The Path Ahead: Serving as a Fellow This Winter

When I was a little girl, my mother would narrate the story of a feeble mouse and a mighty lion. A hungry lion once pounced upon a meek mouse when the mouse very humbly asked him to let him go for some day the mouse might prove very helpful. Astonished by the confidence of the mouse, the lion laughed and let him go, thinking to himself that it is impossible that a tiny mouse would ever be able to help the king of the jungle. He resolved to eat the mouse next time. After a few days, the lion found himself trapped in a hunter’s net. As luck would have it, the mouse was passing by. On seeing the lion in pain, struggling to get out of the trap, the mouse decided to keep his promise. He started nibbling on the net and very soon, the lion was freed. The two became fast friends and peacefully co-existed ever since. The moral of the story, as my mother would always tell me, is that when it comes to solving problems and helping others, size does not matter. A tiny mouse can emerge victorious where a mighty lion might fail. This story taught me humility and courage. As the pandemic swept our world, I asked myself how I can help? What might a tiny, timid, bespectacled girl from a small town in India do to change the situation? It is this thought that made my resolve to be a part of this fellowship stronger.

Test Reads: Journey of an AIF Clinton Fellow. Picture of the author is below the banner and against a wall with graffiti which reads 'Carpe Diem'. The AIF and AIF Clinton Fellowship logos are on either side of top corners.
And thus begins the journey of an AIF Clinton Fellow 2020-21.

After long bouts of self doubt, I applied to the AIF Clinton Fellowship five minutes before the deadline on January 20, 2020. It was a relatively COVID-19 free world at that point in time, at least for those outside of Wuhan, China. As the situation worsened and the virus spread across the world, the AIF Clinton Fellowship selection process became lengthier. My parents asked me often if I am still interested in being a part of this. My answer was simple: I wish to be an AIF Clinton Fellow because I wish to be a part of the solution. Their next question was, why is it so important to me now and why can’t I wait one more year to join the fellowship, hopefully, post pandemic? After all, the situation on the ground might be more difficult than any other year and I might potentially be putting myself at risk. The answer to this is trickier. It is my vehement belief that when the times are toughest, we must shoulder the maximum responsibility. If it is important to be a part of the change pre or post pandemic, it is even more so during the pandemic. To me waiting one more year meant being complacent. It would have been akin to an ostrich hiding its face under the sands. I do not have all the resources in the world. I am far from being the smartest, strongest, prettiest or most well connected person but I am sure that there is a light in me which needs to shine as best it may, no matter how feeble, for the world might need exactly that in these troubled times. I wanted to reach out and help, this year more than ever, and the universe rewarded me with the perfect opportunity.

 

In the foothills of the Himalayas, overlooking the mighty Dhauladhar range in the state of Himachal Pradesh, is a small town by the name of Dharamshala (1). It is the hometown of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan community in exile (2). Over the years, the community organized itself politically and structurally, in the form of the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) (3). One of CTA’s prime goals is to create more gender inclusive spaces within their community spread across India (4). For this goal, they wish to revitalize their policies from a gender perspective and inculcate gender education as part of their core school curriculum (5). Thanks to the AIF Clinton Fellowship program, this year I will be one of the lucky fellows who will work with CTA towards achieving this goal. To say that this is my dream project would be an understatement. Talking to my project supervisor, Mr Tenzin Norsang, and the Women Empowerment Desk team put my mind at ease. I had a sense of belongingness in the community even though our facial features might look different. I was surprised by the intensity and honesty with which I connected with my host organization and supervisors completely virtually. Mr Tenzin was concerned about my safety and security above all else. He told me he would never let my parents worry about anything. I could not have asked for a better supervisor. 

I started my work with research on the Tibetan community and culture. To know and understand its unique history and place in the universe was very important to me and so was creating a comprehensive resource for possible future fellows placed with CTA could utilize so as to ease their research process. So, I compiled a list with the determination to keep adding to it as I find out newer and better resources for knowledge sharing. Moving forward, the challenge would be to gain clarity as to what exactly would be feasible in these special circumstances. The challenge in Dharamshala, owing to its wonderfully unique geography, is also going to be the heavy snowfall that would meet me if, as proposed, the shift to host organizations happens in December to January (6). During these months and until March, several basic amenities remain unavailable in the region including, electricity, phone network and internet connectivity, transport and road access (7). My supervisor’s words of care provide some reassurance. I know that I will be well taken care of even during these challenging months. My sincerest hope is to live up to the expectations. I will try to follow the principle of under promise and over deliver. I am here to create a positive social impact in the field of gender and I wish to graduate from the AIF Clinton Fellowship with a sense of achievement of that aim. 

A screenshot showing a list of resources to learn about Tibetan life and culture
A list of resources for understanding Tibetan life and culture on my computer.

I know that the road ahead is tough and paved with challenges but like the feeble mouse coming to the aid of the mighty lion when he needed it the most, I wish to be the small yet essential part of the puzzle that helps put the whole picture in focus. As I work under exceptional circumstances in the months to come due to COVID-19, the courageous mouse and the lion who learnt humility will continue to be the torchbearers lighting my path one step at a time, as they so often have in my life. When I mistakenly think I know what is best for the community, the lion will teach me to be humble, and when I feel I am too insignificant to make a difference, the mouse will teach me that it takes one skill, one idea and one determined person to change the world.

References:

  1. “About CTA.” tibet.net. https://tibet.net/about-cta/. Accessed on November 10, 2020.
  2. “About CTA.” tibet.net. https://tibet.net/about-cta/. Accessed on November 10, 2020.
  3. “About CTA.” tibet.net. https://tibet.net/about-cta/. Accessed on November 10, 2020.
  4. “Women Empowerment.” https://tibet.net/tag/women-empowerment/. Accessed on November 10, 2020. 
  5. “Women Empowerment.” https://tibet.net/tag/women-empowerment/. Accessed on November 10, 2020.
  6. “Dhauladhars Peaks Covered in Snow, Travellers in Dharamsala Rejoice.” Times of India Travel, 6 Nov. 2020, timesofindia.indiatimes.com/travel/travel-news/dhauladhars-peaks-covered-in-snow-travellers-in-dharamsala-rejoice/as79075415.cms.
  7. “Snowfall Hampers Road Links In Himachal Pradesh; Hundreds Stranded.” NDTV.com, 23 Jan. 2019, www.ndtv.com/india-news/snowfall-hampers-road-links-in-himachal-pradesh-hundreds-stranded-1981876.

Shivangi is serving as an American India Foundation (AIF) Clinton Fellow with the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) in Dharamshala, Himachal Pradesh. For her fellowship project, she is integrating gender education and entrepreneurship modules into the school curricula for the Tibetan refugee community. Shivangi brings in diverse personal, academic and professional experiences to her work towards achieving gender equality. Having focused on providing gender sensitivity training and education matching, Shivangi runs her own social initiative called Drishtikona - Changing Perspectives, volunteers as a speaker for SpeakIn and as a Global Shaper for the World Economic Forum, and a Climate Ambassador for the International Youth Committee. Through her experiences, Shivangi has gained relevant skills including data collection and analysis; planning and strategizing; research and documentation, and more. Her personal and professional aims align with United Nations Sustainable Development Goals especially, UN SDG 5. It is her mission in life to make the world a more inclusive place for everyone and she is passionate about human rights and mental health.

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