Discovering the 8th Wonder

The Makkala Habba was a huge success this year. With unparalleled enthusiasm from school staff, HMs, teachers, parents, students and volunteers the festival became a mega festival.  To mark the success of this mega festival we organized “8 Wonders”, an exhibition displaying the creative work of primary school students from across Bangalore as part of Makkala Habba.

One best model was selected from every school where the Makkala Habba was held. These models were then got to the Akshara office and exhibited on the 19th and 20th December 2013. Post Makkala Habba, everyone at the Akshara office was gearing up to decorate the office and display the exhibits for people to see.

The 1st floor of the office was the chosen place to display the exhibits. Once the exhibits were arranged the whole place looked like a sea of vibrantly coloured LEGO bricks. The Library team at Akshara along with some photography expert volunteers made picture collages of the various programmes. The picture collage of the Makkala Habba gave an overall view of the month long event.

“8 Wonders” was a huge hit with people thronging into the Akshara office to see the LEGO models and discover the 8th wonder. This was Akshara’s first ever exhibition on public display and with a response like this we are encouraged to organize many more.

Three winners were chosen. The runners up were GKHPS Amrutahalli and GKMPS Nagvara. The winners were GKTMPS Cleveland Town.

For all those who missed seeing the “8 Wonders”, take a look at all the action that happened at the Akshara office here.

Dasara Camps at Kushtagi

The Kustagi team conducted twenty camps during the Dasara holidays with the help of 83 trained volunteers, reaching 1,052 children of 3rd to 8th standard at twenty villages. Excellent support was drawn from the community, schools, the officials of the Education department and the media. The team planted 324 plants during the six camps. The camps were conducted at zero cost, however, the community and the schools helped raise Rs.2, 34,710 in cash and kind.

Preparations from the camps:
The BEO, BRC and the nodal person for Akshara activities Mr.Sharnappa Nagoor and the BRP were informed about the camps requesting them to provide a room and the support from the school authority while conducting the camps.

Based on the experiences of summer camps, the team selected five volunteers from the field. Most of these volunteers have completed D.Ed, while some are pursuing graduation and some others studying at the Pre-University College.

Twenty villages were identified and finalized for the camps. Letters were sent to all the Head masters/mistress by the Block Resource Coordinator (BRC) to support the team while the camps were going on. The CRPs were made in charge for the camps and the donors were identified.

Training for the volunteers:
One day training for 83 volunteers in two batches was held on 7th and 8th of October-13 by the District and Taluka coordinators. A brief introduction about Akshara Foundation and the work done in the Kustagi block was given. To break the ice the volunteers were made to play memory games. Further information about ASER, tree game along with tips were given to the volunteers. They were also told in detail about the street play on the awareness of education. Competitions like pick and speak and construction of different themes out of Lego bricks was done to give the volunteers a fair idea about the same to be held during the habba.
The volunteers and the cluster facilitators led the children in a PRABHATPERI shouting the slogans related to education in the entire village, which attracted the attention of the community people towards the camps. The Head master and SDMC shared the responsibility in arranging the inaugural function in the school premises. SDMC president, Gram Panchayat President/members, leaders of the village, the Cluster Resource person, the school Head master/mistress and invited guests were present at the inaugural function.

Special invitee for the inaugural function:
Katapur is a village which belongs to Hanumasagr, Kustagi block. The camp was conducted at HPS Katapuras as per the request made by the Head master and the community.  Mrs. Netravathi Patil, Police Sub Inspector for Hanumasagar was invited to inaugurate the camp. She addressed all the children and said to dream big. She also appealed to the parents to send their children to school regularly. She specifically emphasized on educating the girl child and abolishing the practice of child marriage. The PSI spent her time until the lunch break and observed the activities done in the camps. She was all praises for Akshara and thanked for taking up such an effort to make the children happy.

Activities for three days:

Activites like memory game, fun games, making the village map with the help of the volunteers, constructing the Lego models using the Lego kit, some outdoor games and rhymes and action songs were conducted which not only kept the kids in the classes but also engaged them creatively. Competitions like pick and speak, drawing, English and Math quiz, musical chair and language game brought healthy competition between each group.

The children practiced street play, drama and a variety of cultural activities to entertain their parents and the community in the evening. Special activities like making flower bouquets, rangoli competition for children & the women, the dance and drama by the youth, planting the trees were the main attraction during the camps.

Feed back by the children:
Savitha Hiremath from 7th standard says, “I am the eldest daughter at home and have to always help my mother at home as well as in the field. I convinced my parents and attended the camp. I was elated to be a part of this camp, it was a different world for me which I had never dreamt of. These three days of the camp has gifted me a new life. I will study well and make sure to be useful to the society”.
“I watch the quiz competition on the TV. But I literally faced it in the camp. I liked the quiz competition”. Says, Shivkumar Gadad from 6th standard.
“All this while I was just studying without any goal, but the Doctor (invited resource person) made me dream and told me how to reach the goal” expressed Akshatha Jigeri from 8th standard.
ASER Results:
Conducting ASER test to all the children who participated in the camps was the major  task given to the Akshara team. The test was conducted using the ASER tool which includes Reading ,basic Math and English. Of 1,052 students, 1,001 attended for the ASER test.

