Education addresses our biases; it expands our perception of people. When we give love we receive love irrespective of the differences and education helps us forge these bonds of peaceful coexistence. The teachers in Udaan at Mewat district in Haryana are currently experiencing this.
Manju was not sure whether she will be able to embrace these girls when she first starting as the camp coordinator in November last year. Coming from a different community she doubted her own abilities to become friends with these girls and motivate them towards education. The training she received from CARE India equipped her for the role she was to assume. Although she was trained and prepared things were not easy in the beginning. Neither for her nor for other teachers.
The girls here fall into the age group between 11-14 years. Most of them have never set a foot in the school. They come from a cultural setting where the primary role of women is confined to household chores and hence education for girls is not a priority for most of the parents. Manju and the teachers have worked very hard to build trust in the community so that they can convince the parents that education is important for better families. The JMV team is working very hard to convince parents that when a girl is educated she uplifts the entire family; educated girls are empowered and hence better wives and better mothers.
Most parents were also apprehensive if Manju and other teachers will be able to take care of their daughters. They doubted that being from a different social and religious background the school staff will not be able to understand the girls and connect with them.
Six months later it is an entirely different picture. Today Manju and the teachers not only share the most loving bonds with girls but also have the full support of their parents. I asked Manju if the girls are partial to Taranum, a Mewati teacher, as she belongs to their community and pat comes the reply. “No, not at all. Girls love us all. They eat with us, play with us and sleep with us at night. They share every little problem or happiness with us. ”
The staff addressed their own biases and attitudes in order to win the trust of girls. Manju says, “When we came here we avoided idol worship because we didn’t want to hurt the religious sensibilities of the girls. We realized in order for the girls to love us we should love them irrespective of the differences. We prayed with them because whether to an idol or to Allah a prayer is a prayer.”
These girls might be young in age but they understand many things. Seeing the teachers let go of the differences the girls have also started moving past these differences. The girls who were earlier opposed to the teachers praying in the school compound ask them pray. They are becoming a part of their teachers’ hopes and worries as the teachers are becoming a part of theirs.”
The bond between them is so strong that neither can live away from Udaan for long. The running joke in the community is that the girls are under a spell because they miss their school so much that they don’t want to stay away from it for long.
Gradually but surely the condition of girls is changing in this district. They are happier and healthier. They have Didis (older sisters) to look up to, to fight with, to hug when they are sad, to play pranks on and most importantly to help them better their lives. Udaan is benefitting not only the girls but also the community by forging inter-community ties. Indeed the purpose of education is to dissolve these differences and unite all.