Bhachau and Back Again — Part II

I had only been in Ahmedabad for nine days when the LAMP (AIF’s Learning and Migration Program) Gujarat team told me that I would be traveling to Kachchh district the first weekend in October. The reason: to attend a LAMP-led training workshop for all of LAMP’s affiliated organizations in Gujarat. After a long day of flat-hunting filled with dusty apartments and pigeon infestations, I went back to my dimly-lit hostel room and packed what I thought might be useful for my very first field visit.

Three kurtas, some toiletries, and a bottle of water later, I was packed and ready to leave at dawn to go to India’s extreme western front. I barely slept that night because of the excited crickets and nervous butterflies performing the tagliatelle in my stomach. As I waited the next morning on the bottom steps of the hostel in the dawn’s early light, the possibilities of the coming four-day experience kept leaping through my mind. As so often occurs, at least in my experience, the thoughts that jumped the highest were those of self-doubt. Would I make a good impression on all of these new people? Would I be able to understand a training in Hindi and muddle my way through some form of comprehension of Gujarati? Would the workshop process prove so daunting that I would leave Kachchh knowing I could never facilitate one myself?

© 2016 Caleb Christian
The steps of the hostel at St. Xavier’s College Human Development Research Centre. © 2016 Caleb Christian

My attention snapped away from these, admittedly unimaginative, worries when I saw the bright headlights of a taxi approaching on the hostel’s drive. The time was here, to rally my nerves and enter headfirst into a situation that I had never experienced before. With a salutation to my LAMP coworkers, I settled myself comfortably in preparation for the four-hour trip to the car’s only stop: Bhachau.

We reached our destination in the early afternoon. The LAMP staff immediately went into preparation mode: confirming arrival times of the workshop attendees coming from all parts of Gujarat, allocating rooms based on seniority and organization, rereading materials and presentations, and making sure that they were mentally prepared for the looming three-day workshop. The goal of the workshop was to educate workers at LAMP-affiliated organizations on the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act, 2009 and a new evaluation model called the community learning audit.

The RTE Act, in very brief terms, states that it is compulsory for children from ages six to fourteen to attend a neighborhood school until the completion of his or her primary education. The community learning audit is a model for getting communities involved in this educational process in their localities. The idea is that facilitators like the LAMP-affiliated field workers will help stakeholders in the education system (i.e., local community members) learn how to engage with school administrators, ensure attendance of local children, and empower School Management Committees (SMCs) to create the best possible educational opportunities for the children in their villages. In effect, it is a way of training communities to take the place of the facilitators once the LAMP-affiliated organization’s project concludes in that particular locality.

A group session from the Bhachau training. © 2016 Caleb Christian

While the Gujarat LAMP team handled the actual three-day workshop, it was my job to observe, listen, and take copious notes in the hopes that I could have a better understanding of what shape my fellowship project would take in the coming months. As LAMP continues to grow, there remains a persistent problem: onboarding. Throughout the year, current staff members and volunteers receive extensive training on good practices and legal requirements for the jobs and tasks they are already undertaking, such as the one that was about to be conducted in Bhachau. These trainings can last from two to five days, and involve the facilitation of an expert in the specific area of instruction for said training.

Although invaluable as mechanisms for better ensuring that field staff are complying with relevant legal and organizational policies, these trainings are expensive on both monetary and opportunity cost metrics. So, a legal primer of sorts would be useful in quickly bringing newly-acquired staff or volunteers up-to-date with the trainings that their contemporaries have already received. My fellowship project is to design and create this onboarding primer for new staff and volunteers at LAMP and LAMP-affiliated organizations. The goal is to, in around 8 to 10 hours, deliver summaries of important legal acts and institutional ideals to new-hires to facilitate their entry into the wider LAMP workforce. This primer will be presented in the form of a workshop, which will provide a basic understanding of the legalities of the work the field workers are undertaking and make the information, which is admittedly dry and a bit boring, easy to understand and even easier to apply on a daily basis.

