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It takes a village to raise a writer

It had always been Erica Roberts’ dream to work in India, but the third-​​year North­eastern stu­dent never had the oppor­tu­nity. That is, until last spring, when inter­na­tional co-​​op took her to a class­room in Chan­delao, a vil­lage about 45 min­utes out­side of Jodhpur.

Roberts worked with Chan­delao Vikas Sansthan, a small orga­ni­za­tion that pro­motes women’s entre­pre­neur­ship. She con­nected with the orga­ni­za­tion through the Foun­da­tion for Sus­tain­able Devel­op­ment, a San Francisco-​​based non­profit focused on capacity building in the inter­na­tional community.

Roberts took respon­si­bility for devel­oping a pro­gram to teach local women how to read and write Hindi. Though she didn’t speak Hindi, the resourceful stu­dent worked with locals to iden­tify the needs of the vil­lage women as well as the best approach to imple­menting the program.

“I worked with a friend who helped me con­duct inter­views, sur­veys and group meet­ings with women in the vil­lage so we could find out what their needs were and how we could help them go fur­ther and pro­vide for their fam­i­lies better,” Roberts said.

The inter­na­tional affairs major applied what she had learned in class to the devel­op­ment of the pro­gram, which ranged from con­ducting needs assess­ments to elic­iting insight from stake­holders. Roberts wrote the course plan, making sure to include ideas that would make the pro­gram sus­tain­able, and con­nected with a local teacher who altered a cur­riculum for indi­vidual stu­dents to fit Roberts’ needs.

“A lot of the classes I have taken were def­i­nitely applic­able,” Roberts said, “and it is really cool to go on co-​​op and see that what you are learning is actu­ally going to help you once you are done with college.”

As a result of the village’s small size, word of mouth turned out to be the program’s best recruit­ment tool. By the time Roberts had returned home after 17 weeks in India, about 30 women had com­mitted to the program.

“It was a good start,” Roberts noted. “I tried to plan out a lot of ways to get feed­back for all par­ties involved so we could make sure the pro­gram is run­ning smoothly and everyone has what they want.”

– By Joe O’Connell

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