Monday, 24 December 2012

A Lesson Learnt

- by Aditi Narain

When I decided to write this blog, I didn’t want it to be just another one of those blogs where I go on (in circles) about what a fantastic experience I had, how great and how important the work Pratham is doing is, how many youth we are impacting etc.  Because the truth is, yes I did have a fantastic experience, Pratham is doing outstanding work and we are impacting thousands and thousands of youth across the country.  But that is not the point of my blog. A lot is said about what we do for the students.  I guess the main point of my blog is to share what meeting the youth at the Aurangabad Center did for me. 

It was a one day trip, to get a basic overview of how the center was run, meet the students and staff, figure out the finances; pretty much learn a little about everything. However, while setting out to do just that, I came across a classroom with the new batch of 40 students, mainly from Gadchiroli, Maharashtra. The teacher was kind enough to let me spend an hour talking to them, and asking them about their experiences, lives, reasons for pursuing hospitality and what they expected from the experience. At first they were hesitant, but slowly as they got more comfortable they stared sharing their stories.

I have never considered myself na├»ve, and though I was fortunate enough to have had a privileged life I had worked with people from all walks of life and so I thought that their stories, though terribly sad, would be ones I’ve heard before. I was wrong. I’m not sure what it was exactly. Maybe it was the story of Soniya, a young girl kidnapped on her way back from school at the age of six. They kept her for a year, during which she was given no food or water for the first few days and then just enough to keep her alive for the rest of the year. Her parents managed to get her back after a year, during which they’d broken her legs and nearly starved her. She spent 3 years in the hospital, recovering physically. Whether she recovered mentally is a whole other story. It could be the story of Mantai, being insulted by her parents for not being good enough, or Vimal who came from a very poor background and being the eldest of four sisters, had the sole responsibility of taking care of them. Or maybe it was none of these. Maybe it was the fact that whatever the story, whatever the catalyst, they were all here for the same reason – the dream of something better.
I sat there listening, trying to understand and comprehend the place their stories came from. These were not stories told to draw sympathy. In fact sympathy is probably the last thing they would want. What it was was an almost cathartic experience. The more they spoke, the faster the stories came. Those who were first hesitant now raised their hands for a chance to speak out too. Those that could never speak out before now had a voice. For me – it changed my life.  
How often do we grumble about the seemingly inane things in life - a headache, a cancelled plan, long work hours, not enough free time, not enough pay, not enough of anything. And here were these students, some much younger than myself, with responsibilities and burdens far greater than their age. It was not just their stories, but what they took from it that impacted me the most – their refusal to let their pasts hold them back, to not be cynical, to trust and to dream not just for themselves but also for those whom they had left behind.  How many of us can do that? How many of us could not hate, not be angry at the world for the many injustices life throws our way. If in their position, I’m not sure I could. It was not their stories that moved me as much as their strength of spirit. They would not accept the tragic hand they had been dealt, they would rise above it and they would do it with the honesty and integrity they all seemed to possess. How in a world where they were beaten and abused, cheated and treated unkindly, had they managed to acquire these traits so seldom found in people, I do not know. I spoke to them of my background, my experiences and they looked at me in awe. They wanted to know what foreign countries were like, to travel and work around the world. They wanted to be just like me. And here I was, sitting across from them, looking at their earnest faces, thinking just how much I wanted to be like them.
- Aditi, who is a Program Associate, describes her first field visit to Aurangabad

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