The learning journey that begins with Akshara at a primary school level, never really ends, but if we had to name our ‘destination’, we may describe it as ‘enabling young people to stand confidently on their own feet, with dignity and a sense of purpose’. With our focus on empowering girls, this aim becomes particularly relevant. Hence, we think it is important to provide our students the opportunity to learn skills that will enable them to earn a livelihood. One example of this is the Kruti Women’s Initiative which teaches girls to sew and tailor, producing goods that are the result of careful market research.
Kruti (Women’s Entrepreneurship Collective)
The Marathi word Kruti means ‘action’. The programme emerged when two Akshara alumni, diploma holders in fashion design, began designing and producing handbags. The programme is growing in scope and numbers as it strives to be a model for more projects in the Mulshi valley. Kruti aims to be a resource-friendly business, using scrap cloth sourced from tailors. It also aims to retain a cooperative business model with equal shares for all the women involved. Two training programmes for Kruti girls were successfully organised in collaboration with Symbiosis Community College. In May 2014, Kruti held its first exhibition of beautifully tailored designer clothes in Pune city, through their brand name Anvita.
Earn and Learn Model
The Disha (Direction) Programme aims to empower older students by making them responsible for their own futures. It provides financial support to those students who choose to leave their community to study. This is in the form of a loan towards further education, to be repaid by the student when she secures a job. We also encourage students to ‘earn and learn’ by working part-time to defray some of the costs of their education. For example, a student in the hospitality industry may work part-time in the restaurant/hotel in partial lieu of fees.
Diwali, the festival of lights, brings the much-anticipated Akshara Mela – the Akshara Fair. With handicraft and food stalls put up by students from the village schools, the Mela, held on the MUWCI campus, is an ideal occasion for drawing together creative pursuits and the basics of business practice (accounting, profit and loss, etc.). Each year, one batch of school students from the community schools works towards this activity, making jewellery, pottery, needlework, food items etc. The students are trained in these crafts by the Akshara team. They also enjoy putting together a cultural show for the MUWCI students and staff. Akshara alumni often say that working hard towards the Akshara Mela and feeling immense satisfaction at what they achieved, is one of the fondest memories they have of their school days.