orientation + field action = AIF fellow

I bid goodbye to my friends and family in Hyderabad on the 11th September to join the American Indian Foundation as a William J.Clinton fellow.  It was the last day of the Ganesh pooja and time for the immersion of the Ganesh idols. The only thing on my mind was to make it to the Airport on time and not to miss my flight scheduled at 2.35 pm.  Finally made it to the airport finished all the formalities and waited to board my flight.

2 hours in air and I arrive in the capital of India, New Delhi.  This is where the fun begins.  It was the first time I came across such immensely talented people from some of the best universities across the globe. The 30 odd fellows brought with them inspiring stories about their journeys from different corners of the world.  The entire group was very versatile but had the common goal of making some valuable contribution to the society by offering their services. Made an instant connection with some and took some time to bond with the rest. The conversations would vary from Indian culture to politics to education and a host of others. This session of fun unlimited stretched for a week along with talks by distinguished individuals in the field of politics, social enterprise, youth development, health care and Indian NGOs. The days went by and I got to know each one of them even better. The best activity according to me without any doubt was the scavenger hunt.

The scavenger hunt is similar to a treasure hunt. It was designed by a former AIF fellow who was based in Delhi. All the fellows were divided into teams of 4-6 people. Each and every group was allotted a set of tasks to be performed. The tasks were supposed to be carried out at various locations. Our team visited the Nizamuddin dargah and Rashtrapati Bhavan. Others had to visit Lotus Temple, Jantar Mantar , Lodhi Gardens and other tourists spots in Delhi.   It was interesting to know how the teams travelled and reached their respective places. All the teams tried bargaining hard with the Delhi autowallahs to use the meter, some got lost in Delhi metro got down at the wrong station, ended up eating momos and enjoyed the whole experience.  The overall experience was fun filled but the weather played a spoilt sport.  It was very humid and the first thing to be done after spending time in the scorching sun was to have a quick shower.  After a stressful day it was time to enjoy a sumptuous meal and head back to the already planned scheduled event.

Back to the hostel was a debriefing session. It was exciting to listen to the stories of other groups primarily what all tasks they had conducted and the places they visited. Come Sunday and we are free for the entire day.  Some of us decided to visit Old Delhi and enjoy the gastronomical delights this part of town had to offer. The only mistake Sunday’s most of the shops are closed so shopping was not feasible, however eating was.

The realization slowly dawned on me that this would be the last 2 days of the entire group being together.  The last night was the display of various talents possessed by people. There was a breath taking performance by one of the members. A beautiful opera night by the most vivacious person in the lot.

The next morning saw everyone leave for their respective destinations, Kolkata in my case.  This was followed by constant updates on social networking sites and through emails.  I visit my office on day 1 after a few hours of landing. The first day comprised of a brief round of introductions with all my colleagues and was asked to join work from the next day onwards .  A day later met a group of 10 girls from one of the centers that the NGO operates in.  Felt great to talk to them about financial independence, dreams, goals, aspirations, education and life in general.  A dream closely nurtured and monitored by the organization and a far cry from reality before the center started working in their neighborhood.  Very anxious to visit them at their workplace. The D day arrives and it’s my first official trip to the centre.

After a bumpy rollercoaster ride that lasted for 45 mins the entire team reaches the center.  Strangely none of them speak Bengali but converse fluently in Urdu, Hindi and English. The first half of the day was spent interacting with the girls. The topics of discussion start with their ambitions, restrictions in their day to day life and finally their respective families. I must say it was not easy for all the girls to convince their parents to work. It was a very commendable job from their side. Even before I realize it’s time for the afternoon prayers, Adhan can be heard from a nearby mosque and instantly all the girls cover their heads with dupattas.  A perfect place to witness a group of young and progressive girls with the right blend of traditional values deeply embedded in them.

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