My journey as a Banyan Impact Fellow began in December of 2021 with 13 extremely accomplished individuals who made up a diverse cohort going into the third year of an ongoing pandemic that seemed to have mellowed out after the second wave. Every fellow came with their own set of skills and I was in awe of how well the AIF team was able to forge connections between us in a completely virtual setting.
Before the launch call, I went through a rigorous round of interviews with host organizations whose projects I was interested in eventually resulting in my placement at SAATHII (Solidarity and Actions Against the HIV Infection in India) with my project proposal focused on improving the quality of health care services provided to HIV infected patients.
I could honestly not be happier as the fellowship came at a time in my life when I was actively working in media spaces, trying to tackle hate speech and fake news online. Coming from a fairly dark space like that where one slowly loses their hope in humanity into such an honest and safe space that the AIF team created for me, gave me hope in not only my capacity as an individual but also in my cohort, who were trying to bring real change in the country.
I started working at SAATHII’s Delhi office soon after the orientation and was met with the utmost warmth by their team. I was acquainted with each of the projects that SAATHII is currently working on. My supervisor is the most positive person I have ever met with such a strong work ethic that inspired me to make a meaningful contribution to the organization during my stay here.
I spent all of December trying to learn the ropes of my host organization only having to put everything on hold as the new year and the new wave of the pandemic came along!
January 2022 was perhaps the hardest month that I in my 23 years of existence have lived through. I come from a small family of three only consisting of my mother, my grandmother and myself. I would always say to myself that the third wave would get me (having never been infected with COVID before) but little did I know that my family would be facing the worst consequence of this virus!
Both my mother and my grandmother got infected with COVID just days apart. Since both of them have comorbidities, I knew that it would be a steep challenge for them to recover. My world however came crashing down with Mum getting admitted to the ICU with over 70% lung damage closely followed by my grandmother who was admitted to the same ward just days after Mum. Even though they were both on the same floor, they were unable to see each other because Mum was in the ICU and my grandmother was in the general COVID ward. As they were not allowed to have phones, I was at the mercy of the hospital staff who let me video call them once a day.
At 23 years of age, having already lost my father years ago, I was once again on the edge of losing family members (this time around it was two!) and was being asked to make decisions on their treatments.
I was almost on the brink of dropping out of the fellowship because I simply had no headspace for anything else other than the health of my family. Being a caregiver is so hard! But, both the team at AIF and my host organization came through in ways that I did not think was possible. I was given the opportunity to take care of my family, putting my fellowship on hold during the entirety of January. By some miracle, Mum and Nani made slow but steady recoveries prompting my return to the fellowship project and successfully integrating myself into SAATHII’s workflow again.
Going through such a massive personal crisis while serving as a fellow has taught me so much! Here are the following recommendations that I would make to my co-Fellows and any incoming fellows that may find themselves in a similar situation:
- Contact your AIF mentor immediately! It is absolutely essential that your mentor at AIF is in the loop about your troubles and they are perhaps the best people to guide you to your next steps, professionally speaking. I received nothing but support from the team for which I am so grateful.
- Disclose details about your crisis to your host organization. Do not take leaves without informing your supervisor as it reflects badly upon you and would only cause a great deal of confusion.
- Be honest and upfront about the amount of work you can handle. There is absolutely no point in making promises that you cannot fulfil.
- Have a plan in place for when you want to get back to work. It is important that your mentor at AIF and your supervisor at the host organization have a tentative timeline for when you are able to focus on the project.
- Reach out to your cohort! I cannot stress this enough, your cohort will be a source of support for you during difficult times.
- Talk to your counselor! Traumatic events can leave a long-lasting impact on people. AIF provides fellows with a counselor with whom they can share their deepest thoughts, fears and anxieties confidentiality and help process emotions and conflicts.
- During times when you feel like your problems are bigger than you, know that in the duration of your fellowship, there will be many who will root for you and will guide you to make the best possible decisions. I shall forever be grateful for the kindness the AIF team showed me during a dark time in my life.