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Empower The Children is a non-profit organization that provides quality educational opportunities and lunch programs for slum-dwelling children and those with serious mental and physical disabilities.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Tutorial Centers

 

Life in Kolkata Slums

The constant noise due to crowded conditions of any Kolkata slum makes it very difficult for youngsters to study when they return home from school. The homes in these slums usually consist of only one small room (about 6 feet by 8 feet in size) that shelters an entire family, often with many children. Most of these homes are furnished with a single platform bed, made of plywood, and the family’s meals are prepared on a two-burner camping style stove. These homes do not have running water, toilets or any of the simplest amenities that make life in the 21st century comfortable. The entire family uses this single bed, many children sleeping in an upright position against the wall. Slum-dwelling families manage as well as they can given these circumstances, but for school success the children require support and resources from charitable organizations such as EMPOWER THE CHILDREN.

Slum-dwelling children often do not have access to education, because tuition is required in all "formal" schools in India -- including government schools, religious schools and private schools. "Non-formal" schools are tuition-free, but the disadvantage of "non-formal" schools is that their graduates do not receive a diploma. This, unfortunately, means that they will be less favored candidates for good jobs.

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About the Curriculum

Rosalie Giffoniello, co-founder of Empower the Children, based her educational program on an innovative language curriculum, developed in the U.S.A. by language development specialists. The curriculum focuses on learning readiness and socialization skills. Children receive a solid foundation in concepts and critical thinking which stimulates their imagination. The curriculum is designed so that the children are actively engaged in their lessons. Teaching aids, such as puppets, marionettes, costumes, and musical instruments are employed in the teaching/learning process. Introducing children to the letter "g," for example, the teacher brings a guitar to the classroom. The children listen to how each string makes a different sound. After that each child is given a child-sized guitar and is encouraged to hold and strum it. The children then construct their own "cardboard guitars" using rubber bands for strings. This activity-based learning style contrasts to the more traditional Indian style of teaching, which largely focuses on rote memorization. The children would see a picture of a guitar, learn how to spell the word, but never experience the musical instrument.

Rosalie teaches this specialized curriculum in English, and a local teacher translates everything into Bengali, the native language.

Volunteers from all over the world assist with the language program, which is one component of the school’s academic curriculum.

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Teacher Training

At Preyrona Schools Rosalie trains local teachers to utilize the interactive specialized curriculum. The teachers observe, learn and gradually acquire the necessary skills to use a more dynamic and meaningful teaching style. They quickly appreciate how much their students benefit from this way of learning and thinking. After one year of practicing their newly acquired skills, these teachers teach independently.

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Programs

The Preschool Program at the DISHA School

Rosalie has introduced a stimulating program at the DISHA SCHOOL that awakens in preschoolers the joys of learning. These very young children live in a Kolkata slum. Due to their deprived backgrounds, these youngsters have very limited social experiences and poor language development. The stressful conditions under which they live prevent their parents from spending valuable time with them – e.g. to read to them or to take them on enjoyable outings. In response to such deprivation, EMPOWER THE CHILDREN uses an interactive teaching curriculum that provides positive socialization and educational experiences. This approach dramatically contrasts to rote memorization, the standard method of teaching in India’s schools. The objective of EMPOWER THE CHILDREN is to give preschoolers a solid foundation that prepares them for placement in elementary schools.

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Educational Program for Disabled Teenagers: Prabartak Home

Once a depressing and gloomy orphanage, Prabartak has been transformed into an lively and cheerful learning environment. In 2002, EMPOWER THE CHILDREN refurbished the five classrooms and equipped them with cupboards, bulletin boards, maps and a variety of educational materials. In 2003, thanks to a fresh coat of paint, the dormitories now offer a more home-like atmosphere.

When Rosalie first introduced the orphanage’s new educational program, the 30 mentally and physically challenged teenagers and young adults (ages 15 to 25 years, many with seizure disorders) needed a great deal of assistance to accomplish even the simplest tasks. After two years, utilizing the specialized language curriculum developed by speech therapists in the U.S.A., these students are now able to work independently. (See About the Curriculum) All week long the students look forward to their Saturday lessons with Rosalie. Instantly upon her arrival, they surround her, whooping and shouting, unable to contain their enthusiasm.

Art, drama and music are used at the orphanage to develop creativity, especially in those children who cannot speak. Drama stimulates self-expression, and public performances give the children the opportunity to gain recognition and invaluable self- confidence. In January 2005, the children performed a drama, A Spiritual Journey with Ma Sarada aboard a boat. The drama was aired twice on local TV, a tribute to the children’s hard work and discipline.

In 2006 the children from Prabartak Home joined the students from Preyrona School for ETC's first Inclusion Project which brought disabled children and non-disabled children together in the performance of Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves. In subsequent years they performed Magic Mirror, Samannya Khoti, and Patalpuri-Aranyer Rupkatha. The enthusiasm generated by the success of these productions has served as an impetus for making the "Celebration of Diversity" drama an annual event. (See Recent Events).

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Preyrona 1 & 2 (Inspiration)

Imagine crowded conditions with as many as eight to a room, stagnant water attracting malaria-breeding mosquitoes and only one public toilet for a large number of people. These are the conditions that exist in Ultadanga and Dakhindari, the two areas that ETC targeted for the opening of Preyrona 1 and Preyrona 2. Children from the ages of five to fourteen learn to read and write in English, Hindi and Bengali. Math, social studies and science complete a comprehensive curriculum. They learn embroidery and needlepoint. Both schools offer lunches six days a week, often the children's only nutritious meal of the day.

