Adapting to the New Normal during COVID-19 as a Fellow

On the 10th of November, the first-ever virtual Orientation of the prestigious AIF Clinton Fellowship came to an end. During the induction, my fellowship cohort of 11 local fellows was introduced to the core values of the American India Foundation, its various operations and programs under the verticals of livelihood, education, public health and leadership. Amidst speaker sessions and safety and security training, there was also a series of activities which were organized by the Clinton Fellowship Program (CFP) team to help us better bond as a cohort and reflect upon our strengths.

Twelve AIF Fellows and Staff during a Zoom session, smiling for a virtual group picture.
Last Day of the Orientation session – Fellows excited to begin their fellowship journey.

One assignment that was given to us as a cohort was to reflect upon the values that each one of us bring to this fellowship. We ideated together over WhatsApp messages and finally met over a Zoom call to give a concrete rendition to our abstract thoughts since we could not meet in person. We decided to go ahead and write our values on our masks because that would help us acknowledge our new normal of life in a pandemic stricken world. The value which I resonated most with is gratitude because over the years, I have come to realize the myriad contributions of other individuals in my life; the practice of gratitude has helped control my mind from constant chattering and live earnestly in the present moment. I look forward to hold on to this value throughout the course of this fellowship and my service in the development sector. This informal meet amongst us was the first instance that we as a cohort came together on a common platform and this experience of collaboration made me realize that in the midst of this pandemic, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.”

Eleven Fellows wearing masks with words written on them.
Fellows collaborating virtually for the final day presentation on the cohort’s values: Humanity, Courage, Perseverance, Progress, Hope, Integrity, Gratitude, Reflection, Service, Commitment, Humility (Top L to Bottom R). 

A few months ago, I lacked this resolution because the situation during the national lockdown was so unprecedented that my thoughts were constantly clouded with skepticism and self-doubt. I was worried about my future because I had just completed my Masters program virtually and had no sense of what I would be doing in the coming months.

Ideally, I wanted to work at the grassroots and strengthen my academic understanding of the developmental sector through practicum experience – bridging the gap between theory and practice. The AIF Clinton Fellowship was the right opportunity for me, but given the pandemic and delays in the rigorous selection process, I was not at all sure whether I would make it to the program in the end.

In these uncertain times, I also learned that many social organizations have had to lay off their staff or hold back offer letters indefinitely. I grew really anxious because I did not want to be sitting at home. The only alternative I was left with was to accept an offer letter for an exchange program to Germany. I was not really keen at first about going to Germany at this time, because I felt without having a first-hand experience of the ground reality in the Indian context, I would not be in a position to consolidate my theoretical understanding of the developmental sector, which I had acquired during my post graduation. Although I had accepted the invitation, the delay in acquiring the necessary paperwork for the visa had given me sufficient time to learn from the CFP team about my acceptance to the AIF Clinton Fellowship.

American India Foundation banner: Improving the Lives of India's Underprivileged Women, Children, and Youth.
Taking inspiration from AIF’s development programs in areas of education, livelihood and public health.

It was like a dream come true, because the entire selection process was meticulous till the very end. However, there was still a lot of uncertainty whether the fellowship program would at all happen this year considering the rising number of COVID-19 cases in India. Even though the fellowship started two months late in a virtual capacity, the fact that the program kicked off in these unprecedented times reflects the sheer commitment of the American India Foundation to serve the lives of India’s underprivileged.

The Orientation sessions rekindled in me the zeal to serve society in the hardest of times, while the extended support of the AIF staff as well as the former fellows through the mentor-mentee program has been an invaluable asset that I look forward to get in touch with over the course of the fellowship program.

Since I will be working remotely for about a month before I can transfer to my host site, my focus will be to develop a life skills curriculum for my host organization Shaishav. The life skills modules which I will be designing will aim to instill core values and skills in children of marginalized communities. Once I move to the field location in Narmada district, Gujarat, I will have the possibility of conducting research and needs assessment for Shaishav, since the project is still in the pilot stage.

During the fellowship, I look forward to acquiring a more nuanced understanding of the livelihood and public health challenges of rural communities. I have come to realize from my past field engagements that the issues in the developmental sector of livelihood, education and public health are all interlinked and that seeing them in separate silos can jeopardize an intervention altogether. I would also like to assist in designing a pilot intervention program in the community and then monitor and evaluate its outcomes. This will be a great learning experience for me to validate my theoretical understanding through empirical evidence.

A virtual fellowship start from the comforts of one’s home is a whole different experience than working from the field site. I am really excited to move to the host location and get my hands dirty. This will be my first professional experience so I am eagerly looking forward to this new journey!

Utsarga is serving as an American India Foundation (AIF) Clinton Fellow with Shaishav in Bhavnagar, Gujarat. For his fellowship project, he is supporting and strengthening life skills training, self-designed learning techniques, and sustainable living practices for children and locals of vulnerable tribal communities. The self-paced, student-centric approach fostered at the Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education (SAICE) provided Utsarga with ample opportunities to develop his interest in the field of alternative education. After his graduation from SAICE in Arts and Humanities, he pursued his Master’s in Education from Azim Premji University. During his Master's programme, Utsarga learnt about various issues plaguing the public education system and acquired a first-hand understanding of some of the challenges pushing children out of elementary schools in rural communities. His latest engagement has been a research internship with the Central Himalayan Rural Action Group, where he studied school leadership in the context of organisational culture and community participation and its effect on children’s overall learning outcome. He contributed in strengthening the physical education program and raising funds for the school apart from conducting household surveys to understand the socio-economic condition of families, sources of livelihood and management of natural resources. In 2019, he participated in a 15-day entrepreneurial train journey to interact with social change-makers and explore alternative practices to bring quality education in the government schools of rural India. Utsarga is grateful to be serving as an AIF Clinton Fellow; he is looking forward to broaden his understanding of the education sector and experiment alternative practices in the public school system by fostering an all-round development in children.

You Might Also Like

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Join Us

Stay up to date on the latest news and help spread the word.

Get Involved

Our regional chapters let you bring the AIF community offline. Meet up and be a part of a chapter near you.

Join a Chapter
Skip to content