It’s been 70 days since I started my Fellowship with my host organisation, WISE (Women’s Integrated and Synergistic Empowerment), promoted by Chaitanya in Madhya Pradesh.
The aim of WISE is to promote women, primarily in rural and tribal areas, as community leaders for strong, sustainable, self-reliant institutions, enabling access to finance and gender equity. The structures comprise of women self-help groups, intimate grassroots-based social clusters, and area-specific federations in order to alleviate poverty and empower women. WISE has been recognized as a resource organization on self-help groups/community based micro-finance in the country. The training content includes topics like financial literacy, organizational management and resource mobilization.
To say that my experience until now has been a roller coaster ride would be an understatement and honestly wouldn’t be justified. It’s been a learning experience like never before. During all the activities and work, a voice constantly ran in my head. The voice of India Fellow program team asking us to write our monthly blogs. I would make a note of any and all interesting events, experiences and people I’d come across, in the hope of writing my next blog on that. Well, none of those are ready except this one.
WISE is implementing Chaitanya’s projects in 6 districts of Madhya Pradesh including Indore, Dewas, Ujjain, Barwani, Shahdol and Umaria. It mainly facilitates access to finance for its member households across diverse social-economic backgrounds. It is also the capacity building partner for NRLM in Madhya Pradesh and Jharkhand. The organisation focuses on leveraging Chaitanya’s knowledge and experience to reach out to more women in the country. One of the on-going projects of WISE also includes a research study on a decade of work by NREGA in various districts of Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra.
With operations in so many places across the state, it wasn’t surprising that my role would involve extensive travel. The work has been intense, especially for me as I came with no background of working in women development or/and empowerment sector and knew nothing about self-help groups. Also, there was an irrational fear in me if I’ll be able to match the expectations of my host organization as they have had 10 Fellows before me (Urgh! All those ghost fellows.) Plus, staying away from home left me looking after myself and exhausted me like never before. Hardships don’t leave us I guess.
In a world so new, vast and super confusing, there was/is one little thing that keeps me motivated. The chance to travel and explore new places. I had always wanted to travel alone, discover places, people, culture and just adapt to things that come my way. Those ‘Wanderlust’ quotes always gave me an itch every time to simply pack my bag and keep going. Little did I know that my Fellowship with Chaitanya WISE would give me opportunities to backpack and travel while working for a cause. Sounds cool, right? For now, let’s see how cool it actually is.
Travel has helped me understand my limitations and strengths. I learnt to negotiate, adjust and adapt. Along the way, I walked for miles, argued with a hotel receptionist for lower room rate, used dingy bathrooms, ate whatever I got, talked to a grumpy bank manager and tried to beat the summer heat by covering myself up only to look like a local Dacoit. There were times when I felt like stopping and a voice within me always encouraged me to never give up. That voice sure knows how to keep going. “Listen!”
As Dalai Lama said, “Every year, go somewhere you have never been before”. Here’s a series of pictures through which I aim to take you on my Fellowship Journey, places where my work has taken me so far:
During my stay in Manpur, Umaria one exciting thing was the regular visit of monkeys every morning. Big and small, mothers and fathers, everyone visited and toppled down anything they found interesting. On my last day there, I had kept some waste to throw off. I got excellent assistance as one of the monkeys picked it and took it away with him. So easy!
As part of a new project of WISE, I got an opportunity to spend a few days in Maheshwar, Madhya Pradesh to study weavers’ community in the region. Amidst all the hectic field work, it was absolutely fun taking out time to check out the historical marvels of the place.
I urge everyone out there, India Fellows or not, to travel. Meet and greet new people, eat unfamiliar food, catch that window seat on bus, take a nap on the railway platform as you wait for your train, talk to strangers and drivers about simple things in life, take decisions independently, watch beautiful sunsets, smile wide as you walk with that heavy backpack, fall, rise and above all, let yourself grow amidst all the challenging circumstances you face. Take out some time to spend quality time with yourself. You’ll be surprised to know how amazing you are!
There is no denying the fact that these last 70 days have been the most challenging days of my life – physically, mentally, professionally and even emotionally. Sure, our personal journeys and work life can be tough but identify those little perks your daily life is offering you and treat yourself.
What do your Journeys or Travel Diaries look like? Do share in the comments below.