As my first month working with Seva Mandir in Udaipur draws to a close, it’s time to reflect how the journey has been thus far, both from a personal and a professional standpoint.
As I look back, one thing is certain – there is no room for dull moments in the tumultuous first month of settling into one’s city. This was first made clear to me on day one of arriving in Udaipur. I was told to make my way to the Love Nest, a Seva Mandir-owned hostel where I would be provided accommodation for the first few days while I located a more permanent option. I hopped in a cab, and cheerfully told the driver to make his way over to Seva Mandir, and from there to the Love Nest which was nearby. After asking five or six people in the area, we finally located the hostel. I climbed out of the cab with my year’s worth of luggage in hand, gave the driver his fee and then made my way to the hostel gate. Imagine my surprise when it was locked and no one seemed to be inside. At this point, I had no cell phone or internet card either (and would not get those up and running for at least another week, thank you local bureaucracy).
What to do? Thankfully we passed by Seva Mandir’s office on the way there, so I tossed my bags over the locked gate and made my way to the office. Discovering quite painfully that Udaipur is not very English friendly, I quickly reached the limits of my Hindi speaking ability trying to explain to the guard why this disshelved foreigner was disturbing his typically quiet and peaceful job. However, after his initial bewilderment, the guard and about four or five other individuals were quick to sit down with me, have a cup of chai, and converse about where my family was from in India, what I was going to be doing in Seva Mandir, and so on. The first new phrase I picked up in Hindi was “Tension ki zaruri nahi!” meaning “No need to worry! Everything will be fine!” Within the next few hours I was settled in (at least for the time being) and ready to start work the next day.
To switch gears a bit, work life has been equally interesting. Building a business around the simple machine pictured above will be occupying the bulk of my time and effort while at Seva Mandir. It is a manually operated soy processing machine – put simply, soy beans go in and tofu and soy milk come out. The idea is to be able to provide tribal youths with a steady source of employment, while at the same time tackle the problem of malnutrition that is ubiquitous in Rajasthan. The job has been very professionally gratifying so far – as it is just me and a fresh college graduate trying to get the business up and running, I have been able to try my hand at all aspects of a start-up. Everything has been in my domain thus far, including marketing, financial modeling, accounting, and sales visits to name a few activities. Field visits are also something new to me; seeing the actual villagers we are attempting to assist is critical to put a face to my year-long endeavor. Every day presents a new two-way learning opportunity, the NGO gaining knowledge from my consulting background, and me learning about, well, just about everything in India.
I’m a strong believer in the necessity of getting out of your comfort zone if you seek to grow and develop as an individual. If the first month is any proper indicator, then the remaining nine months of my fellowship in India will most certainly be one of the best learning opportunities I will ever come across.