Aavishkaar – Sajhe Sapne
Development sector loves the word ‘Community’, in fact it thrives on it. To me, this excessive repetition has made the word just a jargon, stripping off its essence in reality, the sense of belonging! The jargon around it – ‘Community Immersion’, ‘Community Engagement’, ‘Community Mobilisation’, feels restrictive and trite. It doesn’t offer any new insight. We often forget that community is dynamic and ever-evolving. It is more about the relationship than the technicality. It has no geographical bounds or a rigid criteria.
We have often reduced the core of a community with a geographical proximity and shared identities. This simplification, though partly right, leaves a narrow space for the complexity to fit in. Community, for someone like me, is a collection of several other people with whom I have unique relationships that enrich my sense of being. The feeling of love, care and acceptance; that explains it better than the commonality.
I recently moved to Kandbari, a village in Palampur, Himachal Pradesh to work as a fellow and have been deliberating over defining my community. I often swing between what the text books tell me and what I feel when I think about ‘my community’. Is it the people I work with? My organisation, Sajhe Sapne, is a young social enterprise addressing the lack of access to quality higher education programs and aspirational jobs for young women in rural India. Aavishkaar is our institutional partner and its co-founders, Sarit and Sandhya, our key advisors.
Since the time I joined India Fellow, I have been trying to define the term community for myself. The development sector where ‘working in the community’, ‘working with the community’ and ‘working for the community’ is so important, what does it actually mean? The more I thought about it, the more it opened up. The more I tried to specify it, the more it would expand.
Soaking in the place, people and work, walking around, having conversations, sometimes just sharing glances and smiles would bring me back to the same question. Is it the people I am sharing this village with? One morning as I was walking from home to the Aavishkaar campus, I came across a herd of cattle moving towards the fields nearby. I hadn’t seen them around before. Sometimes a few goats would come, chew on the grass and leaves, but never a herd.
I asked around and got to know that people from the nomadic ‘Gaddi‘ tribe lived here. Most of them had given up the traditional lifestyle, but a few people still practice pastoralism. Since winters are almost here, they had descended from the higher mountains and would go further downhill in a couple of days to stay there till spring. Will I call them a part of my community, since I’m living here now?
As I reached the campus, I wondered if people from Aavishkaar are my community. I share the campus with them, we work, eat, and even live together. We’ve celebrated birthdays and danced together on Navratri. The answer was still unclear. I am just getting to know each one of them, over life experiences, bonfires, photography and everyday activities in general!
Are the women and girls I am working with, my community? Sajhe Sapne’s first cohort or as we call them, Sapna Dal is from several villages in Bihar. They belong to maha-dalit Musahar caste and are extremely under privileged. We have started online classes with them in September and soon, they will be joining us here in Kandbari as we launch our first Sapna Centre, a skill-development and placement center at village cluster level for young women to get exposure, resources for skilling and guaranteed opportunities in forward-looking professions.
Yes, these girls are my community.
However, on reflecting, it felt that my response came from the place of instruction and not instinct. According to my professional training, I am a development practitioner and the ‘beneficiaries’ of my work are my community. The impact checklist has instructed me that they are ought to be a part of my community. Others may or may not be! These deliberations take me further to the women I am working with. I like them, and I am curious to know when would they become my community and I, theirs.
Discussing this with Sajhe Sapne’s Founder Surabhi, my dilemmas were addressed to some extent. To her, community means “People you show up for, despite the situation”. She gave the example of Sajhe’s community – it’s students, team, volunteers, advisors and supporters who are located in different corners of the country and world. A lot of us have never met in person but they are a part of our community because of the sheer efforts they all are putting!
“The organisation is alive and kicking because of their sincere attention, and so, this is our community. It is formed because of our shared dreams – keeping it true to the enterprise’s name, Sajhe Sapne”.Surabhi
And that is so true! It doesn’t matter where you are, or who you are working with. It is the feeling of belonging, love, trust and commitment that translates into a community and that takes time to nurture thoughtfully. At this moment, I am building my community in this new space, with the girls, the team, the mentors, the people I’m around and those I’m living with.
Sajhe’s first professional skilling course is in Rural Development and Management which will eventually focus on placing the women of our Sapna Dal in the job market as development practitioners. Essentially, I’ll be designing a learning module on the relevance of community. My questions now, are going to inform their perspectives later. When the times comes, I hope I am able to support them in valuing their feelings before they learn the jargon. I hope I am able to show up to fulfil their dreams, like they would, for mine.