The Akshar School in the small town of Wai, India, is one of a kind. In a country where special education and resources for those with special needs are lacking, the institution has what India’s education system is missing: a working educational structure for children with special needs.
Established in 1982, Akshar School provides a safe, open environment for students with a variety of mental disabilities to receive an education they might otherwise miss.
Boasting a physical therapy room, speech therapy classes, and a vocational workshop, Akshar aims to set its students up with the means to lead gratifying lives. In addition, the school trains aspiring special education teachers, including the founder’s grandson.
Unlike the United States, which can still make further strides accommodating differently abled students, India has an even larger gap to close in providing structure for those who really need it.
According to Indiaspend.com, a data focused public-interest journal, while India has passed the Education for All Movement, a piece of legislation that promotes free compulsory education for kids between ages 6-14, approximately 600,000 special needs children in that age range are out of school.
Additionally, while 89% of children with special needs in that same age range are attending elementary school, the number drops to 2% after the American equivalent of 9th grade.
Meanwhile, India’s federal government instituted a policy where registered special needs students receive a certificate that permits extensive government assistance. Resources like free transportation, easy-access loans, unemployment stipend, and educational scholarships are available to those who register.
However, the combination of India’s lack of infrastructure as well as a functioning bureaucracy means that more than half of all special-needs students won’t receive any sort of assistance, leaving many to find menial work or no work at all.
With the help of former Salt Lake Community College board member and Maharastra native, Ashok Joshi, the Akshar School has facilitated the growth of countless special needs students. And for a few hours on a rainy August afternoon, SLCC study abroad students took time out of their day to be with those same students.
Drawing, playing schoolyard games, and exploring Snapchat filters SLCC students and faculty alike immersed themselves in unadulterated interaction with students of all different ages and needs.
Like the children they were spending time with the study abroad students couldn’t refrain from being their authentic and open selves. The reciprocated joy from the genuine connection between SLCC students and Akshar students could not be paralleled, not with personal achievements or unending financial means.
Letter from a SLCC STUDY ABROAD correspoNdent
Cruising past an endless queue of grain silos and harvested farmland in Middle America, leaving Boston in favor of a cross-country move never seemed more futile.
For the duration of that four-day drive, I found myself on the proverbial treadmill, asking, “Have I just abandoned a city full of friends and opportunities for a place where I had no foreseeable prospects?”
Empty rumination aside, however, I couldn’t deny a notion that had been lurking in the back of my mind and kept me from downright turning the car around:
“An open mind opens doors.”
I knew that by seeking out and committing to as many relationships and opportunities as possible, the law of averages almost mandates that something will end up a worthwhile endeavor – and my time at Salt Lake Community College and The Globe is proving to be just that.
From taking a news writing course to covering the Sundance Film Festival, from editing last-minute Globe submissions to preparing for the job as editor-in-chief, every benchmark of progress and experience has been the result of an impulsive desire to grow.
Now, just hours away from an SLCC-organized trip to India, an opportunity of a lifetime awaits.
With the guidance of Globe faculty advisor and journalism professor, Marcie Young Cancio, I have been tasked with following SLCC entrepreneurship students in India through comprehensive field reporting.
The chance to tell stories and relay experiences alongside the sensory overload that accompanies visiting an unfamiliar environment stands a tall order, but an exciting one at that.
In retrospect, all those “yesses” informed my decision to take on such a challenge. Less than a year ago I couldn’t have envisioned a trip to India, and now I have the chance to travel through and document one of the most culturally diverse, economically robust nations in the world.
A charge to anyone who is reading this: commit to opportunities that push your comfort zone and you might find yourself doing things you never thought of.