We spent the next three days at a remarkable school, Akshay Pratishthan, being run by some truly amazing educators. Akshay was set up as a small school in tents in 1988 as a unique experiment in inclusion and inclusive education. It has expanded to become a rehabilitation center providing support and education to more than 450 children. It has become well known for its vocational training, medical care, and employment opportunities for children who are underprivileged and “differently abled”. Their dream is to give the disabled and backward sections of society an education and a platform to prove themselves and show that the sky is the limit. Even though the school receives support from a number of service organizations – to name a few, The Ministry of Social Justice & Empowerment, The Rotary Clubs of Delhi & Regency, The Embassies of Switzerland & Italy, and The British High Commission – because of the incredible need, it struggles to find funds to achieve their dreams.
Our three days at the school were very successful. For the first two days, we taught stick loom weaving to what started out as a small group but numbers quickly tripled within an hour with more and more teachers and students wanting to learn how to weave. Sahara had brought a suitcase full of materials needed to teach the children weaving and drawing. She is an artist herself and has been a Professor of Art for the past 37 years. She came well prepared and started the children off with a simple project that most were able to achieve while others caught on quickly and took it to another level. To the astonishment of the teachers, some of the students became skilled enough to produce personal items such as wrist bands, necklaces, cell phone carriers, and small purses. It was both a challenge and a joy to work with the children and see the smiles and sense of achievement when they were able to make it work.
On the third day, we changed tasks. Sarah comes from cowboy country in Nevada. She has been involved with the cowboy culture most of her life and has great admiration for their way of life. She talked to the students about the similarities between the cow herders in India and the cowboys in the American West. Then she walked them through a process where they were able to draw a picture of cowboy: the results were amazing. Some of the children have wonderful talent.
We are finished now and are moving south; we have left the school with the tools and knowledge to carry on and expand the projects Sarah started. The teachers and Mrs. Aruna, founder and Chairperson, were excited about what we were able to achieve and gave up both parting gifts and requests to think about returning for a longer period of time. It was a heartwarming experience.