A khadi-clad, jhola bearing, frail looking bespectacled person in her 20s, with greasy hair, hassled look on the face and an intellectually snobbish book in hand, de-boards a local state tourism bus. Ask anyone in India to describe a social worker and this is the caricature they respond with. As someone who has dedicated years of her life to the social and development sector, I am fed up with this stereotype. Through this blog and through the example of my life as an AIF Clinton Fellow working in the Department of Education at the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA), I wish to burst three of the most common myths related to work in the social and development sector that I have faced.
Myth 1: Boring Clothes
Reality: Everyday I show up to the office wearing a traditional Tibetan Chuba. It is an intricately tailored kimono-esque design which is very fashionable. Upon reaching my host city, Dharamshala, one of the first endeavors that I made with my supervisor was going to the local tailor to get two sets of Chubas stitched. We had great fun picking out the fabrics and had a jolly discussion on Tibetan fashion and how the same dress can be designed to look fancy for a wedding or official for office purposes. In my opinion, Chuba is one of the most fashionable pieces of clothing in this world! People in my office have fun with fashion and dress up very nicely. We even discuss fashion and various styles of wearing Chubas during the lunch break!
Myth 2: No Fun Activities
Reality: The work culture at the Department of Education, CTA includes no work talk and only jokes with carrom tournaments during the lunch break and weekend hikes. Our education minister has played an instrumental role in organizing Saturday hikes while senior officials organize unofficial Sunday hikes and invite people to join in via WhatsApp. We have hiked to mountain rivers, atop some of the tallest hills to reach the most beautiful viewpoints and created beautiful memories which will last me a lifetime. We do potluck picnics on these hikes where we end up with a cornucopia of authentic Tibetan home-cooked food which we feed to animals and birds with equal generosity and still end up with enough left to distribute to the less fortunate.
Myth 3: Boring Lifestyle
Reality: I hope you don’t take it as boasting when I tell you that my apartment within the office campus comes complete with a bathtub! While generally considered a luxury in India and mostly seen only in 5 to 7 star hotel chains, my fully furnished apartment provides me the luxury of having a large balcony overlooking snow covered Himalayas, a fridge, a well-stocked kitchen along with a spacious bathroom with a lovely view of the valley where one can see people paragliding on a sunny afternoon. After a busy day at work, I can draw myself a bubble bath spruced with locally sourced fresh rose petals and scented candles handcrafted by the artisans of my host community. How’s that for “boring”? 🙂 Jokes aside, I hope that my photo journey helped to dispel some common myths – and perhaps makes you consider a career in the social development sector as well.