In March 2008, we took our youngest child to date into the Residential Program, little Ramu, who, at 12 months old, certainly kept everyone on their toes!
Concurrently, we decided to begin a pilot program to test the potential for the children in our Education Outreach Program to succeed in English-medium private schools. Knowledge of English is an extremely important job skill in India, particularly in a city like Pune that has seen rapid development and industrial growth in recent years. Switching to English-medium education was a tremendous development for the program, as the initial group of children that made up the Education Outreach Program had been enrolled in nearby Marathi-medium government schools. The reason for this was simple – we didn’t know if these children could actually succeed in competitive, private, English-medium schools – not for lack of ability, but for lack of support, and for the huge disparities that existed in their family/living situations when compared to their classmates. However, having seen the high rates of teacher absenteeism, crumbling, overcrowded, unsanitary facilities and abysmal quality of the education offered at Indian government schools, we decided it was time to aim higher for our students.
By mid-2008, the Education Outreach Program was comprised of almost 90 boys and girls, of which a small group had been prepared intensively for admission in a prestigious English-medium kindergarten program.
The spring of 2008 also saw the inception of various community development projects, which were initially grouped under the banner of the Health Outreach Program, and later grew into a separate Community Outreach Program. The Community Outreach Program was designed to complement the Health and Education Outreach Programs in the belief that healthy, educated, empowered families and communities were necessary for the cultivation of similarly healthy, educated, empowered children. The Community Outreach Program was launched with legal advocacy assistance and workshops, an adult literacy program, numerous and varied vocational training programs and the formation of microcredit savings groups.
In October, we were thrilled to add Pooja, age 11, to the Residential Program family. The ever-diminishing space in the 3-bedroom flat was now home to 11 children and several care-giving adults. Thankfully, in the last week of November, we moved the Residential Program into our new house, a beautiful bungalow with enough space for two girls’ bedrooms, 2 boys’ bedrooms, two classrooms and even a small library.