Asha Berkeley Newsletter January 2015

Little Stars School: a New Hope By Ganesh Chaturthi

Photo: Jeffrey Dinakar Cal Bhangra performs at Asha Berkeley’s first Bhangra Night.

Donate How far will your donation go? $15 = teacher’s salary for 1 month $30 = stationary supplies for a school of 100 for 1 month $150 = recreational activities for a school of 100 for 1 month $300 = rent and electricity of a school facility for 1 month All estimates based on Mera Sahara, a day shelter/school for children of day laborers in Noida, UP Donate at: donate/index.html


Little Stars Page 1-2 Images of India Page 2 Menstrual Man Screening Page 3

Around 20 years ago, Ms. Asha Pandey set out on a bold quest to start a school that offered a free and quality education to underprivileged children in Varanasi. At the time, she was working as a teacher in a government school in the city and noticed many problems with the way the school was organized. First, the classes were egregiously overcrowded, often harboring over 100 students per teacher. Thus, individualized attention was completely absent. Second, there were economic barriers that prevented some families from sending their kids to school. Although tuition was technically free, families still had to pay for uniforms and school supplies. However, this sum was too high a barrier for many lowincome families; consequently, many kids were forced to drop out. Third, she believed that the curriculum of the school was completely unimaginative. And finally and most importantly, she saw that very little actual learning was taking place. So in 1996, Ashaji took a brave step and started the Little Stars School with the help of a few foreign benefactors. Little Stars had very humble origins: the initial count was around 10 students and lessons took place on the rooftop of Ashaji’s parents’ house. But soon the school would start to grow, and and at quite a rapid pace. As the months passed by, more and more students started to enroll. Soon, by around 1997, there

were almost 70 students in the school. Asha for Education stepped in at this time and provided a donation that allowed Little Stars to rent out a large space across the street. Additionally, Little Stars was also able to purchase more school supplies, provide nutritious food to the children on a daily basis, and pay its own teachers, who had previously been volunteers. And the growth did not stop there. In 1999, Little Stars was able to procure its own building and in 2007, 9th and 10th grade were created. Recently, 11th grade was created and a computer lab was formed. And all the while, word continued to spread and the number of students continued to grow. Today, Little Stars School serves a whopping 850 children, employs around 50 teachers, and has classes ranging from pre-K to 11th grade. The mission of the school is to provide a free, excellent education that allows each child to reach their full potential, and the overall aim is to aid the families in escaping the cycle of poverty they have found themselves inextricably stuck in for generations. Little Stars is a Hindi medium school, but also provides English education throughout all grades. It uses the Uttar Pradesh board curriculum yet also strives to cater to the individual learning styles of each child. Class sizes range from 30-40 students, meaning that (continued on page 2)


(continued from page 1) the individualized attention absent in the government schools is made possible here. Vocational training is also provided for those students who are not inclined to attend higher educational institutions; sewing lessons, beautician courses, and typing lessons are offered. All funding comes through private donors; no government funds are used for the school functions. The children in the school all come from low-income households. They are very eager and curious to learn, but are often taken out of school to work. Many of their parents are migrant workers, whose typical jobs include driving cycle rickshaws, washing dishes, cleaning clothes, cooking, sweeping streets, and selling vegetables. Most settle in underdeveloped areas and are reluctant to send their kids to school because they need them to

work and earn money. Thus, the role of the teachers is crucial. In order to do an effective job, the teachers must be able to understand each student’s strengths, weaknesses, and personal background. Because she saw a lack of compassion and empathy in many of the teachers in the government schools, Ashaji hand picks the teachers to make sure they have the requisite qualities. She conducts weekly observations to make sure affairs are running smoothly and that teachers are connecting properly with their pupils. Teachers’ trainings are conducted, and international volunteers also assist as well. The teachers also make occasional visits to the children’s homes to meet their parents. Visiting the parents is an attempt to create a warmer, more closeknit community. In addition to the school, Little Stars also holds a girls’ hostel. The hostel was founded in 2004 and serves as a shelter for around 30 girls, many of whom

come from the streets or are orphans. The shelter aims to provide a warm, secure atmosphere in which the girls can grow, and to shield them from the suffering that would have otherwise been their fate. This would be a good time to point out that although Little Stars dedicates itself to providing a top-rate education to all its children, it pays particular attention to girls. The school recognizes that educating women is not a priority in many parts of India and that it has an opportunity to break this trend. Over the course of the last few years, Asha for Education has supported the teachers’ salaries for this project. We strongly believe that the Little Stars is serving a genuine need in the community and that it needs all the support it can get. We have been a proud supporter of this noble endeavour and look forward to continuing our support well into the future.


