The TCS W10K Run is back! Are you ready to Run?


The Tata Consultancy Services World 10K Run 2013 is back and Bangalore is getting ready to run again. The race has been accorded the IAAF Gold Label Road Race status, the highest rating for road races from the IAAF. The run starts and ends at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium. The competition was first held in 2008 and this year will take place on the 19th May 2013.

Akshara Foundation participated in the 10K run last year and we are all set to run again this year. So join us and help us promote the importance of Pre-school education in Government Anganwadis. Donate, fundraise or simply run for us and help make a difference in your own little way.  Funds collected through the Run will be used to improvise pre-school programmes in Bangalore and Dharwad, impacting over 25,000 children.

A good pre-school and primary education is the foundation to a stronger education and learning. Help us in our crusade to educate children with concepts and techniques which will help them learn for a lifetime and not just for the exams. Help these kids realize their dreams with a good education. Help us run this cause !

So will you support Akshara in this cause?

To Run / Donate / Raise funds for Akshara Foundation through the TCS W10K Run 2013, write to us at volunteer@akshara.org.in

The Pilot ICDS programme project takes off in Malur

A training session in  progress

Educating a child isn’t just a decision but an investment on which depends the future of a nation. This simply means improved quality of life of its citizens and a path of planned development to be followed. With this in mind, the Government of India launched the ICDS programme better known as the Integrated Child Development Service on 2nd October 1975. 

ICDS has come a long way over the years, and now is one of the world’s largest programmes working for the holistic development of young children. It has been instrumental in enabling mothers to care for their young children by providing services and appropriate information, support and guidance. The services provided under ICDS have had a positive impact on the health and nutritional status of children, helped in reducing infant mortality, and created awareness in the community on many issues.

The Anganwadi worker is grass root worker. She is the main link person to the community and the several departments like health local government and other government schemes related to woman and child. These include schemes like Bhagya lakshmi, promoting self help groups, opening Bank accounts, health talks on nutrition for adolescent girls, pregnancy and lactating mothers, immunization of the child and pregnant lady, information pertaining to the birth and death of the child and so on. With all this information she is responsible for maintaining the records, and interacting with the community.

Akshara found that with so much responsibility the worker could not give time to the preschool children in her centre. Most often the children were left on their own and were found wasting their learning time doing nothing. This simply meant that these children were bound to face more problems in the formal school.

According to the child psychologist age 3 to 6 is a challenging phase for children and this is when the child learns to think, recognize and recite. This in turn will help build a foundation of concepts for his or her formal education. Therefore, pre-school eligible children coming to the center are undergoing formal education after a year or two without the basic foundation of school readiness and self help skills. 

 Akshara foundation plans to support a 3rdworker to this Anganwadi to focus only on preschool education of the children in school readiness and skill based activities.
The preparatory phase included getting a permission letter from the Commissioner. Talking to the district level officer (Deputy Director), CDPO about the program they were informed that this will be a pilot program in Kolar district, ICDS project in Malur taluka, and selected 2-3 circles with a maximum of 60 Anganwadis.

The Execution phase included selection of  2-3 circles with a  maximum of 60 villages, identify eligible candidates, train them with curriculum, class room management, how to handle the children with theory and practical sessions and send them to the field.

Eligibility criteria included a girl who would be a student studying her Pre-University course or completed and be a resident of the same village.Apprentice would undergo training of 14 days with salary. Once the training is complete she will be placed in the Anganwadi.

The duration of the training is 14 working days with practical and theory sessions.Once the training concluded the Anganwadi worker will be given a set of TLM to conduct the activities for the children.
Centre assessments would be conducted before starting the program and towards the end of the program.
Child assessment would be conducted in 2 phases namely pre and post assessment to compare the learning outcome of each child. These results would be shared with the mothers in a meeting along with the CDPO and supervisors.

We succeeded in identifying 40 volunteers from 40 villages, out of the total 40 participants, 37 girls completed the training from 11th– 16th February 2013 and they are now undergoing practical sessions in their Anganwadi.  They will again have two days training on the 25th and the 26th of February for the remaining sessions. Though this is a pilot project it shows great promise and will be a beneficial step for both the Anganwadi workers as well as the children.

LEGO Habba 2012 : A Community festival in schools


Why a Community Festival?