The results showed that, 18% of the children are able to read the sentences and 42% of the children can read the story. 26% of the children could do the subtraction and 14% could do division while 16% of the children are unable to identify, 1-9 numbers yet. 24% of the children could read capital letters in English and 36% of them could read the small letters. 26% children could read simple words.

Community gathering:
 Community involvement could be seen almost every day during the camps. On day 1, the community was invited for the inaugural function, on the second day the community gathered after 7 PM to watch their children perform at the cultural programme and to listen to the message by the guests. Similarly, all were present on last day of the camp for the valedictory function.

A huge chunk of people gathered for the cultural program. It was a good platform to address the community. Dist coordinator, Taluka coordinator, the CRPs, HMs, SDMC President and the Gram Panchayat President /members spoke about the significance of education and requested the parents to send their children regularly to the schools. The children staged a drama on Child marriage, Drop out school children in order to spread the awareness. It was an effective message for the parents and the community by their children.      
Excellent participation of schools and communities:
The camps conducted at Shiragumpi, Ganganal, Nerebenchi, Kadekoppa, Hulsgara, K.Boduru were memorable ones. The participation of the youth, community, the parents, the Head master, the CRPs and the school teachers was highly commendable. The camps seemed like a festival in their villages. The SDMC and Gram Panchayat, took a vow to regularly send their children to schools and  help them to dream high. Many parents expressed that, they will strive hard to fulfill the dreams of their children. 324 plants were distributed and planted during the camps in these schools.
Community feedback:
“Camps like this really helps improve the overall development of the children, such camps should often be held, and we will support and carry on the camps in our village”.                Says,  Mr.Hanmanthpppa Kodagali the SDMC President.

Mr.Sangappa Gorebal the retired teacher of Bodur expressed that many people gather for the political issues and village festivals. But for the first time in his life, he has seen people gathering for the purpose of education. He had seen the camps in urban places but had not witnessed such an innovative camp which strived towards community awareness. He thanked and applauded Akshara Foundation for the initiation. He  was one of the donors for the camp.
Mr. Neelappa Chavan the President of Gram Panchayat of Kyadiguppa opined that, “ It is a good plat form to bring out children’s talent. We the committee will add this plan in our agenda and conduct the camp with help of the school teachers and volunteers”.

Feedback from the CRPs and School Head Masters:
Head Master Mr. Prabhakar Vijapur from Bodur said, “ Akshara Foundation has done some wonderful work for the Department. Whenever we call the parents they never turn up but through this camp almost all the people turned up. It is a good effort to spread the message of importance of education. The competitions like, quiz, language game, tree game and memory game will be continued to be conducted in my school, Thanks to Akshara”.
A Head master from Gangnal says,“We have seen the children attending camps in cities and town but this time many of our village children are the beneficiaries. Thanks to the volunteers and Akshara for the effort”.  
Mr.Nataraj the CRP of Bodur cluster said that, he has seen many organizations working in his service but never seen such activities and the concern towards the children and the community. Akshara’s systematic approach towards with education is appreciable.

Feedback from the volunteers:

  • Balanagowda Patil from Gangnal says,” I attended the volunteers training in Kustagi block just to kill the time. The talent of the children seen on and off the stage has made me speechless. The concern, selfless effort of Akshara Foundation is praise worthy. I have felt the joy of giving my time and gained a lot for my life”.
  • Mr.Kumar G from Amaravathi, says,“ I had heard of such camps happening in the towns and cities. But Akshara brought this to our village and I am proud to be a part and lead the  camp. It is one of the successful programme for the children and the community”.
  • Mr.Nirupadi from Kalamalli village views, “The camps organized by Akshara Foundation  made the children happy  and also brought about awareness among the people of the village. The drama presented by the children was an effective message to the parents”.  
  • I have come to know the learning levels of the children of my village through ASER test. I have learnt the names of many trees through the Tree game. I drew the map of my village. Lego was a wonderful kit for the children. I learnt how to conduct the camps in my village”. Says, Yamanoorappa Bandihal from Nidasheshi village. 