After a restless night’s sleep and a quick breakfast, the training sessions began in earnest the next morning. In a conference room flooded with natural light sat around thirty LAMP and LAMP-affiliated staff, warmly greeting old friends and politely introducing themselves to new acquaintances. The newest installment in the room was the guy in the corner, pen in hand, furiously scribbling notes in English as he tried his best to capture every word of the Hindi that was swirling around the jovial group.

Nervous is an understatement of the emotion that was coursing through my veins. All of the insecurities from my hostel-steps interlude the day before forced their way forward, and a true sense of being underqualified for my task sank into my being. Looking at my notes from that morning session, the margins are filled with asides with one common theme: how can I do a training like this in three months’ time?

A presentation after group discussions in Bhachau. © 2016 Caleb Christian

I spent the four hours of the morning session filled with anxiety. I thought that everyone would immediately view me as an interloping fraud who was in over his head. As soon as the lunch break was called, I jumped up from my seat and quickly ran to get my shoes on—anything to get me out of that intimidating room. I had barely slipped one shoe on before the first person approached me, smile on his face, to personally introduce himself. Within moments, I was surrounded by about eight people, all peppering me with friendly questions and inquiring as to what exactly I was doing in India for ten months. Everyone was so warm and welcoming that I remember feeling the tension in my muscles ease with each new face and introduction. After a lunch filled with congenial banter about life as a twenty-something in the development field, my imposter syndrome had subsided into a much healthier “this is going to be a lot of work, but I can totally do this” mentality. As the afternoon session began, I couldn’t help but shake my head at the ridiculousness of my self-doubt a mere hour before.

Over the span of the three-day training, I learned so much about conducting a workshop that I could barely write down my thoughts and observations fast enough. From how to integrate activities into lectures to how long someone can listen to a lecture on finer legal points before glazing over, I was able to really analyze how this particular Indian audience was receiving the information. The added bonus to this experience, which I’m certain was masterminded by my LAMP mentor, is that the thirty people participating in the three-day workshop are the exact people who will be participating in my legal primer workshop in 2017. This firsthand knowledge of how the leaders of the various LAMP-affiliated organizations respond to certain activities and presentation styles will prove invaluable as I hone my training module for roll-out in 2017.

As the afternoon sun infused the meeting room with a warmth not easily abated by the constant hum of the overhead fans, I could feel my fears slowly melt away. Sure, I had a lot to do—research, review, practice, critiques, revisions—before I would have a viable workshop. But, interacting with thirty people with so much passion and conviction for their work reminded me that just because something is difficult doesn’t mean that it’s impossible.

The first day of training ended with a promise that today was the fun day, and that tomorrow would be the day for the heavy and difficult discussions—namely, how to get communities involved in their local education systems. I remember falling into bed that first night, basking in what I considered a successful day of boundary-pushing and revelations. As I approached sleep, my last thought was to make sure to bring a spare pen to the next day’s meetings—I knew that if any group was going to have thought-provoking ideas and opinions on the topic of community outreach in the educational context, it was going to be the welcoming and passionate people of the sun-drenched meeting room in Bhachau.

Caleb's interest in education policy began during university after he spent a summer in Jaipur studying Hindi on a Critical Language Scholarship from the U.S. Department of State. Following his childhood dream of becoming a lawyer, Caleb went to law school to practice public interest law. Always searching for ways to integrate education policy into his legal studies, Caleb worked as a legal intern at the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights, where he investigated complaints of federal civil rights violations at educational institutions across the Southeast. During his time reading law, Caleb also worked as a certified legal intern at The University of Alabama School of Law Civil Law Clinic, which provides legal representation to traditionally underserved populations in the community. Caleb is excited to work at LAMP‰, finally putting his legal research and writing abilities to use in the Indian education policy field by creating legal workshops for LAMP-affiliated organizations.

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2 thoughts on “Bhachau and Back Again — Part II

  1. What a wonderfully written piece! Indeed, as I read I could feel myself sitting next to you – a inspiring story and I am envious of your experience. Do keep writing, you have quite the talent for it!

  2. Caleb I loved this. It is so beautifully written but also so well captures the feelings of self-doubt and inadequacy I know we are all going through in our new communities/jobs. Excited to continue to hear about your project!!

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