At Akshara, we create programmes in Government Primary Schools and Pre-Schools (Anganawadi-s), that are intended to help improve educational outcomes at these institutions. Among the aspects of each program is an Outreach to Community, the parents of the children. An involved and engaged parent community helps both children and these institutions do better. A Community Festival is a good way to ensure that Parents and School Staff build a good relationship to ensure that they jointly do the best for the child.

What is the LEGO Habba?

With this intent in mind, Akshara is creating a series of Community Festivals in schools and pre-schools. The festivals, called the LEGO Habba, have been conceived with the aim of having Parents, Teachers and Children engage in a creative LEGO brick activity in school. We believe this Habba will be perceived to be very unusual, curious, and interesting, and should see better participation on part of the parents, as to compared to that during the twice-yearly Open School Day hosted by the Education Department, the SamudaayaDatta Shaaale. Co-located Pre-School staff and the parents of pre-school children are also being invited.

The Habba uses the theme of LEGO model construction wherein Parents, Children, and Teachers are to be invited to play, and create a LEGO model in the school. The Theme of the Habba is entitled “Land of Stories”. Children, their parents and the teachers get together in classrooms, choose a story that is a part of their common cultural memory and decide among themselves how they will depict that story, using LEGO brick-based model construction. The entire Habba lasts for only two hours. In the process of this activity, we believe that the resulting interaction, exchange of views and ideas, and the ensuing conversation will help create a few lasting relationships between parents and school teachers, leading to increased engagement on part of both in the education of their children. The long term benefits of this relationship will surely tell on the children’s learning outcomes in the schools.

The Habba will be witnessed by senior Education Department officials at as many locations. Members from School and Pre-School Monitoring Committees are also being invited. Volunteers from Akshara Donors and Friends are being drafted in to help conduct the Habba at the various locations.

Where is the LEGO Habba?

The LEGO Habba is planned to be held at sixteen Government Primary Schools. The Habba will be held on seven continuous Saturdays, immediately after school hours, starting on the 3rd November 2012 and going up to 15th December, 2012. The list of locations is shown below. The geographical locations of these schools in Bangalore is also shown.

      Schools where LEGO Habba is being conducted

 LEGO Habba location map

Join us and participate in this interesting event to bring together children, parents, teachers and the community to celebrate the creativity of each child !! If you would like to participate, please write to Arvind Venkatadri – arvind@akshara.org.in

The Story of Lakshmi’s Transformation

A Picture of Lakshmi
  
Lakshmi is four and a half years old. There is cautious anticipation in her eyes as she gazes into the camera – a look that conceals more than it says. Still and obedient she stands, a neat, folded, white handkerchief pinned fastidiously to her shirt, well-groomed, and perhaps tall for her age. This strikes a bit of a contrary picture because Lakshmi is known to jump and clap her hands with abandon, even write, hesitantly but with relish. In the backdrop are the children of Anganwadi III, Girani Chawl, Hubli, Lakshmi’s friends, with whom she mixes and mingles.


Abandoned in a Public Toilet

But Lakshmi has a speech impairment that hinders her ability to learn. What she says is incoherent. She is a trier though, and makes spirited attempts to speak and sing. Her story has a long history. It began in 2008 when Lakshmi was discovered by Sushila Narayankar in the toilet of a Hubli bus stand, abandoned and crying. She was a little over six months old and had suffered a grave injury to her head. Sushila had been waiting for a bus and the sound of an infant crying wrenched her. She picked up Lakshmi and went around asking people if the child was theirs. No one knew anything about her. 

Lakshmi was an unknown entity, already forgotten, already written off. Someone suggested that Sushila take her to the police station and file a complaint. There, the police advised Sushila and her husband, Mariyappa, to keep the child with them till they could locate her parents or relatives. 

God’s Gift

Till today, no one has come forward to claim Lakshmi, and so she stayed with Sushila and Mariyappa who happily took care of her. For the childless couple, married for twenty five years, this was God’s gift, an answer to their fervent prayers, and they named her Lakshmi. Their recriminations had been endless all those years, directed at a God who had failed them. Now, they believed their Tirupati deity had heard their pleas, a little late in life – Mariyappa is forty eight, Sushila, thirty nine. 

Oh My God”

 As Lakshmi grew the cracks began to show. She had a weak memory and struggled with speech, both of which were attributed to her head injury. Sushila and Mariyappa, a low-income family, peons at Basel Mission School in Hubli, spared no effort to get Lakshmi assessed and treated. They did the rounds of hospitals and tests, but the damage seemed irreversible though doctors held out the hope that Lakshmi would improve with time. 