The students of Preyrona School participate in ETC's Inclusion Projects which are designed to bring disabled and non-disabled children together. In 2006 the Preyrona students joined the mentally and physically challenged young adults of Prabartak Home for a musical theater production of Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves. In 2007 they performed The Magic Mirror, a dramatization of a Tagore poem. In 2008 they enacted Sakuntala based on a Bengali poem by Kalidas and in 2009 Nal-Damayanty. These productions have proven so successful that ETC's "Celebration of Diversity" drama is now an annual event. (See Recent Events).

The Preyrona students also joined the students at the Calcutta Blind School for a Children’s Day celebration and participated in a drawing competition at Rehabilitation Center For Children, a hospital for non-ambulatory children. In these ways, Preyrona students have learned to embrace children with disabilities.

Preyrona 3

Housed in a multi-storied building, Preyrona 3 opened its doors in January 2009. It provides three separate educational programs for 60 children and 45 mothers:

 - An after-school tutorial center so that children attending the local school can receive much-needed help with homework and preparing for exams.

 - An informal school for first-time learners so they may reach their age-appropriate grade level.

 - A unique vocational program for the older students and the mothers.

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Rehabilitation Center for Children (RCFC)

Polio has not been eradicated in India, and in impoverished areas birth deformities are often untreated. The Rehabilitation Center for Children has provided free medical care for physically disabled children since 1973. Empower The Children is helping by upgrading the children’s school curriculum to include an interactive language program that is both fun and educational. ETC has partnered with Ahimsa and Indian American Education Foundation to create a music therapy program at the hospital. Music helps the children reduce tension, gain confidence and better cope with their pain. Music therapy provides important emotional support and enhances the children’s overall well being.

ETC partnered with a Dutch non-profit organization, Help India Helpen and purchased a new ambulance for the hospital.

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Bulbulir Basa Orphanage

 
EMPOWER THE CHILDREN became aware of the plight of six orphan boys living in small crowded quarters. The immediate need was to send them to school. Next, it was imperative that they be shifted to more suitable living conditions. After years of fundraising, 18 boys now occupy a new two-story building surrounded by a beautiful garden. A very generous supporter of ETC stepped forward and offered to assume the operating expenses of the new orphanage. Now the boys have a secure future.
     
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LUNCH PROGRAMS

Benoy Badal Dinesh (BBD) School:

The children who attend BBD School live in plastic-covered hovels beside a polluted river in the Ultadanga Kolkata slum. From time to time the Indian government bulldozes the entire slum, forcing the families to flee. But since these vacant lots are never developed, these families eventually return and rebuild the slum. The parents, living under such harsh conditions, often prefer that their children go out onto the streets to earn a few rupees rather than attend school. The BBD School, with its thatched and leaking roof and mud walls, doesn’t offer much incentive in terms of physical comforts. But for these hungry children, the free daily lunch program provided by EMPOWER THE CHILDREN, in partnership with the Rotary Club of Kolkata, serves as a compelling reason to attend school. In fact, these hearty and filling meals have greatly improved the children’s concentration as well as their overall health and well-being.

Nehru Colony and Atmaraksha Colony Child Education Centers:
EMPOWER THE CHILDREN sponsors daily lunch programs at the Nehru Colony and Atmaraksha Colony Child Education Centers which are located in the slum areas of Laketown, Kolkata. These programs provide nutritious meals for 70 destitute children who would otherwise go hungry.

TUTORIAL CENTERS

Dankuni Tutorial Center
Empower The Children opened a tutorial center for children in Dankuni, a very poor village about 30 minutes from Kolkata. Children attend the tutorial center after school six days a week to study and prepare for their exams. The center has proved so successful that a second center was opened in 2006 to accommodate the growing number of interested children.

Karmagachi Tutorial Center
Kharmagachi is an idyllic hamlet far from chaotic Kolkata. However, the scenic beauty and cultural heritage belie its hidden reality of poverty and illiteracy. Until recently, Kharmagachi’s children were not encouraged to attend school. However, during the past two years, ETC counseled the parents on the importance of education and now 60 students attend a newly opened school. A music program was added that reflects the community’s rich tribal culture.

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OTHER PROGRAMS AROUND THE WORLD

Empower the Children also supports the following programs to promote the education, development and well-being of children around the world:

HAPPINESS IS CAMPING, NEW JERSEY, USA
ETC donates funds for a summer camp program in Blairstown, New Jersey for children too sick with cancer to be anywhere else. The faithful volunteers, including many doctors and nurses, put smiles on the faces of children tragically compromised by devastating illness. They provide a place where these kids have a chance to be "normal", to swim, dance, zip-line across the lake, climb a tower, or ride on a giant swing in a summer camp unlike any other.

CENTRO SANTA CATALINA, MEXICO
ETC helps support children from families who cannot offer them much schooling. The monies go to the Scholarship Program for the Homework Help Program in Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua, Mexico.

MISSIONARY SISTERS OF MARY IMMACULATE- POOR CHILDREN EDUCATION PROJECT, KENYA
ETC funds an educational program for parentless, homeless children in Kenya, Africa. The Sisters have built a few classrooms and two dormitories. Food and medicine are also provided. The number of children attending has doubled in a very short time.

MONMOUTH COUNTY CHILD ADVOCACY CENTER, NEW JERSEY, USA
ETC made a donation toward the construction of a shelter for abused children in New Jersey, USA. The first wing of the building will be completed by 2008 and will serve as a safe haven for the victims of child abuse, neglect and assault.

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Empower the Children (ETC)