Shakshi with the girls and women she is working with
My dream of bringing a change into the existing system of our society and to adding value to it in an impactful manner was taking shape when my journey as an India Fellow started with my host organization, KMVS (Kutch Mahila Vikas Sangathan) in Bhuj, Gujarat. It was a big deal in my head, to working with a grassroots organization, being close to local communities and establishing an understanding of their issues to inspire action on the ground. When the opportunity knocked, I jumped, super excited, energised with rocket fuel just waiting to be launched.
I had my eyes wide open, ears ready to catch every single piece of information, senses ready to experience everything in its divine reality and mind prepared to process what comes its way. And why not, after all I was going to actually start working towards Women Empowerment, a cause I deeply connected with, and felt for.
When I was imagining how it would be, and was looking at everything from a distance, the grass looked greener than usual. And now that I am literally sitting on a patch of grass, I said to myself, “This is your opportunity to look at the grass as it is, in all its shades and textures, to let it grow on its own but to also nurture it with adequate amount of water and sunlight. Meanwhile, you would also need to understand it better – how it thrives, the surrounding environment and its growth until now.”
It amuses me how, amidst confusion and dilemma, one can always look at nature to seek answers and it works without fail.
When I actually started working with KMVS, I realized that motivation and enthusiasm alone are not enough. It will take a lot of work, time, patience, grit and experience to scratch the surface and begin to see things at a deeper level. Before I get my hands dirty, a huge amount of preparation is required. It needed unlearning, decluttering and questioning what I already knew or thought that I knew, as against what I wanted to do. More observations, curious inquiries, reflections and immersion are some ways that help.
My ideas of how it would be to work on grassroots, are being challenged. The expectations from Bhuj and the nature of work are changing frequently, now completely different from what they were, initially. My definition and perspective to look at ‘women empowerment‘ has changed, through meeting some of the empowered women, and hearing stories of those who challenged the norms and made their own.
Here is an example – Sameer (who identifies as a male) is the leader of Chhakda (Auto) driver group – led, operated, and supported by the women, for the women. He is confident and empowered, speaks in such a bold fashion that I have not encountered in a long time. The way he leads life, makes choices and manages this network of women auto drivers, in a town like Bhuj, is commendable. You may want to check out this short film about the Chhakda drivers of Kutch, made by Dharmesh, an India Fellow (2019), who worked with KMVS during his fellowship.
One after the other, I keep meeting more such inspiring people, and even get to work with some of them. My world view is broadening, and the perspectives are shifting to adjust to the shifted reality. I am also realizing that working at grassroots is either not understood correctly by a lot of people or it is misunderstood often.
It needs immense amount of patience, adapting to the pace and the ways of the community, and the ability to empathise. It needs questioning whether the people you are working with, also want to see the results and impact you envision. Are you really catering to their needs? Is it empowering them?
It takes more self-analysis and self-inquiry than I had imagined it would take. At several points, I had to discard my beliefs and address the gap between what I wanted to see as ‘change‘ and what the community needed. I am learning to align with the people’s goals, their satisfaction, ensuring that they are not left alone in their journey, that they are supported to achieve their goals. I am learning to overlook individual identities to see the collective identity.