By Pratibha Baveja:
It’s in the hardest of times that you discover your true strengths. After living a sheltered life for 22 years, I wanted to move out, explore, travel, and see the world. I wanted to explore my full potential in circumstances that would be challenging and also be a way for me to bring about some change.
Having completed my graduation in Zoology and post-graduation in Environmental Studies from University of Delhi, I had actually cleared all the requirements for a PhD at DU. But I wanted to do something more.
And just the right kind of opportunity came by in the form of the India Fellowship that is focused on cultivating social leaders, and took me to rural Chhattisgarh.
As part of the fellowship, I was assigned work at the Centre for Learning Resources (CLR), an organization working to improve the quality of early childhood care and development (ECCD) and provide quality elementary education (EE) to children from rural and urban sectors. My role was and continues to be to evaluate the Mitanin Project in Chhattisgarh, a unique community health volunteer programme that promotes access to healthcare in rural and underprivileged urban areas.
Working on this project has been a great learning experience for me but by no means an easy one.
Life today is about battling with intimidating mosquitoes; surviving in a place which hardly has five days of winter, and scorching heat and humidity during most months. It’s accompanied by painful UTIs and crippling backaches due to hectic schedules. Being emotionally cut-off from friends and family, adjusting with people of antipodal cultural sensibilities and lifestyles is also something that requires getting used to.
But no one ever said that a journey of self-discovery and leadership was going to be easy. And so you adapt – to the place and culture, work and weather, emotions and challenges.
The fellowship gave me an experience of moving out, meeting new and diverse people, and introduction to the development sector in the best possible way. There are so many learnings which come with the daily challenges – coping with a new language, finding a place to stay, shopping for grocery and utilities, looking for your next meal. But the most important challenge is creating a niche and family for yourself in a new space call it home.
Inspiring anecdotes, and experiences that the mitanins (health counsellors) share with me through the course of the day make my work doubly interesting. For instance, one of them shared with me how she was severely criticised by her fellow villagers for working as a volunteer health counsellor, even though she wasn’t getting paid for the long hours it involved. But that was 10 years ago. Today, she felt proud that people from the organization had come to visit her especially, and how that has earned her the respect of all the young girls in her village. Listening to these stories of women feeling empowered has given me a stronger sense of purpose about how I can help their journey of change.
The love and the true smiles I receive from the community make up for the few discomforts and unpredictability of my organisation which I have started to enjoy. To my friends and family, who I know are concerned for me in the truest sense, trust me, I haven’t lost my mind, and I am not a rebel. All I am is a person trying to change the status quo and learning as I grow.