When I first heard about ANEW, I figured from its name that the organisation was working in an area that posed to be quite a challenge in modern society. And that became clear to me as Sathya, who is on their Managing Committee, walked me through the work that they do.
ANEW specializes in offering training courses. These are short in duration but intense in nature. Intentionally designed in this manner given the economical background of the students; with the aim of making them financially independent as quickly as possible.
Sathya shared with me that their most popular course is the six-months long nursing assistant course; qualifying those who complete to work at a nursing home . The only pre-requisite for the course is that one should have completed middle school level education ; previous experience is not mandatory. The course is supplemented with spoken English and Personality Development classes.
Recognising the importance of practical work, ANEW has partnered with The Little Sisters of the Poor (Home for the Aged) and SCARF (Centre for Schizophrenia), amongst other, where nursing students get hands-on experience of what is taught in the classroom. Another partner, Sundaram Medical Foundation (SMF), has stepped in to hone their skills further. SMF gives them practical training as well as certifies them at the end of the six months.
These partnerships have really paid off. As ANEW’s nursing trainees are in high demand for their services. A fresher’s average salary is in the range of Rs.7,000-9,000 a month. Quiet a great start for a woman who would have in all likelihood not been working, had it not been for ANEW’s efforts!
The organisation also offers refresher courses for alumni to update their skills, so that they can aim for positions with higher wages. Morever, the employability rate for these courses is very high. Largely due to the fact that ANEW has put in efforts, over the years, to network with companies; that today, they come to ANEW on their own during recruitment.
Another popular course is the 4-month long computer skills training program. Launched in 2000, the course equips women with basic computer skills. Like the nursing assistant course, this too is supplemented with spoken English and Personality Development classes. As well as a mandatory internship with a firm, where they get experience on what’s taught in the classroom.
ANEW has 3 computer labs and there are usually 4 batches of students a day, taught in two hour slots by a trained teacher. They also specifically target 12th standard students in government schools as many of these girls have no employability skills.
In a really unique move, the organisation works with eligible women inmates of the Puzhal central prison. Conducted by ANEW’s trainers, the course has been certified by NIIT. 160 inmates have completed the course so far; and an impact assessment showed that it had increased motivation in the women and had therapeutic benefits too.
The organisation also recognises the importance of disabilities and offers its services to underprivileged hearing impaired children who have completed high school level education. And what I thought was a really great move was that the candidates are taught by a hearing impaired tutor whose assistant is hearing impaired too.
The organisation’s pride is their auto/car driving course, which gives women a chance to take up something completely out of their comfort zone – by becoming chauffeurs, valets or commercial vehicle drivers. On selection , the women are sent for 4 month s to Venkateshwara driving school to train and obtain a license. Subsequently, they practise at ANEW using a donated car/auto to gain confidence. The trainees are then certified by AASI . They are further provided hands on training at Savera Hotel, Cookie Man and The NGO Banyan where they learn how to drive a variety of vehicles. These tie-ups have been established to increase the womens’ confidence; as self-confidence is a key in this field due to the overwhelming stigma attached to women drivers. ANEW has also established contact with schools and businesses whose students/employees feel more comfortable travelling with a woman driver.
Though it offers good monetary returns, this course continues to throw many obstacles; primarily due to the male auto culture in India. Problems of harassment are common and women say that they feel intimidated picking up male customers . There is a strict selection criteria for this course as it costs Rs. 10,000 per girl (the entire amount comes from ANEW ) and therefore the organisation needs to be absolutely certain that the girl is determined and will stick to the job, after training, despite the negativity associated with it.
One such girl is Chamundeshwari, who hails from a poor family and was married off young. Separated from her husband after their daughter was born, she was determined to give herself and her daughter a good life. She completed the auto/car driving course and now earns ~Rs. 7000 a month working as an auto driver in a school. Realising the value of economic independence, Chamundeshwari has enrolled her daughter (who has completed her high school from a government school) into ANEW’s training program too.
ANEW is also proud to have trained Tamil Nadu’s first woman ambulance driver Kayalvizhi; who is one among three daughters in a poor family hailing from Chennai . She is now a state government employee working for a hospital and earns Rs. 14,000 a month.
The organisation’s most recent course is Optometry, which was launched in August 2010 in partnership with The Sight Care Foundation. The Community Optometric Course meets society’s increasing need for Optometrists. Students who have completed their high school education, and have basic mathematical aptitude are eligible to enrol. The 3 month long course includes practical training at hospitals, religious places, schools and clinics. On completion, a fresher can earn ~Rs. 6,000-9,000 a month.
The range of courses that ANEW offers has earned it the reputation of being an organisation that is ‘ahead of its time’. Despite overcoming many cultural barriers over the years, they yet find it difficult to change attitudes especially of the families of poor women. Most women do not seek employment because of their husband/children; most husbands are unsupportive as they believe work will distract their wives from fulfilling their duties at home. Other conservative ways of thinking also act as an obstacle – like it not being appropriate for girls to walk home at night or be seen with groups of men, even if they are just colleagues. ANEW has had to constantly be aware of these restrictions and as Sathya showed me around she spoke of having to “adjust their definition of empowerment to fit reality”. This thought is very powerful and I really commend ANEW for trying to overcome these challenges. In an attempt to prepare itself for these obstacles, ANEW has a counselling team that visits families if they are not supportive and encourages them to stand behind their daughter.
Over the last 17 years, ANEW has worked with 6,000 women, the majority of who are now employed, financially-independent and living happy, comfortable lives. By transforming the way these women think, the organisation has ensured that its impact will flow through families from mother to daughter, teaching future generations the importance of education, employment and independence.
Long term vision:
Future plans include reaching out to more women as well as expanding the scope of professions of offered trainings. The organisation also wants to be more ambitious and ‘non-traditional’ yet fit in with society and the women they are reaching out to. Moreover, they wish to place women in sustainable professions that will keep them comfortable for the rest of their lives.
In recent years, there has been an increased focus on disabilities and in educating girls who are hearing impaired. If ANEW can find more specialised teachers and equipment, then this is an area they aim to progress in. Space is also an issue at the moment given the large influx of students. So, another long term vision is to relocate to a larger plot or find one close by so that the current building can be expanded.