CR provides out of school programming for students from underserved, rural villages in south India.  We teach classes in English, math, Tamil, computer education, art, music, and dance for over 1600 students. Our innovative On Target curriculum is designed to close the gap between our students’ learning levels and grade levels. Our Resilience Initiative teaches our students various problem solving and decision-making strategies they can use to address the challenge of living in severe poverty. Read more about our programs.


Third Time’s The Charm By Kelly Reilly

 

I got involved with CR my freshman year at American University and came to camp on an Alternative Break in May 2012. During my first trip, through the blazing heat new foods, and sickness, I fell in love with Communities Rising and India.

I was originally fascinated by CR because of the work they do with Dalits. I had never heard about “Dalit Rights” until the information session for my Alternative Break in January 2012. Thinking back, I had learned about the caste system in my tenth grade AP World History class. In high school, however, we learned that the caste system was abolished and I was under the impression it was exclusively bound to Hinduism. I do remember asking our single Indian classmate what caste she was — Brahmin.

 

Handing out lollypops while visiting one of the CR centers during my first trip to Tamil Nadu in May-June 2012.

Handing out lollypops while visiting one of the CR centers during my first trip to Tamil Nadu in May-June 2012.

 

On the last night of my first trip, we were sitting outside at SAMSSS, enjoying the cool air after the sun went down, when Betsy emphasized the importance of the AU group returning to make camp possible next year. She encouraged us to apply to be trip leaders back at AU. I remember thinking to myself “Yeah, that is really important, somebody should do that.” Then seconds later I thought, “I shouldn’t sit here thinking somebody should do that, I should be the one to step up.” So I applied and in May 2013 I lead the AU delegation to the third year of CR summer camp.

At camp 2013, I was the dance teacher and taught the 1 Billion Rising flash mob to the campers. This photo is of me watching the campers freestyle at the beginning of dance class.

At camp 2013, I was the dance teacher and taught the 1 Billion Rising flash mob to the campers. This photo is of me watching the campers freestyle at the beginning of dance class.

I still couldn’t seem to get enough of CR. After my second trip, as a rising junior in college, my work with CR in India had completely colored the way I approached my education. I studied International Relations with a focus in development and a passion for understanding the plight of marginalized groups, inspired by the exposure I had to Dalit rights issues here in India. I talked about my experiences as an Alternative Break leader and work in a developing country during interviews for jobs and internships. Everyone I met during college knew how passionate I was about India, as I would talk about it to anyone who would listen. I stayed in touch with Betsy over my three and a half years and supported CR as best as I could from a distance.

Me - clowning around with my co-leader, Jess Harold, at SAMSSS on the last day of camp in 2013. We were very proud of the “Peace” mural we made with the campers that year, it still looks just as beautiful today!

Me – clowning around with my co-leader, Jess Harold, at SAMSSS on the last day of camp in 2013. We were very proud of the “Peace” mural we made with the campers that year, it still looks just as beautiful today!

 

Then, in March 2014 I learned that one of CR’s partner schools, Analady, was looking for a Spoken English teacher for the next year and I happily agreed to come from December 2014- March 2015, right after graduating from AU in December 2014.

 

Over the course of the last six weeks, I have seen some of the problems with education in Tamil Nadu, specifically among the rural poor. Here, students are expected to sit in class and memorize whatever the teacher writes on the board. They don’t do group projects and classroom presentations are a foreign concept to them. Any questioning of authority is seen as offensive and can result in corporal punishment.

 

In my spoken English classroom, I am trying to build the kids confidence in communicative English. I’ve been trying to do this through games, role-playing, story telling, and songs. For example, this week we did some great doctor/ patient role-playing as part of our Health and Sickness Unit. However, it was a challenging for them to get the hang of the interactive classroom activity.

Singing my favorite song to do with the kids “Skinny-ma-rinky dinky dink” a couple of weeks ago in January 2015 at Analady School.

Singing my favorite song to do with the kids “Skinny-ma-rinky dinky dink” a couple of weeks ago in January 2015 at Analady School.

