The Fellowship Experience is Forever

Serve, Learn, Lead.

Behold, our fellowship motto. To me, this motto is much more than a list of actions that we as AIF fellows engage in. It speaks to the common thread that runs through each diverse experience. We each have our own stories to tell, guided by each word of this motto. As so, I’d like to highlight just a few examples of how this motto has driven me over the past 10 months.

SERVE: One of my all-time favorite things was seeing the reaction on people’s faces when I told them where I live.

“You live in the Croc Bank? Like, with the crocodiles?”

Home.

Needless to say, I got to serve at an organization that was very unique and worked in a rather unconventional branch of development. But then I always got this question:

“What do you do there? How is that ‘service’?”

This brings up an important point: conservation and development not only go hand in hand, but in some cases are actually dependent on each other for their individual survival. Many of the beneficiaries of livelihoods programs depend on the land, and in order to secure these programs, we must protect the land itself. Through this unique experience, I understand how service is much more than what we may ever envision it to be.

Anjana (Education Officer) and I teach visitors about Solid Waste Management and conservation.

 

Jaanu (volunteer) teaches visitors about soil erosion.

 

Park visitors signed a pledge to protect the Earth on Earth Day.

 

LEARN: Learning is circumstantial and can be acquired from anyone, or anything. I learned from a variety of unlikely teachers. Here are some of the things they taught me:

  1. The heat taught me how be comfortable in my own skin (and TRULY appreciate every little breeze.)
  2. Walking on the dense sandy terrain at my workplace may have slowed me down but made me stronger.
  3. The people on the local buses taught me unconditional love for thy neighbor, as they offered their seats to the elderly and offered their laps to the little ones of mothers juggling multiple children.
  4. My salsa-dancing friends (yes, Latin dance is vibrant in Chennai!) taught me how to be confident in my abilities, while constantly working to improve.
  5. The crocs taught me about the beauty that hides in every rough wrinkle of life.
  6. Riding on a motorcycle in the pouring rain taught me to always be prepared, for everything and anything.
  7. The traffic taught me patience.
  8. The mosquitoes taught me to ignore the little nuisances in life.
  9. Typhoid taught my immune system to be stronger.
  10. Every bout of indigestion reminded me to not be impulsive…no matter how thirst-quenching that fresh fruit juice looked…on those swelteringly hot days… (Well, maybe I’ll never learn from that one!)

 

LEAD: If you asked a room full of 30 AIF Clinton fellows to define “leadership,” you would get nothing less than 45 different answers. Leadership cannot be attributed to any one trait or skill. Nonetheless, one of the aspects of leadership that I explored and practiced most in my organization was lending support. As an outsider, it was important that I didn’t tip any workplace hierarchies, but rather play the role of a supportive friend to everyone in their ongoing endeavors. This helped me gain their trust and support in return, which was crucial when I was implementing the new waste management protocols in the organization. I can confidently say that the completion of this project was only made possible because of all the staff’s backing. Leadership in this case was comprised of friendship, support, respect, and uplifting others.

The park staff and I work together in the compost pit.

 

Preparing the composting materials.

I am relieved to say that the end of the fellowship does not mark the end of the fellowship experience. I am lucky to be able to keep the friends I made with me forever. Though no amount of words will truly encapsulate my thoughts and feelings, I’d like to take the time to deeply thank the exceptional CFP team, my fellow Fellows, my supportive mentor and director, my sweet roommate/coworker, my hilarious officemate, all of my talented coworkers, the inspiring Croc Bank staff, all the glorious reptiles, Toffee (the best dog on Earth), my Latin Dance family in Chennai, and every person I had the pleasure of meeting over the past 10 months. With much gratitude, love, and appreciation, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. May our paths cross again soon.

Smiling park staff!

 

Our hole-y dog, Toffee!

 

Shobana, Anjana and I smile after a compost pit training session.

Avan Antia

Avan will have the fantastic opportunity to work among over 2,000 beautiful reptiles and amphibians. Her placement lies at the intersection of her love for science and education, deep interest in development work, and lifelong love for animals. She aims to learn from the experts and be able to form a practical waste management strategy, supported by experimental results. Avan is excited to finally visit South India, meeting new people, tasting the cuisines, and indulging in the culture of the community where she will be staying. Prior to AIF, Avan has served as co-president of a student organization called SHARE, which sends unused, surplus medical supplies from local hospitals to under-supplied clinics abroad. She has also participated in the Critical Language Scholarship program to learn Hindi.

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