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The Ashray Akruti Project
Sapna
12-year old Sapna of Ashray Akruti

(photo taken by Bloom & Give)

We walk into a room bursting with color. Bright paintings on glass, silk pouches designed to hold mobile phones, picture frames embroidered with tribal designs, hand-painted oil lamps, origami art….and happy, smiling faces. The place? A vocational training unit in Hyderabad, India, set up and run by Ashray Akruti, a not-for-profit organization. And the creators of all this iridescent color? Hearing-impaired children who are being encouraged by Ashray Akruti to develop their talent and potentially turn a hobby into a source of future livelihood.

Students at the Ashray Akruti School 

Students at Ashray-Akruti with their work

(photo credit: Ashray Akruti)

We learn that hearing impairment affects nearly one in 250 children in India. And hearing disability in turn affects speech and language skills, behavior, emotional development, academic outcomes, and later, job opportunities. Sadly, a huge number of children, especially in developing countries like India, don’t have access to proper diagnosis and follow-up infrastructure.

And yet, early detection and treatment can lead to remarkable improvements in speech development, in academic performance at school, and in what these children can achieve as adults. Special education can transform their lives and equip them with the skills to make them fully functional and productive.

Of course, the children at the Vocational Training Centre in Srinagar Colony, Hyderabad already know this. They’ve learnt to communicate, to express their thoughts and ideas through words and the creative skills that they are taught here. And it shows in those bright, smiling faces.

Expressing themselves in the timeless language of art

(photo credit: Ashray Akruti)

About Ashray Akruti

Ashray Akruti runs residential schools for hearing-impaired children from poor families in and around the southern Indian city of Hyderabad. Inspired by the experience of the founder’s own hearing-impaired brother, Ashray Akruti started with five children in 1996 and now takes care of the schooling needs of 500-odd children, many of whom will enter mainstream schools and colleges.

  

Handmade crafts for an upcoming fundraiser

(photo credit: Ashray Akruti)

Starting with helping identify hearing problems in infants, to facilitating cochlear implants that help children hear, and setting up clinics and special schools for hearing impaired children, Ashray Akruti has brought hope and dignity to the lives of thousands of children with hearing disability. A key objective of the organization is to help these children realize their potential and teach them skills that will help them find well-paying jobs when they grow up. To this end, they run facilities such as a Multimedia and Animation Training Centre offering a 6-month course in animation software, a Computer Training Centre teaching basic computer skills to adolescents, and a Vocational Training Centre that primarily focuses on developing craft making skills.

The Bloom & Give Project

At the Vocational Training Center children are taught to hone their talents at painting, at embroidery, at sewing and cooking. They are taught origami and paper-mache and a variety of other craft by a dedicated set of volunteers and teachers employed by Ashray Akruti. The products that the children make here are sold at the center itself, or at fairs, to raise money and awareness about the project. The skills that the children are taught not only increase their sense of self worth and help them experience the joy of creation, but could also potentially help them earn a livelihood when they grow up.

Learning valuable job skills like sewing

(photo taken by Bloom & Give)

Bloom & Give has undertaken to provide financial support for the infrastructure to train 50 girls at the Vocational Training Center for a year. We hope that the girls learn life skills, make beautiful objects to brighten our lives and have the time of their lives!

We were amazed at the talent here

(photo taken by Bloom & Give)

For more information about Ashray Akruti, please visit http://ashrayakruti.org/

For donations please contact Babu - dpkbabu@ashrayakruti.org

A second shot at education

November 14, 2016

Nisha (Photo credit: Adrien Roche for Bloom & Give)
15-year old Nisha of Samrathpura

(photo credit: Adrien Roche for Bloom & Give)

Nisha's Journey

Meet Nisha (a name we’ve chosen to keep her identity safe!). 15 years old, confident, her eyes filled with dreams. One of the few from her village to be in school, though many of her friends aren’t as fortunate. She’s one of the nearly 150 adolescent girls living in Samrathpura, a small village in the state of Rajasthan, India. Not too long ago, she herself was an out-of-schooler. Her parents pulled her out of school after the 5th grade, for reasons she would not disclose. (There are many reasons why girls drop out of school at this age, nearly all of which can be attributed to centuries-old deep-rooted beliefs about the role of women). She remained out of school for 3 years, doing chores around the house and tending the fields. But also working on convincing her parents to let her go back to school. She had heard about a 4-month residential boot camp run by Doosra Dashak, a local non-profit organization, aimed at preparing adolescents like Nisha to return to school at the appropriate academic level. Students spend long days and weekends studying to make up for years of lost time. Nisha managed to get herself enrolled to this camp and after completion, and passing all the tests, she was back where she yearned to be - in school. She is in the 10th grade now and wants to go to college to study science.