 

I teach six classes of about fifty kids, three ninth standard (grade) and three eleventh standard. Some of the eleventh standard boys are much taller than me. They are hard to control. Usually, teachers smack the desk with a stick to get the kids’ attention. I have been using the “when my hand goes up your mouth goes shut” technique, which is slowly catching on. I’ve also been teaching the word “respect” to encourage students to listen quietly while their peers are speaking.

 

I’m finding that the biggest challenge with my kids is building confidence. You wouldn’t guess it in a short conversation with them, but they do know a lot of English words and vocabulary. It’s just a matter of drawing it out of them in a productive and constructive manner. The last six weeks have been exciting to see some of them begin to organize their thoughts. For example, one student kept up a long conversation about the weather on my recent trip to Delhi. While it was filled with grammatical errors, he was speaking clearly and enthusiastically.

 

While I have strong students, some kids are still far behind. I conducted interviews with each of my ninth standard students after our first unit; weather, to see how they were doing. Some of them were confident but others couldn’t answer the question “How is the weather today?.” I took note of which students struggled the most and have been watching them in class. I see some staring out the window so I’m careful to make eye contact with these students multiple times throughout the class. But what’s more striking is I have noticed a handful of them with their heads down on their desk. In those situations, I ask the students wrong, their peers offer that the student has a fever. In those moments, I have no idea what to do. There is no school nurse available and going home is usually too far to walk in the mid-day heat.

I teach six classes of about fifty kids, three ninth standard (grade) and three eleventh standard. Some of the eleventh standard boys are much taller than me. They are hard to control. Usually, teachers smack the desk with a stick to get the kids’ attention. I have been using the “when my hand goes up your mouth goes shut” technique, which is slowly catching on. I’ve also been teaching the word “respect” to encourage students to listen quietly while their peers are speaking.

 

I’m finding that the biggest challenge with my kids is building confidence. You wouldn’t guess it in a short conversation with them, but they do know a lot of English words and vocabulary. It’s just a matter of drawing it out of them in a productive and constructive manner. The last six weeks have been exciting to see some of them begin to organize their thoughts. For example, one student kept up a long conversation about the weather on my recent trip to Delhi. While it was filled with grammatical errors, he was speaking clearly and enthusiastically.

 

While I have strong students, some kids are still far behind. I conducted interviews with each of my ninth standard students after our first unit; weather, to see how they were doing. Some of them were confident but others couldn’t answer the question “How is the weather today?.” I took note of which students struggled the most and have been watching them in class. I see some staring out the window so I’m careful to make eye contact with these students multiple times throughout the class. But what’s more striking is I have noticed a handful of them with their heads down on their desk. In those situations, I ask the students wrong, their peers offer that the student has a fever. In those moments, I have no idea what to do. There is no school nurse available and going home is usually too far to walk in the mid-day heat.

 

 

All of the Analady students gathered for an assembly at school!

All of the Analady students gathered for an assembly at school!

It’s all of those stories, though, that keep me going. Trying to figure out how to engage disengaged students and taking the time to praise the kids who are catching on quickly. Father Anand, the school principal, did mention that he noticed a difference in the students’ English, which is encouraging.

 

Ultimately, the kids are why I’m here. They are why I keep coming back to India. Everything we do is for them, they are the reason so many of us all over the world have come together behind CR’s mission. The kids are the reason I have been so dedicated to standing with Communities Rising to ensure that education equals learning.

 

TMS and CR – A GREAT PARTNERSHIP!

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TMS Team and Anilady Students

For the past five years a focal point of The Modern Story Fellowship experience has been the weeklong workshops that we conduct with Communities Rising in rural Tamil Nadu. Every September or October we work with children of a variety of ages in the villages surrounding Villapuram (near Pondicherry) and come together for several days to produce a film about their communities. Additionally, we live and work with Communities Rising staff, who help to keep up comfortable, feed us, and also act as helpers and translators in our classroom. We all really enjoyed our time at Communities Rising, with the students and also with the staff. Here are some of our personal experiences from our journey to Tamil Nadu! From: Dara

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TMS Fellow Dara Denney helps the Vikravandy students with their video,

 

