December 16 was an unusually cold winter day in Lucknow. In a year that had tested us in myriad ways, the frosty weather added to the lack of warmth generated by social distancing. This year our AIF Clinton Fellowship cohort missed out on the cheery interpersonal connections during the fellowship orientation and for me, the work from home protocol was implied with my host organization. I wondered how I will build a rapport with different stakeholders so as to work effectively with them to create the impact that I aim to. I worried about not being able to fully immerse myself in the Tibetan culture, which is a quintessential part of this fellowship project for me.
The interim solutions that I came up with involved making time for social video calls along with the usual work ones. Through these calls, I attempt to get to know the people that I will be working with at a more humane level and as they narrate their stories, I feel more connected to them and to the community. I have observed people’s body language shift to a more open stance, a glimmer in their eyes and smiles spreading on their faces, as they see that I am interested in knowing about the lives that they have led as members of the community. It has instantly broken the ice and made even a Zoom call seem personal.
However, what my host organization did surpassed my efforts by miles and left me truly humbled. On December 16, I received a huge parcel from the Social and Resource Development Fund (SARD) office of the Central Tibetan Administration. The same day my supervisor communicated that last year, to welcome the incoming AIF Clinton Fellows, they organized a social gathering where they met members of the CTA including the stakeholders for their fellowship projects. Since the same wouldn’t be possible this year, they decided on sending us a welcome kit. They shipped these kits from Dharamshala to our home towns, Lucknow and Jamshedpur.
What I received left me speechless! I was completely overwhelmed with emotions and heartfelt gratitude. The humble tag of ‘Welcome Kit’ does a poor job of describing Santa’s gift sack that was delivered straight to my home address. From the flag of Free Tibet to traditional Tibetan prayer flags to handcrafted incense and handmade paper diaries to coffee mug, masks, cloth bags and bookmarks – my parcel of happiness and love from CTA contained all this and more. There were two letters addressed to me – one from my Supervisor and one from the Interim Director of SARD – welcoming me to CTA and wishing me good luck on the journey ahead. It went beyond the goods in the parcel and to a feeling of being understood as was evident from the reading material enclosed. My host organization had preempted my research needs for the fellowship project and sent official records and books which I would have requested from them in the near future.
I was so overwhelmed with emotion that I could barely string words together cohesively to thank my supervisor for their unparalleled thoughtfulness, generosity and kindness. Here I was – a remote foreign worker deployed to work with them for a few months and they didn’t think twice before taking the pains to carefully pack and send this parcel my way, making me feel cherished and valued. They were under no obligation whatsoever to do anything of the sort and it was a gesture straight from their hearts. The magnanimity spoke volumes about the values they believe in as an organization and the faith they bestow upon those who work for them. My desolate heart asked, “Do I even deserve this?” as I gasped in wonder and awe!
My takeaway from the experience, once my emotions settled, was that while it is easy to complain about the distance generated by COVID-19 safety norms, it is also banal. There are numerous ways in which we can take this opportunity to show people that we care. When all seems bleak, even a meek source of light appears to be magical. Ice breaking and rapport building are not restricted by these safety limitations just as human relationships find new ways to flow, like water charting its course through multifarious terrains. It is the thought that one puts into it that counts. If life gives you the chance to be in the supervisory role, make sure you value and cherish your employees as much as my Supervisor, Mr. Tenzin Norsang, does. And just like my host organization, the Central Tibetan Administration, make kindness the center you operate from.