Today on July 30th, 2020, we celebrated the launch of the 2019-2020 AIF Clinton Fellowship Program Yearbook, a collection of photos, stories, and achievements that this year’s cohort experienced while serving with communities across India. The event featured several Fellows and concluded with a unique look into the program as two host organization leaders joined the call to discuss their experience and the importance of cross-cultural exchange.
“I think our batch has been so close right from the beginning, and we’ve all been through something that I don’t think any other Fellowship cohort has actually gone through… but what I have noticed over the past two or three months is that we’ve still remained connected in such a strong way through virtual events and through supporting each other’s work, and I feel like that is something that the cohort is going to take forward.” -Arya Diwase
Four Fellows—Ayushi Parashar, Arya Diwase, Dominique DuTremble, and Ismael Byers—kicked off the event discussing the unique, winding paths each of them took to eventually serve with the AIF Clinton Fellowship. From turning down a position at a premier law firm in order to use legal skills for social justice, to wanting to gain on-the-ground experience with nonprofits in order to strengthen skills while running their own NGO, to leaving a regional community development job in pursuit of working internationally on major issues, each of the Fellows made a choice to work on important social causes in India through the 10-month program.
Reflecting on their time in India, the four Fellows went on to discuss the inspiring work they conducted and the valuable insights they learned along the way. For Ismael, who hosted the Discovering Ability Art Awards for artists with disabilities, a key moment was sharing the stories of artists that would be hidden between the lines of reports. For Dominique, it was witnessing firsthand the potential for CSR to revolutionize community development. For Arya, in the context of COVID-19, it was the importance of having a strong volunteer-based culture in order for organizations to be successful. For Ayushi, as an Indian serving in India, it was about understanding that there are hundreds of Indias within India, and getting to know the language, culture, and traditions of a new region.
“I believe there’s no one India—there are like hundreds of Indias within India. And so even for me the language, culture, tradition, food, weather, etc are entirely different. Especially in a place like Dharamshala where there are people from other countries as well like Nepal or Tibet. I absolutely fell in love with the community and the villages as well… I used to hate hilly areas and cold weather. And [now] I think I’ve fallen in love with them for life.” -Ayushi Parashar
Following the conversation with Ayushi, Arya, Dominique, and Ismael, two more Fellows—Aishwarya Maheshwari and Jessica Standifer—joined to participate in a dialogue with a colleague from each of their fellowship host organizations—Harish Harmade from Khamir and Mohit Raj from TYCIA Foundation, respectively. The four of them shared their experiences and discussed the value that having Aishwarya and Jessica brought through their involvement in each organization’s work, and lauded the Fellows for creating brand-strengthening media and through building an advocacy campaign. Aishwarya and Jessica finished their service in the midst of a global pandemic remotely, which Harish and Mohit addressed by discussing the support and flexibility that each Fellow provided to the organization as Khamir and TYCIA Foundation adapted to work on projects and manage volunteers online. During the discussion, Mohit, who himself was an AIF Fellow in 2013-14, appreciated the resilience that the Fellows showed in light of the pandemic.
“Jessie was a savior in our COVID-19 response… Jessie took care of a big chunk of volunteers who were working with us. A lot of work during COVID-19 from ration support to all the buses for the migrants, Jessie was taking care of the volunteers who were working on the back end. From her capacity in the U.S. and our odd hours of work when we were talking—like 2 am or 3 am—we were just talking about this happened in the field, now we need to have more volunteers maintain the website or create reports. Definitely, you need a lot of adaptability.” -Mohit Raj
The 2019-2020 Yearbook Launch concluded with a Q&A session with all attendees, in which the Fellows shared how the COVID-19 crisis created new challenges but ultimately brought the cohort together and the lessons learned from their time with the AIF Clinton Fellowship Program will go on to shape their lives in the future.
Claim your copy of the Yearbook here.