Udaan – a Girl’s Residential Special Training Centre (STC), launched in November 2011, by SRF Foundation, in collaboration with CARE India, is an 11 months long residential learning programme specifically designed to help out-of school girls aged 11 to 14 to complete primary level schooling. Upon completing the 11 months, the girls are enrolled into regular schools, and admitted into their respective age-appropriate classes. On 15th May, 2017, an annual Alumni Meet was organized for the ‘Udaan girls’ and their parents, giving them a platform to meet each other and share their individual journey of change and challenges. 40 girls and 10 parents attended the ‘Milan Samaroh’ (Alumni Meet) and relived their old days at the centre.
On the outset of the program, Mr. Kamaleshwer Mishra from SRF Foundation and Seema Rajput from CARE India shared the objective of the meet and urged the participants to share their achievements for others to learn from them and the challenges that they faced so as to brainstorm a possible solution together. After setting the objective of the program, six girls from Tapkan School sang the welcome song for all the participants.
Beginning the session, the caretaker of Udaan and the parents of the alumni girls of Udaan shared their experiences of how they overcame the pressure and the oppression from the community who constantly discouraged them to send their girls to study at Udaan and then how the personalities and knowledge of their girls developed in a span of 11 months which left the same community in awe of them. A proud father, Mr. Sarfuddin, shared how his girl, who had never been to school before, scored the highest marks in the entrance test of Kasturba Gandhi School amongst 30 girls who appeared for the test. “Even my sons do not have a strong knowledge and understanding of all the subjects which they are being taught in a regular school as compared to my daughter who has made me proud by excelling in her studies”, said Sarfuddin with a beaming face.
Mustaak Ahmad, Religious Leader and community mobilizer for Udaan also shared his initial challenges to motivate the people of the community to send their girls to Udaan. He had to assure the parents that respecting the culture of the region the Udaan centre ensures the safety of their child and has only female teachers to help girls learn discipline, respect for elders, cleanliness and hygiene apart from regular academic knowledge. He personally believes that it is important for a girl or a woman to be educated as it only enables and empowers her in her day to day activities of keeping a record of the expenditure and saving while managing the household. In four years he was able to mobilize 100 girls to Udaan from Tapkan and its neighboring villages. On the future job perspectives of the girls to empower them further financially, he agreed that even as per their cultural beliefs the girls can be given a certified training on stitching and nursing which can get them a proper government job once they have cleared their 10th examination.
After a small cultural break, the torch bearers of Udaan came forward and shared their personal journey of change. Irfana, from the very 1st batch of Udaan, recalled her very first days at the centre which were initially difficult as she felt homesick, but then gradually with the support for her fellow friends and the care of her teachers she became comfortable at Udaan. One of the major factors why she stayed back in Udaan was because the facilities that she got at the centre was not even available at her home. With her hard work she became the finest student of Urdu in her class securing 100% marks in the test after which she joined the school in her village itself which was till Class 8.
With a zeal to study further and with the support of her parents she joined another school in F.P. Namak village which was three kilometers away from her village. Lack of transport and distance never came in between her will. She covered the distance daily on foot when one day she was a gifted a cycle on 15th of August. Irfana became the first girl in her village to ride a cycle to school and she successfully passed Class 10 with flying colors motivating other parents of the village and opening new doors for other girls in her village.
Similar was the success story of Nazma who first expressed her strong views against female feticide and girl child marriage through a self-composed poem which even won her a standing ovation from all the participants. She then shared how her thinking and her lifestyle changed for good after her stay in Udaan. She learned to speak respectfully to the elders, maintained cleanliness at home and looked after her personal hygiene and taught the same to her family as well. Nazma has cleared her Class 10 examination and have already planned and finalized the school from which she will complete her senior secondary education. She aspires to become a police officer in the future to maintain a just and law abiding society.
Lastly Wasima, the only Brand Ambassador of Bal Swachhta Abhiyan in Haryana (made by then HRD Minister, Mrs. Smriti Irani) shared how her life changed after Udaan. It was through Udaan that she got an opportunity to put forward her views on hygiene and cleanliness which got the attention of the HRD Minister and was made the Brand Ambassador for Bal Swachhta Abhiyan in Haryana when she was only 11 years old. Having earned the position she also got an opportunity to represent Haryana in various cities outside the periphery of Mewat and met various social activists which gave her a rich exposure. Her views have also been broadcasted by many radio and TV channels to promote health and hygiene in the state. Currently Wasima is studying in Class 9.
Giving a complete understanding of the positive change that the girls go through, Mr. Wasaruddin, Head Mater of Tapkan School, and Mr. Hamid, Senior Teacher from Sonkh School shared their observations of the girls after they are mainstreamed to regular schools. Both agreed that the girls who came from Udaan were much more intelligent and smart than the other students in the class and always performed better than the rest. Apart from this they motivated the parents to spread the word around and motivate other parents to send their daughters either to school or Udaan so that the district which is considered to be the most backward and illiterate can emerge as the most versatile and literate district, serving an example for others. Both the Head Master and the Senior Teacher applauded the Udaan program for being the only unique program in the area which caters to girl child education in such an innovative and successful way.
Towards the end of the program, all the participating alumni of Udaan were given mementoes by the Head Master, teachers and parents as a keepsake of their journey in Udaan and their achievements thereafter.