CI-Sahay Youth Council gets it right!

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When we decided to work with Children International and their partner charity Sahay (CI-Sahay), we knew we would be working with a well established organization, which provides sponsors for about 20,000 youth in the area, but we had no idea how extensive and effective their programs are…

Today we are experiencing one of them – the Youth Council.  The kids run their own organization within CI-Sahay and wow! is it impressive!

We sit in open-mouthed awe as the kids add their thoughts to the debate.  This meeting is more productive and lively than many board meetings I have experienced in the US!  …no offense to the awesome boards I have worked with :-)

Bella’s take on it: You know that feeling in a meeting when you slowly start slipping into your own world?  Yeah, there’s none of that here. All the kids are chiming in their own ideas and clapping when a conclusion has been reached.

The teens come from communities all of West Bengal, India.

With training from CI-Sahay, they have started youth groups in their own neighborhoods.  They are encouraged to design programs that will benefit themselves, their peers, and their communities, and to present proposals for these projects to the head CI-Sahay Youth Council for debate and possible approval.

How it works

These proposals have already been approved at the neighborhood and the village levels.  Twenty-five teens are gathered in a room, sitting Indian style on mats that cover the perimeter of the room.  The person presenting his/her project sits alone in the middle to present to the rest of the group.  Some of the younger teens who are presenting for the first time are allowed to present with two people to make it easier for them.  Not only do these kids present with confidence and enthusiasm, they seem to really enjoy themselves!

The other teens pepper them with questions about their projects:

Is the budget too high?

Can they do their own fundraising?

Can the program be changed to benefit more people?

The teen presenting seems to take all of this in stride and answers the questions thoughtfully.

No matter how lively the discussion, the kids find a way to get their opinions in without talking over one another.  No adult is coordinating, no one is calling on people to speak…they just have a great way of giving input and then waiting for others to speak.

Even more impressive is the intelligent, informed feedback of the Council leaders:

Teens appealing to the local government to support their programs

One presenter proposes to train 50 women in the community to make pickles and sell them.  The budget includes training, equipment and materials.  The members of the Council know that local governments would support this kind of vocational training.  They advise that the neighborhood youth group seek this funding and then come back to the Council with a revised budget.

They have become seasoned business people!

In another case, the Youth Group hears a proposal for sports activities and a tournament at the neighborhood level, but as they have approved a similar project in another neighborhood last year, they know that the tournament could be accomplished with less money than proposed.  They asked that the youth group presenting get in touch with the one who had already accomplished the program to learn from them and revise that part of the budget.

We found these teen-designed and run programs mind-blowing – What do YOU think?

Small-business, vocational and other income-generating projects

Training for families in the community in goat-rearing.  The cost is low, and the benefits include milk and a new source of income for the families. If you don’t approve this yourself, let me ask you this… who wouldn’t want a cute fluffy goat?? I sure would!! This message has been approved by Bella!!

Hat manufacturing business – training and equipment for 20 youths who do not plan to attend university.  The teens are working with a contact who is working in that business to be sure their efforts will be successful.  They have studied the market demand and they have space in their youth center to house the business.

Fish farming - one youth group has been raising aquarium fish for sale for the last 10 years!  Today they got a proposal approved to raise food fish for sale in their community.  They youth do all the work to farm the fish and they lease the fish pond.  When we asked them questions, they were very well-informed as they had learned all about the business before making the proposal.

Health and wellness

Yoga and health programs for not only sponsored children, but for interested members of the community.

Sports training open to all children in the youth group, culminated in a tournament at the end of the year, where efforts are applauded and fun is had by all.


An anti-plastics campaign – plastics are invading India!  Other garbage can be composted or burned, but plastics present a real problem and litter the ground everywhere.  The youth will promote paper and other bio-degradable packaging to local merchants and educate the community about the importance of avoiding plastic packaging.


One youth is from a very remote island.  Even electricity is something new to the people in his community.  People are isolated from modern society and many children have never been off the island.  The program will provide funding for school children to take a field trip to Kolkata to visit some of the most important cultural sites.  CI-Sahay youth will help show them around during their visit.

It was also interesting to see why some of them were turned down.  In all cases that we saw, the teens were invited to re-apply once they modified their projects.

One proposal was for further computer training for 20 youth who already completed a basic computer class.  There are 200 youth in that center.  The Council wanted more kids to benefit and asked for the program to be redesigned.  Ideas were given to make the proposal successful the second time – how about having the youth who receive the training make a commitment to train their peers?

Proposals with budgets that were too high based on the experience of the Youth Council members were also asked to reevaluate.  The leaders hold their Council positions for two years, but they seem to pass on knowledge well and keep great records, because they often referred to lessons learned from past projects in helping to improve the current proposals.

More money for the Student Council?  “No thank you, Ma’am, but we would like more education.”

Thanks to your support, Round the World with Us was able to fund a $10,000 youth training program in leadership and health, including reproductive health.  But after seeing the incredible programs these kids are creating an implementing successfully for their own communities, we wondered if we should try to raise funds for these projects also.

We were surprised to hear that the Youth Council wanted the health training program more than they wanted additional funding for these projects.  “We’ve learned that we can fund many projects ourselves through local fundraising, or by thinking of income-generating projects.  It’s more education and training that is a real benefit to us.” DID I HEAR THEM CORRECTLY?  Wow!

Are you as surprised and impressed as I am?

I am really blown away by these kids…intelligent debate, creative, selfless well-constructed programs that truly benefit their peers and families, an array of causes from income-generating projects to those that protect the environment, turning down more funding because they can do it themselves, approaching local governments for help?  Kudos to both the teenagers who have created such awesome youth groups and CI-Sahay for training the teens to be so independent and competent in their work!  …Aww, this is great! Can I just say…wait… Kudos??? Who say that??? ~Bella!

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Posted on: January 19, 2011 | Categories: Economic Opportunity, Education, Environment, Health Care, Health Education- Calcutta, ideas for educators, India, sustainability



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