Aliya Tabassum’s family is poor and is accustomed to a life of hardship. Being the daughter of a hawker and a housewife, she has seen her parents struggle to make ends meet. Finding it really difficult to support her higher education, Aliya’s parents inducted her to ‘Udayan Shalini’ in 2007. With the help of Udayan she has completed her B.Sc in Maths which has made her the first generation graduate in the family. With constant support from ‘Udayan Shalini’ she has now secured a job with Cognizant Technologies Pvt. Ltd, a leading MNC in Kolkata with an initial pay package of Rs.2 lacs per annum. Udayan not only helped her financially but also groomed her sufficiently so that she was fit for the job market.
Reena Burman’s father worked as a beedi maker, earning a minimal monthly wage. With two children to bring up, the family faced a daily struggle. Reena did not even dare dream of pursuing her higher education. That was before she heard about Udayan Shalini Fellowships in Kolkata. She appeared for NAT-a meticulous system that evaluates Needs, Ambition and Talent held by Udayan Care- in 2007 and to her great delight, was selected! Reena pursued her long cherished dream of a Masters degree in Sanskrit from the West Bengal University, securing a first class! She aspires to become a teacher. Her parents, family and community are extremely proud of Reena, since she is the first woman in her village to have studied this far, becoming an inspiration for many young girls.
The idea behind the inception
Udayan Care Kolkata has been instrumental in sponsoring and promoting brilliance in girl students for the last 9 years. Established by Kusum Bhandari, it has brought about a change in the lives of more than 700 girls. “A mother’s deep desire to educate her young daughter and build her a future, but her complete helplessness due to poverty, sparked the beginning of the Udayan Shalini Fellowship Programme. Only 16% women in India study till Class X, there is only 1 girl among every 100 college going students, only 4.5% graduates in our country are women and only 8.7% women complete graduation, even in urban India. The Udayan Shalini Fellowship programme was initiated in 2002 in New Delhi by my friend with the aim to ensure no girl with the drive to learn is denied her dream, due to lack of support,” says Kusum, an educationist and the face behind one of the oldest Montessori school of Kolkata, Bal Nilaya.
Catching them young
Udayan Care catches the girls young and grooms them to face the world and the present job market. Speaking about the process of selection and mentorship, Kusum says, “Girls in Class XI in government schools are selected through NAT. Girls clearing the written test are interviewed; those short-listed are visited at home to assess the need for support. Once selected, they are bound by the pledge they take to uphold the values of Udayan Shalini Fellowship, with a promise to give back to those like them. They are supported for 5-6 years, till they complete graduation or specialised courses.”
Udayan Shalini Fellowship (USF) is not merely a scholarship and goes much beyond monetary assistance. “At the core of the model is Pyramidal Mentoring, which ensures holistic development of the girls. Young entrepreneurs, educationists and experts keen on change, join us as senior mentors and works with groups of girls. Each group is supported by an alumna Shalini – a mentor didi, who understands the young Shalinis; Didis also inspire the youngsters to give back,” enumerates the founder of Udayan Care Kolkata.
“The USF programme plans several activities through the year, giving Shalinis opportunities for exposure, which they may not have had so far. The learnings imbibed through these lead to holistic development, making our Shalinis stand apart. Workshops are designed to help Shalinis build self esteem and often involve a high level of introspection as the girls put in a lot of thought in discovering their core values. Workshops are also a great way for our Fellows to receive first hand information on various career options. Eminent speakers from various industries – Media, Marketing, Information Technology, Fashion & Apparel, Mass Communication, Retail and Pharmaceuticals, inspire the young girls helping them choose a path to turn their dreams into reality. Innovative presentations, music and role-plays make the discussions more animated and relevant for our young girls. Shalinis are also exposed to art, music, sport and history, which enhances their awareness and world view,” adds Kusum Bhandari.
Camps are held with the Shalinis to enable them to explore new avenues while understanding the importance of financial independence. All Shalinis are involved in social work of 50 hours every year, through social campaigns, instilling in them the desire to give back. Udayan Shalini programme goes beyond the growth and prosperity of Shalinis to change even the outlook of their families and communities towards women and their rights. The sisters and peers of the Shalinis too feel more hopeful about their future. Udayan Kolkata hopes to enable over 1000 girls to blossom into Shalinis, by 2017.
The outcome of the programmes is tremendous with the Shalinis now working in MNCs, IITs and celebrated research institutes of the country. “In addition to academic excellence, our Shalinis, meaning ‘Dignified Women’, have evolved as educated, responsible citizens, able to voice their opinions and take independent decisions. Many of them are first generation learners, becoming role models for their communities and our miracles of hope!” proclaims Kusum Bhandari.
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