The first few days in Mumbai as an AIF Clinton Fellow induced mixed feelings. New city, new workplace and new people are bound to make anyone nervous. However, I was more curious than nervous!
As I walked into the building my office is situated in, I was left wondering if I came to the right address! The Salaam Bombay Foundation (SBF) office is a well-maintained space with sophisticated infrastructure. I won’t say I was intimidated by the organized set-up, but it definitely got me thinking. Every sector has its stereotype and the development sector is not an exception. In my experience, I have had people tell me that NGO offices are usually under-resourced and minimally equipped, but I was happy to see that the SBF office broke this stereotype. To give an overview of our work: Salaam Bombay Foundation engages ‘at risk’ children through in-school leadership programs and after-school sports, arts, media and vocational training academies programs. These programs build their confidence, self-esteem and recommit them to stay in school.
Meeting new people and reaching out to the grassroots have been few of the important reasons for me to consciously choose the development sector for my professional growth. At the Salaam Bombay Foundation, going to the slums for a home visit, was something I was looking forward to. The living conditions were bare minimum and the space in which families stay is inadequate. You might anticipate it, yet it never ceases to shock you. As we walked into the house of one of the students, Priyanka, at the Salaam Bombay Arts Academy, it was unexpected to find a family of 5 in a 8×8’ room, which they call their ‘home’. It was like I was in some fantasy because I never saw such a small place with a family staying in it.
When we talk about development, often we do not consider the feasibility of the model as we are unaware of the ground realities. Going to these slums was like reality staring right in my face asking me the question, “You really think it is so easy to impact the lives here?” Amidst the comforts of our lives, we often forget to take into consideration the life of these people while making decisions to uplift them. Life is difficult for them and they know it. However, that doesn’t stop them from being happy. I found the people in the slums to be welcoming and warm. I didn’t feel like an outsider. I feel that there are so many amazing stories. Stories about life, joy, play, celebration, failure, families, adversities, friendships — if I had one day for every story, there would not be enough days in my life. There is a chaos in the lives yet the peace that one can find in it, is incomparable!
Work at Salaam Bombay Foundation in the first few weeks, made me realize that it’s not about perfection always. Sometimes, a basic output makes more impact and ensures that the audience connect to the product as closely as possible. The visual medium, especially, had always caught my attention and I was sure of making meaningful videos for social impact during my time here. As a communication professional with immense interest in participatory video, I jumped at the offer to video document two success stories of the beneficiaries (kids). Little did I know that, I will actually have to produce three more videos from scratch with the research, production and post-production of these five videos to be completed in less than a week. Thinking of it made me nervous but when we started doing it, it didn’t feel as complex. Although the deadline was stiff, the products (five videos) came out really well and compliments followed. The experience of making these videos was one of its kind for me and I couldn’t help but take pride in the fact that I associate myself with such a powerful medium. I look forward to an eventful tenure here.
Ever since I started my professional career in 2011, the AIF Clinton Fellowship, till now, has proven to be the most diverse experience for me. Personally, I don’t believe that we need to have perfect clarity about our life paths because if we do, we would hesitate from exploring. However, a definite goal is important and that is what keeps me going.