Four friends, 20 volunteers, and 300 beneficiaries who received an opportunity to grow and develop their skills to succeed in life — this, in a nutshell, is the story of Project Abhyudaya, an initiative specializing in skill development for young people from lower socio-economic backgrounds. Started by four friends of varied professional backgrounds, Abhinav, Mrinal, Priyanka, and Aditi, Project Abhyudaya works in association with Empower Pragati, a partner company of the National Skill Development Corporation of India. The initiative focuses on improving the standards of vocational training by conducting weekly sessions that help build self-confidence, communication skills, coping mechanisms and prepare students for placement interviews. It all started with Mrinal telling Abhinav about a skilling centre that he had recently visited and the kind of interactions he had with the students. “The conversation led to the thought and realisation that most young people in India never interact with the many others who work for them on a daily basis — like the courier guys, guards, domestic helpers, etc. Most of us don’t know anything about their situation as well as we should. But since our country has so many young people, the youth should help the youth grow,” says Abhinav. This was the motivation with which they went to one of Empower Pragati’s skilling centres to try and understand the students and trainers there, the kind of jobs they needed, and the problems in general. “We felt that their was a gap when it came to what was being taught and what the students needed the most. Training is a big issue in the skilling space and a voluntary initiative run by the youth can lead to huge change. This was how Project Abhyudaya was born,” he adds. Getting together in February 2015, the team created a curriculum based on what they had learned in their respective companies and colleges, and started the first centre in Dwarka. “It led to great response, especially from the girls. There were a few of the them who couldn’t have found a job or their families wouldn’t have allowed them to work, but they ended up working after our counselling sessions. And this motivated us to keep moving forward,” says Abhinav. Gradually, they developed a model wherein each volunteer trains students for three hours every saturday for a period of two months. Today, Project Abhyudaya has a team of 20 volunteers running five centres across Delhi. As for the training, the current curriculum is focussed around soft skills to train people working in sales. “Employability index is built on factors affecting motivation and pre-requisite soft skills required for the job. We recognised that 50% of the role of a retail associate is related to soft skills, communication, confidence, knowing how to behave in what situations, etc. But right now, the trainers at many skilling centres are not well-equipped to be able to talk about specific solutions. Vocational training is still not very aspirational in our country, therefore finding a quality trainer is even harder, especially in tier 2 and tier 3 cities. They lack not only teaching skills but also, most importantly, the ability to motivate the student to work, talk to his/her parents effectively, build his/her confidence using better teaching techniques,” says Abhinav. The team also partnered with Boston University, Abhinav’s alma mater, to organise detailed sessions on financial literacy, email writing, and women empowerment and more, which were conducted by experts. In the first session, volunteers ensure that the whole class works as a team with an atmosphere of sharing and participation, so that no one is conscious about making mistakes. Following this, they are assigned tasks like interviewing sales people in malls and then small shop owners and street sellers, etc. Notes from these tasks are used to help students with examples on functioning in the field and how they should perform when they get similar jobs. There are mentor-mentee sessions as well where volunteers discuss students’ individual problems. “One of the most impactful sessions that we have seen so far are those that involve students writing down their fears. We then discuss these fears once every week. We noticed that some of the students who had never spoken in class started expressing themselves after these sessions,” says Abhinav. The other classes involve motivation and counselling sessions with parents. “It’s a mix of everything to make our students job-ready,” says Abhinav.
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Harsukh Bhai Dobariya from Junagadh district of Gujarat was awarded with Srishti Samman award for bird conservation by President Pranab Mukherjee this year. Everyday, around 2,500 to 3,000 parrots, sparrows and other birds visit Harsukh Bhai’s house. Harsukh Bhai has been taking care of these birds for the past 17 years. It all started with just one cob of pearl millet that he had hung on his balcony. In 2000, Harsukh Bhai met with an accident because of which he had a fracture in his leg. While he was resting at his home, one of his friends got some pearl millet from his farm. Harshukh Bhai hung one of these cobs on his balcony, which soon attracted a parrot. In the coming days Harsukh Bhai was overjoyed to see the numbers increasing. “On the second day there were two parrots, then three, then four and within a month there were around 100-150 parrots and sparrows visiting my balcony every day,” he informs. As the number started increasing, there was not enough space to feed the birds, so Harsukh Bhai got some old pipes, drilled holes in them and made a stand out of them. He fixes the pearl millet cobs on this stand and the birds feed on it comfortably. Now, after 17 years, the stand is huge enough to hold 2,700 pearl millet cobs at once. The family changes the cobs on the stand twice a day to let the birds feed on it.They feel the birds enjoy feeding on such stands as they feed on them all day. Harsukh Bhai, who stopped his education after class 5 and joined his small family business, Gokul Gruh Udyog, spends Rs. 1.5 lakh to 2 lakh every year to feed the birds and is happy with the way even his grandchildren enjoy this hobby. His grandson, Kripal, says about the mess that the birds create: “This is our entire family’s passion. See, we like to wear branded clothes and so we do. Does it mean that they never get dirty? We wash them and wear them again don’t we? Because, we like to wear them. It is the same in this case. We love these birds and enjoy cleaning the mess too, which is a part of it.”
