It was 1:20 am on 30th June, 2016, when I read the mail which said I have been selected as an AIF fellow. I still remember, I could not sleep that night thinking what if it was a dream and sleeping off might actually mean waking up. Silly! I know but that was exactly how I felt. Professionally, this fellowship is the best as well as most challenging thing that has happened to me till date and on that night I was overwhelmed with the thought of working with these amazing people from my country and abroad. As days passed and it started sinking in, I mostly wondered about being able to do justice to the program. Placement, work, pressure, blogs, reports so on and so forth kept me awake at night.
One of the best part of this program is that it amalgamates culture, talent and work beautifully. This can be seen and felt in all aspects of this fellowship program. Above all, this fellowship has made me believe that when like-minded individuals come together, change is possible and feasible, despite cultural, geographical or political challenges. One such experience was the Thematic Conference which we, the class of 2016-17, attended.
The group which comprised Deepa, Yasin, Nolberto, Cal, Noel, Caleb, Dharamjeet, Keith and me, were welcomed by Self Reliant Initiatives through Joint Action (SRIJAN) to attend the Livelihoods Thematic Conference in Bundi, Rajasthan. The conference focused on community-based initiatives that have helped empower the livelihood of rural agrarian communities, with a particular focus on women. For me, it has always been refreshing to go back to villages and be able to witness the change at a grassroot level.
The first day of the conference we were greeted by a 4:30 am bus ride and biting cold of 6 degrees. But everything seemed worthwhile when we reached the village called Jyotipura where we saw the community milk collection unit run by the village development committee comprising of women. It was heartwarming to see that not only was the unit run by women but only women from the household came to pour out their daily milk collection. The women who ran the unit did everything from taking care of the unit to testing the milk on the lactometer. This was followed by a meeting with the women of Ramdev SHG (Self-Help Group) where we got to know about the genesis of the SHG and the work it entails. This was followed by a visit to the bulk milk collection and pasteurisation unit in Dooni. The day ended with one of the women from the Maitree Mahila Mandal sharing her experiences with us.
On the second day of the conference, the fellows interacted with Savitri Bai ,Chairperson of Samridhi Mahila Crop Producer Co. Ltd. who explained the best practices in the Soybean farming. We got the chance to be a part of a women’s rally which was supposed to be become a public meeting for the formation of 200 SHGs. The sight itself was extremely empowering. The same day we also went to a Soya processing unit where we saw how milk and savouries are made from soybean. This unit is run by women and not only do they put their training in refining soya to practice but also improvise on the methods to come out with better produce. The third day of the conference was spent in de-briefing about the whole experience.
These two days made me realize that women are definitely the backbone of an agrarian community. Livelihood options for women bring the community together and it also makes the future of these women secure enough. Empowering the women definitely means empowering the community and seeing this change in action was gratifying. All through the conference, I was photo documenting the whole experience. And so, in the medium I connect with the most, I present a photo story showcasing the events of the conference.