Hope in the times of a pandemic | Aga Khan Academies

Hope in the times of a pandemic

09 September 2021

This year World Literacy Day focused on the disruption to learning that so many young people faced as a result of the Covid – 19 crisis.  This magnified the pre-existing inequalities that existed in access to meaningful literacy learning opportunities. While globally organisations found ways to continue learning including distance learning, the access to these opportunities was not evenly distributed. The shift to an online form of learning highlighted the persistent digital divide in terms of connectivity, infrastructure, and the ability to engage with technology, as well as disparities in other services such as access to electricity, which has limited learning options.

Rainbow Girls orphanage is a home for girls from the age of 7-18 in the outskirts of Hyderabad, Telangana. They take in orphans, girls from vulnerable backgrounds, and more. While they are supported with extracurricular resources at the house, the home managers had noticed that the girls’ mental well-being had not been well. The pandemic has only added to the struggles as the girls do not get as many visitors and organizations or groups who conduct on-site activities and sessions.

Students from the Academy have run two projects over the course of the last year, ‘Project Better You’ and ‘Project Connect’. They focused on creating programmes which allowed the girls access to activities and information that would allow them to continue to learn despite the onset of the pandemic.

Mahek Charania in DP2 and her team, with guidance from the School Counsellor Ms. Isabelle Didsbury, the support of Mr. Venkat Reddy (CAS Coordinator) and Ms. Sujata (Rainbow Homes), decided to launch the ‘Better You’ project. They recognized the interests of girls at the Homes, particularly in the arts and used creative interventions to introduce various concepts of mental health. They assisted the girls by showing them how they can use their hobbies for emotional regulation. In their upcoming sessions, they hope to introduce the concept of the interconnection of physical and mental health by hosting a Zumba session.

'I enjoy the activities we do. I remember the line drawing activity where we had to draw the portrait of our friend without picking up the pen and we also drew with our left hand and with our eyes closed! We learned about trusting ourselves with the process and accepting and pushing through challenges. Everyone (team members) always encourages us to do our best.'

The ‘Better You’  Rainbow House project members (all in DP2) are Lizna Lakhani, Aksha Hemnani, Imra Dawoodani, Sai Snehit Mallareddy, Nasir Hajiyani, Aleena Parbatani, Rida Mawani, Vaishnavi Bala, Iqra Amlani, Ashutosh Kumar, Inara Dhanani, Ayman Daredia, Vishnu Tejas, and Mahek Charania.

When DP2 students Ayaan Merchant and Ahil Bhayani started to think about their CAS (Creativity, Activity and Service) project they knew that they wanted to focus on an activity that helped them give back to society. They began interacting with the girls at the Rainbow Homes and realised how much untapped potential each of them had. It led them to partner with the RFI Rainbow Home in Falaknuma and begin to conduct virtual sessions for the girls.

Over the course of the project, the CAS group engaged the students through sessions where they tried to increase the knowledge amongst the group of girls. They did this with a series of guest speaker sessions, which allowed a holistic understanding on a wide variety of topics. The guest speaker sessions included cultural appreciation with a group named "The Culture Corner", a session on careers with Ms. Rozina Rana (a certified Career Counsellor), menstrual hygiene which was run by students at The Bindu Organisation, public speaking with Mr Arjun Puri (Dean of Admissions at the Aga Khan Academy Hyderabad) and a puppetry show (Ventriloquism by Mr. M Santhosh).

‘We have learnt so much from the Aga Khan Academy sessions about career and goals as well as how to develop our education. We do hardwork in studies and set goals. When we listen to life stories it really motivates us.'

They also collaborated with The Rotaract Club of Margao, Goa and the Rotaract Club of Osmania Medical College, Hyderabad to conduct a donation drive for high-priority items at The Rainbow Home.

Even though their project was inclined towards the education, they chose to name it ‘Project Connect.’ The reason for this particular name was that they didn’t want to educate the children or give them something as a donation, but to connect with them, to make them feel involved and part of a bigger world, a world beyond those four walls. Their aim in every session was to not just teach the children something new and interesting, but to make them connect with each guest speaker.