Piece contributed by Archi Basu, Coordinator Volunteer Management, Udayan Care.
When 17-year-old Ruby opens a letter from her 'big' friend Zuleikha Gupta, 25, she is all smiles. Ruby, whose family income is barely Rs 7000 a month, has known Zuleikha, who works for Sesame Street, for mor e than six months now.
Zuleikha, Ruby, Akshay and Sanju, along with other 40 volunteers are part of the Big Friends Little Friends Programme in India that began in March 2010. The long term accompaniment programme was introduced by Udayan Care, a Delhi-based NGO in partnership with New Path Foundation, USA. The programme gives a young person (little friend) between age 12-17 years the opportunity to gain the friendship of a sincere adult (big friend) who is at least 6 years elder to the little friend.
“We are not telling them about what is right or what is wrong, we don't teach them either but we are just there to help them and at times they are there for us as well,” says a volunteer and big friend Nandini Sharma. Her little friend is 17-year old Manisha. When Manisha's elder sister was sick, Nandini was there to support the teenager.
Udayan Care, since 1994, have been supporting disadvantaged children women and adults reach their true potential and lead a life of dignity and self reliance. We nurture relationships that transform orphaned children in our long-term foster homes, disadvantaged girls in our education scholarships, underserved youth and adults in our IT & Vocational training centres, and children affected by HIV in our outreach programme. We have served more than 7500 people in 8 cities and advocate for children's rights and protection.
“12 to 17 years is a crucial age in a child’s life when they need proper guidance. Friendship and the sense of belongingness play a major role in that process. The adolescents find friends in the young professionals where both experience the true joy of sharing and a sense of contentment that comes with the bonding. Thus through this friendship both the big and the little friend brings positive change in each other’s life”, says Avik Swarnakar, Director volunteer Management with Udayan Care.
The programme is based on a long term one-on-one volunteer service. It is a voluntary and altruistic work without material payback. Unlike some other voluntary services (e.g. picking up garbage is a good service whether you do it once or you do it forever), there is a minimum time commitment of one year for this service. This is because it is believed long term and consistent caring is a very important factor in building confidence and happiness in people.
It is believed, in accompaniment, there is no purpose or expectation. Accompaniment neither necessarily means helping the other person in solving his problems, nor an intent to change the other person. Accompaniment shows itself through caring with equality.Accompaniment without expectation is wonderful but it is also hard to achieve. We can work towards not to expect appreciation from our beneficiaries, and not to expect approvals from the society, etc., and gradually, we will be closer to the state of accompaniment without expectations and closer to be ourselves freely.
“The idea is not for the big friend to be a mentor for the little friends but to treat each other as equal and honest friends who do not look at material gains but rather, a strong moral and emotional support, highlights”, Dr. Kiran Modi, Managing trustee of Udayan Care.
While the little friends gain their much needed support and encouragement from the bonding, the big friend experience personal growth and a feeling of contentment as they grow together with their little ones.
Udayan Care’s Big Friend Program in India is a group of idealistic people providing this little platform mindfully. As we walk together on this path of joyous service, we wish we can happily be ourselves, loving companions for the people we serve, and caring teammates for each other. May we often walk in the path of love, and may t his loving accompaniment brings peace, abundance, and joy to those around us.
“When I first came to know about this programme. I got really enthusiastic to learn more about this altruistic service that people do without any materialistic paybacks”, says Rupa Mahajan from Swati project. Realizing that the need of such programme among adolescents from our Kanak Durga community (in the heart of RK Puram sector 12 in South Delhi), we work in partnership with Udayan Care with an intention to reach out to more needy and disadvantaged children to foster such relationship.
Indeed it’s a joyous path and the Big Friend gets a chance to grow up once again with his Little Friend. And truly, we would all want to grow up once again!