Education, Inequality, and Empowerment in Tamil Nadu, India

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. Participants on this Alternative Break 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.

Through learning about the challenges faced by those living in rural India, especially by Dalits, 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 both domestic and abroad.

Dates of Engagement: May 2019

Estimated Cost: $3,500* 

*Final cost is subject to change based on the finalized itinerary and program fundraising efforts

Instagram: @seetheworldbethechange

Shea was born and raised in Germantown, MD before heading to West Virginia for college. She graduated from WVU in May 2017 with a BA in History and a minor in political science. Shea studied abroad in Wales and Germany, visiting 22 countries at 22 years old. Before coming to American, she dedicated a year to service with AmeriCorps. She is currently working on her MA in Political Science in SPA and passionate about issues around migration and citizenship. Shea sees the value in cross-cultural communication and systems comparison: "I'm most excited to expand my world a little more. I am ready to challenge myself in a new leadership role and learn from my peers and my community."

Meet your 2019 India Alt Break leader, Shea


Holly was born and raised in Plant City, Florida. Holly graduated in May 2018 with her BA in Sociology from Florida Gulf Coast University. Holly has extensive experience in student affairs, and currently serves as the Higher Education Public Policy Intern at the College Board. As a first-generation college student, Holly values opportunity. "I would not be here if there weren't multiple people who believed in me and what I could do. That is why I feel so passionately about educational policy. I want to pay it forward."

Meet your 2019 India Alt Break, Holly

This itinerary is subject to change. 

Day 1- Arrive in Chennai and travel to Vikravandi

Day 2- Orientation with Communities Rising. Afterwards, participants will explore the area and have dinner as a team. 

Day 3- Bus to SAMSSS before experiencing an Indian Education System panel discussion.

Day 4- Communities Rising will meet and interact with participants while exploring their On Target Program. Participants will then visit a gypsy camp before a team dinner.

Day 5- Pre-camp counselor orientation and work sessions.

Day 6- Campers arrive, followed by a camp welcome and dinner.

Day 7 through 11- Camp is in full swing, with participants assisting with camp materials and serving students through their various leadership roles.

Day 12- Campers leave

Day 13- Communities Rising and AU participants assist in closing up the camp.

Day 14- AU participants say goodbye to the other camp counselors before completing a walking tour of Vikravandy and a team dinner.

Day 15- Tour monuments and Shore Temple, lunch in Mahabalipuram, visit the ocean front and do a little bit of shopping. At the end of the day, participants will head back to SAMSSS.

Day 16- Visit Anilady School, and complete a bullock cart ride to Rock Temple. Participants will tour Villupuram and have some time to shop around before dinner.

Day 17- Final meeting and reflection before departing for the airport.