A few months ago, as I prepared to embark on my endeavor as an AIF fellow, I spent some time researching the social impact being created by The American India Foundation (AIF) and its partners. I studied different metrics, methods of evaluation, testimonials and reports, which discussed the impact AIF was making within the development space, but I neglected to reflect on the actual drivers behind this impact.
After working at iMerit for the past few months, I believe I have a better understanding of why NGOs are able to make an impact in peoples’ lives: it’s largely due to the passionate people they employ! I am surrounded by enthusiastic trainers who want their students to thrive, employees who are willing to travel upwards of 4 hrs a day to get to work, management staff who have left their high paying corporate jobs because they believe in the mission of iMerit, and a HR team who is eager to help young professionals grow. People in all these facets of the organization have a direct impact on the people we try to serve, rural women and youth. These people deserve all the praise that comes to them, but so do the support staff who are overlooked.
One member of our ‘support’ staff who exemplifies the need for passionate people in the social sector is Swapan Mandal. The first day I came into the office he greeted me with a cup of warm ginger tea and an equally warm smile. Later on in the day he was introduced to me as our office chaiwala (in Hindi, chai means tea, and wala loosely translated to “worker” in this case), but within a few days I could easily sense he is so much more. Technically speaking everyone in our office refers to him as Swapanchaiwalhe, but I’ve slowly come to realize that he is, in essence, the heart of our organization. Swapan is not only our chaiwala, he’s our: computerwala, phonewala, faxwala, repairwala, accountswala, deliverywala, khannawala, securitywala, psychiatristwala, cleaningwala, and anythingyouneedwala.
I’m fortunate enough to have gotten to know him better and can call him a friend. We’ve had many talks where we have discussed our childhoods, homes, passions, and desire to help India flourish. To me, he embodies selflessness, doing everything with a smile. He’s literally available 24×7 for anyone and always puts others needs ahead of his own. He will work weekends, stay at the office till 11pm, travel to any of our centers to drop off/pick-up documents, arrange for tickets, or simply just to listen to the problems in our office. He even gives me and other co-workers a ride home on the back of his bicycle when we leave the office late. Through the bond we have formed in the past few months we’ve been able to learn about one another’s culture. I’ve taught him an American style handshake, ultimately making us look foolish every time, and in return he’s been teaching me how to sing in Bangla, which looks equally foolish.
Since we work at an IT organization, he has even picked up some computer skills. Swapan loves to come by and show off his MS Word knowledge and show me where his hometown of Hasnabad is located on GoogleMaps. The thing that frustrated me about our relationship the most is also the thing which I appreciate the most: we communicate solely through hand movements and body language. This is due to the fact that our native languages differ: Swapan speaks Bangla, whereas I speak Hindi and English.
It’s amazing people like Swapan whose efforts are directly helping impact the social sector. My interactions with him are a constant reminder of the AIF mantra: serve others. And one thing’s for sure, he’s no ordinary chaiwala!