It was a moment of great pride and anticipation for the members of AMMACHI Labs, to watch the Mobile Vocational Education Unit (MoVE) drive off towards its first training site. Having become familiar with the challenges that impede accessibility to quality vocational education, for us, MoVE represents tangible hope that circumstances can change for the better, given access to the right opportunities such as quality vocational education.
MoVE made its debut on September 8, 2012, in the semi-urban town of Chavara, in the District of Kollam, Kerala, India to deliver the computerized fabric painting course. Through MoVE, Vocational education suddenly became so accessible that for a majority, class was now just a short walk from their home.
The students, 16 in number, consisted of all women (aged between 30 and 50 years), living either below the poverty line or confined to a life where they are dependent on their husbands or others for financial stability. A majority of the students were forced to discontinue their formal education before 12th grade due to financial reasons. Marriage and then raising a family were the next natural steps in life, challenging her mobility and possibility of further education. The students of the course are a part of a larger initiative, funded by the United Nations Democracy Fund, to socially and economically empower 3,000 women throughout the states of Kerala and Tamil Nadu.
For most, this was the first time the students had seen so many computers, let alone ever used one. All 16 students arrived promptly for the first day of class – seemingly excited and ready for a new venture, although unaware that the computer would play such an important part in their learning. The course facilitator eased students ’initial apprehensions by letting them know that this teacher [the computer] would be the most patient and loving teacher they ever had – and that they could repeat lessons as many times as they wanted, and the “teacher” wouldn’t get upset. One of the students jokingly remarked, “The computer should just understand that we are house wives!”
All of the students are members of Amrita Self Reliance Education and Employment (SREE), a Self-Help Group (SHG) initiative coordinated by the Mata Amritanandamayi Math, and heard about the Fabric Painting course at one of their monthly meetings. When asked whether they would find it a challenge to attend this course on a daily basis, while also attending to their chores at home, they responded confidently, “No! We’re active Amrita SREE members. Not only that, we go for manual labour [cleaning in the Panchayat] every now and then – so we are used to adjusting our schedule accordingly. Our families are supportive of us taking this course.”
Day One of the training successfully enticed interest and eased any fears the students had around learning through computers. While none of the participants had ever used a computer before, all left the first day with a renewed sense of self confidence and a strong feeling of accomplishment as they could now do something they never had the opportunity to do before – continue their education, work towards self reliance –and all that, through computers, just foot steps away from their own home.