My name is Louise and I am the newly appointed Communications Associate at Educate Girls. I will be spending 2013 working as an iCats Fellow in India, promoting EG in the media and online.

Starting my iCats assignment on Valentine’s Day was probably the sign that I was about to fall in love with my new job… And so far, it looks like I haven’t been mistakened! I spent my first days in the field two weeks ago, and it sure was love at first sight with beautiful Rajasthan.

North India is one of the most critical area regarding girls education. In Rajasthan, 68% of them are married before the legal age and 40% drop out of school before they reach 5th grade.

The NGO I work for, Educate Girls, operates in two “gender gap districts”: Pali and Jalore. Our main goal is to reform government schools and to enroll and retain girls into schools. We work hand in hand with the local communities, getting help from parents and teachers. We also rely on a large number of volunteers, our Team Balika members, who convince parents to send their daughters to school and assist teachers.

Every six weeks, the whole Mumbai office leaves the city to spend a week in the field. We get to meet our Rajasthani colleagues and our beneficiaries, visit the schools where our programs are implimented and discuss current issues. This was thus a great opportunity for me to get  good insight at how we work and who we actually help.

Every morning I would go with a couple of colleagues to visit several schools, take hundred of pictures and chat with the pupils (even if I don’t know a word of Hindi!). The kids were incredibly smiling – and quite fascinated by my European features. One boy even threw a fruit at me once to gain my attention! I have to admit that I sometimes felt like a monkey in a zoo… but what really mattered is that they truly wanted to share something with me and welcome me inside their lives.

At the end of the day, I would be exhausted, overfed (Rajasthani food is as delicious as it is spicy and oily) and totally thrilled! The reception they gave us was far from anything I had ever seen before. Rajasthani people are unbelievably welcoming: they would smile at me, try to communicate as best as possible and share whatever they had to offer. I have been asked to perform countless Boollywood routines in front of classrooms full of kids and teachers, and once my colleague and I even had to dance on stage at a fair. The picture ended up on the front page of their local newspaper! Never been so embarassed in my life, but how to refuse a thousand smiling kids offering you flower garlands and handshakes?

Every day I would be introduced to dedicated volunteers and teachers who would do all they could to improve the children’s lives and give them a chance to succeed. It is not an easy task but when a whole community is working towards a common goal, they can succeed. This is how one of our Team Balika members managed to eradicate child marriage in his village some years ago. We now hope that this success will scope to the rest of the region.

This first week on the field has really been an intense experience and even if there were rats inside our guest house, I cannot wait to go back next month!

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