When we say that our models for adolescent development and education are holistic, we literally mean that we start from the womb and end when the child is placed in a job.

A child cannot grow up well if her/his mother is not well fed and cared for. We see to the mother’s health when she is pregnant by providing supplements. When the child is born, the mother brings her baby to our health center’s mother-baby classes and we focus on their nutrition and hygiene. Then, the child attends extra classes, beginning from nursery, all the way to 10th standard. And we don’t stop there; we want to see our students studying in colleges around the city (and around the world) and then land a job. Ultimately, we want them to take the leadership in transforming their communities, where once, going to school wasn’t an option. But we don’t live in such times anymore. Quality education is a right for every child and we want them to become change makers in their own communities. by teaching the importance of education to future generations.

We begin each academic year by assessing our progress in each program and determining how to make them stronger. We recently decided our goals for this academic year, and they are centered on sustaining our progress with each student and with the communities, especially on matters related to health.

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Our goals for this academic year are focused on improving our existing programs, determining the new community-oriented ones to set up, and, of course, keeping our student motivation and morale up on a daily basis!

AIC has, since its inception in 2005, taken small steps towards providing kids with a basic education, but now, we are working towards ensuring this is quality education. A decade ago, very few Waghri and Sikhligar children from the Yerwada community went to school, and now 90% of them are receiving at least a government school education. But we know that the quality of government schools is low, and we want our students to earn admissions to the best schools in Pune! A few are attending prestigious private schools such as Nagarwala and Avsara Academy. Aditi Burutkar (see her feature here [link to Aditi’s blog post]) will take the United World College entrance exam this fall. Our students, when given the opportunities, are taking full advantage of them, so it would be incredible to see what they would do with a private school education.

Yet we realize this is a big goal, so in order to accomplish it, we plan to take smaller steps  in this year.

In the area of education, we firstly want to sustain our student strength. About 90% of our students are attending college, and we want to ensure that students don’t drop out at 10th standard or earlier. We want them to persist through the tough times and resist certain societal expectations that stand between them and school. Some boys drop out in secondary school to go work in their family business, and many girls are told to finish their education at 10th and focus on marriage, because urban universities have the reputation amongst conservative communities as places where the youth go to be “corrupted”, even though the universities in Pune offer some of the best education in India. We want to change the mindset of parents about college, and we’d like to do this through individual and community meetings.

Not only should they attend school regularly, but we’re looking for a 100% pass out rate in secondary school. In India, every child passes until 8th standard, an issue that is under debate, rightly so. Final examinations are introduced in 8th standard, and we want each and every student who comes to the Center to pass 8th, 9th, and 10th standard. We are really close to this goal, so this year we want to give extra attention in our tutoring classes to those who are falling even a bit behind!

For every student, regardless of whether or not they are falling behind or passing with flying colors, dialogue with the parents and families will allow us to address their queries and concerns better, and we plan to do this by holding community meetings every two months rather than every six, as we have been. We want this place to be an effective forum for discussion and also to share important information that parents need to know about health and education.

Education isn’t enough for us. We also focus on their health because we want to positively influence students’ physical, socio-emotional, and cognitive development alongside their intellectual one. Of course, we want the ideal scenario; we want everyone to be healthy and that is our ultimate goal, but right now, we’re thinking about how to take it a step at a time.

We want them to participate in activities that are outside of their comfort zone this year in school, so that they can determine what their interests are after trying new things. The simple act of stepping outside of one’s comfort zone will shape the child cognitively and socially, and broaden their spectrum of possibility.

Growth in this area, along with in the physical sphere, requires that we pay attention to their hygiene as well. Last year’s health camps and mother baby classes were a success and we plan to continue both this year. Along with that, our teachers will pay more attention to the hygiene of their students in their classrooms. The goal of this is not to make them feel bad, but to individually address those who are at risk of health issues if they do not pay better attention to their hygiene.

Of course, a zero malnutrition rate, universal quality education for our students, and placement in good jobs are our mission, but we also are keen about implementing a rights-based approach to our model. The communities’ have had turbulent legal pasts, and now they are recognized by the government as socially marginalized because of their low caste status. But they are not receiving the benefits that they deserve, since many do not have documentation and awareness of the benefits that they should receive from the government, such as food rations and access to healthcare. If they are aware of this, and they have the documentation, then they will also have independence and self-awareness. This will mean that we have done what we set out to do.

And until all of this is accomplished (which we cannot do without the help of our moral supporters and donors!), we will ensure that, when a Waghri or Sikhligar mother is expecting a child, she and her baby are healthy and ready for a new life.

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