A LETTER FROM THE Co-FOUNDER, ETHAN GERINGER-SAMETH:
On the University of Hyderabad campus there are multiple communities of migrant workers and their families who work on the construction sites of new school buildings. Their settlements – temporary dwellings made of sheet metal, tarps, and wooden branches – abut the main road through campus. In 2011 it was not uncommon during any daylight hour to step outside a student hostel and see the young children of these workers playing near their homes. They did not attend school. I was there as a student studying for a semester at the University and between February and May of 2011 began Aksharavani, an elementary school for the children of these communities.
I did not do it alone. With the support of the migrant families themselves, teachers, student advocates, and local non-governmental organizations, the school was developed. To achieve this, it was necessary to understand the conditions of the region – its various populations, socio-cultural history, infrastructure, and the role of government. A considerable portion of the Constitution of India is dedicated to the fundamental rights of people. Article 21 of the Constitution, under the Rights of Life, guarantees the right to be educated, the right of non-exploitation, and the right to be dignified. Among these stipulations lay the crux of India’s educational philosophy and my own advocacy.
I had come to India with the perspective that what is new will challenge, that diversity creates innovation, and that positive change requires the guidance and involvement of the people impacted. Here in India, there is both hardship and opportunity. Here are the migrant laborers, within their nation but excluded from its services and the collective protection that is its strength; here are their children without the promise of future opportunities; here are the battered facades of temporary homes. Yet within this landscape lay the strength of community and the seeds for equality through education. It needs only to be cultivated.