National Girl Child Day, celebrated in January). We here at AIC celebrate girls every day! Here are just a few recent shots of the girls that we work hard to educate and empower:

(click to enlarge)
And a positive update! Following the untimely death of her father this summer, Sheela, top right, has been enrolled in school and is finally attending with regularity. While it is frustrating that a child should have to wait until age 12 to truly begin her education, we have renewed hope for Sheela's future. Read more about Sheela here.

Friday, September 13, 2013

A family retreat

In July, the Residential Program kids had a long holiday weekend. And, after a hot, dusty summer (March - June in Pune) and a month at boarding school in the heart of the city, how better to spend a long weekend than in the rural outskirts of Pune, enjoying the lush greenery and clean, crisp air of monsoon season?

The children, Sangeeta, and volunteers Jenni, Katie and Marcela headed to an eco-farm called The Hidden Oasis in Saswad, a beautiful spot about half an hour outside of the city. There, they spent a great (albeit rather rainy and muddy) 4-day weekend exploring the farm, riding horses, learning the ins and outs of vermiculture, making friends with the animals (rabbits, cows, donkeys, etc), visiting a nearby orphanage for girls that is affiliated with the farm, daring each other to take turns on the zipline, scouting for ripe fruits and vegetables and filling up on delicious home-cooked meals. The kids unanimously agree, though, that the best part of the trip to The Hidden Oasis was tromping around in the nearby river and dam (check out our gang of meditating sadhus in the picture below!).

Adventures at The Hidden Oasis (click to enlarge)
They spent nights watching movies on a volunteer laptop (a throwback to our pre-projector days when all movies were watched crowded around a 15" computer screen), practicing Marathi (and learning a little German!) with the volunteers, and even throwing a late night dance party when MK didi and volunteer Abby joined them for their final night at the farm. On Sunday, everyone was sad to head back to school, but grateful to have had a long weekend spending time together and enjoying new activities.

We would like to say a big thank you to Col. Kulkarni for helping to put the ball in motion for this little retreat, and to Mr. Yunus Shipchandler and the staff at The Hidden Oasis, for ensuring that the children and volunteers had a fantastic stay. (And thank you to volunteer Marcela for so beautifully capturing the trip in photos, too.)

Happy weekend, all!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Seven years

The AIC Education Outreach Program has been running for seven years as of last month! It is amazing to think back on all that has happened since summer 2006...

Back when the Education Outreach Program consisted of a small group of girls and was run out of our volunteer apartment
However, there is still so much more to do in our communities, so we can't linger down memory lane for too long before getting down to business! We have recently made many changes in our efforts to continue to improve the quality of educational services provided at the Education Outreach Centre. To spearhead these changes, Mary Kay Hazel has been appointed the new Director of Education Development to work alongside Bunty, our Education Outreach Program Director. This means that, for the first time in its history, AIC now has an employee whose singular focus is to analyze and improve the quality of our largest and most impactful program! Mary Kay and Bunty are a passionate, dynamic duo 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.
To better meet the emotional, personal and social needs of the children, our new counselor, Suchitra, transitioned from her role as a member of the teaching staff to her new job at the start of the new school year.  Suchitra has been a part of AIC for a number of years now while working through a college degree and most recently, a Master's degree in Psychology. She has a separate office so that she can hold regular counseling sessions with children who need additional support. She has also commenced 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 sustainable way by investing in our staff.

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 catalog 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. As of in 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 and attention to administrative tasks, grading, student evaluation, and classroom preparation.

Onward and upward we go!
We have also had a truly fabulous team of volunteers (thank you, thank you, thank you!) on the ground lately and would not have been able to make as much progress without their hard work and dedication. There is more on the horizon that we are excited to share soon!

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

An interview with Aakash

For anyone wondering where Residential Program big brother Aakash has been recently (since there hasn't been much mention of him in the blog and he hasn't been in too many photos), we figured a little update was in order. Aakash, who turns 21 (!!) next month, has been working and living with extended family in the area since last year, after having initially transitioned from the Residential Program to shared accommodations for working/studying young men. He comes over to spend time with the rest of the kids when he gets a break from work, and last week we took the opportunity to catch up with him about his plans, goals and life of late.

Aakash! Tell us what you've been up to over the course of the last year. Everybody is dying to know. 
I have been working at Sancheti Hospital every day. I work three different shifts every week.

