“In school, I was very timid and terrified of public speaking. After the first YnD session, I remember going home with mixed feelings — scared yet hopeful about embarking on this journey of self-discovery.”
— Pooja Malik, Youth-n-Democracy Fellow, 2019-20
Pooja was very shy in school and felt like she never quite fit in with others. While her peers explored their interests and planned for their future, she stayed in her shell. In high school and college, she got the opportunity to get involved in event management and dramatics. While these were rewarding, she felt that she was not able to get the full experience of it as she lacked confidence and feared judgement.
She stumbled upon the Youth-n-Democracy fellowship during her third year of college, and fearing that she was missing out on learning opportunities, she decided to apply. Little did she know that she had taken the first step towards self-acceptance, and would emerge a confident and worldly woman.
Right from the start, PRIA felt like family to Pooja. She recalls, “From the facilitators to the fellows and staff, everyone came with a vision of inclusivity.” The encouraging environment allowed Pooja to shed her inhibitions and start participating in activities. Soon, she started noticing changes in her personality she did not expect.
The auto rides back home became times of introspection for her, as she reflected on how the sessions on ‘Self’ and ‘Identity’ were dismantling stereotypes that she did not even know she held. She thought about how simple gestures can signify deep-rooted beliefs such as showing biceps, traditionally associated with men, when asked to depict strength. As she developed critical thinking skills, she began to question other universally accepted phenomena that many others don’t.
Having observed fellow college students in her university, a social action project on drug awareness with a group of youths was a natural choice for her. Recognising how the “cool culture” of college has normalised use of drugs, including tobacco, marijuana and cocaine, she set out to learn more about the issue. However, she needed to start by thinking of various ways to approach the subject.
The sessions under the ‘Society’ module helped her strengthen her research idea. Learning about how drug awareness could be related with the Sustainable Development Goals from Mr Juan Pablo Ramirez Miranda of UNESCO, the essentials of digital advocacy from the Youth Ki Awaaz team, and stakeholder analysis from Dr Kaustav Bandopadhyay (PRIA) helped Pooja plan her project.
Pooja set out to do something that would have been unimaginable for her, just a few months ago. She conducted in-depth interviews, engaging with trust and mutual respect with strangers. She created a safe space for students to talk about their experiences with drug use, keeping in mind the principles of inclusivity and tolerance for different experiences.
She marched on, even though COVID-19 forced her to do her project entirely online. She says, “A situation like this would have sent me spiralling into panic and nervousness before, but now, my first thought was about how I could accept the challenge and improvise accordingly. This is when I realised that the fellowship had made me enterprising and turned me into a risk-taker!”
Channelling her new-found confidence, Pooja organised a webinar on drug awareness where she spoke in front of 40 people, a feat she did not know she was capable of achieving. Despite not having used social media actively before the fellowship, her Facebook campaign ‘#Choosetorefuse’ and her video on International Day Against Drug Abuse engaged more than 900 people. Receiving online engagement reaffirms her motivation to keep working on this issue.
Pooja opted for a Bachelor’s in Home Science to pursue a career in nutrition, despite it not being her area of interest. Through the fellowship, she came to recognise her interest and strengths, and now hopes to pursue a career in Mass Communication. She credits the Youth-n-Democracy Fellowship for helping her grow to love herself.