Mewat Mondays: Udaan

Part of the Mewat Rural Education Programme, Udaan is a collaboration between SRF Foundation and CARE India. Providing school dropouts and never-been-to-school girls aged between 10 to 14 years with class 1 to 5 competencies in Hindi, EVS, Maths, Social Education and Urdu, the 11-month programme aims to given these females a chance to further their studies and achieve their goals. Presently, 89 girls are enrolled in the current batch, and are expected to graduate in November 2013.

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Arbina Khan is currently enrolled in the second run of the Udaan Programme, after her mother had come forward when the initiative was introduced in the villages by SRFF. Approving of the all-girls residential education programme as an appropriate environment for her 13 year old daughter, Arbina’s mother allowed her to stay away from her family for the next eleven months to pursue her education.

It turns out that Arbina has no regrets being sent here, saying “I enjoy studying (at Udaan) so much that I don’t even miss home.” She had dropped out of school at the 3rd standard, being told that there was no need for her to continue her studies as she was ‘old and had studied enough’. After leaving school, Arbina’s days were mainly spent on household chores – sweeping the floor, doing the dishes, fetching drinking water from the well; but that was before the Udaan programme. Now, her typical day follows a schedule where she is learning and growing each moment of the day.

Typical day at school

  • 0500: Wake up, read Namaz, shower & brush teeth
  • 0800: Urdu class
  • 1000: Hindi class
  • 1330: Lunch
  • 1430: Math class
  • 1630: Library/Playtime/Computer class
  • 1730: Break
  • 1800: Social Learning
  • 1930: Dinner, Study and Revision, Sleep

While Arbina had liked her previous school, she shares that the Udaan centre is even better. Referring to her teacher as Ayisha didi, and her classmates as her sisters, it comes as no surprise when she told us that she “does not feel like going back and doesn’t want this experience to end”.

A student who has coped well with the course, Arbina ends off with some words to her peers in her village, “I will like to encourage all my friends to attend the Udaan programme as this has been a life-changing experience for me”. The young girl tells us she is hopeful that when her villagers see how much Udaan has benefitted her, parents will start sending their daughters to the programme. Arbina aspires to be a teacher like her Ayisha didi in the future, and with a vision received as early as this, we believe that she can and will even surpass her teacher and inspire students of her own someday.

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One of the graduates from the first batch of the Udaan programme, Asmina Begum has certainly come a long way from when she struggled to keep up with her classmates academically, eventually dropping out of school in the 3rd standard. She was encouraged by SRF Foundation Vidya Volunteer Mr Liaquat Ali to join the Udaan Residency School. It was not easy going for Asmina in her Udaan experience. Shortly after the camp started, several girls she had enrolled with were withdrawn by their parents, who were doubtful about the merits of the programme. They encouraged Asmina’s father to do the same, but Asmina’s family commendably resolved to not merely listen to the rumours. Visiting the Udaan centre, her father was satisfied with the way his daughter was learning, and her family stood by their decision.

Asmina with her mother

Asmina with her mother

During a Maths lesson

During a Maths lesson

Living in a residential camp can be challenging, and Asmina tells us she was often fearful and homesick in the beginning, “I wanted to quit in the beginning but I pressed on”. In the end, Asmina enjoyed her Udaan experience thoroughly. She shares that Manju, an Udaan teacher she aspires to emulate, was immensely encouraging and taught the girls patiently, adding, “The teaching pace was perfect as we were taught slowly and everything was explained twice”. Asmina’s parents are whole-heartedly supportive of their daughter’s development, with her mother sharing, “When a female child progresses, it makes the family just as proud”. Her mother tells us that Asmina has become more independent and mature.

Not only has Asmina changed herself, she is also starting a ripple of change in her village. Now that she is studying in Rehna Government Middle School, the villagers have been coming up to her and asking her about her Udaan experience. Many girls from her village have also already enrolled in the Udaan programme. Asmina herself hopes to send her siblings to the Udaan Centre when they are old enough. We will like to wish little Asmina all the best in her future endeavours, and we hope she continues to be a role model to other females of Mewat.

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To the girls in Udaan, 24 year old Poonam Gupta is mother, sister, headmistress and teacher all in one petite frame. Poonam’s candid and easygoing demeanour belies a steady maturity beyond her years, bringing a thought to mind – it is no wonder the Udaan programme is running smoothly and has done so much for these young girls. As headmistress, Poonam provides leadership to a group of young teachers. Her past 8 years of teaching experience adds value to the schedules and lesson plans that need to be adapted in weekly meetings with her team. In the capacity of a teacher, she is pleased that her students are very bright, likening them to clay that can “take on any form they want them to”. Poonam hopes to have support in organising exposure visits, for the students to learn what is happening in the world and to motivate teachers to play their part well. Ever forward-looking, she pushes also for basic English lesson for the girls.

Beyond an educator, Poonam is even more so a mother and sister to the girls in Udaan. Like a mother, she allays what fear her daughters have and keeps the home in order. Like an elder sister, her heart is for her younger siblings to learn to get along and love each other.

A well-stocked library

A well-stocked library

Udaan's innovative teaching materials make learning more engaging and fun

Udaan’s innovative teaching materials make learning more engaging and fun

She lets on that when a run of Udaan begins, girls cry and have even tried to run away. For those who run away, she personally goes out to search for them and brings them home. She tells us that staying in one place for a long time comes across as a shock to the girls initially, “The children are used to the fields and moving about… they sometimes feel like this is a jail.” Still, Poonam does not allow the initial apprehension to prevent girls from receiving the education that she believes will “allow them to achieve whatever they want… and be someone in life”. In an orientation programme before any lessons begin, activities are organised to make the girls feel more at home – Girls are paired in games, henna sessions arranged, sleeping arrangements decided on, and rooms decorated. This period of bonding is just the beginning of friendships that will last them even beyond these eleven months in Udaan.

Only returning home for a day or two each month, Poonam confesses she sometimes feels down about being away from friends and family. Not allowing herself to dwell on this, she quickly recovers her chirpy smile as she remembers why she still loves teaching. Being able to “make a difference in someone’s life, especially female children” brings Poonam great pleasure. While the belief that it is useless educating a daughter is still common in Mewat, she is glad to see that this mindset has been changing lately, with Udaan receiving greater support. Poonam wishes for all her girls to study as far as they can, telling us, “Education forms and shapes a person, and exposes us to the real world. I hope my students will stand on their own two feet.” And as a run of Udaan draws to a close and her students sit for the examinations to be placed in the 11th standard in mainstream schools, she knows that she is standing in the right place.

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Filed under Mewat Mondays, Mewat Rural Education Programme (MREP)

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