Youth—Our Future: Education in Rural India

The Nareshwadi Learning Centre is a 12-acre campus near Dundhalwadi, Dahanu Taluka, about 130 km from Mumbai, in the Indian state of Maharashtra. Established by the Girivanavasi Educational Trust (GVET) in 1991, the Nareshwadi Learning Centre provides holistic education to underprivileged, abused, and orphaned children in an environment that nurtures their bodies and minds; encouraging their innate curiosity and playfulness while helping them realize their full human potential.

In 2011, WEIF partnered with GVET and CIDA under an initiative called "Yuvak—Apna Bhavishya" (Hindi for "Youth—Our Future"). The project is designed as an intervention to improve the quality of life among women, men and children of tribal communities surrounding the Centre through income generation, access to quality health care, education, and employment opportunities.

The project was officially completed in May 2015, and WEIF is now working with Nareshwadi to achieve self-sustainability and continued growth through Nareshwadi Ventures. Nareshwadi Ventures will strengthen GVET's long-term economic sustainability through revenue-generating activities such as Warli Art, dairy farming, an apiary, and garment-making. WEIF provided funding for the set-up of pilot projects in each area in early 2011, and all of these avenues continually show growth and promise. Organic honey from the apiary is sold to individuals and neighboring hotels, while milk from the dairy farm is provided to the children and excess delivered to the city for sale. A retail store has been established for the products of the garment-making program, and Warli Art has found a large local and international market for the sale of its crafts. The ultimate goal of Nareshwadi Ventures is to enable the school to operate and enhance its programs without relying on the support of outside donors and partners.

WEIF's efforts at the Centre include:

  • Construction of a New Classroom Building
    With grant funding from Alberta's Community Initiatives Program (CIP), the Somaiya Trust, WEIF's and corporate and personal donations, WEIF has replaced Nareshwadi's spread-out, weather-damaged classrooms with a two-storey classroom that will be named "Saraswati Nareshwadi School". Construction of the building commenced in October 2012 and the building was inaugurated in July 2014. This activity will allow students and teachers to share a nurturing learning environment that is clean and safe.

    WEIF's accomplishments in 2015 included completion of the New Girls Hostel, which is a fully furnished, female only residence for girls attending the Nareshwadi School. The Boys Hostel was repaired and all hostels have been provided with bunk beds, mattresses, and linens, which were constructed in-house by skilled and dedicated staff. Currently, over 250 girls are living in the new hostel and over 700 residential and day students are attending classes at the school. In addition, WEIF supported the installation of 10 solar-powered lights at strategic locations around the campus to sustainably mitigate the challenges caused by the regular power outages Nareshwadi faces. The installation of the lights was used as a training exercise for students enrolled in Nareshwadi's vocational programs, and the lights will allow Nareshwadi to reduce their overhead costs, while enabling the children to move around campus more securely in the evenings. WEIF had previously funded construction of a 9th Standard classroom, which is now filling as essential role as the library and audio-visual space for the school, as classes have been moved to a new building. The building has been named "Ganga" and now provides much needed study space for the youth attending school at Nareshwadi.
  • Teacher Training in Gender Sensitivity and Innovative Learning Methodologies
    WEIF is supporting the Nareshwadi staff in their commitment to creating a supportive and inclusive learning environment that fosters the development of students of all genders and abilities. In late 2012, 30 Nareshwadi teachers were trained at the Rishi Valley Institute for Educational Research (RIVER). The training exposed teachers to innovative, child-centred learning methodologies that better equips them to address the needs of all students. The positive impact of the training was reflected in student progress reports in March 2013, which displayed significant improvements for students in first to fourth standard, and teachers from fifth to tenth standard have implemented small projects to utilize activity-based learning in their classrooms.

    Nareshwadi organized three workshops for its teachers conducted by faculty of the Maharashtra Dyslexia Association (MDA). MDA provides teachers with the knowledge and experience to recognize and develop strategies for students with learning difficulties. These sessions were held on campus throughout 2012 and 2013. Teachers reported that the training made them more sensitive to the needs of children in their classrooms, and students struggling with learning difficulties showed a noticeable improvement in classroom performance and participation.

    Gender sensitivity training for staff and teachers was provided by Indian NGO Visthar. Visthar offers a one-month certificate course in Gender Diversity and Social Transformation, which is accredited by the Xavier Institute of Social Services (XISS) in Ranchi, Jharkhand. Between 2011 and 2014 WEIF financed the training of six Nareshwadi staff (four men and two women) in this program. Another six teachers received training in 2015. These trained teachers have formed a Gender Group on campus, where they conduct sessions for fellow staff to raise awareness of gender inequalities, especially as they pertain to the classroom. Under the Village Improvement Initiative, Early Childhood Education (ECE) and health care trainees also receive training in gender sensitivity at these sessions. Innovative training for teachers is helping to make Nareshwadi a model for other rural schools in Dahanu, as trained staff share their knowledge and experience with teachers from other schools in the region.
  • Expanding the Vocational Educational Training Centre (VETC)
    Nareshwadi's Vocational Training Centre provides girls and boys from Nareshwadi and youth from neighbouring villages with training to secure a future with gainful employment. All students between 7th and 10th standard receive training in Agriculture, Garment-Making, Plumbing, Computers, and Warli Art. 40 village youth between the ages of 18 and 25 who have no access to formal education have been trained each year in the trade of their choice. These students will receive official government certificates upon completion of the course, equipping them with the confidence and skills to break the cycle of poverty in their families and communities. A data bank of potential employers is maintained and monitored by the VETC Manager, with trainee profiles shared with potential employers for job placement. Trainees opting for self-employment will be supported with introductions to financial institutions for assistance. Construction of the upgraded facility commenced in June 2012. This new building will allow all courses to operate simultaneously, providing more opportunities to students.

  • Improving English Literacy with LeapForWord
    In August of 2015, WEIF formed a partnership with LeapForWord, a grassroots program designed to train teachers with lower skill levels in English to deliver basic English classes in under-served regions. LeapForWord hopes to eliminate the need for teachers with complete English fluency to deliver English language programs. WEIF has supported LeapForWord in providing learning tools for students, while LeapForWord trains teachers using self-learning modules, audio-visual programs, and a Teacher's Toolkit containing LeapForWord English language modules for students. Teachers in Nareshwadi completed their certification program near the end of 2015 and are now delivering English Literacy programs in their classrooms.
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