It was just two days since I had joined CARE India when I made my first trip to Udaan, Mewat.
Udaan is an accelerated residential school program run by CARE India. It is an eleven month bridge course which helps out-of-school girls in the age group of 10-14 years to complete their education till 5th standard so that they can be enrolled in age appropriate classes in formal schools after this course.

I didn’t really know what to expect, but not even at my imaginative best could I have foreseen how my relationship with Udaan actually panned out.

When we reached the camp and entered the building, rows of girls all looked up from their books and stared at me curiously, a new face among known ones. There was a chorus of ‘Namaste didi’ as they greeted us all and once we returned the greeting, we proceeded upstairs. All throughout the time that we were there, curious faces peeked around the staircase and disappeared with a bashful grin when I smiled at them. When we were leaving, we were gifted drawings made by the girls and told to come again. I was surprised at the gesture, because they had just met me, but more than that it was heart-warming.

My second and third trip to the camp cemented my friendship with the girls, as I lived with them and slept in their rooms. I still didn’t know every girl’s name (learning a hundred names is hard work!) but the girls were comfortable around me now. I was gifted several drawings with the artist’s name boldly written on them, so that I wouldn’t forget them.

One evening, we had a storytelling session, and I had to rack my brains to remember a nice story while numerous pairs of eyes were fixed on me. But with the earnest response I got, all my inhibitions melted away. Now the girls were also eager to tell me stories and poems they knew, and the next morning, participation in the morning assembly was robust. The girls no longer saw me as a stranger. When I went to the girls’ homes to talk to their parents, I was touched by their kindness and their insistence to feed me. And I realized how much groundwork the Udaan teachers and village level workers had done to have established such a wonderful rapport with the community.

The last night I stayed at the camp, the girl who slept next to me lamented that I didn’t tell quite enough stories, and I would be gone tomorrow. And I realized how much I’d miss it too. The girls have a lot of unconditional affection to give, and accept you as one of their own if you just let them. As I left, waving goodbye to the girls and the teachers, hearing them telling me to come back soon, I knew I would miss them. And I hoped to meet them again soon too.

Sanchari Banerjee
Girls’ Education Programme
CARE India