What do you do there?
I'm a phone operator and a receptionist. I pick up calls - internal, external and international - and transfer the calls to wherever it should be. When I work the night shift I study for my exams, science and maths mostly. And I never get on the internet because it distracts me. So for the last 1 1/2 years I haven't used the internet.

No way. 

What do you miss the most about the AIC house?
I miss the kids - my brothers and sisters - and the didis and dadas and spending time with them. It's really difficult to stay away from these guys!

Do you miss daily chores?

Kidding, kidding. But in all seriousness, what do you do around the house these days?
I mostly help with the cooking and sweeping. I take care of things when nobody is around. Lots of women stare at me like [*mouth gaping open*] "Huh?! Why is that GUY doing housework?" It's sort of embarrassing, but I'm like, well, I've been doing it since I came here (to AIC) and I like helping out. 

What do you want for your future?
A good job, a good attitude. When I get married someday I always want to be handy to my wife and kids.

And what sorts of goals are you working on right now?
Goals? So many goals. To have a better future. To be independent. To have my own house. I've been saving to buy my own house for 10 months now. To be more practical. I want to help my relatives out too with some things like furniture and maybe a house. I want to finish school and get into college. And then I want to do something, to really do something.

What advice do you have for your AIC brothers and sisters?
Study more. Be a good citizen. Help others in need. Be happy, always. Never be rude to anyone. And the most important one! Don't give didis and dadas any trouble! 

Ha, thanks Aakash. The kids are lucky to have someone like you looking out for them!

Monday, April 8, 2013

Love, War and Holi.

Although it has been hot here for months, we ended March with a bang, a puff of color, and a bucket of water to celebrate the start of spring. Holi at AIC was, as always, a vibrant and rambunctious affair, although it was a little light on kids and heavy on didis/dadas this year. At the residential house, Ramu, Sonali, and Sangeeta Maushi played on the terrace with MK Didi, Judith Didi (visiting from Austria), and four of Judith’s friends. Between her deadly aim with a bucket and her complete lack of mercy with the pigments, Sonali held her own despite being outnumbered. More than one didi, including this one, was spitting rainbows from her teeth for the remainder of the day — but don’t feel too sorry, because Sonali was repaid in kind. Ramu enthusiastically deployed the water guns, but he proved a little more fastidious than expected about the color. While he loved throwing it at other people, he didn’t quite buy the idea of turnabout as fair play. He still ended the day sporting several different shades than when he started it, however. To repurpose an old saying, all’s fair in love, war, and Holi — or does Holi fall under war? (According to Sonali, it most definitely does.)

The Education Outreach Centre had two days off to mark the holiday, but it was a colorful week nonetheless. Pigments found their way to the centre and onto faces with no regard for exact dates, work to be done, or teacher prohibitions. The day after the festival, many of our kids (with the help of the unsung heroines, the maushis) were scrubbing for hours to remove dyes from their faces, hair, and bodies. And finally, the maushis themselves bombarded each other with a stubbornly persistent magenta color that stained their palms pink for days. All in all, it was a fittingly rowdy and bright start to the spring season, perfectly suited to our occasionally rowdy and always bright children.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Nuggets of Wisdom with Ramu™

Nuggets of Wisdom with Ramu™

Ramu: Didi, I know everything.
MK Didi: Oh really? No one knows everything, not me, not Sonali, not maushi and not you.
Ramu: Only me. Just I know all the things.

Can’t wait until he’s a teenager and really DOES know everything!

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Au revoir, Claudia!

It hasn’t all been fun and games here in Pune. At the beginning of January, we said a very sad goodbye to Claudia didi. Claudia started her AIC journey in 2010 as a residential program volunteer, then returned last year as director of the Education Outreach Centre. During her tenure, she instituted a teacher training program, kept careful track of student attendance and grades, and raised accountability and standards across the board. She became a fixture in and around Yerwada; I know from personal experience that it was impossible to walk with her through the market without having to stop at least three times to say hi to various people. At the schools, at students’ homes, and of course, at the Centre, Claudia constantly pushed for the best for our kids. On top of everything else, Claudia held all of our programs together during a time of great transition. Her wisdom and resourcefulness were instrumental in the smooth operation of AIC, and her loving support sustained the residential kids as they entered boarding school in the fall. Although we miss her dearly, we know she will be successful at whatever she does. Good luck, didi, and keep in touch!