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Education, Equity, and Empowerment: Dalit Rights and Education in India

The Program:

A quality education is the crux of a student’s future. It transcends borders and combats social inequalities to move us towards a more just world. We will be exploring how one’s place within the caste system influences the educational opportunities available to them, and how one’s background and lack of access to quality education has rippling effects sustaining poverty and prejudice. Students will work with Communities Rising and serve as camp counselors for their annual summer camp in Tamil Nadu. Serving students year round, Communities Rising provides out of school programming for students from underserved, rural villages in south India. They teach classes in English, math, Tamil, computer education, art, music, and dance for over 1600 students. Innovation, creativity, and resilience are fundamental aspects of education that are enhanced by the classes that our community partner provides. By having a sustained partnership since 2007 with Communities Rising, we are continuously advocating for the importance of every child’s schooling.

Communities Rising faces many challenges in the work that they do. Their website reports that out of the 29 districts in Tamil Nadu, the Villupuram District, which is where their programs take place, ranks 28th in literacy with less than 66% of students completing the 5th grade. This statistic is even lower for girls and impoverished students. These realities can’t be forgotten and we believe more can be done to raise awareness about these issues to create positive change over time. Through learning about the challenges faced by those living in rural India, especially by Dalits, who are at the bottom of the Indian caste system and are often discriminated against in many aspects of their daily lives, participants in this Alternative Break will have the opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of the implications of caste-based discrimination and barriers to education.

Quick Facts

Destination: Tamil Nadu, India
Dates: May 13-28, 2018
Cost: $3,300
Adviser: Robin Adams
Cost includes: Airfare, lodging, meals, ground transportation, admission fees, guides, travel insurance and administrative fees.
Cost does NOT include immunizations and visas if needed.


Meet Your Student Leaders!

Emily Murtaugh is a Junior studying Anthropology and minoring in International Relations and Statistics. She is interested in how all forms of education can be used to build our identity and even our community. She has experienced first hand the different ways education has an impact by being a DC Reads Tutor, leading AU students in Freshman Service Experience, and by giving tours at the Newseum. Emily, most recently, is traveling to London to study abroad at SOAS and is hoping to find the best bookshop in all of England while abroad. Her favorite thing about her college experience thus far has been being a part of the team at the Center for Community Engagement and Service and meeting so many new people. She is excited to return to Tamil Nadu to continue discussing education inequity and bring new people into this community.  

As a student who believes that education is a tool that changes the world I am excited to continue engaging with Communities Rising through the Alt Break Program because I know that this program has shaped my life and I am excited to continue this journey with other students. 

Riddhi Sarkar is a junior at American University, studying international affairs and journalism. She loves to travel and write and is currently co-editor of AU’s news and features magazine, American Word. Riddhi was previously a reporter and editor for AU’s student newspaper, The Eagle. Riddhi also enjoys conducting interviews as a citizen historian for the 1947 Partition Archive, a non-profit oral history organization collecting stories of witnesses of the 1947 Partition of India, an issue she is close to since her grandparents were deeply affected by the historical migration. Riddhi is passionate about equal access to education, a major theme of the Tamil Nadu program, and sees education as a powerful tool in advancing the lives of individuals as well as uplifting whole communities. Riddhi participated in this Alt. Break during the summer of 2016 and is looking forward to returning to Tamil Nadu for a second time. 

 “Being a part of the Tamil Nadu Alt.Break in May 2016 was an unforgettable experience, and I am grateful for the opportunity to be returning as a leader and continuing to build on AU’s partnership with Communities Rising”