When we think about school, a surreal concoction of books, bags, teachers, playground and friends come to mind. But, often, in our recollections, we inadvertently ignore an important organ of this living organism – the helping staff. But, Anvita, Kanika and Tanvi, erstwhile students of National Public School, Koramangala, class of 2018 and her friends Kanika and Tanvi have made sure that this was not the case in their school. In 2015, an event was organised in their school that focussed on celebrating the work of women helpers, fondly called as Akkas (or elder sister in Kannada). As a part of a broader effort, the students were divided into groups of three and had to interact with the Akkas for a period of 6 months. Post that, they would have to write a story on the lives of the Akkas, portraying them as a hero, which would eventually be compiled into a book and presented to them. The experience which followed led them to forming empoWer.
This journey proved to be revelatory for the three girls and proved to be an eye-opener for them. As they interacted with Akkas about their lives, aspirations and difficulties, they noticed that they always wore a smile on their faces, putting their difficulties behind. Their stories acted as motivation for Anvita, Kanika, and Tanvi to start volunteering at an orphanage for mentally disabled girls where they conducted workshops on hygiene, sanitation and financial independence for maids of a large housing community. When the books, with the stories on Akkas, were printed, the trio went ahead to present them as gifts. That’s when they realised that they have made a grave yet silly error. The Akkas, though honoured to have their stories featured, couldn’t sadly read the stories as they were written in English. The incident left an indelible mark in their minds and thus started an initiative in the form of empoWer – an initiative where the Akkas of the school are taught by students to initiate their comprehension of English. Soon organisations like Step Up for India joined them to help them with the books and curriculum. Around 24 students from the school joined as participants and were given the training to start taking English lessons for the Akkas.
The empoWer team started their work in the early 2016 and now have 13 Akkas enrolled in their program called TeachpoWer where lessons are taught with the help of songs, games, relatable rhymes and gestures signifying various words. The rotational system ensures that an Akka is taught every day. Every year, an exam is conducted for the Akkas where their proficiency in the language is checked. The system has borne unprecedented impact on the Akkas as they have now started spelling out basic sentences in English. They can write their own name, draw their signature, write day and date on the classroom board and can understand teachers who talk to them in English. The work of empoWer strengthened when it was awarded the 3M – CII Young Innovators Awards in 2017. The prize money that they got from the awards was utilised in buying books, stationery and associated course material from Step up for India.
CII Foundation’s Woman Exemplar Program recognises exemplary grassroots women change agents who are working to transform excluded and disadvantaged communities of India in the fields of education, health and micro-enterprise in India. Every year 15 finalists are chosen, and 3 are declared winners, with prizes of Rupees 3 Lakhs to the winners and access to a six-month mentoring and leadership process to all finalists. Click Here to know more.
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