Experience shared by the Cluster facilitators:
“It was a wonderful experience to organize the camps, but with the help of the community I learnt to organize function, gained the confidence of the people and faced the media” Says Mr.Sangappa.
Mr.Manjunath gladly says: “The experience of the summer camp gave me a lot of confidence. Both the camps have given me a high satisfaction. My hard work can be seen in the village. Everyone in the village recognizes me”.
Ms.Shailaja says, “I can deal and organize any program related to education in the community. I have gained a lot of confidence by this camp”.
“Initially, I was not confident about myself, I spent sleepless nights but now, I feel that, everything is possible if there is a will” explains newly joined CF Mr.Doddappa.
Mr.Shivappa adds, “I was suffering from inferiority complex but through these camps all my doubts have vanished”.
Mrs.Akkamahadevi asserts: “These two camps have added to my confidence level when to summer camps”.
Mr.Sharanappa shares, “Everything is possible if we go with the good will”.
Mr.Doddangowda says,”I have learnt how to communicate and organize the events with full confidence.
Once again, I feel proud to say that, I am a block facilitator of Kustagi block for Akshara Foundation. The camps have thrown the light on the block and many officers, the teachers and the people recognize me. I have put in my best efforts at the camps” opines, Mr.Umesh Meli the ‘Taluka Facilitator’.

Akshara Foundation team in Kustagi, with many experiences has been able to successfully conduct twenty ‘Educational camps. Through these camps, we have brought a smile on 1,052 children. The village map, Tree game, ASER, street play, Drawing and Quiz competitions, Lego, Outdoor and Indoor games, Action songs and many other activities have retained in the young minds of the children. The cultural activities performed by the children and the youth, Rangoli competitions for the women in the village were interesting to note. All these showed the participation of people. Approach in the community, the support of the volunteers, school HM, CRPs, people of the community has doubled the confidence of all the CFs. 

Dasara Camp at Hoskote

This Dasara vacations, the children once again had the chance to witness and participate in a camp that they added to their list of festivities. The Dasara Camp was held from 4th October to 19th October 2013 at Hoskote, Bangalore.

 Objectives of the Dasara Camp:
  • To create awareness among the community in relation to the school system
  • To give children the space to explore their talents & use their holidays in an effective way
  • To create an awareness among the parents about their child’s learning  
  • To  involve the  youth  organizations  in  the  system  of  primary education

Key highlights of the Dasara Camp

It was held at Govt. Higher Primary School, Karapanahalli, Hosakote taluk;  two villages M. Hosahalli & Karapanahalli in Shivanapur cluster were a part of this camp. A total of 14 Dasara camps held in the taluk, this being the last one.This was a 3 day camp which included Lego activities, play trees, memory game, village map, ASER test, musical chair, quiz competition-maths & English, craft, language game, pick & speak, drawing, painting, guest lecture, etc.

Over three days, 70 students from class 4th to 7th participated in this camp. This  village is home to around   200 households with a population of 800 people. Approximately, 500 members from the community were present. Organizations like Shikshana Foundation, Hosakote; Swami Vivekananda Charitable Trust, Nandagudi; Local Gram Panchayat; Youth Organizations, Women Organizations participated actively to make the Dasara Habba a grand success. About 400 plants donated by plant nurseries were planted.

Shivanapur Gram Panchayat President & Members, SDMC members, school teachers etc.showed active participation on all three days of this camp.The effort was appreciated and applauded by lawyer Mr. Jagadeesh-during his guest lecture.The head teacher & other teachers of the school opined that this camp had been a great platform for the community to interact effectively with the school authorities as well as the  SDMC. The community were of the opinion that camps like this inspired them to send their children to the Govt. Schools. In total, a sum of Rs 30,000 was spent by the community for this camp.

Students performed cultural activities like Kamsale dance, folk songs, drama etc. as part of this valedictory program. Staff   members,volunteers of  Akshara along with volunteers from the other organizations were present at the valedictory function. A presentation of the work done so far by Akshara Foundation was shown to the organizing authorities using a LCD projector in an open place.

Organizing authorities provided mementos to the guests & the people who actively participated in the camp

The credit for the success of the entire camp goes to the team led by Srinivas (Taluk Coordinator) and the Field Coordinator Mr. Lakshman.

The festival was a huge success and newspapers wrote about the Dasara camps in detail praising the efforts of everyone involved.

Dasara Camps

The operations teams at Akshara had a crowded schedule in September. It was hectic and fulfilling. So much to do, in the short span of the Dussehra-Ramzan holidays. The Makkala Habbas, or children’s festivals, they organised in the four Blocks of Hoskote, Devanahalli, Kushtagi and Mundargi called for a heightened efficiency.

The teams selected 12 villages in Hoskote Block, 2 in Devanahalli Block, 20 in Kushtagi Block and 10 in Mundargi Block for the Habbas.

In September, Makkala Habbas took place in: 9 villages in Hoskote Block, 1 village in Devanahalli Block, 10 villages in Kushtagi Block and 5 villages in Mundargi Block. The rest of them were scheduled during early October.

