It is never easy to make a decision. Action itself stems from courage and courage can only lead to splendor and success. It was not an easy to choice to not sit for campus placement or study hard to crack the numerous entrance exams for a Masters course. But the choice to apply and stick with the ICICI Fellows Program will remain to be a life-changing decision. It came with a package of giving up on urban comforts and luxuries, security of known environments and mundane unchallenged lifestyle. It, however, offered to me in return a chance to explore remote corners of the country, behold and respect the rural areas and befriend countless villagers who helped me find a new “me”. What does it mean to give one year from a lifetime to work with a grassroots organization? The opportunity cost of a prized diploma in India or a Masters abroad? The invaluable work experience of slogging at entry-level corporate hierarchy? Peer and social pressure to earn high income or struggle towards it?
The decision was well worth it. The fellowship helped me evolve as a human being, break down prejudices and cross comfort zones. Partnering with rural NGOs gave me a chance to see the hurdles and triumphs of silent workers giving their whole lives for the upliftment of the weaker sections of the society. It gave a golden opportunity to challenge stereotypes, to break mindsets and most of all, travel with open arms and empty pockets. If one project dealt with women empowerment and fighting against gender bias and discrimination, the other led to remote tribal pockets to understand and document their stories against the bureaucracy, government and other powerful. The first six months I treaded between wheat fields and dusty by-lanes of Haryana and the next six I was trekking hill-sides and finding my way through the jungles of Odisha. Languages changed, countrysides varied, tastes differed and clothing contrasted, but the warm embrace of the villagers, their hearty laugh and touching stories created the real impact. To understand that nothing is one-dimensional- how water, education, electricity and food security are interlinked – and permanent – one day you are battling mosquitoes and the next day moustachioed men- the fellowship throws at you challenges and lessons which is unique and exciting. The journey was more meaningful than the destination. Like-minded friends who had hopped along in my journey are better, stronger and brighter individuals as of today than a year back. There’s space for everybody in this sector too. We learn to respect relationships and resources. Community becomes paramount. We begin to value time, efforts and emotions.
No idea is trivial, no idea is not worth trying. If it dares you to grow, if it promises a better society, the time has come. For no other journey comes with such a process and package as this. The fellowship is and will continue to remain a most cherished experience for all of my life.