Menstrual Man: The Tale of Arunachalam Muruganantham By Ravi Sharma On November 20, 2014, Asha for Education Berkeley and UC Berkeley’s Institute for South Asian Studies (ISAS) screened the documentary Menstrual Man on campus. Menstrual Man, produced by Amit Vermani, chronicles the life of Arunachalam Muruganantham, a man from Tamil Nadu who invented lowcost machines that enable rural women to produce their own inexpensive sanitary pads. Traditionally, only around two percent of rural women in India use sanitary pads. They typically use rags, and are often forced to reuse those rags without proper cleaning, because cultural taboos prevent the women from revealing their dirtied rags to others. Prolonged reuse of dirtied rags likely gives rise to the high reproductive tract infection rate seen in rural areas. For this reason, Muruganantham’s machines come as a godsend. With the machines, women can produce and use low-cost, disposable sanitary pads

that keep them much better protected from reproductive tract infections. What’s more, women operating these machines make more pads than they and their family need, so they can sell the excess pads to other women in their communities. This sustainable exchange through women provides the women with employment and spreads pad access to the entire surrounding community. The money in the hands of these rural women empowers them, which cannot be understated, leading to a host of benefits, and often enables them to pay to send their children to school. It is clear that Muruganantham’s machine tackles feminine hygiene, women’s empowerment, and child literacy in India. Muruganantham addresses what he calls the “three A’s” preventing women from using sanitary pads: Affordability, Availability, and Awareness. Muruganantham’s machine alleviates the first two A’s by producing cheap

and easy-to-produce pads. For the last A, awareness, Muruganantham goes to different villages spreading awareness about the risks of reusing non-disposable cloth. As of the time of the filming of the documentary (2012), Muruganatham had sold a total of approximately 500 machines in 23 states across India. As a result, he has given 5000 women employment making sanitary pads and has ultimately stopped approximately one million women from using rags. Since then, he has sold at least 500 more machines. And Muruganantham is not through yet. His goal is for 100 percent of women in India to use sanitary pads, and he seeks to reach out to women of other countries as well. The documentary screening received a great turnout on a rainy day, and reminded Asha Berkeley that powerful, tangible change can come from just one person if they persevere and believe in their ability to make a difference.

Images of India By Michelle Read

On the evening of Saturday November 8th, Asha for Education Berkeley held its 24th Images of India cultural show. Images of India (IOI) drew support from local students, families, and community members to fundraise Asha’s current projects: Guria, Jamghat, Little Stars, Mera Sahara, Udayan Care, and Avantika Vidya Bhavan. The event commenced around 7PM and marked both a return of past IOI performers and the emergence of other artists showcasing their talents. Returning local favorites from all around the bay-are included young traditional dancers from the California Nupur Kathak Dance Academy in Dublin and the Jyoti Kala Mandir. Another familiar ensemble was Tabla Niketan, a tabla training school based in Cupertino, returned as well. New to the stage was Krishnapriya Somasekheran, representing the Nrithyollasa Dance Academy in Fremont. She was the only solo artist of the night, making her an IOI stand-out given that the event tends to showcase mostly group performers. Representing UC Berkeley were two individual Carnatic singers, Ganesh Raman and Vinay Raghuram. Cal Kathak, the university’s premier traditional North Indian classical dance team performed, and the nationally recognized Bollywoodfusion troupe UC Berkeley AZAAD was also showcased. All of the night’s proceeds benefited each of Asha’s current active projects.



a teacher in a government school in the ... school. Although tuition was technically free, families still had to pay for uniforms ... computer lab was formed. .... the California Nupur Kathak Dance Academy in Dublin and the Jyoti Kala Mandir.

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