The Habbas were three-day festivals at each location, and the details that had to do be dealt with were huge; every minute aspect to be attended to. Everything had to fall into neatly programmed slots and then emerge as a choreographed whole on the day of the Habba in each of these villages.

All stakeholders had to be contacted in person and their involvement and support secured. They included parents, school managements, youth groups, gram panchayats, community based organisations and self-help groups. And children, who needed no persuasion.

A timetable was drawn up for the three days, and the list of items to be organised tackled.  Habba schedules; donor support; logistics and preparation; themes for children’s activities and talent shows; the inauguration, the closing ceremony; the topics for guest speakers; community programmes like cultural activities focussing on education, discussions and exchange of ideas;  invitation cards, advertisements, the media’s presence, public announcements of the Habbas in villages. It required planning at an acute level.

Makkala Habbas – The Objectives

Makkala Habbas were community education festivals that took a leaf out of the successful summer camps held in the Blocks in April-May. Each of them was organised as a single, stand-alone event. There was the underlying purpose that gave them commonality, as did the sequence of activities. The template was broadly the same, but every Makkala Habba turned out to be different, with its own stamp.

The objectives were: to raise awareness in the community about the school system and their role in it; provide children with learning opportunities, a space to explore their talents and get them to use their holidays in an effective way; make parents aware of their children’s learning; and enlist the involvement of local youth in primary education in their villages.

The Activities

There was a lot that happened for children at the Habbas – challenging games like the play tree, memory game, pick and speak; drawing a village map, quiz competitions; an ASER (Annual Status of Education Report) test to determine competence in Mathematics and English; craft, drawing and painting; village processions highlighting the importance of education; guest lectures; a tree planting drive; song and story; and inspirational moments. The community participated with great enthusiasm, contributing effort and resources.

The Back-End Operations – Training and Community Meetings

The back-end operations for Makkala Habbas began with the training of volunteers and community meetings.

Fifty eight youth volunteers were trained in Hoskote and Devanahalli Blocks; 96 in Kushtagi Block and 52 in Mundargi Block. They led the Habbas, took charge of the process, coordinated with the community, managed the children, all the fun and the learning, and ensured the smooth progression of activities. They were participants as well, in the skits on education at sundown, and in all that transpired those three days.

The Hoskote team went about preparing for the Habbas systematically, conducting 17 community meetings in September. They were energising forums for people’s participation.

The thrust of the team’s communication to village communities was to take part in education with the conviction that it can be the change-maker their children need. Though the meetings were called explicitly to canvas support for Makkala Habbas, the team never stopped reiterating this message and exhorted parents to involve themselves more forcefully in their children’s education, find out about their learning outcomes, build a stake in schools, propel School Development Monitoring Committees (SDMCs) to address school issues and be a force for change.

The topic of Makkala Habbas nudged to the centre of the meetings and the team shared with the community the vision and purpose behind them, the list of activities they had organised, and told them how, with their cooperation and support, the festivals could become enshrined as biannual events in their calendar. Providing learning-enrichment in interesting dimensions for children during the holidays, and an opportunity for parents and the community to engage more constructively with education.

Dussehra Camp at Karapanahalli

Samitha Manoharan from Target shares her experience at the Dusshera Camp held at Karapanahalli. 
It all started with an invite from Akshara “3-day Dussehra Camp for children in various villages in Hoskote”.  That piqued my interest; especially as it came from one of Target’s partner NGOs.  
I reached Hoskote bright and early on Oct 19th, and called Srinivas-the coordinator for Hoskotetaluk.  He had very kindly volunteered to escort me to one of the villages where the camp was to be held.  He handed over some chart paper and other camp paraphernalia in a large bag along with a big bunch of roses.  I was mystified!!
The mystery was soon to be revealed.  Travelling along some sylvan green fields, I soon discovered that roses were abundantly grown in Hoskote!!  We reached the government school and were warmly welcomed by both the children and the other volunteers.  Excitement pulsed in the air as the children, along with their parents, impatiently waited for what was in store for them.  We soon had the village dignitaries kick off the program with a traditional lighting of the lamp and a soulfully rendered invocation by the school kids.  There were inspiring speeches by the village dignitaries, Akshara representatives as well as the school Head Mistress.
The children were divided into groups and given names of famous Indian personalities like Swami Vivekananda, Mahatma Gandhi, Nehru etc.  The day’s events included a game to list the maximum number of trees followed by creation of the village map by the different teams.  The village nurse was also invited to give a talk on good nutrition and hygienic practices and the children listened with rapt attention.  This was then followed by a highly competitive LEGO session where each team tried to outdo the other in terms of creativity as well as in the height of their creations.  There were a lot of oohs and aahs along with groans of dismay when the creations crashed; but they were soon rebuilt to their towering proportions by the enthusiastic children.  The day’s events were brought to an end with an energizing game of musical chairs.
Day two was kicked off by a drawing competition for the tiny tots whose creations soon began to adorn the school walls!  This was followed by a closely fought quiz completion which also included brain teasers and mental math.  The children sailed through this session and tie breakers were needed to be able to judge the best team!
After the grey cells had been exercised enough,  it was time to settle down for some testing on language and math skills.  The ASER test was administered to the school children by the volunteers who had previously been trained by Akshara.  Post lunch, excitement again ran high.  The children had caught sight of the many saplings that had been transported to their school all the way from Anekal.  They were to be planted around the school that very evening!  The school children were to be entrusted with the task of safeguarding the  trees until they had had the chance to grow and flourish.  The evening session, was dedicated to Shram Dan, where the volunteers went around the village talking to its occupants about the importance of keeping their surroundings clean.   The volunteers were cleaning up the area as they talked, hence reinforcing the message.
All in all it was a wonderful experience of village life and a wonderful opportunity to interact with its most interesting occupants-its bright children!!
The Tree game, a Guest Lecture by the village nurse,Village Map, Lego, Musical Chair, Drawing, Quiz and brain teasers, ASER test, Tree planting and Shramdan-cleaning up the village were the highlights of this Dusshera Camp. 