Could riding the waves be the ultimate meditation? Professional surfer and author Sam Bleakley suggests what the oceans can teach us about our place in the natural world What role has surfing played in your life? Surfing has played a central role in my life and career. Along the way, the ocean has knocked me senseless, torn ligaments, ruined my sinuses, reduced my spectrum of hearing, dragged me across infectious live coral reefs, held me down so I am close to drowning, and engineered a face-to-face encounter with a tiger shark. But such bruises generate a kind of wisdom, and they are suffered because the rewards of surfing are immense. Surfing has opened me up, split my skin and widened my horizons but closed me down too, because any obsession restricts your involvement in other aspects of life. Travel has permanently reddened my eyes, but layered experience upon experience in building character. The sea has focused my restless personality and given me calm. What are the stereotypes about surfers and what are surfers really like? I have great old surfing T-shirt that simply reads ‘No brains, no headaches’ in bright print across the back, accompanied by three cartoon pineapple faces with shades and sun-soaked smiles. “No worries!” as the Australians say. It was a carefully constructed, tongue-in-cheek dig at the stereotype that surfers are fun-loving, happy-go-lucky opportunists with water on the brain – a beatnik tribe of anti-intellectuals.
Surfing brings you face to face with the raw beauty of nature at different volumes and toneWhether beach bums in the 1950s, hippies and drop-outs in the 1960s, ‘animals’ in the 1970s shortboard era, aggro-punks in the 1980s, or airheaded fashion victims, surfing and academia do not immediately seem to mix. Yet there are role models: a number of champion surfers went on to become leading academics, mainly oceanographers, most famously Ricky Grigg in Hawaii. Consider the massive number of variables that enable surfing: the meteorological and oceanographic phenomena that generate swell, the geographic location of the break, the geology of the reef or beach, not to mention the global industry that has supplied the wetsuit and chemicals-based surfboard. Surfing has an expressive side, and this is just as open to study and debate. Binding it all is a collective folk wisdom from the surf culture. While surfers intuitively know about wave action and its relationship to bottom shape, these links are still unexplained fully by science. Organised, lay surfing knowledge is a great example of practice expertise in action, rather than ‘specialist’ knowing – a tacit knowledge developed through experience, but hard to articulate. The rewards for predicting the perfect wave at the perfect time are considered the perfect experience.
From hip-hop that tackles toxic masculinity, to frank online discussions about mental health, a global movement is asking afresh: what does it mean to be a man? He smiles rarely. He boasts and bullies and shoves his way to the front of photo line-ups. He has publicly defended the size of his penis. Donald Trump is a caricature of a tough, powerful man’s man – and it might have won him the US presidency. For disaffected rust-belt workers emasculated by years of unemployment and underemployment, Trump promised new jobs and renewed pride. “He was evoking an old-school image of work that involves men wearing hard hats,” wrote Monica Potts in The Nation days after the election result. “Like so much else in his campaign, his promises were explicitly made to men.” In the UK too, the pro-Brexit mantra of ‘take back control’ spoke to the frustration and fear felt by some men as digital technology, automation and the gig economy – among other factors – cause uncertainty about their role in society.
An unwritten man code has left many dangerously out of touch with their emotionsMen have been on top since forever, of course. Patriarchy has gone hand in hand with capitalism, and the two have suppressed women, subjugated many other sections of society, and helped spark countless conflicts. But men are hindered by patriarchy too. While men have helped create wars in the first place, they have also largely been the ones to fight and die in them. It’s an underreported fact that almost twice as many men than women are victims of violence. “Society doesn’t differentiate between men and patriarchy,” says Nathan Roberts, chief executive of A Band of Brothers, a charity that helps young men who have been involved in the criminal justice system through personal development and community building, particularly rites of passage. “But the young men we work with don’t have a great deal of privilege. It’s only when you reach the upper echelons that you find the people with the real power – a few men in a system that impacts all of the women and all of the men below that. Looking at educational attainment, rates of mental health problems and incarceration rates, I think: where is it, exactly, that men have it so good? “My grandfather was a miner, and a solider in the second world war. It’s frightening to think about what he was asked to do. Society hasn’t thought enough about the scars there are in the masculine psyche. I worry, too, about automation, and how we create an identity and a purpose for men in the post-industrial age. The more you rob men of dignity, the more dangerous they are.”
Babies born dangerously early could one day have a significantly higher chance of survival, suggests a trial of a new artificial womb An artificial womb has been successfully trialled for the first time, on lambs born prematurely. The sealed ‘biobag’ contains a substitute amniotic fluid and connects to a gas exchanger for blood oxygenation. Though not yet ready for human use, the Nature Communications study suggests it could significantly increase survival rates, helping babies who are born unable to breathe, feed or fight infection.
A poster and social media campaign aims to dissolve the stigma faced by members of the Gypsy and Traveller communities. ‘We are all so many things’ was devised by the charity London Gypsies and Travellers, in response to a sense that racism towards these groups continues to be tolerated. The charity hopes to challenge public perceptions and media stereotypes of these communities by urging people to look beyond ethnicity to see their worth. Debby Kennett, the charity’s chief executive, said the reality of people’s lives is a far cry from the ‘vulgar and caricatured’ image presented by some media outlets and television programmes such as My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding.