Bridge Course Program
By Saskia Raevouri, Bridge Course coordinator
When I visited the FreeSchools with Sue Tennant for the first time in 2006, Sr. Crescence told us of her dream to renovate an existing structure on the convent grounds and turn it into a dormitory for girls. Her plan was to take in eighteen of the brightest girls from the FreeSchools and offer them a chance to "bridge over" academically to be on par with students who attend the formal schools. At the same time the girls would learn social skills and be exposed to a higher standard of living, acquiring habits they could take back to inspire and educate their primitive villagers. Additionally they would form bonds with each other, leading to high-level cross-fertilization between remote villages.
These girls would otherwise be contracted into early marriages, bear many children, and live their lives in grass huts without electricity or toilets. Even with basic teachings, they have little opportunity to realize their full potential.
I loved Sr. Crescence's idea and promised to help make it a reality. Returning home I raised the money first for the building [read my account here] as well as funds for the first year's supplies and scholarships. Renamed the Bridge Course Program for Poorest Girls, the grand opening ceremony took place in March 2010, attended by Geri Johnson, Dr. John Lange and myself [read my account here].
Each year since then, Sr. Crescence and her staff have acted as "talent scouts," identifying the most promising female students between 7 and 11 years of age and putting them and their parents through an extensive screening process before granting the girls admission to the program. To date, over 150 girls have been educated in the Bridge Course program and many have gone on to higher education. At the same time, we have raised an average of $8,000 per year for scholarships and related expenses.
I have personally visited the Bridge Course and FreeSchools programs four times, together with Sue Tennant, Geri Johnson, Dr. John Lange and others. I can vouch that every cent raised goes into the programs. Sr. Crescence and her Sacred Heart sisters have been toiling to upgrade living conditions in Bihar for almost 100 years. They have taken vows of poverty, are self-supporting and receive nothing from the Catholic Church or the government, refusing to consort with corruption, bribery, and other practices that are common in India when money is involved. They do the actual work and the only help we as Westerners can offer is financial.
This year the goal is $8,500 to cover 18 girls, study materials, textbooks, stationery for exams, toilet articles, medical expenses, games articles, salaries for two teachers and a hostel warden, meeting and office expenses, travel allowance (for the girls to visit their families in remote villages), audit fees, and dormitory maintenance.
You may donate either through FreeSchools-USA, earmarked for Bridge Course, or with Paypal via our partner Mind, Body and Spirit, Inc. All donations are tax-deductible.