The objective seemed straightforward on its face: “To reduce the extent of child migration and ensure that all the children ages 6–14 years attend school for the entire academic year.” I was not surprised when Tapas, my coworker and State Program Manager of Gujarat for LAMP, scrolled the screen to the expected deliverables for this short sentence and a multi-tiered list came into view. This was my last major meeting as a LAMP fellow, and by then I was used to the amount of effort and coordination one small sentence could require.
I was attending the monthly meeting for LAMP-affiliated organizations in Gujarat, where the LAMP Gujarat team provides helpful trainings and constructive criticism for the LAMP-funded projects currently running in the state. This was a particularly important meeting because it was the first of this MoU (Memorandum of Understanding) cycle, so LAMP decided to go from a one- to a two-day format to give feedback to all its Programme Coordinators (I like to call them “field bosses,” but I will stick to the authorized nomenclature) about the raised expectations for deliverables and reporting in the 2017–18 cycle.
On the morning of the second day, I looked around at a room filled with people that had come to be very familiar to me over the past months. It was the last weeks of my Fellowship, and by then I had grown completely comfortable with the group of educational change-makers surrounding me. It was the first time, though, that I had been with them for exclusively work-related reasons. Most of my outings with the larger LAMP team had been to interesting workshops and exposure visits where we played games and learned new pedagogical techniques for two or three days. But this time, everything was about the business of rural education intervention.
Tapas had explained to me the rationale behind the training he was going to do with the group the second day of the meeting. He said that there was an overall need for teams to connect each deliverable to an objective, and see this deliverable as part of a larger path towards positive outcomes. His idea was to take one of the larger objectives, like child-migration (i.e., something fundamental to LAMP’s credo), and facilitate the group through the steps that need to be completed in order to achieve the deliverables under that objective. Then, through discussion, show how these mini-deliverables usually serve multiple deliverables and objectives, creating a web of progress that will eventually lead to the desired outcomes for this project cycle. The goal of the second day of the monthly meeting was to help the Programme Coordinators see these connections and realize how best to record and report their work in the field.
Tapas pointed to a deliverable on the whiteboard-cum-projector screen under the child-migration objective: “Maintain database of children and track migration status.” He asked the group what types of actions should be done and records kept to produce this deliverable. Answers came from all corners of the room, covering practically every reality of the child-migration issue. But what Tapas wanted was as a systematic approach. He wanted to show the different teams how to create a step-by-step action plan that would lead to both positive growth toward the desired outcome and quality in the data provided in the deliverable.
Calming the room’s multiple voices, Tapas stood in the front of the gathering. “What is the first thing that you have to do to create a database?” he asked rhetorically. “You have to get the data.” And, so, the facilitated discussion began. Utilizing the intuitions of the group, Tapas deftly led us down a path toward what LAMP would consider good mini-deliverables, which lead to better deliverables (i.e., reports), which lead to LAMP being able to better utilize the data generated by the several organizations.
After about an hour, the following list filled the screen of the projector: Identify/update/validate data on migration status of children; monitor this data monthly with school attendance registers; conduct home visits; report monthly to coordinator with data updates and update database; check the status of the migrated child (e.g., destination, admission to school, migration card, child labour); and bi-monthly verification and update to AIF. The discussion had been thorough and, at times, contentious. My head swam with all of the time and effort it would take to be constantly handling this much data. But the people around me seemed less perturbed. As the list grew on the board, I watched as each member jotted their own interpretation or translation of the new point into their notebooks: annotating as they saw fit, ready to begin implementation as soon as they returned to their field areas.
I smiled under the harsh glow of the projector. What I was witnessing was a perfect encapsulation of what I had learned over my nine months with LAMP: the very things that I based my own workshop around. First, you have to trust your audience as a facilitator. I cannot tell you how many times I have told people over this experience, “You are the expert, I’m just giving you new words to use.” Many months ago, Tapas taught me that when you have assembled a group of quality individuals, the facilitation almost becomes harder, because you can only get in the way of their progress with your own preconceived notions. Just as Tapas did that day, allowing the group to share their insights and thoughts almost always leads to the best end-result in a training.
Second, my larger LAMP family are voracious when it comes to providing the best care for children. Every time a new activity was introduced at a workshop, I could barely think over the collective sound of all the wheels turning in the assembled leaders’ minds. Sure enough, a month later, I would visit a village and see the new activities being completed by the children our organizations reach. At every training and workshop, those gathered would ardently debate the finer points of a topic or postulate some new hypothetical that would help the group grow in their collective understanding. So, I could not have been less surprised that pens continued to scribble notes as the monthly meeting’s lessons progressed to the next major deliverable, and new mini-deliverables and challenges were discussed at length.
It startled me when Tapas turned off the projector. Turning, he announced that the monthly meeting had come to a close. I immediately turned my eyes to the clock on the wall and, sure enough, it read that the day was over. I looked around the room, at faces that had become familiar over the intervening months of my fellowship. For the vast majority of them, this was the last time we would meet. This would be goodbye. It was to them I was leaving my project. These Programme Coordinators would be the ones facilitating the workshop that took me months to create and edit. Thus, my success would be determined by their success.
As people approached me to say farewell, I could not help but become nostalgic. A chapter was closing in my life. Pretty soon I would be back in America, while they remained in the state that I had once called home. As they continued to work in the communities for whom I had come to care deeply, I would be moving on to the next chapter of my professional life. As I was leaving midstream, they were gearing up to start bigger and better things to help children receive quality educations, regardless of geographical location. To be frank, I was jealous.
After saying goodbye to the last Programme Coordinator (it was a very Scarecrow moment), a bittersweet smile came across my face. My fellowship’s efficacy was yet to be determined. On the gradebooks, it still said pending. Now, it was up to these leaders, these change-makers, to implement the legal trainings I had crafted in an attempt to make some positive contribution to rural education in India. As I got into the rickshaw to return to my flat, waving to the few remaining attendees, I knew that my success could not have been left in better hands.