New Doors Of Learning!

by | Apr 19, 2019

After a 7-hour long bus journey, I reached the beautiful city of Dehradun on a Saturday morning. Following the directions that were provided to me on e-mail, I reached the Waste Warriors guest house. Waste Warriors is the organisation that I have been placed with, for a year, as a part of India Fellow program.

Surrounded with busy streets and main market of Dehradun, the guest house is located in the heart of the city. It has all the necessary amenities that could make my fellowship year comfortable. Not much is different from all that’s there at my home. Ideally, I should be glad about the pre-arranged living set-up that I have been provided with, but rather, I was going through many doubts and dilemmas in my mind for the initial one week. These were a couple of questions largely bothering me:

    • Why this comfortable city life is creating a sense of discomfort inside me?
    • Is this urban set-up going to give me the learning and experience for which I applied for the fellowship?

Next day, I went to office. Observing the set-up and ambience, I built an impression of it being a corporate styled environment. From what I knew, non-profits work for the benefit of a community but here, either because of my lack of understanding or because of the nature of work, or both, I really couldn’t gather as to what kind of community we are associated with. I just failed to recognize any group of people we could be working with. Surrounded by the clouds of doubt and confusion, I talked to some of the other fellows in the evening and listened to their side of stories. It was allaying. To my good fortune, a co-fellow, who is placed in a similar setting, gave some words of wisdom. He suggested me to stop worrying about what I would learn through the year, and rather start looking around to find what’s there to learn right now. He said that we may find something new in any direction as long as we are open to receive it. With this in my mind, I consciously tried to look at things differently, more observantly.

It doesn’t amaze me then how I was able to notice  Jiten bhai*, whose stall is located just across the street from our guest house. We often have breakfast there when we are not in a mood to cook. He owns a small place, but there is long list of items on the Menu. He is quite efficient in managing his tasks. Jiten bhai is famous in the area, not just because he cooks delicious food but more because he is resourceful and has great interpersonal skills. It is quite rare that a person leaves his stall only with a filling meal of breakfast and not a new story.

Once, while passing by his place, I overheard him talking to his friends. “Bhaiya, hum Graahak ko sammaan denge, tabhi vo hamara saaman lega” (Only when we will serve the customer with respect, will they buy from us) I am still unaware of the context in which he was saying this but these words echoed in my ears for some time. It came from someone who didn’t continue studying after class 12th and I think it affected me because as a part of my work here, I was also trying to improve the behaviour of our staff in order to increase community engagement. Jiten bhai’s sales strategy left me pondering specially because he had not done any diploma in business and/or marketing, but learnt everything by doing and experimenting at his stall. It reflected that life has its own way of teaching new things. What it takes is Perseverance!

Another incident that enabled me to learn about duality in my thoughts was my experience of setting a survey camp for Ragpickers in Dehradun. The survey was being done to gather the required data about Ragpickers so that we could work with them, as required, under a project of recycling plastic in partnership with UNDP and Coca cola. I was briefed about the purpose of the survey by my program manager and was also informed that we are running far short of the pre-decided target. Hence, I was assisting the interns recruited for this task who updated me with the challenges they were facing on ground.

In many places, they were chided by the locals and sometimes, by ragpickers themselves. The seriousness of the situation dawned upon me only when I accompanied them to the localities where ragpickers live. Just putting up a banner there was a huge task. Many people asked us, out of curiosity, about the purpose of our visit and when we explained it in the simplest of words, some were supportive and appreciative while most of them gave a suspicious look.

To my surprise on the first field visit, several people aggressively criticized our work. To them, it didn’t make sense that someone would be working with ragpickers. Rather, it was funny. From their responses, it occurred to me that they don’t hold a good impression of ragpickers. “They come and steal our things. They commit many crimes”, said a local resident.

At that time, without getting to the roots of this criticism, I realized that our entire society holds the same notion of ragpickers. There might be some people who illustrate such behaviour but it denounces their entire community. After my first field visit, I understood the importance of an objective of this project, to de-stigmatize the work of rag/waste pickers. They are the most crucial component in the waste management chain, working in hazardous conditions and becoming prone to many diseases. In the recent past, there have been frequent instances of death due to illness. Physical abuse and ill-treatment by local policemen is also common in some areas.

Thus, reflecting upon the last one month, I can say that there has been a lot of learning as well as realizations. Of course, the source varied in each case but something that became clear to me was that wherever you go, you will find something new to learn. It is your attitude as a learner that will help you identify the ‘new doors of learning’.


*Name changed to protect identity

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  1. Umang Jain

    I could easily connect to your blog. During my fellowship in 2017, I felt the same thing especially about working in cities (Amdavad) and the same question of urban setup but when I look back, every place has its own problems and they also need solutions. The work you are doing is also important as per my understanding. It is waste management, and working with the set of people who are considered to be the lowest in the society. Keep walking, keep exploring, a lot of learning will be there on your way 🙂


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