Ananya’s Fellowship is made possible by the Rural India Supporting Trust.
After completing four years of my work experience with diverse communities, thematic areas, and locations in the development sector, when I was about to join the AIF Clinton Fellowship, my peers asked me why I am going to start from the beginning. My reply was very simple: I wanted to see if I had missed anything in these years. The most important thing for me was that I wanted to do something unique to make the fifth year of my professional journey memorable. Thus, my Fellowship proved to be a turning point for me.
Through my Fellowship journey, I came to understand that learning is a lifelong process. I came to understand that serving always leads to learning. Unless you serve, you cannot learn. Once you stop learning, you cannot sustain. It is the process of building upon your existing knowledge. My ground knowledge of being a social work professional has helped me to build rapport with the host organization and host community of my Fellowship. My zeal of self-learning has enabled me to understand the patterns of intervention and program details of my host organization. My work life in being a AIF Clinton Fellow has develop me to become a more self-motivated, independent professional. A person who keeps on unlearning and relearning things.
During the Fellowship, I became acquainted with the crude realities of the communities I served with. I saw how a strong willingness can overcome any problem in the communities. While capturing the stories through the in-depth interviews, I revived my skills of patient listening, purposeful expression of feeling, compassionate interviewing, and empathetic articulation. Applying the principles of social case work like individualization, acceptance, and non-judgmental attitude has empowered me to get a better understanding of the person, from where s/he is coming, and what situation s/he is dealing with.
Conducting the meetings with the students’ parliaments (Bal Sansads) in the school, I got the opportunity to apply the social group work principles. Utilizing the principle of specific objective has helped me to drive towards the objective of the activity. Taking the student groups through the group formation has helped me to understand their objective. They were also able to envisage their dreams for their school. They can now prioritize their goals and give the necessary suggestions to the school administration. I found them taking up leadership in the school activities and put their voices out in the forums. Somewhere during this process, I have found my voice in my host organization and in the community I am working with. I felt the essence of leadership within me. Unless we switch off the self-conscious button, we can’t put on the cap of confidence. One thing I learned is that until you raise your voice, nothing is right or wrong.
Collecting the stories from the underprivileged communities of Bihar has shown me the ground realities and constraints. Education is probably the only way to bring a difference. I was excited to listen to the stories from the ground. How the journey of an individual has brought change in the outlook of the system. I can feel the serenity of this place; the struggle of the communities to get their children into a better place to learn. It is not about you, me, or the organization that is working here. It is all about the community who is here, who wants to achieve it.
Similarly, in recording the journeys of the student groups here, I have witnessed the strong enthusiasm to fulfill their dreams. Even when there was lack of resources, they have tried out low-cost or no-cost innovations. The education functionaries were motivated with their activities and they were flattered to share their stories on different platforms. What I learnt is that the students are their own ambassadors of change; we only need to steer them. Through my journey, I not only blossomed myself to become a storyteller, but also seeded the passion of storytelling among the people I have worked with.
Looking through the gender lens, I was happy to find girls in the middle schools. But soon I came to know from my field experience that the parents tend to send their boys to private schools for better learning. As one of our stakeholders said, “Girls are taught for degree and boys for career.” With my school visits, I came to understand that there is a magnificent scope for us involve the girls in the decision making process. The student’s parliament is one such platform.
While working in the rural hub of northern Bihar with a distinctive community, I have been able to break all my predefined notions about this place. My community visits would not have been so interesting if there was no “Sattu ki sarbat” (a drink made by lentil flour) on the trip to save me from the scorching sun. The community has taught me to see happiness in small things. This has helped to rethink myself. Here, people may be simple even colorful, poor but with wealthy hearts. Before coming down to this place, I have never thought these ten months would be so interesting for me.
During my weekends, I used to explore the nearby areas of my host community, to work on the inquisitive parts of myself. This has gotten me familiar with the Maithili culture of northern Bihar, which is very different from other part of the state. The sweetness lies in the “Thete” language they speak here, which is blend of Hindi and Maithli. The uniqueness is in its sweet-meats made up of sesame seeds and “Makhana” (Fox nut) which is used in various cuisines. The way they greet people with the pink hat and a heart full of warmth is incredible.
My community visits were an exciting part of my journey which has taught me sundry lessons about life. Being a professional social worker, I had a knack in field immersion. Though this time it was a new community. This time, I got the opportunity to explore myself as well. Thus, starting from solo scooty rides to my destination (school) and asking 21 people to cover a distance of 22 km was like a routine. I realized that people are helpful; they are not curious about where you want to go but are happy to show you the way. Again due to the unavailability of transportation, during the return journey hitchhiking was the best option. Among the best was the tractor ride to reach the main junction from the distant communities. Nevertheless, my colleagues at my host site were always supportive and enthusiastic for the field trips.
The days of my community immersion have broaden my perspectives. How privileged you are using your surname/ last name. No one questions you about your caste from which you belong. Or even if someone asks you, you are okay to disclose that. How a child coming from a specific hamlet is looked down upon. How the system is trying to intervene into it. Are they trying to solve it? Or does it just happen.
The Fellowship project in my host organization was to capture stories from the school and communities, and then to build a communication strategy to disseminate those stories to a varied audience. In this journey, I have been able to evolve myself as a storyteller, and I became a fervent believer in the fact that storytelling can create change. I am excited to take these insights forward in my life.
It’s worth mentioning how my team supported me for the first time when I raised voice to stop the use of paper cups during the chai breaks to reduce waste. They responded positively to the suggestion, though a few didn’t. But in the end, my team put it into action. I was overwhelmed for the first time and started believing in collective power. #Nomorepapercups
I was super astonished when my friends in host organization gave me a surprise on my birthday. Yes! I became so emotional. I felt the love, compassion, and high gratitude for the people who have made my life beautiful.
During the course of my Fellowship journey, I have made some life-time friends both in my cohort and in the host organization. I can feel the strong bond within our cohort. It has provided me a safe space to share my experiences, difficulties, good feelings, and sad feelings all at a time. I remember I was eagerly waiting for the onset of September 2018 and at the same time, I was also nervous to think what is going to happen next. The ideas which were overpowering my thought have been my part of experiences of my enriching journey.
It needs more strength to accept your vulnerabilities, because unless you accept them, you can’t work on them. That makes us stronger and a better person. The Fellowship has taught to be honest to myself. It has given me the scope to explore my possibilities and interests. My innate interest in photography would not have been explored if I was not here for the Fellowship. Again, me being skeptical about storytelling right from my childhood, was initiated me to work on it through this Fellowship project. It has provided me a space to unlearn my self-consciousness and relearn my confidence. If I try to summarize my Fellowship journey, then it has pushed me to come out from my comfort zone and stretched me to find more possibilities for my life.