AIF Fellowship 2020-2021: Unlocking Potential with a Virtual Orientation

A step forward in our action is ten steps ahead in our dreams and just a start for reality. The prestigious American India Foundation Fellowship turned into reality from dreams with beginning of this winter. To kick-start this fellowship journey, there followed a virtual orientation process. This was unexpected, unique and breaking the shackles of the pandemic situation with warmth in the cold winter by the care of Clinton Fellowship Program Team (CFP team), bonds of association with 11 members in our cohort family and the moment of togetherness. This is a story of starting my American India Foundation William J Clinton Fellowship for Service in India with a virtual orientation in November.

American India Foundation banner: Catalyzing social and economic change in India.
AIF’s programmatic focus on education, livelihoods, and public health.

Searching for Possibilities

The journey begins with the background of planning to shift to my host organization location (Hazaribag) to start my virtual fellowship orientation. This was for the reason that my home location doesn’t allowed me with the consistent network condition to effectively attend virtual meets and sometimes internet server stops working. To address this, and for active participation, I put forward my concern to change my location with CFP team. The CFP team was kind and sympathetic towards me and few rounds of discussion, planning and search for possibilities happened with host organisation mentor and AIF’s safety and security partners. Followed by a COVID test, I cleared the procedures with taking all safety, health measures and following proper travel norms.

Shashi and his father in a car, with masks on.
Travelling with my father to my Hazaribagh. Photo credit: Shashi Kumar.

The Safe Travel

Just before a day to start with my AIF Fellowship virtual orientation, I travelled down to Hazaribag in six hours. A green, beautiful city with plenty of forests, hills, lakes and peace welcomed me with its gift from nature and the coldness of winter. Reaching there, I shifted to a new flat, which was seen and adjusted by my host organisation. Then cleaning of my room, unpacking my stuffs and putting my bed followed to start my mandatory two-week home quarantine as a precautionary measure. After a while of staying in my balcony with a beautiful view of trees all around, I could feel the freshness of the place. With this positive vibe of new place, I enjoyed the evening and rested after my dinner.

Lush mango trees and vegetable garden in the backyard.
Balcony view from my new home. Photo credit: Shashi Kumar.

The Orientation Begins

The day one of home quarantine and AIF Fellowship virtual orientation has come with a kind and fresh morning. Though it was virtual but, in a while, it will show effects that it was not so virtual for me with its developments. For now, it was a new place after a travel, new journey with new faces was beginning. We were welcomed by the senior AIF leadership team, board members and our CFP team.

Fellows with program staff and senior AIF leaders and board members, including Lata Krishnan and Ajay Shah.
Senior AIF Leadership Team welcoming the new cohort of fellows on Zoom. Photo credit: AIF CFP Team.

The CFP team introduce us (11 fellows) with the values and beliefs of American India Foundation, its journey in India and the purpose of building a lasting bridge between the United States and India. Leaders from various teams at AIF came and made me go through their journey and explaining the works of AIF in various verticals of Education, Public Health, Livelihood and Leadership. It was both exciting and deeply insightful to match our interests, queries and to know more from serval project happening on ground.  The teams at operations namely Human resources, Finance, Communication, Strategic partnerships and Learning Evaluation & impact took me through their works and how I can contact and associate them for various support in the coming days.

Creative Engagements

In between this informative session by speakers within the organization, there were plenty of engaging and team bonding activities with our cohort of 11 fellows. Everyone actively participated in activities with their ideas, views and creativity. I got the chance of few round of discussions with my mentor Swapan Manna, from my host organization. This happened either with open- ended time to start conversation and or in a case I and my mentor were given few questions to discuss upon with our views. This helped me to understand him and later talk to him on various aspects.

Tree with initials Shashi, a man rowing a boat on a river.
A drawing activity to present the fellowship journey. Photo credit: Shashi Kumar.

Few guests, partners and alumni members also came in to take few supportive sessions to build us for the fellowship opportunities. Few things that helped me a lot in learning included the Monitoring & Evaluation session, videography & Film- making, conducting research study, doing more with social media, writing workshop and many other expert talks sessions. We got an assignment to bring together as a team our values and join hands to collectively follow the days to come. With deep thoughts, I had the awareness of my beliefs and values of Integrity, self- accountability and compassion. With consideration of the pandemic situation, we added our values with the composition of the new normalcy of masks registering a point to highlight.  The message was clear that we stand united in this unprecedented time, being physically away, but holding together.

