REAL makes 500 Bookmarks for Literacy!

IMG_0545       REAL participated in Bookmarks for Literacy through the organization Students Rebuild. The project involves creating handmade bookmarks. Every handmade bookmark mailed to Students Rebuild was matched by the Bezos Family Foundation for a dollar towards Save the Children’s Literacy Boost program, which helps build libraries, train teachers, and provides other literacy oriented activities in South America, Africa and Asia.

We wanted to participate in this project to help support global education. Since we wanted to use the project to promote literacy locally, we decided to host a bookmark making session at a local elementary school’s Art and Literacy Night, with the goal of making 500 bookmarks. In addition, we brought REAL brochures to inform others of our mission and the importance of education. Overall, the event was a great success! Not only did we fulfill our 500 bookmark goal, we also had the opportunity to interact with some very creative kids and to continue promoting literacy locally.

REAL Volunteers Visit PPES

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPPES is one of the rural schools that REAL supports and I have been the program coordinator for the school for the past four years. I had visited PPES once before with my family and spent a few hours there learning the operational details of the school. Since then, it has been my desire to stay onsite at the school and get to know the students not only in the class environment but their family environment as well.   My close friend, Sophia, who is a big supporter of REAL, was eager to make the trip with me. As our junior year in high school came to an end, we started making plans and by July, everything had begun to come together. We were headed to India and PPES with a lot of excitement and some specific goals: develop a long term relationship with the school and the students, experience their day to day life/give them an insight into ours, establish hands-on STEM activities for the school, pilot the peer to peer global mentoring program I had previously established, and help train the girls for their upcoming half marathon.

I had visited PPES in summer of 2011 and was looking forward to seeing how the school and the community around PPES had evolved in the past three years. One significant change at PPES since 2011 is the addition of a call center. The call center provides additional jobs for the vocational training program at PPES. Girls can choose to work at the call center after they graduate. At the call center, the girls book seats for the popular and extravagant Kingdom of Dreams show in Gourgon.   And being the only place with air-conditioning on campus, the call center became our safe haven throughout our week-long stay at PPES. We went there when we could not handle the heat.

Every morning at PPES, we would talk to the Principal, KK Sir, about the upcoming day’s plans. He often listed a few classes which had a free period. We would go to these classes as the teacher was leaving for a break and introduce ourselves. We played various games with the younger girls such the name game, Simon’s says and telephone; these games helped the girls get comfortable hearing us speak in English and tested their comprehension skills. We also brought two electric circuit kits to the school which could create over 200 circuit combinations and included speakers, a fan, and a light switch. It was fun to explain the concept of electricity to the upper grade students, demonstrate how to construct a circuit and then let them explore and discover the many ways to make different circuits on their own.

Sometime we would have a chance to go outside and play games with the students. We adored running around with the girls and teaching and learning games from them. They taught us one of their favorite games, Kho, and in turn loved the Frisbee and jump ropes we had taken for them from the US. Several of the girls at the school were training for a half marathon and would jog laps in the field in the morning. We are both long distance runners for our high school and provided some drills and stretching exercises for the girls and their instructor to use. It was excruciatingly hot, and even though we are cross country runners, we got tired jogging with them.

Our typical day consisted of waking up, taking a much needed shower and walking out of our room to a delicious breakfast sitting on the table. We ate breakfast and dinner at the guest house with Elsa Ji, the school nurse, any other volunteers that were there at the time, and Sonum, a girl who attended the school but lived at the guest house. We would go watch the morning assembly or help with the half marathon training at 8am and then talk to KK Sir about the rest of the day. We also observed classes, such as the computer class or the math class and studied their curriculum to provide suggestions for improvement. We walked around to different classes, getting to know the girls and the school. One of the days, I performed a Bharatnatyam classical dance for a few of the classes and the girls were highly interested and appreciative of the dance form. I taught some of the girls a few steps and they were excited to learn more. After school ended, we would journal about the day (usually in the comfort of the cool call center) and in the evening we relaxed and one day went to visit the nearby city of Anoopshahar.

In addition to working at the school, we had the chance to visit a hygiene clinic, a government hospital, and a few surrounding villages. It was an eye opening experience to see the way of life in the village first hand and their everyday activities.

We want to maintain long term connection with the girls at the school. During the past school year, I had started a tutoring program between a few older girls at PPES and peer students at my high school in the US with an objective to assist the girls in Math and English and cultivate a cultural exchange. We had some road blocks due to lack of internet connectivity at PPES for a few months, and long distance communication challenges. While on-site at PPES, we worked closely with the math and science teacher, Ashok Sir, to get the tutoring infrastructure set up. I was also successful in procuring 12 laptops for the school.

We came back from PPES with many memories and life experiences that will stay with us forever. It was very encouraging to see that REAL’s support to the school is making a difference. Sophia and I look forward to a lifetime of friendship with all the wonderful people we met and an ongoing relationship with the school and the community.


Thane Laptop Workshop

VACATION '14 021Dr. Goda, a primary doctor at the Dr. ML Dhawale Trust in Bhopoli , said to me on my first day at the school, “Reach where no one reaches and you will find ultimate happiness.” Two hours away from the heart of India’s busiest city, Mumbai, lies a rural village of tribal adivasi people who do not have access to some basic necessities. It was to this village, that I had the pleasure of spending one week teaching and interacting with the kids, helping them learn about technology and laptops. I was in India to pursue my dream: to help other children receive an education and by doing so, play a part in ending the cycle of poverty. Little did I know that the week I would spend with these kids would teach me more about myself and my life than any education that I could ever give them.

In order to fulfill this dream, the REAL board decided to donate 10 laptops to two rural schools in the tribal region of Thane. We felt that students in rural villages deserved the opportunity to use technology to further their education. After over a hundred hours of work of writing grants for laptops, and prepping the laptop with software for the students, we started on the long journey to Thane where my cousin and I spent one week teaching 10th grade students how to use laptops. Unable to speak or even understand their language, a few translators and I set out to teach about 85 students how to use the basics of a laptop, emphasizing use of Word and Paint. The first few days were extremely difficult as the students would not respond and I couldn’t communicate directly with any of them. I had no idea if they understood what they were being taught or if they were enjoying what they were doing. As the week progressed, however, I started to pick up some Marathi, and they started to understand a bit more English. I was finally able to effectively communicate with these students, understanding even better what they were struggling with and what they really enjoyed. This helped me shape the lesson plans so the students would get the most out of the experience.

Leaving the students on the last day was unbelievably difficult. Spending eight hours with these kids for six days straight lets you form such close relationships with the students. These relationships showed me the students’ strong desire to learn. These students live far below the poverty line, do not get to see their families, and live out of a carry on sized suitcase in a room smaller than an average sized classroom with 30 other students. Yet, they come into class every day eager to learn. It was encouraging to interact with students who truly want to learn, and never give up despite the circumstances. These kids are often declared stupid or incompetent, but I was able to see first-hand that they are brilliant, and all they need are the resources to explore their brilliance. Through this project and with the help of REAL, I was able to introduce these students to basic technology, teaching them one of the many skills they’ll need to be able to eventually bring their family out of the cycle of poverty.

VACATION '14 387

How a library and solar study lamps are helping ‘light an ignited mind’ in rural Bihar

PRAYOG (Professional Alliance for Youth Growth), an organization in India is catering to the needs of children from lesser advantaged communities by filling the deficit of infrastructure, health and education facilities in villages. PRAYOG’s library platform is currently serving to more than 400 children in the remotest part of Gopalganj district of Bihar. This library is operated by a youth volunteer.

This is very impressive and an interesting read.

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Education for ALL