Experiencing the Journey of Serve, Learn, Lead: Part II

“How long would you push yourself out of your comfort zone?”
This question kept revolving around my journey of the AIF Clinton Fellowship. Working with the community for the community is an experiential learning experience for me. I remember my first day in Nuapada district, joining my host organisation Lokadrusti on the on the day of Nuakhai, one of the biggest festivals in the region.
Nuakhai began with the consumption of new harvest and so was my journey with taking a step forward at a new place. A place with new culture, tradition, and language. Working with project staff and conducting a series of field visits in remote villages. Interacting and participating in discussions and interactions without knowing the language. All I did was understanding the context; I learnt that language goes beyond the ability to speak. My Odia language training teacher communicated this during my course. I learnt Odia using my Hindi language skills, linking the grammar and sentence structure with my Hindi language. He kept saying, “Sagar, you can learn only if you want to learn.” I remember the same words once said by my Urdu teacher in my school. Though it was challenging, this kept myself pushing to learn things if I was here to serve. The first time I witnessed a cyclone in my life – Titli – along with pre-disaster management skills and to remain calm since the family I was staying with already witnessed so many.
I remember my long debate with Dr. Parida on the language of education, how the local language plays vital role in understanding. I could see his pain of how the mainstream Hindi and English languages are eroding the Odia language. One has to understand it and experience the same only if one takes challenge to move out of one’s comfort zone.
I remember my first morning during my stay in Pipalchhani Village. Going for a bath in a pond along with the other local community members; standing near the pond and looking at the water covered in algae. I waited for ten minutes thinking about what I should do, thinking to myself, “How can one take bath in this water?” I questioned field staff, frustrated and annoyed that this is a way for all those living here. He replied calmly, “Sir humlog to aadiwasi hai.” I paused and told myself “serve, learn, and lead.” I chose to be here in their village, so how can I question their daily lifestyle. They are close to nature and they have a long way of their lifestyle. If I want to learn, I have to be like them. So I jumped into the pond. I followed the same in all villages where I stayed during my Fellowship journey.
Carrying an “AIF Clinton Fellow” and “Delhi resident” tag sometime made things easy for me, but it affected more, it created barriers. I decided to leave aside both during my immersion and it worked. For my community people, I was like them, sleeping in the community hall, eating the way they eat, and learning as much as from them as possible. They taught me many things which books and articles I read never, working in the real time situation and contextual information about the community. I tried to go with my framework of knowledge rooted with the notion of knowing things acquired through academic. I failed and succeeded in developing an organic framework this time, not alone but with collaboration and participatory mechanism.
My journey was more in serving and learning, working with team at the same level without any hierarchy paving way for shared leadership. I learnt a of a leader who take charge, lead others and is central.

Niket has completed his education from Jamia Millia Islamia. He has done his graduation from the Cluster Innovation Centre at the University of Delhi. In pursuance of his interest to work with marginalized communities, he completed Masters in Social Work from the University of Delhi. It is one of his goals to work for an equitable and accessible public education system. Niket has worked with the Maharashtra State Rural Livelihood Mission, as well as with self-help groups in Gadchiroli district. He has presented paper at the Indian Social Work Congress, and his research has been published in the Journal of Innovation for Inclusive Development. Niket is also passionate about street theatre.

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