SAN LEANDRO, Calif. — Teaching a low-income child in India to speak English can allow a youngster to participate in the formal economy and contribute to India’s rapidly-growing economy, said Indian American entrepreneur Deepak Chopra, founder of the Freedom English Academy.
In an interview here May 23, Chopra and Silicon Valley entrepreneur and investor Prem Talreja, who serves as FEA’s development director, discussed the power of English as a tool to transform the lives of low-income children. The non-profit organization, started eight years ago by Chopra, has navigated more than 120,000 youth — low-income children living in bustees in Delhi and Uttar Pradesh — through its one-year program.
FEA — largely self-funded by Chopra thus far — currently has 120 branches, each within a 15-20 minute walk from a low-income neighborhood. The minimum age to enter the training is 15; many of the program’s participants are in their early 20s. Students attend classes for 100 minutes, six days a week, and hone their English skills. The program also offers training in the soft skills necessary to get and retain a good-paying job, such as communication and collaborative skills, perseverance, and ethics.
A large portion of the program is devoted to building self-confidence and self-esteem. “It’s sad that 17-, 18-, and 19-year-old kids will not open their mouths and even ask a question when they come into the program,” Chopra told India-West.
“But nine, ten months later you can’t get them to shut up. Everybody has so much to say,” he noted with a laugh.
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