Skills@scale: Postcards & prizes, recognizing little things in 2013

As the New Year begins with frosty cold across Bihar, and schools are still closed, we have great hope for 2013. Be! Schools is a project to teach children skills at school before they drop out, skills they can use for a lifetime. Working in hundreds of schools, reaching thousands of children is a logistical challenge, but we also wanted to stay true to an emotional, human connection to the children and teachers in our program. Faced with so many numbers, we know it’s the participation of every teacher and child that’s making it work. In a world of automated services we wanted to make sure everyone received their own message. So the team in Bihar has been hard at work writing thousands of postcards to children. Each postcard is personally addressed to a child, each postcard responds to and recognizes their individual skills project: we ask about the people in their family tree, we want to understand if the market survey took too long – who are the entrepreneurs in their children’s newspaper, are they still friends?

When Sarwat, one of our team members, visited a school last month, the children recognized her immediately: “You wrote to us!” they exclaimed and Sarwat nodded, removing another surprise from her bag: a backpack for young girl with the best project.

You see, for most of 2012, the team in Bihar and Delhi, had been overwhelmed by the quality and design of children’s projects that we collect each week: thousands of children have been hard at work collecting giant yellow chart paper with glitter, ribbon, interwoven two colour drawings, intricate design, even 3D models and portraits. So while we collect and grade each project, and we’d sent postcards, we decided we needed to do more. We thought we’d visit schools as a surprise, and reward children whose projects were superlative.

We’ve been delighted that children and teachers were quite plainly shocked to see us coming to meet them personally with prizes. Teachers and principals were extremely proud that their students were recognized and rewarded. Now, there is no going back. While we will continue to track each child and school by the number of skills projects we collect each week, and their grades for each project, we know there is no replacement for surprises, personal connections and recognition. And we know this means we’ll be writing even more postcards, and making even more visits with prizes in 2013.

To give the gift of skills books or backpacks to children in schools in Bihar,
click here.

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