Notes from the Field - Visiting India Part 1

Visiting India

In Kerala, many women go onto learn income-generating skills after starting off in basic adult literacy classes.

India is the seventh largest country in the world and offers a depth of culture and heritage. Many visitors expecting maharajahs and fabulous palaces are shocked when their first impressions are dominated by poverty instead. While parts of the Indian society are thriving with the country’s economic expansion, but larger portions still remain in extreme poverty.  ProLiteracy supports literacy programs within the poorest segments of India’s population where lower caste and tribal women and their children are the most severely marginalized.

Many of the women our partners work with not only lack educational and economic access, but are further victimized by long-standing practices and traditions of abuse. ProLiteracy partners focus on reaching learners in many urban slum areas and poorer villages of the neighboring southern India states of Tamil Nadu and Kerala, where the conditions are particularly severe.  ProLiteracy’s India partner organizations are based in these marginalized communities, and are helping residents confront educational, economic, health and human rights problems on a daily basis. 

ProLiteracy staff in india

Yuvaparivartan, one of ProLiteracy’s India partners, warmly welcomes ProLiteracy staff to their headquarter office in Coonoor.

ProLiteracy’s President and CEO, Kevin Morgan and Senior Program Officer, Alesha Anderson recently traveled to India to visit two long standing partner programs, Yuvaparivartan and LLET. The trip was scheduled partly for evaluation and monitoring from a three-year project supported by United Methodist Women (UMW) and to explore new publishing and content opportunities for New Readers Press, our publishing company.

Yuvaparivartan Site Visit in the Nilgris

ProLiteracy in india

Yuvaparivartan’s work integrates technical training with literacy so that women can apply literacy skills with income generation.

We started out visiting Yuvaparivartan (translates to ‘Youth for Change’) in the mountainous and lush Nilgris district. Many of the communities in the Nilgris survive off tea and coffee plantations. Many women who work as tea pickers make less than $1.25 per day.  After driving about 3 hours from Coimbatore and winding up narrow switchbacks, we arrived in Coonoor, a small city where Yuvaparivartan’s headquarter office is based. In India, for every 100 literate men, there are only 60 literate women. In the case of poorer communities, women’s figures drop to 40, or even 30.  For this reason, Yuvaparivartan has been focusing its efforts almost entirely on women. Their programs tackle a wide range of issues, mostly serving tribal populations and women and children in lower castes.

Yuvaparivartan serves roughly 5,400 participants per year and implements literacy and vocational training programs in 150 poor communities in and around Coonoor.  Their literacy programs aim to ensure that learners can, by the end of their instruction, read at the third grade level, write short 2000 word compositions, add and subtract two-digit figures and multiply single digit figures.  ProLiteracy was able to visit several literacy and vocational programs along with three supplemental educational classes for children. Many of the vocational classes we visited served single women who had been abandoned by their husbands and/or had been learners in Yuvaparivartan’s literacy programs and graduated onto their vocational training program. Women were learning various income generating activities such as sewing/tailoring.

The expectation for women in smaller Indian communities is that they stay home and raise children, therefore many of the women are thrilled to be able to take part in classes that would teach them new skills and give them the opportunity to build solidarity together and share their stories/challenges. One of the most valuable parts of the program is that the women participants learn that they are not alone in their struggles. Many of them were single mothers who were raising 2-3 children alone with no support from a husband or family. The Indian society is harsh toward women in this way – if a husband abandons them, they are often rejected by their family and there is no expectation that the husband must pay or help take care of the children – therefore the burden falls completely on the mother. Despite these harsh realities, the women were happy to have visitors and eager to show us the new skills they were learning. In addition to vocational training, Yuvaparivartan integrates human rights discussions into literacy classes so that women are able to learn about their rights and share their stories. They have used ProLiteracy’s Literacy for Social Change manual, Human Rights in Daily Life, now for over 10 years in their programs. After spending the day visiting various classes and meeting the learners we visited three supplemental education night classes for children – all various grades and ages being taught. The children served in these classes are from Dalit families (lowest class in India) and are often not given the opportunity to go to school due to working with their families or they stay in school just for a few hours in the morning so that they can receive a free meal for the day (provided at government schools) but then drop out after lunch. There were between 10-15 children in each class, and it was evident that they were happy to be in class and excitedly shared what they had been learning with us.

 In addition to the literacy and vocational programs for women, Yuvaparivartan also conducted health camps in 80 tribal settlements, rural hill areas, and urban settings. In the mountainous district of Nilgiris, primary health centers are few and far between. Making the arduous trip to a primary health center, many residents only take persons in serious conditions to see a medical practitioner. Yuvaparivartan brings doctors to the site of the community to enable easy and ready access to quality health care - not only do the poor get seen by a qualified doctor but they are also dispensed much needed medicines free of cost.

Yuvaparivartan has advanced literacy in the state of Tamil Nadu for 20 years and continues to do incredible work motivating and training thousands of young women and men to act as agents of social and economic change in their communities.  


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