‘Dancing’ through the Fellowship Journey

‘Life’s a dance you learn as you go; sometimes you lead, sometimes you follow

Don’t worry about what you don’t know; life’s a dance you learn as you go.’

Sang John Michael Montgomery and no words could have been truer about my fellowship journey.

5, 6, 7, 8…..and I found myself on the floor trying to make sense of the contemporary movements I had signed up for. Similar to how I landed up in Bangalore for the ten months to begin my fellowship. Nervous yet excited, to give something of my own and to learn something new.

When I had applied for the AIF Clinton Fellowship, I had some professional experience in the development sector. I wanted to explore themes and issues which I did not have exposure to, mainly education and effective implementation of rights.  Also, as someone who was always fond of dancing but had no formal training, I decided to actually learn a dance form and joined a beginner level certificate course in contemporary dance at Dhurii. The first day itself, I realized it is going be a rigorous journey just like the fellowship. But was I ready for them both? Yes, of course! The first day, when I entered the dance studio at 6 am in the morning, it reminded me of my first day at my host organization. How excited and overwhelmed I was!

I had thought moving to a new city would not be as challenging for me as it would be for my co-fellows from the U.S. I mean, I was only moving from one Indian city to another. But I could not have been more wrong, something which I realized on the very first day travelling to my host organization. So there I was, a girl from North Indian saddi Dilli (Punjabi phrase which means ‘our Delhi’), on a rainy day on Bangalore roads trying to hail an auto to work as the app based taxis weren’t available, also trying to remain as dry as possible (later, once I settled in Bangalore, I walked to work everyday and enjoyed the view of beautiful trees lined on the way). As I made it to office just in time (or maybe some 10 minutes late) that day, I prepared to slowly let go of any notions I had about the city and embrace the joys and sorrows which namma Bengaluru (Kannada phrase which means ‘our Bangalore’) had to offer me.

One of my favourite things in Bangalore - the trees on my way to work
One of my favourite things in Bangalore – the trees on my way to work.

Now that I look back, the understanding that I have gained of the Right to Education Act (RTE), Section 12 (1) (c) — which reserves 25% of seats in private schools to children from economically and socially disadvantaged sections — is what I consider an important achievement, just like the front tumble (a very basic one for now) I was able to master (overcoming my fear of snapping my neck). Having worked in the development sector earlier, but with no prior exposure to the education ecosystem, I was keen to work with an organization working on education. And my host organization’s focus on access to rights and present work on education was the perfect opportunity for me to understand the sector and contribute through my work to the changes they are advocating for at policy level, which is my interest area. The provision, still being one of the most debated, is also the provision which provides parents (from disadvantaged communities) the right to send their children to private schools of their choice. This provision can promote inclusion in classrooms by ensuring that children from socio-economic disadvantaged families study together with those from the privileged ones. My experiences at my host organization have reiterated the importance of effective policy implementation which the organization is trying to address. I also had the opportunity to understand the use of technology in addressing the implementation challenges at various levels.

Moreover, through my involvement with the expansion team of the organization, I was able to understand the recruitment process from start to end. Initially, I wasn’t very sure how the work of recruitment I was involved in was supporting and impacting the mission of the organization, which is to enroll 1 million disadvantaged children by 2020 through this provision. With time I gained clarity, that finding the right entrepreneur for the Partner Entrepreneur Network (PEN) will only strengthen the network and the work of the organization, across different cities/states in the country, even if indirectly. The Partner Entrepreneur Network for this campaign season is active in 10 sites: Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Delhi, Gujarat, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand. And this year, through the entrepreneurs in these sites, the expectations of the network is to get at least 1 lakh children from socio-economic disadvantaged families enrolled into private unaided schools at their entry-level classrooms.

As far as my dance classes were concerned, I was successfully able to gracefully fall and tumble and stand up again, understand how routines and choreographies function, and how important it is to be in sync with not just your own movements but also of the others you are dancing with, and complete learning the basics of contemporary dance movements, and get a certificate for the same.

Myself during one of the group dance routines at our course graduation ceremony
Myself during one of the group dance routines at our course graduation ceremony.

Not giving up was something which the AIF Clinton Fellowship and the dance classes reiterated to me. Whether it was the first PEN call I led and was not able to manage effectively, or the session on branding which I was not confident about, or the recruitment dashboard and updating numbers which initially seemed like an insurmountable task. Whether it was the embarrassment that everyone could do a step except for you, or not being able to keep pace with the rest of the group, or when your knees, shoulders and elbows were bruised, or being anxious of being on the stage even for that 1:09 minutes, I did not give up.

What I witnessed was the importance of support from your community. The supportive co-worker, caring flatmate, resourceful co-fellows, the tough but encouraging dance teacher, and the fellow students who would come every morning to help you perfect that step, were all an important part of this journey.

When colleagues at host organizations end up becoming friends!
When colleagues at host organizations end up becoming friends!

As my fellowship and my dance course reach a completion, I can surely say it is just a beginning. And as move ahead, I penned down some lines drawing parallel between the two.

It’s alright to feel nervous on the dance floor of life

Even if it’s your first time or the second or the hundredth

And it’s alright if you don’t

You own your tune and your moves.

It’s alright if you don’t get the postures and the cartwheels right

You will one day, because you are not the one to give up

And it’s alright if all your moves are in sync

You have learnt to stand upright after every tumble.

Part of a dancer’s life and which heal one day

The bruises and wounds –are like the days you felt not good enough, undervalued or lonely

Let the scars be milestones

To remind how well you’ve mastered that moment in the choreography.

Deepika, born and brought up in the city of New Delhi, graduated from University of Delhi and then pursued M.A. in Social Work from TISS, Mumbai. After the completion of her post graduation, she has been working in the development sector, which has helped her gain an understanding of various dimensions of her interest areas which are mainly health, disability, advocacy, and women’s rights. Most recently, she was associated with a start-up working to provide accessible travel solutions to persons with disabilities, where some of her responsibilities included exploring and pursuing advocacy and collaboration opportunities with government and non-government agencies, curation of international and national alliances and media interfacing and communications. Deepika believes that her education in social work has guided her to understand that service to others is not just charity. Deepika believes service is about by pushing forward the agenda for inclusion and rights of people. Her professional experience has further strengthened this philosophy. Her motivation is the hope and belief that we can bring about changes irrespective of how huge or small they are. Deepika was a participant of the Summer School for Future International Development Leaders 2017, a program organized by IIM Udaipur and Duke University.

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