Community Learning Center, Samrathpura (Photo credit: Adrien Roche for Bloom & Give)
Community Learning Center, Samrarthpura

(photo credit: Adrien Roche for Bloom & Give)

Nisha also volunteers at the local community learning center, another initiative of Doosra Dashak, where she is that pivotal role model that the younger girls look up to and learn from. She will inspire many of them to stay in school and possibly go on to college, or to become an elected official in the community. We ask Nisha about her college dream. She knows it’s a lofty ambition – no one in her village has ever been to college. We are betting she gets there.

The future of Samrathpura
Cotton Fields near Samrathpura (Photo credit: Adrien Roche for Bloom & Give)
Cotton fields on the road to Samrathpura. Given our love for hand-loomed cotton, we just had to make an unplanned stop

(photo credit: Adrien Roche for Bloom & Give)

The village of Samrathpura lies 10 miles from the historic town of Pushkar in the northwestern state of Rajasthan in India. With a population of 1,500, it’s a village without strangers. The adults mostly do farm work and belong to a “backward caste” (the caste-hierarchy in India is a discussion for another day!), which means they have never had a real opportunity to educate themselves, or their kids. There are around 300 adolescents here that represent the future of this village. Doosra Dashak believes that providing these adolescents with the right learning tools now will transform this community, ensuring a brighter future.

Colorful turbans, Samrathpura (Photo credit: Adrien Roche for Bloom & Give)
Villagers with their colorful turbans

(photo credit: Adrien Roche for Bloom & Give)

The Bloom & Give project

Doosra Dashak would like to develop a community learning center in Samrathpura and equip it with staff and materials so that the youth of the village have a second chance at education. Called ‘Ikhvelo’ (after the Zulu word for ‘whistle or drumbeat to gather youth together’), the hope is that this center will eventually help build a community that’s committed to the values of democracy, secularism and gender equality. The elders of the village have already donated a building (which used to be a granary) to be used as the Ikhvelo. Bloom & Give has committed to funding this center for a full year. The funding will provide salary for teachers, staff, learning material and computers, and facility upkeep.

11-year old Diya and her painting (Photo credit: Adrien Roche for Bloom & Give)
11-year old Diya describing her next drawing

(photo credit: Adrien Roche for Bloom & Give)

On the afternoon we visited Samrathpura, nearly 100 kids visited us at this center. We met Nisha, and scores of bright, young girls like her. 11-year old Diya loves to draw, and is good at math and could converse in English thanks to her lessons at school. One day, she wants to teach English. Seema is 12 years old and brimming with the joy of having reached middle school and secured a bicycle as part of a government program to encourage girls to study. The girls we talked to dream of becoming doctors, scientists, and even village elders. Needless to say, it was one of the most heart-warming experiences of our lives. We are hoping that girls like Nisha and Diya will use this center to realize their dreams!

Girls of Samrathpura village (Photo credit: Adrien Roche for Bloom & Give)
Future students of the Samrathpura Community Learning Center

(photo credit: Adrien Roche for Bloom & Give)

About Doosra Dashak

“Doosra Dashak” (DD) literally translates to The Second Decade, as in the second decade of a child’s life or adolescence. For the millions of adolescents in rural marginalized communities of India, mainstream education is inaccessible – either because they have been out of school for too long, or there isn’t a middle school where they live. DD addresses the learning needs of these adolescents through two interventions – Residential Camps designed as 4-month long workshops that bring out-of-school kids up to the level of academic literacy that their grade specifies; and Community Centers (Ikhvelos) that provide a continuing learning alternative to kids that either don’t have access to school or need help after class. In their 15 years of existence, DD has impacted around 50,000 adolescents through their residential camps and Ikhvelos. Hundreds of their graduates are back helping DD in full-time and part-time capacity, and nearly 50 of them are locally elected leaders in these districts. In nearly a thousand villages, they are positively influencing the youth, and shaping the communities of the future. They have been acclaimed as one of the most effective youth education programs in the world. Frequently cited and awarded, they have trained, and are being emulated by, other non-profit organizations. In India alone, similar adolescent programs have been launched in 7 other states.

More information

Every purchase you make at Bloom & Give goes to help fund girls’ education programs like Doosra Dashak. For more information about Doosra Dashak, please visit their website. Doosra Dashak also accepts direct donations - please contact Neelu at neelu@doosradashak.in for details.