Eleven Fellows on Zoom wearing masks with words written on them.
AIF Fellows wearing their values masks, representing the cohort’s values: Humanity, Courage, Perseverance, Progress, Hope, Integrity, Gratitude, Reflection, Service, Commitment, Humility (from top left to bottom right).

Self-Awareness

With this whole pool of learnings and moments, I was also going through drastic changes around me and inside me. I was alone in my new flat home quarantined and managed myself, my stuff, foods and logistics. I  cooked for myself after a long interval and enjoyed self- made cuisines in the breaks. This brought into more of self- awareness, unlocking the hidden potentials, time management, and most importantly self- care. I can say that this virtual orientation at a new location had made me stronger by each day with many emotional journey.

Collage of foods and ingredients arranged on a table.
Self-cooked food: Dry fruits, oats & some fried snacks for breakfast and meals with rice, vegetable curry, salad & papads for a healthy diet (from top left to bottom right). The new kitchen arranged with raw materials to enjoy home food- Good food, good taste, good life. Photo credit: Shashi Kumar.

Moment of Togetherness

Into our last day of virtual orientation on 10th of November, we came in together in traditional and enjoyed the evening with moments of celebrations to start our new chapters of fellowship. The CFP team had really designed, organized and conducted an amazing package of sessions, that makes it much more than just a virtual orientation. For this reason, I call this as not so virtual orientation.

Eleven Fellows and CFP team smiling during a Zoom session.
AIF Fellowship virtual orientation closing moment with togetherness. Photo credit: AIF CFP Team.

Starting the Project

Post the orientation process, I joined Srijan Foundation (my host organisation) for project learning, planning and developing. Here I will develop strategic initiatives to inform women farmers about various models and practices of organic farming. With purpose to increase production and ensure household-level food and nutrition security through better income and livelihood opportunities. Also, will support the project in ensuring outreach, visibility and scaling.

Paper brochures from Srijan Foundation in front of a laptop.
New role of consultant as an AIF Clinton Fellow with Srijan Foundation. Photo credit: Shashi Kumar.

Every step brings a whole new path for a new journey towards SELF. And the journey of a new chapter has just begun.

Shashi is serving as an American India Foundation (AIF) Clinton Fellow with Srijan Foundation in Hazaribagh, Jharkhand. For his fellowship project, he is developing strategic initiatives to inform women farmers about various models and organic farming to increase production and ensure household-level food and nutrition security through better income and livelihood opportunities. Shashi was born in Aurangabad, Bihar, and brought up in Jaduguda, in Jamshedpur, an uranium township of India. He completed his schooling in Computer Science from the Central School. He graduated in Mass Communication in order to connect with rural people. During his studies, he enjoyed learning about photography, documentary making, advertising, public relations, rural development and new media. With this, he started the Garib Samachar initiative with three peers to make social documentaries of communities on varied social issues. He served as a Gandhi Fellow in the Transformation of Aspirational District Programme of NITI Aayog in Begusarai, Bihar. This equipped him with proper professional skills, capacity building, and provided him with a platform to work on quality education. He supported 129 government schools in two block-level education departments through capacitive building of block officers, cluster coordinators, head masters, teachers and community on more than 6 school processes. Later he was selected for a special project to support the Jehanabad district administration in documentation and strategy creation for Jal Shakti Abhjiyan under the guidance of the District Magistrate. After the successful completion, Shashi released a self-made documentary about Jal Shakti Abhiyan Jehanabad by Shri Barun Mitra, Ad. Secretary, Defence Production with Jehanabad DM and district administration. He wants to serve communities in their development (physical, cognitive, social, and spiritual) process and public policy to witness the change. He wants to promote stories of change through the means of storytelling and social documentaries. He believes in the power of stories to transform lives in the context of India.

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.

AMERICAN INDIA FOUNDATION IS A REGISTERED 501 (C)(3) Charity. © 2021
NEW YORK | CALIFORNIA | NEW DELHI

Privacy Policy

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