After her father died and mother remarried, Archana was brought up by her grandmother. Now, as a responsible adult who thanks Akshara for instilling in her ethics and values, Archana looks after her old grandmother.
As part of the first Akshara batch, Archana came to the MUWCI campus once a week, on Saturdays. But she valued the guidance that she received for Science, Maths and English for the board exam. When one of the Akshara teachers suggested that she call her by name rather than ‘ma’am’, Archana was taken aback. It hadn’t occurred to her that a student and teacher could share a relationship based on friendship. Later, Akshara helped her with career choices and registering for courses at the University. Archana is a graduate who is now pursuing a degree in Law because she is interested in women’s issues and in using the law to assist women to gain their rights. She still attends women’s meetings organised in the village by Akshara. Archana has also completed an aviation course.
While working with Akshara, I had the opportunity to deepen my understanding of gender equality and power dynamics. Open discussions about man-woman relationships took place with the volunteers visiting Akshara. My perception changed from thinking of a man either as one to be feared of or to get attracted to, to looking at men as friends, human beings that one worked with and associated with in society.
Anita Bhau Thombare
Anita was in 8th std when she became an Akshara student. As the eldest daughter, Anita’s parents saddled her with many responsibilities and her education was not a priority. After Anita passed 10th grade, they were reluctant for her to study further. But Anita was as determined as she was soft-spoken. With the support of Akshara, she chose to do a two-year course in fashion designing at the Maharishi Karve Institute. A girl who had never even visited the nearby market centre of Paud, was ready to go off alone to the city to study!
On completion of her course, Anita started working in a boutique but soon realised that her skills could be better utilised. She and a few other Akshara girls started the Kruti Creative Group, producing handbags, tops, Indian dresses, skirts etc. Led by Anita, this group has made more than Rs 50,000 profit so far.
If not for Akshara, I would have been barely able to study till 12th std. My parents wouldn’t have sent me to Pune to study. Now, my younger sister gets to study till B.A in Pirangut College. My parents are thinking about my marriage. But I have told my parents that I will only marry a man who allows me to do my work.
Shilpa’s family was poor, even by local standards. Her father had died when she was in 2nd std. With two younger brothers and a grandmother who lived with them, it was hard to make ends meet. Yet, Shilpa did not let this get her down. She was always very proactive in her thoughts and actions, often the first to initiate new ideas in her house and village. Shilpa also loved the Akshara classes – she would be the first one to come for class every day. She has now been selected for the one year Foundation IB course which may give her the opportunity to study further at a UWC. She lives on the MUWCI campus and participates in all the campus activities. Additionally, Shilpa also works in Akshara whenever she get an opportunity. She credits Akshara with instilling in her the self-esteem and confidence which allowed her to accept her family background with dignity and equanimity.
Attending Akshara classes inculcated some good study skills. I also learnt the joy and importance of helping others by doing the sanitation project. I like speaking to the foreign students on campus. With whatever English I had, I could communicate with them and tried to learn their language. There was definitely some sort of cultural exchange between the foreign students and me.
Enrolled in the Akshara programme since 2010 when she was in 8th grade, Sonal has a younger brother and sister who are also a part of the Akshara family. As a sensitive girl easily affected by tensions in her environment, Sonal’s grades began to fall until one day, she stopped going to school. She lost her confidence and mental balance. Unfortunately, her illiterate parents interpreted Sonal’s irrational behaviour as possession by a evil spirit. The sensitive child was made a victim of various excruciating exorcism rituals which only worsened her mental health. At this point, Akshara intervened and admitted Sonali to the hospital.
With constant counselling, monitoring and support from Akshara, Sonal gradually regained her balance and even passed her school-leaving exam. Today, Sonal is not only studying for her 12th but also working, earning and helping herself. She wants to be a teacher and dreams of working in Akshara!
I feel that one important year of my life was wasted. But later, I realized that there is no option to study. The more I study, the better opportunities I will have. So, with lots of efforts and struggle, I study, study and study.