At the Summer Camp – The Community in Hasigalla

Inextricably linked to Akshara’s summer camp at the Government Higher Primary School (GHPS), Hasigalla, Hoskote Block, are the people who made it to the event, endorsed it with their presence and support and participated emphatically. We present a few snapshots.

The Stree Shakti Sangha
Fourteen members of the Aishwarya Lakshmi Stree Shakti Sangha, a women’s self-help group in Hasigalla, attended the summer camp. Their support makes a difference – women of the community taking a stand. As mothers, they are in many ways the backbone of education. The Sangha is a microcredit organisation, giving out loans at low interest rates to members in times of need – for a delivery, a child’s education, for agricultural work or to tide over financial hardship.

The Sangha has built a corpus of Rs. 3 lakhs. “All collected by us,” says Sumitra, its President, with pride. The 20 members of the Sangha contribute Rs. 25 each every week. “This week’s collection is Rs. 2650,” says Sumitra, who used to be an anganwadi worker and is now a cook at a higher primary school nearby.

They are women from modest backgrounds, Sangha members, well turned out, with a fine sense of proportion. A sense of things. Most of them have cleared class 7. “Some of us are not so educated,” they say. “So we don’t understand enough about education. But the school’s teachers keep instilling in us its importance. We are happy when our children do well and get prizes. We are happy that they are learning. We give prizes to the school’s children.” Six of the 14 members have children studying in the school.

All of them expressed satisfaction with Akshara’s work and remark about the improvement it is bringing about. “When children spend time at the summer camp they will learn,” says Sumitra. “Children don’t show up even for the midday meals the school provides during the summer holidays. But for Akshara’s programmes everybody comes. We don’t have to push and coax them.

They are women in a traditional set-up, most of them housewives, with an independent streak and access to moderate means, which keeps the domestic economy at home stable. Their spouses allow them the freedom to operate their microcredit schemes, or work if they wish to. “Our husbands don’t interfere,” they say. “Our policy is: ladies first, gents later,” laughs Vinoda, the Sangha’s smart, trendy Joint President.

Nagaraj and Subramaniam – Two Farmers

Nagaraj and Subramaniam, farmers both, are parents who attended the inauguration of the summer camp to express their solidarity with the school and its children.  Both of them studied in this school and the bond runs deep – Nagaraj till class 7 and Subramaniam till class 3.  “I was from a poor family,” says Subramaniam. “My parents did not support my education, so I had to discontinue. Things could have been different.  I would have been well-educated had my parents supported me.”

Subramaniam is the more prosperous of the two. Nagaraj looks careworn, with a creased face that talks of a hard struggle with life. He is a daily wage agricultural worker. His children, Shilpa and Sridhar, who were students of this school, are now studying for their MCom and BCom respectively.
“I have come to support my school,” says Nagaraj with a head-held-high kind of humility. “My presence is my commitment to it. I would advise its teachers to improve children’s learning and ensure that every child coming here gets a good education. Subramaniam is also a proud tiller of the soil, a pride that his children do not share. He owns two acres of land where he grows ragi, a variety of millet. “When the rain comes. If…” he says, looking up with weary hope, a deflated hand raised skywards.

Subramaniam’s daughter, Anushree, is in class 10, after passing out from this school. His son, Murali, has completed class 7 at the school and will move to the higher primary school. “We can’t afford anything but government education,” says Subramaniam. “Yesterday I enquired at a private school. I wanted to admit my children there. The fees are so unaffordable I have given up that line of thought.My children are not going to support me in agriculture or in tending our cows. It depends on what they want to become in life. I leave it to them.”

“Your Cluster Facilitator called me, so I have come. I have come because I believe children should study. Education is important. It is necessary for life.”

