River of Life: My Ten Months of Experience in the AIF Fellowship

During the AIF Clinton Fellowship Endpoint conference, I got the opportunity to share my fellowship journey which is very dear to my heart. I have enjoyed and learned from every single moment in the past ten months. In this blog, I am sharing my graduation speech that I delivered during the Closing Seminar on July 1st, 2020.

My river of life, created during the Fellowship Midpoint Conference in January 2020, pre-COVID.

Being nurtured in a male-dominated and orthodox family, they made me have faith in not to dream but to mould myself in a frame they set: to remain at home and hearth was supposed to be an ideal woman.  I had always felt that I had something to prove to them and to myself most importantly. So, I struggled hard to complete my Masters in social work and this fellowship came at the perfect time to help me become a better version of myself. Though, It was not that much effortless to join, but I did it after a month-long struggle with my family.Still, I had fear of doubting my decision and potential. And I thought “Am I really brave and resilient? Could I cope with the challenges and head in a new and diverse environment?”

Before joining the orientation program, I received a compilation of all Fellows’ bios. The very first thought which striked in my mind was “how many Indian Fellows are going to join the fellowship?” It may be because we, as humans, are bound with proximity and we-feeling and we always want to be in that sphere only. I scrolled down the document and found 5 Indian Fellows. That gave me a breath again and I thought, finally, I could find my comfort zone among them. Ironically, my comfort zone was found with McKenna, an american fellow. That day, I realized nationality, ethnicity, caste, gender, or age doesn’t bring comfort but it’s just heart, our common values and goals that tie us together.

During Orientation, McKenna (left) and Mantasha (right) exploring the backyard of “I Heart cafe” on the way to Kumaon, Uttarakhand
Fellowship family (Cohort) during Orientation

And this fellowship gave me an opportunity to widen my perception about communities & people belonging to diverse cultures.

During Orientation, I spoke with very talented candidates of incredible stories. This was the time when I realized the significance of cultural values, creativity, and social cohesion by living with the community people in the Kumaon region of Uttarakhand.

Now, I was prepared to learn, explore, make new friends and get to know me as an individual self. Those 15 days of Orientation had brought us together and tied us with a common goal to Serve, Learn and Lead.

We scattered to different geographies in India to make some impact in the community and most importantly to learn, change and grow. Some of us felt unseeable in the metros while rest went unseen in small towns. My greatest challenge and opportunity were experiencing everything in this fellowship for the very first time. Be it travelling alone or being new to the communication field. I took my project as a challenge and initially focused on my project.

I started off hitting the books and theories related to communications. But upon going to see different beneficiaries of SAFA,

Women earning while learning at Social Enterprise unit of SAFA.

I became enthralled with their mission to empower women socio-economically and to educate girl children. I could closely align it with my personal story and life journey. Personal discomfort and doubts on my own potential vanished. I encountered the intricacies of India and its life, the variation in development system and persistent dichotomies between the rich and poor, the difference and similarities between the north & south Indian communities and the veiled discrimination between and among genders.

It is this experience that fostered my interest in the power of story-telling and the capacity of a person to share their own to bring change and also draw inspiration from the stories of others. As I evolved in the past 10 months, I saw a new light within myself. From doubting my own instincts to the fear that stopped me in believing my own true self. From facilitating the multi-stakeholder dialogues through  co-creation and collaboration to developing the self-sufficient models with the local communities, I saw communities and social impact through a new lens.

This fellowship gave me an opportunity to understand the development sector, problems prevailing at the grass-root level, power of collaboration and cooperation among various sectors to find creative and innovative solutions towards sustainable development.

If I look back, it’s beyond belief that I am the same person who used to sit in a corner and was afraid to speak up. Through my work, I have grown both professionally and personally.

Mantasha as an organisor of 3 months community engagement drive on Breast Cancer Awareness in Hyderabad.

The biggest thing which I learnt is that I have to keep moving forward. I have to summon all of my inner strength to let go of who I was then and use all of my courage and faith to focus on who I want to be now – and who I want to be tomorrow. It might take time and everything to let go of yesterday, but once I do, I’ll find inner satisfaction.

Watch the full speech here (starting at 1:26:26): https://www.facebook.com/AIFclintonfellowship/videos/865113360664329/

Mantasha is serving as an American India Foundation (AIF) Clinton Fellow with SAFA in Hyderabad, Telangana. For her Fellowship project, she is designing a communication strategy for engaging illiterate and semi-literate women and children at skills training centers and for publicizing program impact externally. Born and raised in a small district in western Uttar Pradesh, Mantasha pursued her education from Aligarh Muslim University. She graduated in English Literature in 2015, pursued a post-graduate diploma in Journalism and Mass Communication in 2016, and completed her Master’s in Social Work in 2018. All through her academic pursuits, Mantasha weaved a dream of playing a part in the development sector. She began her career in Buildyourself Sewa Sanstha as project coordinator to work on skill development of youth and handicraft artisans in Moradabad. During her graduation, she spent a year to work as block coordinator in Nirbal Samaj Kalyan Parishad in Aligarh, focusing on education, health, and family welfare. She interned with Digital Empowerment Foundation in New Delhi, offering digital literacy to children in slum areas. Mantasha strongly believes in the power of storytelling and the capacity of a person to share their own to bring change and also draw inspiration from the stories of others. Owing to this belief, she particularly gets pleasure from creative works like composing poetry, writing quotes and short stories, painting and sketching, and art and craft works in her leisure time. She also enjoys learning new skills through virtual courses. Through the AIF Clinton Fellowship, Mantasha is tremendously excited to foster her experience and knowledge in the development sector. For her, this Fellowship would act as an incubator where she can implement her ideas and expand her learning.

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