We have a trained senior counsellor on the Akshara team, but it would not be an exaggeration to say that all our teachers are lay counsellors in-the-making. They are prepared for this by the discussions and interactions that we have as a teaching team, in which we frequently discuss how to handle various situations. We also attend workshops and training sessions to build our counselling and guidance skills.
Our connection with the young people we teach goes far beyond the classroom and the curriculum. Recognising that holistic learning cannot ignore the children’s emotional state, we visit their homes and get to know their families and family situations; we hear about financial or personal problems; we listen to what local community members say about social problems that need to be dealt with. These frequent home visits, parent meetings and workshops are occasions to deepen our understanding of the community and to provide guidance where and when required. If a particular person requires one-on-one counselling, sessions are scheduled for the same with our senior counsellor.
In our experience to date, we have not managed to help resolve issues and problems through dialogue and negotiation, without having to seek recourse to formal legal aid. We have helped to resolve property disputes, family issues, educational obstacles, instances of VAW etc. – particularly where these impinged on the safety and happiness of our girl students.
Our students, like their counterparts in the city, need guidance to answer that age-old question: ‘After school, WHAT?’ We form a fairly rounded picture of our students’ aims, talents and capacities through careful observation and informal conversations over the years but also through an aptitude test that we administer to the school-leaving students. This allows us to make informed suggestions of the type of course the students could go towards. Akshara also invites speakers from a range of backgrounds to speak with the students and orient them about various avenues of opportunity.
Supporting Individuals at Risk
We feel that the ‘weakest link’ often requires our strongest efforts. We have intervened in the past to ensure that girls are not subject to violence, early marriages or a break in their education due to family pressures. We work with local Katkari tribal communities through our Samagrata Programme which helps to create a safer environment through initiatives like solar lighting, basic healthcare and low-cost sanitation, and also offers children some educational support.
We have also helped to relocate HIV-positive children to a place where she would receive better care, and similarly, helped an unwed teenage mother. In the future, Akshara plans to work with deserted women between the ages of 16-22 and provide them with livelihood opportunities. We also plan to address the issues related to a group of children who, for various reasons, are reluctant to go to school, and ensure that they complete primary education.