Sushila and Mariyappa were understandably distraught. “Oh my God,” they despaired. “God has given us a child like this.” They did not have the resources for advanced medical treatment or long-term care-giving. What would become of Lakshmi, they wondered? Sushila and Mariyappa went back to the police station to find out if anything was known about her biological parents. To which the police said, “Why come so late?”

At the Anganwadi

Lakshmi’s faltering development was a big blow to Sushila and Mariyappa but the initial shock, the alienation they felt from their child, soon transmuted to a generosity of spirit and a steely resolve. They began exploring alternative avenues for Lakshmi, in keeping with their means. They noticed that the girl was a friendly child, eager for company her age, with a pronounced interest in school life. Anganwadi III in Girani Chawl, close to where they live, seemed a viable option. Sushila and Mariyappa admitted her there in early 2011 and Lakshmi seemed happy. 

Trouble soon cropped up. It had always been difficult to toilet-train Lakshmi and now at the anganwadi the problem became acute. There were behavioral disturbances as well. Neither Hema Kamble, the anganwadi worker, nor the anganwadi helper were equipped to deal effectively with Lakshmi. Hema would often call Sushila and recommend that they take Lakshmi to a school for children with special needs. Helpless, the foster parents pleaded with Hema to keep Lakshmi in the anganwadi for a while longer. 

Ratna Arrives on the Scene 

It is then that Akshara’s Field Coordinator, Ratna, who is in charge of 26 anganwadis in Hubli, appeared on the scene. Ratna had qualifications that gave her a competent edge in managing Lakshmi – a three-month course in handling children with special needs, a two-year tenure with Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA), taking care of such children. 

Ratna had been observing Lakshmi every time she visited the anganwadi. She saw Hema’s fraught attempts at coping, the helper’s helplessness, the lack of positivism in the whole engagement. Being one of the 109 anganwadis in Akshara North Karnataka’s preschool programme in Hubli-Dharwad, Ratna had access and acceptability. She began training Hema in how best to tackle Lakshmi. 

The Transformation 

It took time. And then everything changed. The transformation in Lakshmi is nothing short of a minor miracle. She is today toilet-trained. Her socialization processes with her peer group are well-cemented. Her speech has cleared to some extent. Lakshmi asks her teacher for toys to play with and the words are legible, though there is a long way to go yet. 

Lakshmi is happy, never happier, though, than when she is playing with the toys that are a part of Akshara’s preschool programme kit. But there is a special warmth that Lakshmi reserves for Ratna. She is overjoyed when Ratna makes her frequent visits, jumping and clapping with joy, her face wreathed in smiles. 

What will Lakshmi’s future be like? Sushila and Mariyappa contemplate it with some disquiet, even as they acknowledge with deep gratitude the efforts Ratna and Hema have put in to restore their child to near-normalcy. “We worry if Lakshmi will speak properly,” say Sushila and Mariyappa. “We would like her to be a teacher. It is a noble profession.”

Akshara North Karnataka – Part of this Change

 As for the Akshara North Karnataka team there is a sense of quiet achievement. “This is a great positive story for us. I feel very happy to have been part of this change,” says Angelina, District Facilitator. “This anganwadi is in our preschool programme. That is why we could do so much.” 

As for Ratna she is receiving affirmations for her work with Lakshmi. The Child Development Project Officer (CDPO) told her she was doing a wonderful job, while the Department of Women and Child Welfare commended her for triggering change in Anganwadi III, Girani Chawl, and asked if she would join as their Resource Person.

Citizen Engagement : Shyama Narendranath

Akshara Foundation and Karnataka Learning Partnership is starting a Citizen Engagement section in our blog from this month. Every month, we would like to showcase extraordinary and inspiring initiatives by regular citizens in the field of education. It is an attempt to acknowledge the efforts put by people to participate in public education and touch the lives of many a children and their families.

This month,we bring you the inspiring story of Shyama Narendranath who tried admitting Monesha, the four-year-old daughter of construction workers, in an anganwadi.The outcome did not turn out as expected, but it is a journey. A journey that has many hurdles, but which can eventually make a change in the thinking and the system. It is stories like these, that we get inspiration from.

Read Shyama’s story here. Shyama has been the change she believes in and has taken her first steps to become a responsible citizen. A citizen engagement Akshara is happy to have facilitated.