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My visit to Dhamari IBT Vocational Training Center - Jen Kagan
[Jen is a certified Iyangar Yoga teacher from New York. Jen is also a supporter of LAHI for the past three years. This was her second trip to India to attend advanced training at Iyangar Yoga Institute. During her month long trip, Jen took time to visit LAHI's projects.]

I have been involved in NYC fundraisers for LAHI for the past few years. This past year, I was fortunate to travel to Pune where I visited a LAHI funded IBT(Introduction to Basic Technology) programs. To see the programs in action was quite moving. Archana Gojame, LAHI's field officer, graciously guided our journey. Our first trip was to Dhamari. We set out early in the morning on a local bus. After a few hours jostling about, we got off and walked down the highway to another bus junction. I seemed like the only one fazed by the blazing sun on the black asphalt highway. We then transferred to a jeep that I hung out of halfway as we bounced along the next leg of the journey.

With the students in the workshop

Dhamari School completes three years of LAHI funding support in June 2009. I was curious as to how vocational training program (Introduction to Basic Technology (IBT), has changed the future of the students and what the headmaster's plans for the program would be without the funding. Because I only speak English, our conversation was hampered. In my professional life I am an interpreter so the shoe was on the other foot and I was experiencing the limitations of an interpreted conversation. Despite the language barrier, he seemed unfazed that the three years of funding was coming to an end and voiced confidence that the program would continue with business donations. I asked about the success of the program. He said that students go on to own their own businesses, work for electrical or chemical processing factories nearby. He stated that there was 100% graduation rate, which seems high.

Jen documenting the visit

Although separated for instruction, boys and girls learn all four-skill areas of the program- Home and Health, Agriculture and Animal Husbandry, Basic Engineering, and Energy and Environment. The classrooms were simple but full of students' projects. When I first entered the girls were learning the mechanics of the stove and then learning woodcraft while the boys were studying cooking and marketing skills. The tools were rudimentary and there were a few computers in the classroom. One boy told me that he wanted to learn sewing and cooking so that he wasn't dependent on his mother or sister to eat. And a few girls stated a future in medicine or police work. One girl said that to her father's great surprise, she was able to fix their television set. While I admit this is a completely western perspective, I was impressed that the girls are learning skills that can lead to their independence and personal growth and the boys are learning traditionally female skills. I see that opportunities for girls from the village are scarce especially if they find themselves unmarried so the more skilled they are the better for everyone. I think for parents to see that girls are capable is vital to their futures.

Bicycle constructed by student

The instructors of the IBT program are expected to be entrepreneurs as well as instructors. The teacher of culinary arts and sewing runs her own sewing business as well as teaches at 3 IBT schools. And, I might add made a delicious lunch. Some of the other teachers seemed less involved in their own businesses, which led to uncomfortable discussions about, pay that Archana had to field.

At nursery in the school

Without statistical data on alumni, I tried to get anecdotes from one of the instructors, an alum of an IBT. I asked him "where would you be if you hadn't gone through IBT, " and " how has your IBT experience made you different than your friends who didn't chose the IBT program." I don't think these conditional questions translated well so they went unanswered. A few weeks later, I visited Pabal which is about 40 miles from Pune. We spoke with some of the young children and parents in the village who attend the IBT programs in their schools. The girls were very shy but the boys all voiced a desire to continue on into Technical schools after graduating. Attending IBT was a favorable choice for the students it's hard to get a true picture of how IBT has affected these student's lives. As a foreign visitor, I'm not sure if they were happy about IBT or hosting a visitor.

Jen with the instructors

Due to Diwali, I was unable to visit more schools. The first batch of IBT students will graduate in May 2009. Hopefully upcoming statistics, which I was told will be collected by LAHI by maintaining periodic contact with the IBT graduates, will describe the effects of IBT on the students and the villages. And whether these sorts of programs make a difference in girls' lives, providing opportunities for economic viability and more life choices.

About the IBT program and Plan 100
The IBT vocational program consists of 4 main divisions of study, Engineering, Energy and Environment, Agriculture and Animal Husbandry, and Home and Health. Carpentry, construction, electrical wiring, plumbing, crops and cultivation, sanitation, disease control, cooking and domestic sciences are some of the areas covered. By giving the children a broad base in practical skills that relate to their environment not only does it increase their chances of employment, but also gives them preferential admission to courses of higher education. The 'learning by doing' method also increases confidence and creativity to the point that many students have gone on to start their own enterprises and invent or develop new technologies.

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Here Vaibhav and Bhargav learn the art of heavy metal welding. Vaibhav failed his 9th grade exams in school. He never liked sitting in classrooms and listening to theoretical lectures but loves the focus on practical skills.


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