"I was a first generation learner," says Pranali Garud, an
ex-untouchable from a working-class family in a slum in Mumbai, India.
"Our parents sent us to a English medium school for girls and boys,
with no playground. The monthly fee was low, and free public schools
don't teach English." She continued her studies through junior college
and three Mumbai universities, earning a bachelor's in journalism and
master's degrees in cultural studies and social work. She produced
documentary photo and film projects and worked as a radio disk jockey.
She met Lalit Khandare in 2015, they got married two years later, and
the couple moved to Eugene in 2018 for his job as a professor at
Pacific University. Within weeks of arrival, Pranali began volunteering
with local social service agencies: the Relief Nursery, Mike's Closet
at Churchill High School, and the Center for Community Counseling. "I
also did some counseling for international students from India," she
adds, "who were feeling isolation and cultural shock." When COVID came
on, she began taking courses at Lane Community College. She especially
enjoyed an ESL class offered by Cybele Higgins. "I liked her teaching
style," she notes. "I asked her to design courses for underprivileged
girls in India." Together with Higgins and Khandare, Garud recruited
teachers in Eugene and collaborated with SAKHI, a nonprofit for girls'
education in India, to provide tablets and internet access to 16 girls
from urban and rural slums in Maharashtra State. The girls attended
English Boot Camp, five weeks of intensive online classes and an
ongoing workshop for career guidance. Cybele Higgins serves as lead
teacher for the camp; Garud and Khandare are project managers. "Our
project has a dual purpose," Garud explains, "teaching kids in India
and training culturally competent teachers locally." To support English
Boot Camp, visit citizenangel.org.
photograph and story by Paul Neevel
Eugene Weekly / 23 December 2021