This blog was originally published on ThirdEyeMom.com by Nicole Melancon. Read the original blog here.

 

 About 230 km (143 miles) away from Bangalore lies the Bandipur National Park in the district of Chamarajnagar. Tucked around the stunning Western Ghat Mountains in Karnataka, Bandipur National Park is regarded as one of the most beautiful parks in India and is home to many types of wildlife including tigers, elephants and gaurs (a type of bull) as well as the predominantly indigenous communities that surround the park. Together with Mudumalai Wildlife Sanctuary in Tamil Nadu, Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary in Kerala and Nagarhole National Park in the North, it creates the India’s largest biosphere reserve popularly known as the ‘Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve’ and is an important part of India’s efforts towards eco-conservation.

Bandipur National Park was founded in 1974 under the Indian Government in efforts to conserve the tigers and wildlife community, however, in the process of establishing the park the tribal populations who has lived in the forests of the reserve for centuries were moved off of their land and into the villages and hamlets that surround the park. They had lost access to their traditional way of life as forest dwellers and were moved into subsistence farming on dry plots of land.

Morning at a water body inside the Bandipur Tiger Reserve (Photo credit: Nithila Baskaran)
Morning at a water body inside the Bandipur Tiger Reserve

(photo credit: Nithila Baskaran)

These tribal communities known as the “Adivasi” (an umbrella term for a heterogeneous set of ethnic and tribal groups considered the aboriginal population of South Asia) make up 8.6% of India’s population or 104 million people according to the 2011 census and about 43% of the population of Mangala Gram Panchayat are of Adivasi descent. Among the poorest and most disenfranchised people in India, they are also faced with very low literacy rates of only 45% (men 52% and woman only 38%), gender inequality, malnutrition and unending poverty.

Today, there are 15 villages in the Mangala Gram Panchayat and all are within one kilometer of the park boundary making human/animal conflict an important factor in everyday life of the villagers as well as poverty, lack of education and opportunities.

Within the backdrop of the Bandipur National Park sits a tiny government-run school (named the Mangala Government School) l that serves the predominantly tribal children who live in the community that border the forest. When humanitarian and wildlife photographer Nithila Baskaran first visited the school, it was in rough shape with holes in the ceilings, lack of usable desks and a high attrition rate of teachers and children which reinforced the vicious cycle of high illiteracy (The Chamarajnagar district has high illiteracy rates of 50.87% ) and severe poverty. After visiting the school, Nithila realized that there was tremendous need however there was also hope.

View of the Bandipur Tiger Reserve from a nearby hill (Photo credit: Nithila Baskaran)View of the Bandipur Tiger Reserve from a nearby hill

(photo credit: Nithila Baskaran)

Nithila Baskaran was born in a place called Dharapuram, close to the city of Coimbatore in Southern India however she moved every couple of years due to her father’s career and lived all over India. She grew up spending tons of time in the forests of South India especially Bandipur as her father is a conservationist and both her parents are birders who loved to spend all their holidays in the wild. Her love and passion for the area has been an important part of her life which continually brought her back to the region to photograph wildlife and enjoy the beauty of the forests.

After receiving a master’s degree in Clinical Psychology, Nithila realized that she did not want to work in a clinical situation and decided to pursue a more broad-based degree in Education. During her studies, she was introduced to the writings of Dr. Ambedkar and several feminist writers who helped her see the injustices and inequities in society through the lens of caste, class and gender. This inspired Nithila to dedicate her life to working in human rights and development with a focus on class and gender issues.

In 2007, Nithila was working with Actionaid doing community-based rehabilitation and post disaster rehabilitation and rebuilding when she and her husband by chance visited the Mangala Government School that serves the children who live around Bandipur National Park. They began talking with the people who lived there and were struck by the challenges the community faced especially in regards to education. The student/teacher ratio was extraordinary high, good teachers did not want to teach in such a remote place, it was difficult for children to get to school, the children had no suitable desks, and there was little access to alternative schooling systems. Further complicating matters, there was an enormous disconnect between the children and the forests around them. Despite the fact that almost half of the children came from tribes who traditionally lived off the forests, since they had relocated to outside, the forests were something they rarely entered.  Efforts to conserve the land and wildlife around them were low.

Nithila walking with the kids to the workshop venue. (Sanjay Reddy)Nithila walking with the kids to the workshop venue.
(photo credit: Sanjay Reddy)
Manu talks to the children about evolution (Nithila Baskaran)Manu talks to the children about evolution

(photo credit: Nithila Baskaran)

 Nithila realized she had landed on an opportunity to do something different that would change her life. Although she loved the work she did with Actionaid, she wanted to do more hands-on work and be in the field. It was her chance encounter with the community and Mangala Government School that inspired her to found Vanam.

