by Allegra Mangione, GoPhil Development & Marketing Coordinator

In March 2020, India closed all of its schools in response to COVID-19. They have yet to reopen. For children in AVANI’s children’s home, some were formerly in forced child labor; this meant their education had to continue within the home’s walls. AVANI carefully planned activities to help children understand and process the pandemic. Children learned the importance of hygiene, how to properly care for their hygiene, and how COVID-19 was impacting their communities.

But what is most impressive is that girls in the program are finding outlets to creatively express and process their reactions to COVID-19 and discovering ways to serve their communities.

Three girls participated in an online speech competition, improving their confidence as they prepared and delivered speeches on the assigned topic: “How They Are Feeling During Lockdown.” The competition inspired AVANI to host speech competitions within the children’s home. Children also participated in a COVID-19 awareness drawing competition, where they developed slogans and created signs to promote public health and safety during COVID-19.

Finding Ways to Serve

Art is always a favorite subject at AVANI’s children’s home. In addition to expressing feelings about COVID-19 through art, the girls learned practical skills in art class: sewing masks, making greeting cards, and weaving floor mats to distribute to low-income community members in Kolhapur. Realizing they had the power to help keep their communities safe from COVID-19, some girls took the mask project into their own hands.

One girl, Pooja, sewed 3,000 masks in 3 months! 

Other girls preferred to help through cooking. Older girls at the home took cooking classes and enjoyed learning new recipes like egg biryani, moong thalipeeth, and medu vada. Six girls decided they wanted to help by preparing meals for residents in AVANI’s homeless shelters. Through the process, they gained a deepened sense of duty to their community and respect for the residents experiencing homelessness.

Focusing on Education, Despite Challenges 

Schools are offering online classes during the lockdown, and girls at AVANI’s children’s home have different levels of comfort with learning on a computer. The older girls help the younger girls navigate the technology and focus on their schoolwork. The girls are encouraged to ask questions and express their feelings about the transition to online learning. AVANI estimates that about 65% of the children have adapted well, while 35% still struggle to focus. 

To remedy this, AVANI offers education activities outside of online school sessions that engage all learning styles, like cutting letters from paper and using them to spell works, word puzzles, and oral storytelling. Girls show signs of improvement, and AVANI staff continue to add creative, engaging activities to the curriculum.

Zumba and Yoga have also been improving girls’ focus on their studies. A volunteer Zumba and yoga instructor now comes to AVANI twice per month. The highly anticipated exercise classes are filled with joy and excitement every time.

COVID-19 has been particularly hard on children. AVANI has responded by increasing the number of activities offered, encouraging self-expression, and connecting children to opportunities to serve their community. Girls’ days are peppered with cooking, card-making, puzzle games, and yoga, helping them cope, support one another, and build community even through a pandemic.

AVANI’s children’s home is just one of the many impactful programs AVANI offers to its community. This year, GoPhil supports AVANI’s women’s program, which provides shelter to survivors of domestic and gender-based violence. Join the effort to support women in Kolhapur today.