“I cried, I laughed, and marveled at the resilience and joy of the people we serve in all our programs. Having the opportunity to speak to beneficiaries was the highlight for me.” — Nirmala Garimella, AIF’s 2020 Mission Trip Participant
My takeaways from AIF’s mission trip to India this February were innumerable. Over a course of six days, we traveled across two states, Maharashtra and Gujarat covering both, the urban and rural: landscapes of slums and concrete cities to lush green mountainous forests and ghat roads in the interiors of India. A rigorous and immersive schedule, day after day, put together by the AIF dedicated planning and program team, helped us understand AIF’s pillars of Livelihood, Education, Public Health and Leadership in ways that no brochures or talks could ever capture in their entirety. When we talk about alleviating poverty, it cannot happen in isolation. A holistic approach with various development indicators is needed, and AIF acts as a catalyst to bring about this change, which we witnessed in these few days.
Interacting with beneficiaries from DE in Pune and Mumbai, MANSI ASHA workers who traveled from Paderu to Nasik, LAMP children in Dang, Gujarat, MAST and ABLE beneficiaries in Mumbai and the AIF Clinton Fellows in Surat, led by AIF’s experienced and dynamic program leads was inspiring both emotionally and intellectually. The trip strengthened my working knowledge, and it has strengthened my relationships. I cannot tell you how proud I am of serving AIF and supporting it in many ways. Many times, I cried, I laughed, and marveled at the resilience and joy of the people we serve in all our programs. Having the opportunity to speak to beneficiaries was the highlight for me. We were transformed hearing the stories of 9-year-old Ezra, a young girl from our LAMP program in Gujarat, Satyavati, the fiery ASHA worker in MANSI, Sania from MAST in Mumbai, the ABLE beneficiaries employed at Ishaara in Mumbai and Sajida from a DE school in Mumbai. These women and girls exemplify the work of AIF Programs on the ground by their determination, courage and belief that they can accomplish a lot with proper intervention, access and opportunity.
The Mission Trip gave us several opportunities for meeting with business leaders and building relationships. We also had the fantastic opportunity of attending a dinner hosted by Anu Aga in Pune. Her journey through the corporate world and into philanthropy is so moving and humbling. In Surat, Rajendra Joshi, social entrepreneur and author of Smart Cities: Breaking the Poverty Barrier, shared with us his experiences, successes and learnings in community development and community institutions. In Mumbai, at a reception hosted by Arun Kumar, Chairman and CEO of KPMG India, we met several leading personalities from India’s commercial capital and shared our knowledge on the progress made in India’s development. At Mumbai University, Sanjay Sapre, President of Franklin Templeton India told us how AIF’s skilling program gave him the confidence to continue supporting the project, in the light of several testimonials shared by young women and men who found employment and career growth after graduating from MAST at GICED. All these events left us feeling richer and with the belief that we were doing the right thing.
This has been my first ever full mission trip. AIF’s supporters from all US chapters joined in and what a memorable trip it was for each one of us. We have bonded in a manner that is truly special. We carry with us real and phenomenally impactful memories, that we hope will translate into amplifying AIF’s mission. I am reminded of a remarkable quote by a well-known travel documentarian, Anthony Bourdain: Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that’s okay. The journey changes you; it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you. Hopefully, you leave something good behind.”