The Vanam Foundation is an independent, not-for-profit organization that works in the area of education and the environment with the mission to promote socially just and ecologically sustainable development. By working with the government and other non-profit organizations, Vanam has helped increase student attendance and achievement, gender equality, wildlife and environmental conservation, and overall improvement of life for the communities who surround the Bandipur National Park.

Vanam has helped help the school and community by:

  • Hiring teachers and paying their salaries. The school has 140 students grades 1-8 however initially only 1-2 teachers would stay.
  • Promoting science, wildlife and environmental conservation by providing workshops and enrichment programs for the children to learn about the forest around them.
  • Placement of English teachers in the Mangala Government School.
  • Provision of scholarships to students in order to encourage the children continue their education.
  • Provision of new student desks with the help of Bloom & Give, a social enterprise that supports girls education in India.
  • Addition of a school bus: This has made one of the biggest differences in attendance because children now have a way to safely, and easily get to school. The school bus picks up 75 children traveling distance of 55 km daily. Before the school bus, children had to walk miles through he wildlife park and many refused to come because they were afraid.
Groupwork at a Vanam workshop - making a list of birds likely to use a nest box. (Photo credit: Austin Thomas)Groupwork at a Vanam workshop – making a list of birds likely to use a nest box.

(photo credit: Austin Thomas)

The group listen to a school mate talk about bird nests (photo credit: Austin Thomas)The group listen to a school mate talk about bird nests

(photo credit: Austin Thomas)

The group listen to a school mate talk about bird nests (photo credit: Austin Thomas)The group listen to a school mate talk about bird nests
(photo credit: Austin Thomas)
At a Vanam workshop - learning how to make a simple nest box for birds. (Nithila Baskaran)At a Vanam workshop – learning how to make a simple nest box for birds.

(photo credit: Nithila Baskaran)

At a Vanam workshop - Proudly displaying an almost couple nest box (Nithila Baskaran)At a Vanam workshop – Proudly displaying an almost couple nest box

(photo credit: Nithila Baskaran)

Nithila’s work with the school builds upon her philosophy that good education should be available to all children of India regardless of class, caste, gender and socio-economic status. The government school network in India has the largest reach and is free and open to anyone regardless of their socio-economic background. But to a large extent it is a broken system that lacks quality teaching. Her goal is to place efforts towards fixing the system to create the best opportunity for making a difference for the most marginalized communities in India.

Nithila also makes a huge effort in enriching the existing curriculum by conducting workshops on science, wildlife and conservation; keeping in mind that in one generation people from this area have lost access to the forests that once were their home. In Nithila’s words: “The view that people living in close proximity to forests are the enemy of wildlife and that conservation can only be possible in so called “inviolate forests” is problematic. People, especially the Adivasis have always lived here, they have co-existed peacefully. If today the human-animal conflict is on the rise, perhaps it is time to reexamine the government’s conservation strategies”.

We took a drive after a day long workshop with the children and came across this Tigress quite close to the road. (Nithila Baskaran)We took a drive after a day long workshop with the children and came across this Tigress quite close to the road.

(photo credit: Nithila Baskaran)

This past June, Vanam has partnered with Bloom and Give, a social enterprise that supports girls education in India (through the sale of beautiful handmade scarves and bags), to raise money to provide new desks for the students at Mangala Government School. I have written about Bloom and Give on my blog a lot as they are doing amazing things to make a difference in girls’ education in India. I was delighted to learn about their project with Vanam to provide new desks for the children.
Class Room at Mangala School. (Photo Credit: Austin Thomas)
Class Room at Mangala School.

(photo Credit: Austin Thomas)

Broken desks at the Mangala school (Photo credit: Austin Thomas)
Broken desks at the Mangala school

(photo credit: Austin Thomas)

In the month of June, 100% of Bloom & Give’s net profits went to fund new desks for the Mangala School. The new desks are built in long rows that seat six children and have a place beneath to store their materials.  Although it may be small, it is one step in improving the quality of education for these children.

It was an immense honor to interview Nithila via phone all the way in India to learn more about the inspiring work she and her team is doing to help make the world a better place. I also appreciate the dedication and passion by Bloom & Give’s founders, Partha Raghunathan and Madhu Rajendran, who are an inspiration as well.

How you can help:
Every purchase you make at Bloom & Give goes to help fund girls’ education either through Vanam Foundation or Educate Girls To learn more about the initiative, click here. 

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