On January 28th the AIF Clinton Fellowship class of 2014-2015 converged in Tungi, a small hill station in Maharashtra, for an epic group huddle; a four-day gathering in which Fellows strategized ways to move forward with each of their individual projects, as well as ways in which they can support each other over the next five months.
In Tungi, Fellows hiked, participated in a Fellow-led workshop on gender and discrimination, checked in with staff mentors, spent time with AIF India Country Director Nishant Pandey, faced-off in a rousing game of Newlyweds to determine which platonic duos knew each other best, and gave presentations on both the obstacles overcome, and the hurdles and goals that lie ahead.
Ranu Nath, a Fellow with Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) in Mumbai, reflected on the many benefits of the conference: “It was really great to see everyone and swap stories. It was also interesting to see how we all have such different projects, but such similar challenges within them. To talk about those challenges in an open setting was really reassuring; it’s something that I can’t talk about with my friends from back home, so it’s nice to know that there’s a group of people I can go to if I need anything.”
This sentiment highlights the true source of the Fellowship’s strength; it is both broad-reaching—embedding Fellows within communities across the country—and incredibly tight-knit. After only five months, the Fellowship class has already woven itself an encompassing quilt of stories, many of which were retold with great theatrics over the course of the Midpoint conference.
The unique value of this cohesive, national support network of Fellows is even more remarkable when one considers how vastly different the daily, lived experiences of each of the Fellows can be. These contrasts were discussed over the course of the conference and illustrated during each of the Fellows’ presentations on their work to date.
From Larry Reinhard’s explanation of his project on public toilet blocks in Ahmedabad’s informal settlements (Placement organization: St. Xavier’s Non Formal Education Society), to Alia Dharssi’s discussion of her work on issues of urban governance and policing in Bangalore (Placement organization: Janaagraha), to Sarah Manchanda’s presentation on her work with the Rishi Valley Rural Education Centre (RIVER), to Marios Falaris’ plans for researching different approaches to conflict resolution in Jammu and Kashmir, Fellows repeatedly demonstrated their desire to share and absorb a vast array of knowledge and experiences.
This communal knowledge base is of immense worth; at the end of five months, each of the thirty-five Fellows now has access—via group interaction—to a total of 175 months of diverse experiences and learnings from professional and social spaces across India. By Endpoint in July, that will have doubled.
However, above all else, Midpoint was simply about communion; a four-day opportunity to rest and recharge, brainstorm and debate, gain new perspective, and enjoy the company of friends who have quickly become mentors, inspirations, and collaborators as well.
On February 1st the Fellows set out from Tungi, headed towards Mumbai. Hugs were exchanged, as were mailing addresses, travel tips, and countless words of encouragement. Backpacks weighed neither more nor less than upon arrival, but it was clear that much had been gained.
Photos by Ilana Millner for the American India Foundation