Indiana University Kelley School of Business visits Akshara Foundation

Ashley Martinez and her classmates from the Indiana University Kelley School of Business came visiting us and this is what she had to say about Akshara Foundation and the work we do here.
The students from Indiana University Kelley Business School along with the school kids.
It happened on May 16–as we each took one step in front of the other, as smiles greeted us from every angle, as our eyes and ears soaked in the new environment–that our faces lit up with blissful smiles. We were amongst angels. Beautiful children of every age and grade who were invigorated by our presence. 

 Moments earlier we had walked through the doors of the Akshara Foundation for the first time unaware of the magnificence we would later witness. We learned of its mission to bring education to all children, to extend the required length of school attendance to age 15, to provide teachers with the necessary materials to teach, and to make sure every child receives at least one nutritious meal a day at school. We were impressed. We were intrigued. We were inquisitive. We wanted to know more about Akshara and how the organization was achieving all of its goals.

As if reading our minds, Ashok Kamath brought the answers to life. He explained that Akshara is a privately funded organization receiving no financial aid from the government. In fact, that very day he had a meeting with a potential donor. He also had another member of the Akshara team show us one of the math kits that Akshara gives out to all the elementary school teachers. The ingenuity and meticulosity used in the development of such were incredible. Kids would get to learn math through sight and touch and all the items in the kit could be turned into a math game. The coolest item was a fraction set made out of foam that the teacher could stick to the board by simply putting a little bit of water on the back. Awesome!

But the best part of the day was when we took a little field trip to the local villages. Even before arriving at the school, we could tell we were in another world. The houses looked different, there were farming fields all around, and children were everywhere. Hurriedly, we got off the bus and walked up to the school. We took off our shoes and entered the place of both worship and education. The kids stared at us curiously just as we did them. It took but one glance to fall in love with any child.

The kids do a little dance with their new friends.

While visiting the schools we played Lego with the kids, watched them perform some traditional dances, listened to their stories, showed them the Macarena, taught them our school’s fight song, and played cricket. We even showed the kids how to use our digital cameras. They found so much joy in taking pictures of everything around them and they took fantastic photographs. The greatest lesson we got out of our trip to India, we learned from these kids. Education really is a blessing. Learn as much as possible, ask many questions, and always be willing to share one’s own knowledge with others. These kids were so full of life and so inquisitive. They wanted to know as much about us as possible, but they also wanted to share with us everything they knew.

 The Akshara Foundation has a wonderful mission and it is such a successful organization. Our visit to this foundation changed our lives forever and increased our awareness. Many Kelley School of Business students now have a desire to do something at Indiana University for Akshara. We wish nothing but greatness for the organization that touched our hearts. Thank You Akshara! You are truly amazing and we love what you do!

LEGO brings Vinod back to School

Another LEGO story from the field!

A happy bunch of kids with colourful LEGO blocks

There have been multiple instances when students go to school half heartedly, most often because parents force the kids to go. This is a story where LEGO was the reason why this kid and many like him got back to school with a smile.

Vinod is a 5 and a half year old child who studies at the Tippur Anganwadi which is located in the Kengeri circle South ICDS project. He comes to the Anganwadi along with his sister, Gowri. His father is an auto driver and his mother works as a maid. It has been two years since Vinod has been a part of this anganwadi.

When Vinod first joined the anganwadi, he was irregular to the centre and didn’t pay any attention nor did he participate in any of the class activities. The only thing he did was to start crying as he stepped into the anganwadi. It took him a good six months to adjust himself to the new environment. The project coordinators spoke to his mother and told her how important it was for the child to attend school. Things got a little better when Vinod’s sister Gowri started accompanying him to the anganwadi.

Things took a totally different turn when LEGO was introduced in this anganwadi. The teachers and the workers at the Anganwadi were trained to teach the children how to use LEGO and the various activities centred around LEGO. Post the pre-school class all these kids would have a session where they were handed the LEGO blocks and allowed to play. The bright, vibrant colours of the LEGO blocks attracted everyone. This time even Vinod couldn’t escape the charm, joy and smiles that the LEGO blocks brought.

An engrossed Vinod building a LEGO tower!

Suddenly, Vinod who until now showed no response in class seemed to be not just responding but also participating in all the activities. This was not all, the not so regular Vinod now had a reason to come to the Anganwadi every day, and this improved his attendance. The Lego games left such a strong influence on this little kid that he now coaxes his mother to send his sister to the anganwadi too. At the anganwadi, he goes to the corner where the LEGO blocks are stacked and shows his sister how to use the blocks to make models of towers and trains.

