Reflection is a key part of the learning process. It brings more self-awareness and enables us to take key learning from experiences and mistakes. Likewise, our journey at India Fellow began with looking back at our key moments and drawing our life map. The induction days began with a lot of chaos and confusion blended with fun. After all, when there are 20+ people in a room, coming from diverse background, there has to be different perception. By the time strangers became family it was time to say good bye to Udaipur from where it all began. Now stepping towards the end of the fellowship, I’m making an attempt here to voice my thoughts and exhibit my journey, hopefully for the benefit of those who follow and nostalgia for those before me.
This Year Is About Uncertainty
Before commencing my journey, I remember reading experiences of alumni through blog, most of which talked about life in rural India, challenges and joy in making adjustments in field areas due to language, culture or ecosystem. All this looked adventurous to me, until I personally faced challenged in learning and speaking Gujarati, while I was at Ahmedabad. That was the first quarter. There onward making a rather long and thoughtful journey — I reached Bihar. While friends, family, media and society almost made me believe that it is going to be hard, because Jamui has been affected by naxals at one time. If only they had lived their life here. I went for evening walks by myself most of the days, went to the market like I would in any other place, shared conversations with people and made some beautiful memories. I fell in love with the place — a few local girls i like to call friends, surrounded by mountains and trees. However, Jamui certainly had much more to offer than litti chokha or naxal scares.
The Desire To Belong And Be Accepted
Sometime ago, during my graduation days I wrote this quote “we all understand the language of love, the religion of kindness, the power of humanity, then why do we confine ourselves in the name of religion, caste, gender or nationality?” being firm believer of humanity, which I still am. To my despise, I strongly realized all through my journey that gender, language, culture, caste and religion has massively divided mankind. For being a woman has been disadvantageous for me at start. I couldn’t travel to field by myself. For not being proficient in commonly used language like Gujarati, Bhojpuri and Maithili there have been moments when I failed to laugh and connect. I would mostly smile, to not confuse people because half the time I was confused of my surroundings. On these days, I dearly missed my safety space where I could be myself and speak my heart out. Yes, authenticity was important to me but fear of being judged and not accepted shut my mouth and nodding my head sometimes became the refuge. As it is human instinct to try so did I, but these words echoed in my head all the while …
“ arey, ye yaha se nahi hai, lekin baki hum sabhi yahi ke rehne wale hain isliye aap araam se bhejiye apni beti ko, hum sabhi ek hi hai”
“aap ladki hai, aapko khaane me saath nahi le ja sakte yahaan ka alag mahaul hai … aap mat chaliye; sab fir apko dekhenge” “arey aapko abhi kuch nahi pata, aap nayi hai … aap bahar se aayi hai … aap nahi janti”
True, that it is the local and community people after all who will drive change in their community and therefore we fellows were said first create a space for yourself during induction. In my journey I learnt why it is important to create space for ourselves; but I’m still left groping with a question — how does one create space for themselves? We all are humans with different faiths, beliefs and biases. To me, I wish people would understand me but how many times was I ready to challenge my own self and understand others? If there is something that has kept me going is a learning that i am not entitled to anything by virtue of being there, the world does not owe me anything. And any gestures of love and affection from people brings me happiness. What is ironic is despite longing for belonging, felt disconnected with family and close friends happened all through the past year …
The Disconnect With The Family
I was fortunate to be able to see my family for three times in this fellowship year, but even when I was there physically with them, mentally i felt far removed. While my mother and father excitingly planned travel, and showed me new home decors that they purchased during Diwali, not judging my parents’ choice but I couldn’t see any value in those well designed furniture. Every time they would be interested in knowing what’s happening the discussion would lead to debate. May be because their factual questions met with my emotions rather than rationale. And using emotions to answer what logic would do justice to, often fails. It has been difficult to really talk about the journey to anyone who is not experiencing one. That creates a very different kind of isolation. To the world it’s a fellowship period and I’m doing something nice, for me it is first time ever to live and experience work at grassroots and a learning journey … and ‘nice’ is naive and a poor attempt at simplification.
There Are No Black And White Answers All The Time
Urge of actively listening to others and desire to learn has kept me more quieter, while many perceived it as communication challenge that I was not speaking specifically or forming strong opinion. It was my first time to really realize plight of women not being recognized for their informal work, women not addressed as farmers while working in agriculture and facing financial insecurity, adolescents girls sheltered under government program not living a dignified life, children being completely ignored by family and society, children struggling to move from alphabet to forming word, girls who had amazing aspirations normalizing early marriage as part of life. And much more has left me thinking where are we moving? These are some real issues mankind is facing. How could I really form perception with there being multiple layers behind such complexity. It needs more time and experience to really have a black or white opinion. And I often felt being required to have a view, when i did not.
The Savior Syndrome And Helplessness
There have been multiple instances when I felt powerless to help. Sometimes I failed because there was lack of willingness to cross that extra mile, sometimes I felt not having the skill set. For instance, I wanted to place dustbin in a girls’ residential hostel for disposing used sanitary napkins and ensure bright lights for children to be able to read at night time, wanted to place clean mats for students to sit so they don’t catch cold, wanted to urge parents to send their children to schools. But often this was beyond my circle of influence, and me putting it there was really not a sustainable idea. At the sound of it, it feels trivial as to how these are so hard to achieve. But when you work with people through organizations — there are many things that gain precedence. It is not about a one time act of benevolence, but building a desired mindset and norm in the spaces you engage in. Seemingly easy tasks become crucial in how they are done and by whom. I have had to swallow some bitter pills this year.
If You Want To Be In The Non-profit Space …
Until I joined the fellowship, I was unaware of how skill sets play important role in the sector. I thought organizations are surviving with people coming with good intent. However, like any other sector, it needs skilled human resources coming from diverse backgrounds. Many people bringing social change that I had the chance to meet in my journey have done specialization in areas diametrically opposite to ‘social work’. For an organization to operate you need — management, communication, team building, problem solving, IT, along with willingness and persistence. If you are good at photography you can cover field stories, if you are great at excel, word or softwares you can bring structure and data management.
The Art Of Failure
To me, this year was to keep falling and learn from my experiences. I started with the purpose to discover my role in social sector for I wish to make this world a better place to live. That superficial objective is gone and replaced by a nuanced understanding. It altered to first complete the fellowship in most fruitful ways when i hit the field. There is a lot to change within myself before I can really bring the change I wish to see in ‘others’. But before i end this post, it will imperative that i thank my family, team, community, fellows and fellowship in the support that made it possible. This one is to beautiful failures like this!