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We are a student-run 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization aiming to improve the overall quality of life of the residents of Ananthaiahgaripalli, a rural village in the Kadapa district of Andhra Pradesh, India. It is our conviction that education will provide villagers with the tools to better their sub-par standard of living. For this reason, the project will construct and open a primary and secondary school in the village’s vicinity, welcoming children from the area to attend. The facilities will be free of charge in order to accommodate poor village children. We will also implement a clean water system to supplement the children's education. We recognize the ambitious nature of our project. We are confident, however, that with your support, we can improve the lives of the poor -- one child at a time!

Friday, August 20, 2010

From concept to concrete

As our time in India comes to a close, our work begins to solidify and assume a more tangible form. Throughout the year we attempted to put together our project proposal (an official document detailing the minutiae and plans of our endeavor), but never succeeded in compiling a thorough and focused game plan. Although we had prepared ourselves and thought out our ideas extensively, it proved difficult to put something so crucial together before immersing ourselves in not only Indian culture, but also life in the village of Ananthaiahgaripalli. We had to assess the needs of the village, including understanding the current role of the government school and its shortcomings, the lack of resources, and the villagers' perspectives.

Malli, servant daughter and love of our lives.

We arrived in Ananthaiahgaripalli the second time with a precise game plan in mind. The welcome we received when we came back was heartwarming. Since we were no longer strangers, families welcomed us into their homes without qualms and children ran up to us to jump on our backs and braid our hair. All inhibitions gone, we not only loved and felt loved in return, but we could feel the common appreciation and excitement for our plans. To contour the curriculum and school facilities to the immediate and long-term needs of the villagers, we conducted a needs-assessment survey in which we interviewed a number of families and children to gain a better position on their value systems, financial situations, perception of gender roles, marriageable age, and how these factors influence their view of education and schooling.

Malli and her father.  Although currently enrolled in school, she acknowledges that she will soon drop out to be a servant.

We found that most families in the village fall into a similar frame. Due to the entirely rural nature of the area, the livelihood does not vary greatly from family to family. Men tend to land (they either own their own land or work on someone else's), look after their farm animals (mostly cattle and foul), or freelance their labor from week to week to make a living. Women and children keep the house, prepare meals, and help in tending to farm animals. Gender roles largely dominate the interaction between men and women in the village; they are clearly defined and not often breached. Marriageable age is somewhere between 15 and 18, and women are expected to get married, usually as a means of ameliorating financial duress. Money is sparse in the village, and children often stay home because the family cannot afford to lose another potential laborer. Many families we interviewed recalled marrying their daughters early because they could not feed another mouth. Almost everyone expressed a genuine interest in the possibility of keeping their children in school, to avoid falling into the same pattern of life, but in an ideal world without onerous financial situations. This a hugely important idea to consider. We can build a school, provide the facilities and the resources, but how can we provide families with the incentive to send their children to school everyday? Taking a hint from the Pardada Pardadi Educational Society in New Delhi, we are considering putting a small sum of money into a fund for each day that a child goes to school which they can only withdraw when they complete the 10th standard.  This would serve as an ongoing incentive to send children to school, enabling them to obtain a full education and graduate with the means to help their families, continue their education, or start up their own lives as they please.

The government-run school only goes up to the 5th standard and is house in a dilapidated building.

When asked about the resources lacking in the village, every villager we interviewed unanimously expressed a dire need for greater water availability and quality, and a hospital. We plan on instituting both of these things before the completion of the Sanjeevani Project. As discussed earlier, not only will we provide a clean-water filtration system but also a 25,000 liter water tank to ensure a constant supply of water throughout the year. A health center will also be phased in and families of children enrolled in the school will have preference of some sort, to continue to promote enrollment and attendance in the school.

Not only children would benefit from our endeavor.  A health center, community hall, and clean water resources will aid in the improvement of the overall quality of life in the village.

Extracurricular activities and leisure activities are mostly a spoiled concept. Elders in the village do not possess any special skills that they can teach children; families and children often sit idle or fall victim to the lure of mischief and alcohol. When asked if they would enjoy having these resources available for fun and to diversify their daily activities, almost every family expressed interest. Our multipurpose hall will serve the role of community involvement and development.  It will also be the stage for addressing common health issues (especially women's health, a conversational taboo in the village).

We continued conducting our needs-assessment surveys throughout the week, with Abhita's uncle serving as our ever-amiable translator. It was a real help to have someone so friendly act as the medium between us and families. All of the stories we heard were so moving that one has to wonder if the families would have volunteered the information to just anyone.

We submitted our completed and culturally relevant project proposal to the YSR (formerly Kadapa) District Collector, and verbally presented our ideas to him. He was impressed, to say the least. It was quite a relief to see the District Collector so moved by our efforts! He expressed his desire to help us in any way that he could and is forwarding our request to begin construction on the 10-acre plot of land. Within the next two months we should have government approval and we can begin preparing for construction.

We hope we have made you aware of the urgency of our cause.  We ask you to donate to our cause; each rupee counts more than you could ever imagine.

Love, Peace and Schools,

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