Stories of Service Day 1

Each year a cohort of fellows embark on a 10-month journey to serve communities on the ground as part of the AIF Clinton Fellowship Program. This year, given the restrictions arising from the COVID-19 pandemic, the cohort was composed of only Indian Fellows, with a total of 11 fellows going to 9 different states to work with organizations to help underserved communities. This week we heard from these Fellows as they talked to us about their journey on the ground and the insights they learned along the way. The Stories of Service series ran for four days from July 26 to July 29, with each day featuring a set of Fellows who came together to share their experiences. We are excited that a total of 254 guests from across the world joined us live for these sessions.

On Monday, July 26, Fellows Amiya Chaudhuri, Sneharshi Dasgupta, and Shivranjani Gandhi came together to talk about their experiences. The session was moderated by Chandni Wadhwani, Senior Manager of the AIF Clinton Fellowship Fellow. Amiya spoke on the topic of gender, discussing her experience while working with Prajwala Sangham, an organization based out of Hyderabad in the state of Telangana, which designs modules for women and children of marginalized communities on topics ranging from gender and self-awareness to leadership. Sneharshi talked about his experience while serving with Bhasha Research and Publication Centre in Gujarat, where he worked to develop ways to preserve Adivasi legacy. Finally, Shivranjani talked about her journey with her host organization Turn Your Concern Into Action (TYCIA). At the end of each presentation, members from the audience asked questions to the Fellows, making the session more engaging and insightful.

Amiya presentation focused on gender education in India, where she drew insights from her experience on the ground to talk about the current discourse in the country. She began by defining gender education and talking about critical topics in gender education such as deconstructing stereotypes and removing gender bias. She discussed the current problems that exist surrounding gender education, talking about how children quickly disengage from the topic of gender and that schools themselves not prioritizing having conversations on the topic with kids. She further pointed out how the current understanding of the gender provided in schools is very superficial and does not address the underlying problems. Speaking about the challenges posed by the pandemic, Amiya talked about how creating a safe space to talk about topics like gender was very difficult online and how other topics had taken precedence. Finally, she talked about her own experience of using an art and theatre-based pedological approach and how using this technique allowed her to really speak to the children, and even discuss taboo topics indirectly. Furthermore, these techniques allowed children to grasp complex topics and speak without fear of shame or judgment.

A screen shot from the presentation by Amiya
A screen shot from Amiya’s presentation

As someone who has grown up in India, I definitely think conversations around gender are extremely lacking. Moreover, while women themselves face a lot of discrimination, the LGTBQ+ community does not even get recognized highlighting a deeper heteronormative narrative that needs to be addressed. While progress has certainly been made in recent years, addressing the challenges faced by these communities is imperative and the work that Amiya and her host organization are doing is critical.

Sneharshi gave the second presentation, talking about his project which focused on facilitating the development of an indigenous museum Vaacha – Museum of Voice – which is located in the Adivasi Academy in Tejgadh based in Tejgadh, Gujarat. The purpose of the project was to develop an indigenous museum to document the community’s voice and memory. For the project, he conducted extensive research of conservation practices around the world, to find methods that could potentially be applied. The pandemic posed particular challenges to the development of the project, as museums around the world were closed. Instead, Sneharshi focused on how the Vaacha museum could be developed and found innovative ways to ensure that the museum was ready for visitors after the pandemic.

The Adivasi community in India is definitely one of the most marginalized, and their history is very much at risk of being forgotten. Documenting their history is crucial to ensuring these communities survive and society acknowledges their presence and marginalization. While museums such as Vaacha are doing great work in preserving these histories and narratives, it is also important that these ideas enter the mainstream and the larger public consciousness. For this to happen, we have to give a greater presence to these communities which can only happen by getting more people to know about these communities and their history. As such, Sneharshi’s work to make these museums more attractive is very important and can have a significant impact.

A Screen Shot from Sneharshi's presentation
A Screen Shot from Sneharshi’s presentation

Shivranjani’s presentation focused on her community, talking about how she was able to impact her community and conversely how the community was able to impact her. She worked as a service provider, working to rehabilitate inmates in a prison in Haryana. She worked with a total of a hundred and fifteen inmates, using a variety of workshops to deal with issues such as gender, sexuality, and domestic violence. From the hundred and fifteen, six peer fellows had been chosen who she worked with closely to conduct the workshops. She recounted her experience of how working with the inmates over an extended period allowed her to gain insights into their lives and form a personal connection, especially with the peer fellows. She further discussed how these relationships made her reevaluate her own life and reminded her of the importance of extending kindness to everyone along with helping her become resilient. An interesting component of Shivranjani’s presentation was that she used a lot of art to portray and talk about her experience, which added a new dimension to the audience’s understanding.

A Screen Shot from Shivranjani's presentation
A Screen Shot from Shivranjani’s presentation

I think we rarely think about the rights of the incarcerated and the lives they lead. While they are definitely being punished for committing crimes, their rehabilitation is very important for a well-functioning and thriving society. To do this, we need to address the problems faced by these inmates, particularly the mental challenges that come with imprisonment. While it is easy to relegate these people to the idea that they deserve to be treated poorly for their actions, a more conscious attempt to help them can lead to successful rehabilitation and a better society. Shivranjani’s presentation really helped me see the benefits of such an approach and how working with the incarcerated can lead to successful changes.

Hearing about all three fellows’ work was very interesting. You can watch the full session by clicking here.



Devang Laddha is a second-year undergraduate student at the University of Chicago, where he studies Political Science and Economics. His main area of interest is international development. He's originally from Kolkata and very excited by the work AIF is doing, particularly through the Fellowship program and more recently with COVID-19 relief work. Being from India, he's passionate about learning from and helping people back home. During the summer of 2021, Devang worked as an intern for the AIF Fellowship Program through the University of Chicago's Jeff Metcalf Internship Program to support AIF's 20-year anniversary campaign.

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