The heat sizzles like a red oil in a steel pan on the small, corridor streets of the slums of Hyderabad. The timid but yearning eyes staring back at me dart back and forth to find sense and feeling in my words that float across the room like clouds dancing under the intense rays of the sun. With pamphlets in hand, a youthful skip to our walk, I calmly ordered everyone to step outside and start knocking on doors. Today, a group of volunteers and students and I marched out to knock on doors and spread the good word of youth development and education.
The pilot project I have been working on for the past couple of months focuses on bridging both the educational gap and youth development inequalities between the upper and lower population classes in the Hyderabad area. The goal is to enroll and sponsor, at first, 8-10 students into an elite school that will propel them onto a socially-minded career path other than computer technology, medicine, or software development. The long-term goal is that these students will become leaders of their community by successfully integrating into altruistic professions. Given that they are coming from an oppressed Muslim community, their role as future inspirations could provide the first of many examples of the importance of equal education and youth intervention.
I was once told by Gil Scott-Heron that the revolution won’t be televised. Young and ignorant of life’s challenges and the struggles it requires to overcome them, I did not fully grasp what the significance of his words meant to a generation that was attempting to shape a political landscape that would strive for the equality of oppressed peoples. Reading his words again and attributing it to my own experiences here in India while working for a social enterprise, I understand better his call to action and urgency in response to the waning of social systems that exclude segments of society from benefiting from the same opportunities as others.
“The revolution will not be right back after a message”
Many times during the initial stages of the project required me to take initiative when I was feeling the most hesitant and raise my voice when I was feeling the least confident. I had to promote the project when I was feeling the most alone and fight for its legitimacy when I was feeling the least useful. More often than not I feel I failed, but I understood the value of at least trying. The one aspect of working in India that I learned to appreciate is the ability to try almost anything, regardless if it will work or not. In the United States there is a lot more politics, bureaucracy, and concern for reputation that prevents not only uninhibited creativity but the permission to fail, clean up, and try again. India demonstrates a remarkable respect for understanding that not everything is perfect, and that sometimes the beauty of doing good work comes in shades of colors from the same woven cloth. There are only so many chances in bringing about change, and giving up should be the very last option.
“The revolution will not go better with coke”
A large aspect of demanding change is going against the grain. That can mean attempting to prove that a belief or understanding that is entrenched in the roots of society’s culture needs to be reformed. I’ve been met with raised eyebrows or closed doors when first promoting the strategy or idea of the pilot project. Outside stakeholders didn’t always express a lot of interest. Even now, there is a waiting in the water that is delaying its progress. When presenting a new method to a problem many don’t recognize exists makes progress hard to come by.
I think the hardest aspect of the project has been convincing others to believe in the project as much as I do. I’ve come across many roadblocks when finding partnering schools for the project, but the support I received from my host organization has proven to be invaluable. Nobody knows the community better than they do, and allowing me to gain access to the families involved with SAFA helped me understand the root causes of the community’s fears and trepidations.
“The revolution will not be brought to you by Xerox”
I listened to the phrase “community level” so many times since arriving to India yet I never fully paid attention to what the lessons in it entailed, nor the significance it plays in making a program successful or not. India is a remarkable place where “community” can mean so many things in such a small area of space. Religious, ethnic, caste, and language are just some of the cultural nuances that both unite and simultaneously divide villages, cities, states, and regions within this vast country. Thus, when tackling a social issue it is vital to approach it with a wide net while also being specific when drawing up the short & long term goals as well as when identifying the target populations. The community is much more receptive when you demonstrate that their plight is uniquely and mutually understood and when the message is delivered not with an overbearing tone but rather with respect.
Today was a clear example of “community level” involvement. The best means to reach out to the surrounding communities was to go into their neighborhoods and meet them face to face, and explain in their own language the possibilities that education can provide. The message was not sent to them through a text message, or a phone call, nor a tweet. The interpersonal encounters wove a connecting single red thread, door to door, of an absorbent devotion to bringing about positive change to the people without sacrificing their bonds of language, culture, and religion. Each step we took in the neighborhood was a step closer to bringing a child closer to his or her dreams of achieving more. Each pamphlet personally distributed from one person to another, was another chance of promoting the importance of education. And, each smile that greeted us was a promise that our unwavering faith in youth development and equal education will someday be rewarded.
Because “the revolution will not be televised.”
“The revolution will be live,” reverberating through even the most remote corners and streets of the world.