To be honest with you, I had no clue what I was doing when I had applied for India Fellow. My folks seemed happy that I got into “something”, but they were not excited with the whole idea of me working in a random village anywhere in India. Their fears were further intensified when I told them that I was going to be placed in Kalahandi district in Odisha, and that I’ll be working here for a whole year. The time passed quickly so much so that last month, I got convocated from the program.
My parents changed their perceptions about Kalahandi, understood exactly what I’m doing here, are planning a visit to Swasthya Swaraj and became comfortable with me working here even after my fellowship.
The journey so far has definitely been a roller-coaster ride; filled with culture shocks, meeting some really amazing people, a few messed up ones too, tried a whole lot of new dishes I had never even heard of, traveled to unknown places, been depressed for a month, discovered my hidden skills.. the list just doesn’t end. Well, to sum it all up, this was one of the best decisions I have ever taken in my life.
Those who are new to this program might be wondering how to live through this fellowship. I’ll share my learning with you:
I feel this is one of the most important personality trait required to work in this sector. It took my mentor around 5-6 months to trust me. There were days (even weeks) when I thought I was not contributing enough, and even felt that I was probably a bad pick. Yes, there were plenty of challenging situation and I did feel lonely. But keeping calm was the only option and things eventually turned good for me.
This will literally save your life. When I was giving malaria training to high school children, I had to show them a video documentary as a part of the session. Unfortunately, the power went off, speaker didn’t work, and the entire program was jeopardized. At that moment, all those India fellow group poster presentations during the induction training started popping up in my head. I immediately divided the children into groups, gave each group drawing charts, sketch pens and stationary; and told them to discuss among themselves what I had taught them. Next, as you may have guessed, I asked each group to come up and present their charts to everyone in class. It turned out to be a huge success, and that activity was later incorporated in the malaria training module.
One of the best things I did during my fellowship, and will continue doing it forever. Books are your mentors. Most of those I read past year, were about development. Fortunately, common online retailers like Amazon and Flipkart deliver to Bhawanipatna, where I live.
- Gossiping – A big NO
Just like the corporate culture, gossip is pretty much common in this sector as well. After all, people are more or less same everywhere. The only tip is to listen and ignore. Things can get pretty ugly and your reputation (also mindspace) is at stake here.
- Respect the field staff
Most of the field staff, like community workers, are locals, who are relatively educated in their respective areas. believe them to be an equal, treat them like one and they will help you with anything. Treat them like underlings and you will be in a huge trouble.
- Using your other skills
I’m just okay when it comes to drawing. It was only after a few months that I realized how useful it could be in my organization. I drew posters, charts and other material for Malaria, Nutrition, Maternal Health and Reproductive Health, which are still being used by the staff.
- Village life is amazing
As someone who grew up with an urban lifestyle, the village life was filled with culture shocks and was initially overwhelming, as I had issues with open defecation, taking bath outside and washing clothes in a river which cannot be called clean, or even fresh like the ones in Ladakh. However, the best things I loved about village life were the natural beauty, isolation and simplicity. It was a pleasure to live without network or any sort of media entertainment, as it made me reflect on my priorities in life. I was happier by just walking and enjoying the scenic beauty. During nights, I could see the sky lit with sparkling stars, got the opportunity to spot shooting stars, realized how full moon was truly spectacular, and even witnessed fireflies dancing on the trees for the first time.
I was amazed by the simplicity of villagers who never had any preconceived notions about my appearance. I go to OPDs (Out Patient Departments) wearing a t-shirt and shorts, and nobody cares!
- What’s the problem? Ask the villagers
If you want to understand or solve any problem, don’t just assume and start giving advice. Ask the local residents to define and explain what problems they face, and if they even face a problem. More often than not, there is a huge difference between what we’re doing and what they actually want.
- Don’t forget to Enjoy!
Last, but not the least, enjoy this year. An year like this will never come back, and you’ll only re-live it in memories. Travel, take chance, do crazy things and make your fellowship worthwhile. I truly enjoyed mine.