Though this is one Vinod’s story, it has also been the story of many children who avoided coming to school because they didn’t find the place interesting, says the teacher. LEGO has made anganwadis more interesting, this means that the attendance has increased and so has the interest of the students to learn new things. The teacher proudly quips that LEGO has increased their levels of concentration and creativity.
She also says the game has taught the kids’ traits like sharing, leadership and teamwork. She says LEGO has managed to make not just the students smile but also the teachers, parents and the community members who work together.

LEGO travels to Hubli-Dharwad!

Angelina Gregory, District Coordinator shares her experience at the Siddarameshwarnagar Anganwadi in Dharwad.

The kids at play….

Akshara Foundation introduced the Lego program in Dharwad for the first time by selecting four Anganwadis from each circle. This effort was undertaken mainly to create an interest among the children, parents and the workers in order to make the Anganwadis attractive. All the four Anganwadis are doing their best. They ensure the participation of the parents, the young girls from the community and carry on the program. Among the four, the Siddarameshwarnagar Anganwadi from Hubli has been able to conduct the Lego program the best so far.

Siddharameshwarnagar, is 20kms away from Dharwad, and houses about 300 households. Some “Devdasi” families reside here in this area. Some Devdasis’ children have taken the admission in the Anganwadi center. Most of these children would be irregular to the center in spite of telling the parents. Earlier the Anganwadi would run in a temple but a few months back, with the help of Mrs. Ratna, the Field Coordinator of Akshara and the parents, Netrawathi requested the community leaders and heads to provide an independent place to run the Anganwadi. Now, it has been shifted to a temporarily built shed. Netrawathi feels happy and independent now.

Netrawathi the Anganwadi worker is 52 years of age and has served in rural areas for twenty six years. From the past six years, she is serving in the Siddrameshawarnagar, Anganwadi Hubli. Along with a helper she has struggled to get the children to the center. The worker is very punctual. She has time to spend with the children. She never writes any registers in her working hours. She attends to the pregnant women in the community only after 2 PM. The children at her center know to say the rhymes well complete with actions. They also know their numbers, Kannada and English alphabets well. 4 year olds know to read the simple words. They tell stories spontaneously.

The Lego program has been creatively used by Netrawathi. Every day after lunch Mrs. Netrawathi mingles with the children along with the Lego kit. During my visit to this center, I remained unspoken to see the children’s excitement towards the kit. Every kid there roared in a chorus shouting “LEGO!!! LEGO!!!” Wow! The enthusiasm of the kids was great to see. The worker, told the children to remove the kits from the box, about 5 children went near the box and started removing the Lego materials one by one with their tiny hands at the same time the others stood shouting ‘Lego!!, Lego!!’ no one touched the kit until the teachers told them to do so. These were a bunch of highly disciplined kids who left me amazed.

Two groups were formed for the children of 4+ years and the other group was for children of 2+ years. 4+ years group was managed by the Anganwadi worker and 2+ years children were managed by the helper.
The play started with the grip game along with the teacher. There was rapt attention then, with all the kids trying hard to concentrate. No one made any noise. I asked them “why are you all keeping quiet”? The children replied,” if we talk, may lose the game”. No child wanted to become out of the game.

Children enjoying the grip game with their teacher

The teacher asked the color, every one said the names of the color one by one.
Communication game was wonderful to note. Children sitting in a pair, while one child gave instructions the other dilligently followed it and created a model.

Children playing communication game in a pair

Shwetha and Rakesh enacted and narrated the story of the thirsty crow.Making the train and the tower building was another wonderful thing. No child complained of hunger even though it was past 2.30 PM. They were all immersed and engrossed in their game.

Interactions with the parents assured me that the parents were equally happy and enthusiastic about sending their kids to the anganwadi. The happy parents also added that Lego was the reason why children didn’t miss school anymore. Infact, they seemed more than eager to go to school every day morning. The hard work and the efforts put forward by the teacher and the helper were appreciated by the parents. The helper is also motivated, that she hopes to be a part of the Akshara training soon. The Anganwadi trainer is all excited about the Lego kit.  This is the first time in her 32 years of service has she witnessed creative teaching like this. The Teaching Learning Material, the work books and the Lego kit have redefined teaching methods she says. The happy faces of the children and the parents make her happy.

The teacher attributes that the Akshara’s support has helped her in more than one ways. The attendance of the children has increased and so has the community involvement. Some parents are regular to the centre and play Lego games along with their children. Mr. Nagappa, a community leader has donated a mirror, mats and plates for the Anganwadi. The Deputy Director of Women and Child Welfare Department, Ms.Annapurna has appreciated the workers efforts and support of Akshara.  Netrawathi’s name has been nominated for the award as the best Anganwadi worker by the Department. Netrawathi, with tears of joy in her eyes says, “Thanks to Akshara for all the support and materials. She also extends her thanks to Mrs. Ratna, the Field Co-coordinator for helping her make this Anganwadi such a joyous place.

