Each morning, young women gather around a big table in our airy aqua-colored classroom. Large windows frame the table on two sides, bequeathing gracious views of the railroad and adjacent flooded salt flats that glint placidly under the languid Monsoon mist. The teacher begins the day with a check-in, reflection, and mindfulness exercise, in which students follow the flow of their breathing, get in touch with the present moment, and gather a peacefulness and focus to prepare for a day of conscientiousness and creativity. And from that moment, opportunities abound.
At iSanctuary, we know that school is a powerful defense against human trafficking, revictimization, intergenerational abuse, and poverty. We’ve developed The Academy so that the survivors we serve can arm themselves with education, gaining skills for upward mobility and economic autonomy, while strengthening their sense of self, purpose, worth, direction, and fulfillment.
Few resources like The Academy currently exist for survivors of human trafficking in the rainy, marigold-speckled streets of Mumbai. After rescue, many survivors go to safe houses where they are out of immediate danger. But with resources stretched to serve an enormous population of survivors, education and vocational training programs are limited and crowded. At iSanctuary, we are establishing this missing resource. This was not a simple achievement. We know that a one-size fits all approach cannot affect the sustainable change that iSanctuary aims to create. So we committed ourselves to doing it right. Through meticulous quantitative assessments, interviews, and focus groups, we gauged participants’ current interests, knowledge, abilities, and mental state to construct an individualized program. We also asked participants about their priorities and hopes for their futures and for programs offered at iSanctuary. The information we collected helps us to identify appropriate learning resources, track individual participant progress, and contribute to program monitoring and evaluation. After examining the information gathered from our participants, in conjunction with best practices in the field and consultations with educational experts, we ascertained our specific programmatic and organizational needs. Our staff then developed curricula, policies, and benchmarks for The Academy.
To prepare for the launch of The Academy, we gradually introduced more class time in a variety of areas (self- defense, geography, English, goal-setting, health, and yoga, to name a few) to ease our participants into the transition and get excited about learning. This gave us an opportunity to observe their learning styles and make necessary adjustments to our plans. We will continue to develop and improve the efficacy of our learning environment through observation, assessments, and feedback.
After a rigorous hiring process, we welcomed a new teacher, social worker, and administrator to our team. From their first days on the job they have been hard at work developing and revising lesson plans while building a connection with our participants. Their training and expertise, as well as their sensitivity to participants’ needs, shared language, and common cultural upbringing position our new staff members to effectively and thoughtfully engage the students, identify and address their needs, and help iSanctuary achieve our long-term goals. Eventually we will bring on an additional teacher and social worker to ensure that we meet the widely varied needs of our participants.
With our new Academy, iSanctuary aims to provide resources for survivors to pursue their academic dreams and to obtain access to diverse jobs, higher salaries, and greater defense against future poverty and violence. Breaking down barriers to education—the hurdles both large and small that preclude girls from attending school—allows our participants to gain entry into an array of previously unattainable opportunities, safeguard their freedom, and realize their dreams.
By Kate Poor, Communication Liaison & Alyson Emory Holsclaw, Program Developer