Coming to Communities Rising, I honestly wasn’t sure what to expect. After our bus being postponed due to bunds and riots in Tamil Nadu, I was more than a little nervous. Not just nervous about getting there, nervous about connecting with two new groups of students, of teaching them in one week to do what I had been working with students in Hyderabad on for months. I was nervous about finding out where we’d be staying and who we’d be staying with. Sitting on the curb at five in the morning, after our bus from Cochin dropped us off in what felt like the middle of nowhere, my nerves reached their peak. But soon, a group from Communities Rising came to pick us up, placed some beautiful flower garlands around our necks, and initiated the feeling of welcoming that would dispel my nervousness for the remainder of the week. As we drove to the CR center, watching the sunrise and listening to Tamil music, my nerves gave way to a feeling of comfort. I was so impressed with every aspect of the CR experience. From adding time for afternoon naps to our schedule, to stocking the kitchen with chicken nuggets and chocolate chip cookie mix, to providing translation help in the classroom, and even treating us to pizza in Pondicherry, the staff did a wonderful job making us feel very well taken care of. And the students, with their instant acceptance of the TMS fellows, their quick grasp on the camera equipment and editing software, and their eagerness to share what characterizes their villages, made the experience truly feel like a success. I’m so excited to share the videos the students of Anilady and Vikrivandi produced, and to see what great work the CR/TMS partnership produces in the future.

—Read more »

03.19.15 —

2015 Volunteers Bring Wealth of Experience

Kathy and Kelly cheering on one of CR's Lego Robotics teams.

Kathy and Kelly cheering on one of CR’s Lego Robotics teams.

Volunteers Kathy Yorkievitz and Kelly Reilly joined CR’s long-term volunteer ranks in 2015. CR joined our US staff in January. Kathy comes to CR with a wealth of experience in social work, public health and government service.  Her efforts will focus on grant writing and program development. Kathy decided that the best way to start was by spending 6 weeks with us in India-teaching at our centers, meeting our staff and our students.

Kathy was joined by Kelly Reilly, a two-time short term volunteer through American University’s Alt Break Program and a US intern. Kelly has spent the last 3 months teaching spoken English to 9th and 11th grade students at the high school in Anilady and helping out at our after school centers.

Kathy and Kelly were instrumental in our Lego Robotics Team’s First Place finish for Presentations in the Indian Regional First Lego League Competition in Coimbatore. Their untiring efforts for our students are much appreciated-thank you Kathy and Kelly for your ongoing commitment to CR and helping to make us a better organization!

09.14.14 —

2014 STAFF RETREAT

2014 CR Staff Retreat

CR staff traveled to the south Indian hill station of Yercaud for their first professional development retreat. The retreat kicked off  2 new CR educational initiatives.  Teachers were introduced to On Target, an innovative  program designed to close the gap between students’ learning and grade levels in English, Tamil and Math. They also were introduced to CR’s Resilience Initiative a program that teaches mindfulness, social decision making and problem solving skills. Both programs are now being incorporated into CR’s after school curriculum.


By Nandini Chandrasekaran, 2014 TMS Fellow

At both centers, I was surprised to walk in and find students already on the computers, working on Photoshop projects (at Anilady) or on Microsoft Paint (at Vikravandy). It was a contrast to go from urban schools, where many of our students have limited and highly regulated access to the few working computers available in their labs, to arrive in a rural area with well-equipped labs, where students seemed very comfortable using different programs. At Anilady, I noticed a couple of students had small chits of paper, where they had written down basic steps for functions like saving a document, which they referred to when in doubt. I was especially impressed by how quickly students grasped the basics of using Wondershare, a video editing software. Clearly regular and open access to functioning equipment, paired with excellent computer teachers and a decent student-computer ratio, all made a difference in what students were able to learn and achieve in such a short time.
Ultimately, I was struck by how well the children worked together, even in mixed groups of boys and girls; by the boldness of some of the younger children, especially young girls, in sharing their ideas; and students’ commitment to their projects, particularly the zeal with which they searched for the right props, costumes, and locations to showcase their communities. CR’s programming and resources, as well as the familial environment that it creates, played a large part in setting the conditions for our projects to be successful in this way. A big, heartfelt thank you to everyone involved in shaping this wonderful experience!

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E-mail internships@communities-rising.org for more information.