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It takes a village to raise a writer

It had always been Erica Roberts’ dream to work in India, but the third-year Northeastern student never had the opportunity. That is, until last spring, when international co-op took her to a classroom in Chandelao, a village about 45 minutes outside of Jodhpur.

Roberts worked with Chandelao Vikas Sansthan, a small organization that promotes women’s entrepreneurship. She connected with the organization through the Foundation for Sustainable Development, a San Francisco-based nonprofit focused on capacity building in the international community.

Roberts took responsibility for developing a program to teach local women how to read and write Hindi. Though she didn’t speak Hindi, the resourceful student worked with locals to identify the needs of the village women as well as the best approach to implementing the program.

“I worked with a friend who helped me conduct interviews, surveys and group meetings with women in the village so we could find out what their needs were and how we could help them go further and provide for their families better,” Roberts said.

The international affairs major applied what she had learned in class to the development of the program, which ranged from conducting needs assessments to eliciting insight from stakeholders. Roberts wrote the course plan, making sure to include ideas that would make the program sustainable, and connected with a local teacher who altered a curriculum for individual students to fit Roberts’ needs.

“A lot of the classes I have taken were definitely applicable,” Roberts said, “and it is really cool to go on co-op and see that what you are learning is actually going to help you once you are done with college.”

As a result of the village’s small size, word of mouth turned out to be the program’s best recruitment tool. By the time Roberts had returned home after 17 weeks in India, about 30 women had committed to the program.

“It was a good start,” Roberts noted. “I tried to plan out a lot of ways to get feedback for all parties involved so we could make sure the program is running smoothly and everyone has what they want.”