By: Averil Spencer
Summer heat can force temperatures over 110 degrees in Hyderabad during the month of May. Those who can escape to their air-conditioned offices or homes kept cool by shade and thick walls, but in 11 affordable private schools (APS) across the city, over 400 girls will be attending an English immersion summer camp.
In January, the Nike foundation approached grey matters capital with a vague idea about an English immersion summer camp for girls in India. The foundation was in a transitory period and not looking to really fund anything until the summer of 2012, but the information was passed onto the IDEX team working in affordable private schools in Hyderabad, India. IDEX is a 9-month fellowship that places recent college graduates in the field to work as consultants in the education sector. Fellows work closely with a low-income school on to work on financial models, teacher training, and extra curricular activities. In our time here, we have piloted a co-ed cricket league and career-counseling program. The schools we work in are part of the Grey Matters Capital network, which develops the capacity of affordable private schools. These schools are an alternative to poorly performing government schools and located in the heart of slum communities. They charge less that $10 a month for tuition and are English medium schools. In a society with no social safety net, a good percentage of low-income families value education. Quality education was not found in public schools, so enterprising community members started their own private schools. These schools have provided sustainable and scalable market-based solutions to the issue of education in India.
As Nike was exploring the possibility of funding a summer camp, Allie, Ilana, and I jumped at the opportunity to pull together a grant proposal drawing on the knowledge we had gained working with girls for over six months. We recognized that families place different values on education and especially for boys and girls. Boys are generally allowed to continue their education because boys stay with the family and will provide income to parents into their old age. Girls get married and join the husband’s families, so they are seen as an unprofitable investment. The girls in APS come from impoverished families where fathers are generally service workers or auto drivers and mothers work as maids or are housewives. Depending on the community, girls are married anywhere from 16-25 years old and are usually only allowed to complete the 10th standard, which is like a high school diploma in the states. These girls are at-risk for marriage and children at an early age. Because they are not able to complete their education and not allowed to work, they become reliant on their families or in-laws once they are married. Girls face many issues within their families and communities concerning education. A summer camp focused on girls that teaches them a marketable skill, English communication, might be one way to keep girls in schools because their families acknowledge the value of being able to speak English.
We began designing a summer camp that would utilize the empty space in these affordable schools during the summer. We saw the camp model established in APS because of our relationships with school owners and their relationships with parents. Owners would make parents feel comfortable about the camp and it would be in a central location that girls would be able to access.
The actual camp model uses the platform of English immersion to discuss a variety of other topics. Girls explore themselves in relation to their families, communities, school, and city. Health and hygiene as well as future aspirations and career planning are discussed. All of these topics are broken down into units of curriculum that build on each other. The lessons are focused on introducing these new topics through interactive projects and teambuilding activities where girls are able to build confidence in their English speaking abilities. All activities and lessons are girl-focused and especially culturally sensitive. We do not want to go against any cultural or religious teachings. Instead, this camp aims to show girls ways to be leaders and different paths for their futures cased on women role models within their communities.
At the end of our brainstorming and grant writing, we came to the model of an English immersion summer camp that teaches life skills and future planning. APS have been documented in developing countries around the world and we recognized the opportunity for having a camp that could be brought to girls attending APS in various parts of the world. This summer, we will pilot the first phase of camp voice, which stands for vital opportunities in creative empowerment. Camp VOICE aims to utilize the benefits provided by using an affordable private school and create a space for girls to learn a marketable skill as well as important topics pertaining to issues Indian girls face.