Photo Courtesy: Felipe Gutierrez
Akshara was started in the year 2005 – that’s almost a decade ago. Initially known as Equal Access to Opportunity, it aimed to engage with the rural community of six villages (Rawade, Khubavali, Shileshwar, Asade, Gawdewadi and Bhadas) near UWC Mahindra College (UWCMC) campus in the Mulshi valley. Akshara is based on the UWCMC campus and operates in collaboration with the college. UWCMC students and faculty, who come from over 50 different countries and many diverse backgrounds, also contribute their expertise, energy and enthusiasm to the Akshara programme.
The motivation to engage with these communities sprang from a realisation that despite the country’s growth rate and rising GDP, there were rural communities just outside Pune where even basic socio-economic indicators were abysmally low. Subsistence farming, poor access to education and healthcare, low participation in local governance, gender and caste-related obstacles to personal growth – this was the scenario that confronted Akshara back then. Furthermore, the adults in this population were unable to provide educational guidance to their children, thus leaving them unable to compete for the opportunities presented by India’s growing economy. The Akshara team felt that providing these children and young people with vocational and professional education, as well as career guidance and role models, would open the door to a more secure future.
Today, Akshara has formed a solid base in the six villages, working with over 500 children in schools, and also with women’s groups and community forums where its team members are welcomed with affection and respect.
Akshara’s mission is “to empower rural youth, and children (with an emphasis on the girl child) by providing them access to educational opportunities and personal support.” Akshara has more than 500 students from 1st grade to University, studying in various streams from vocational courses to professional degrees within the country and abroad. In 2013 – 2014:
– Ujwala Samarth
Akshara Foundation Programme Coordinator
About Dr. Harsha Joshi – Director at Akshara
Photo Courtesy: Felipe
Dr. Harsha Joshi has been associated with different rural development initiatives in several states of India since the last 18 years. She holds her MPhil and PhD in Women’s Reproductive Physiology. Her focus areas are women’s health & empowerment and the education sector. She served as a research coordinator in BAIF Development Research Foundation – a renowned NGO of the country for many years. She was also involved in coordinating several participatory research programmes based on Ecohealth Approaches to Human Health in association with CIDA- IDRC initiative. She is also a founding member of Akshara programme. She has been working as an Executive Director at Akshara ( Equal Access to Opportunity) for the last ten years. Her responsibilities vary from fundraising to coordinating the programme at different levels from managing donor relationship and fundraising to teaching and visiting students’ parents. Her responsibilities also include identifying various approaches to teaching through small participatory research studies. In spite of having her PhD in basic science, she strongly feels that the human laboratory can generate more meaningful learning and experiences which can answer important questions.