“Kudos to the Teachers”

Together, We Can is an Akshara campaign for action in education. It is based on the simple axiom that people when they get together can do far more than when they are out there alone, striving along lonely furrows. This is a platform where stakeholders in education can congregate for a common cause.

On the 18th of April, Together, We Can organised the first of many sustained campaigns to come, with a signature public function to salute two government centres of education,distinguished by their pursuit of excellence. Konankunte Anganwadi in Bangalore and the Government Kannada Lower Primary School (GKLPS) in Marasandahalli, Hoskote Block, function within a system that is known more for poor delivery and under-achievement, and yet they are a cut above, occupying niche spaces,with teachers like Sunanda, Nagarani and Shyam Shankar who uphold the high ideals of the teaching profession.

Journalists from the print media, invited to the event, covered these exemplary newsmakers in the next editions of their newspapers.

The Times of India’s report online generated a wave of enthusiastic reader responses, with 56 comments posted by people from all over India – from the UK and Australia as well – profuse with praise and acknowledgement for three stalwarts who brighten the sometimes tarnished image of the government teaching fraternity.  They are citizens ready to reciprocate to stories that highlight the positive. Especially in a depressing climate when corruption, scams, rape, ineptitude and ignominy never seem to vacate the headlines.

As B. Shiv Kumar from Nizamabad said, “This is a great piece of news. After reading about crimes like molestation, robberies, murder and cheating it is refreshing to read about the good work done by some noble souls. Congratulations to Ms.Nagarani, Mr.Shyam Shankar and Ms.Sunanda for their selfless service.”

Rajesh from Bangalore remarked pungently, “There are at least some dedicated people in the corruption capital of India!”

For most readers it was this overturning of the dark, seamy narrative of everyday news that struck a chord, the story a counter-current to the negativity that permeates national discourse.

ShitijTyagi from Melbourne in his long post despaired of the excessive focus on India’s negative side. “We Indians have talent, ability and success stories, but lack leadership…..” Shitij sought to re-establish India’s confidence and wrote about the country’s inspiring accomplishments in many fields. The sentiments vibrated, sparking a conversation within a conversation, and its own little chain of comments.

GovindBharad of Akola and Bonny Moraes of Goa reminisced about an era when idealism etched the lives people led. They spoke of village teachers whose hallmarks were sincerity, purpose, relentless hard work for an absolute pittance, and selfless service

The people who responded have great reverence for teaching, placing it on a high pedestal, the work the teachers do ennobling them.

Annamalai wrote, “Kudos to the teachers. They are assets to this noble profession. Let other teachers follow in their footsteps.”

Danem Group from Kasargod commented, “These teachers are doing what they ought to do. Teaching is one of the noblest professions and they are doing justice to it by imparting knowledge and learning unselfishly and in a dedicated manner. The schools also should be applauded for their dedication and support to these teachers.”

A little window here then to the three teachers who have aroused such heart-warming responses in The Times of India. Sunanda, the anganwadi teacher, has spent thirty six years of her professional life steering the Konankunte Anganwadi to new heights. She has an unshakeable belief in the transformative power of education and is an unsparing, but fun-filled teacher to her students. Nagarani and Shyam Shankar of the Marasandahalli school travel 42 kilometres every morning to get to school, and are rarely absent. Together they make a formidable team, inculcating in students values, leadership and a desire for goal-oriented academic progression.

It amazes ordinary, concerned citizens that in government there are custodians of education actually doing their job. It restores faith in a system that is increasingly ceasing to inspire.

As Vaibhav Jindal from Mumbai noted in Hindi, “It feels good to hear that there are people in government jobs putting in so much effort.”

Learn something from these role models was a message that rang out, along with the overflow of goodwill and affirmation.

Amol from Delhi said, “These are real heroes. Politicians, corporates and the media should learn something from them.”

Krsna099 from Malura, Dalhousie said, “….government schools are despised and known as ‘jhuggi jhonpdi schools’ (slum schools.) …..the standard of education in these schools is low and that is because the teachers posted there perhaps do not take interest. The examples from Bangalore show that if teachers are really sincere and dedicated and view their employment as social service, they can turn the tide. Education Departments must learn from this story.”

For every reader that responded there must be ten others who chose to remain silent. Akshara hopes this silent majority will also come forth and participate in a process that needs civil society’s active intervention. Sunanda, Nagarani and Shyam Shankar are symbols of hope.They bring fresh momentum to the stagnant status quo of education. Their stories lift morale. People feel restored and uplifted and inspired to do something.

As Gopal B. from Bombay observed, “Such inspiring stories should be given wide coverage so that the public at large get inspired to do their bit. It is depressing to read newspapers with so much of negative news, which affects people and their mindset when working. But these inspiring stories are like a breath of fresh air and will surely inspire people and dispel the gloom.”

Finally, in the words of Pardeep Singh of Ludhiana, “Thank God, something to cheer about.”

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