Passion can drive us through the most difficult times. Maansi Verma, a Law student at Ashoka University Sonepat, who is impassioned for social activities, went on to experience a life that we barely imagine of–all because of her passion. Read on to explore how she spent her 1.5 months in a village of Odisha working for an NGO.
Being born, brought up and entirely educated in Delhi, I had never stayed too far from home. And now, I was required to spend close to 6 weeks in Odisha, working for an NGO. It was a nightmare for my parents but an adventure for me.
It was the summer of 2012 and I had just completed the first year of law college. While most of my friends were trying to woo lawyers and law firms for internships, I had my eye on the prestigious and highly selective volunteer program offered by National Foundation for India. I constantly kept checking their website and as soon as they declared the internship open, I applied for it. I had to fill up a form, complete with essays and then had to appear for a personal interview. I was selected, and along with a co-intern, was placed with a development NGO called Health and Development Initiative (HDI) in Bhubhaneshwar, Odisha. The internship was paid but only on requirement basis. Travel to and from Odisha in a 3AC train was paid for and for my accommodation for 6 weeks there, I was paid Rs. 5,000. Surprisingly, one could manage oneself easily in that much amount.
I mostly worked in a slum cluster in Cuttack, Odisha. And it was in that place that I developed a respect for the life I have. I had to stay in a working women’s hostel, where I paid Rs. 57 for each day’s stay and two time’s meal. One can imagine the arrangements that can be made available in that amount. The first night on that rickety bed was painful, but when I saw people in the slum next day, sprawled across the bare floor after a day’s hard labour, my bed seemed like a luxury and sleep was easy to come. I almost survived on the food that is made available to the Below Poverty Lines (BPL) families of our country through the Public Distribution System (PDS). I lost a lot of weight and some health as well. This made me understand why our poor people are so frail despite getting food at dirt cheap rates- that’s because the food is sometimes equivalent to dirt as well.
But the best part of the internship was the fact that it helped me open up to a completely new world. I was suddenly exposed to people who belonged to a culture so different from my own, spoke a language which was initially alien to me and lived a life that I wasn’t used to. But they still welcomed me with their open arms. Our mandate was to just go to the slum or the villages and interact with the people. Find out who they are, how they live, what they do and much to my surprise, they never thought that I was interfering in their lives. They welcomed me with a smile and treated me as their own. They were patient with me as I was trying to grasp the language and included me in all their festive celebrations at that time. I was never stared at or behaved with improperly. I probably felt the safest when I was within that community.
I also got an opportunity to spend 3 days in a tribal village with minimum to no electricity, restricted transport connectivity but astonishing natural beauty. I had to sleep in a medicine factory atop a table and used a toilet with no latches, no light or even water. Often, I would find myself surrounded with complete and utter darkness and for the first time in my life, saw fireflies (and a huge black scorpion as well). I interacted with a Vaidya, whose entire family, for generations, had been the ayurvedic doctors; and moved around his house where I saw more than 100 different varieties of herbs and ayurveda books dating back to 700 years.
I interacted with many people whose lives the NGO had changed. HDI, the NGO, was running a water and sanitation program in the slum and a sustainable livelihood program in the village. I saw what it means to develop a community from the grassroots.
My role in the internship was merely to learn as much as I could and document it. I had closely witnessed what it means to live a life in a village and a slum and my project was based on a difference between the two. But the actual difference could be noticed in me. I had gone there as my older-self and came back a much changed, much improved and much more open-self. Though I faced many difficulties and had to make many adjustments in my 1.5 month stay there, but the love I got from people around me, more than made up for all the glitches. I will always look back to that time with sheer fondness and I recommend this internship to all those who long to gain an alternative perspective on life.
Found this story inspiring? Would like to share the following two links to help you better understand about the internship and to inspire you further-
National Foundation of India- http://www.nfi.org.in/
Health and Development Initiative- http://www.nfi.org.in/our-programs/livelihood-security/partners
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