Beginnings with AI


As part of their documentary series “Time for School,” the PBS NewsHour reported that “while the number of children out of school has been cut almost in half, there are still 57 million worldwide who have never set foot in a classroom. Hundreds of millions more have dropped out” (9/22/2015). The story featured a young girl in rural India who loved school but was forced to leave having only completed second grade. She was more valuable to her family on the farm. Years later, married and a mother, she vows things will be different for her daughter. Her husband agrees. Perhaps there will be a happy ending of sorts for the mother down the road through the daughter. Still, she’s wistful about what could have been. Had she continued in school, she’d be able to “hold her own with educated folks.” Now all she has is farming and housework.

Contrast that with the story of a young woman in Ahmedabad, Gitanjali, whose life has undergone a metamorphosis, thanks to the intervention of AI and its partner, the Center for Development. The daughter of poor vegetable sellers, Gitanjali grew up in a family where food was scarce and amenities nonexistent. As the third child, and a girl, education was never a priority. She was burdened with household chores and discontinued school completely after fifth grade, unable to read or write. At the age of 19, she was married off. Within six months of the marriage, her husband was murdered, and she returned to her parents and found herself taking care of her brother’s children.


The future looked bleak. That changed in May 2015 when she came into contact with volunteers from the Kadam Education Initiative (run by AI partner, the Center for Development) and started coming to their resource center for girls. She set to work mastering the alphabet and learning to use a computer. She is the only non-school going member of the center but is considered an asset. She gets the children in her neighborhood enrolled in school and encourages them to study hard. At a training program organized by Cfd, under an AI program for women leaders, she learned about the Right to Education Act. Then she did an amazing thing: she made lists of eligible children under the 25% quota provision (for getting the poor into private schools) and helped their parents apply. Seven children who weren’t going to school do so now in private schools. Think what that has done for her self-confidence and sense of self-worth as a contributing member of society.

Then there’s Padma (39), a member of the Sembarathai Farmer’s Producer Group in Tamil Nadu, India. AI’s SoCCs program changed her life, giving her access to capital she never had before. Hers is an agricultural family with an acre of land to cultivate. She and her husband make their living growing crops and onions. They have three daughters.

Like many others in Indian villages, Padma works hard, cooking, cleaning, getting her children to and from school, working in the fields, then making dinner and doing the evening chores. She got to know about AI’s SoCCs program through MSSRF** volunteers working in her village. She enrolled in it and started earning SoCCs credits by attending vermi-compost training meetings and helping to de-silt community canals. As a result of SoCCs rewards, Prema’s monthly income has increased by 4,500 INR, which is enough to send her three daughters to a good school. They will complete their educations and have choices and opportunities their parents never dreamed of.

If you haven’t purchased tickets to Asia Initiatives’ 15th anniversary gala, Monday, October 12, at the New York Athletic Club, from 6:30 p.m., it’s not too late. We have so many success stories to share with you. Please come and see the smiling faces of the women whose lives have changed, thanks to you.

**M. S. Swaminathan Research Foundation, Chennai, India.

– Anne Papantonio, Board Member

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