I’ve written this blog as a gratitude expression and a trip down my past year living as an India Fellow and working at the grassroots. To the reader, at points, it might seem a deviation from the standard expectation of our blogs – of learning something new or gaining insight about our community and work. I hope the blog does not leave you without that sense, and you build some more understanding of the fellowship through this …
September 2022 marked a year of working with Chaitanya WISE and being on the ground with the community. In this one year, I got a chance to live through the stories. Also got to closely see the day-to-day lives of many inspiring women in Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra. I have been working with women engaged in self-help group (SHG) federations and enterprise collectives. I’m doing this by building and managing operational processes. We also aim to Increase the market access for products. All this while building the capacity of local women.
I stretched all my boundaries to experience a month of extreme productivity with immense learning, growth, and satisfaction. The successful completion of these activities I worked on, made September worth all the efforts. These activities included :
- Setting up a skill training lab for industrial silai (tailoring) training for our Women Entrepreneur Network (WEN) members in Ujjain and Maheshwar
- The federation (called Avantika) I worked with reached the 170 SHG mark with 20 new SHGs formed that month
- I also shifted offices and living residence amidst all this chaos
In September, I stepped up to the role of managing Kala Maitri. It is an apparel brand who owners are the community of women groups in Maheshwar and Ujjain. Over the last three years of Kala Maitri’s experience of working on enabling women’s access to livelihoods through collectives working on silai, it was identified that adequate and quality skill training would be pertinent to enable them to compete in the highly competitive clothing and apparel market. Hence, we were working towards setting up an industrial skill training lab with the necessary equipment, trainers, and other logistics. This was what comprised all the management, hosting, and networking. September was about building blocks to fill my heart with overwhelm. I learnt from my mistakes, got showered with love from community members and appreciated by mentors and supporters. This blog is primarily about my feelings.
I am a team player. Emotionally and work-wise I am very dependent on people as support systems. It reflects in my productivity and well-being. Getting a new teammate in the organization felt like an added bone to my backbone. As a person, I have a very poor sense of clothing and apparel. But my new teammate comes with an educational background in design. It helped add a lot more perspective to what we’re trying to set up. Realising that the team you worked with for over a year will always have your back even when all of you are drowned in tasks to complete, redefined reassurance for me. I have improved in asking for help when needed and forgiving each other for mistakes made.
What’s most rewarding is realising the learning curve I have experienced over the last year. I learned everything on-the-job while experiencing the crude realities of working on the field. The struggle to be accepted in a closely knitted team as an outsider in the initial month comprised of many nights of tears and effort. When I got the responsibility of working with a federation in the initial months, I knew nothing about it. Not even what it does. Learning from each of the staff about the work they do, understanding their personal lives and challenges, figuring out their strengths and weaknesses, and most importantly learning how to resolve conflicts and deal with each unique personality and conversation aptly was what it took to manage a team.
A year down the line, getting to hear from my team on how they accepted me into the team through feedback, love, and trust was again tearful Of a different kind this time.
Never did I imagine that I would one day get to put together a design studio for industrial tailoring. Getting to do this under the guidance of Gajanan ji has been a thrilling experience. He helped set up NIFT and has been a Pearl Academy professor. I helped in purchasing sewing machines. Also tools like french curves, hip curve, and tracing wheels all of which I had never heard about. Comparing quotations and making tool kits for training participants was one of the most exciting work I probably did. While purchasing body forms and cutting tables, I never realised how essential it is for a design studio until I observed its use in the class. All throughout childhood, silai never felt like my thing to do. But after putting up an entire training studio and arranging for a core training session, I aspire to learn this art one day.
Working with Kala Maitri involved bridging the gap between reality on the ground (community) and with what the brand envisions. This was to be done through improving systems and operations. However, it takes a team to conduct a successful event at scale. To see the community here and my team come together to conduct an event brilliantly felt like success. A win for the team spirit. Rising to the need of the hour and being there for all the hustle on the day of the inauguration of the Kala Kendra (skill training lab), the office bearers and community members won all our hearts with the support they showered.
I owe all these emotions to the opportunity I got to be an India Fellow with Chaitanya WISE in Avantika Federation in Ujjain over the last year. This has been the biggest year of learning and growth for me so far. My mentors say every year post the fellowship would become greater learning as you learn to live the life of a fellow through this experience. I feel grateful to get such an enriching experience in my fellowship.
Anyone with the desire to explore their learning curve to become a better version of themselves can do this. If you wish to enable many other Indian youth who ought to experience this, please consider supporting my fundraiser here.