Project Koshish, a field action project of the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, started way back in 2006 with an aim to protect the rights of the socially excluded populace. Student volunteers have been an integral part of it since its inception. At Project Koshish, they believe that youth has tremendous potential to mend the society’s ways and transform it. We recently had a conversation with Mr. Tarique Qureshi, Project Manager, Koshish, TISS. From the excerpts-
IS- Project Koshish was started in 2006. When did you feel the need/requirement of having interns in the organisation and what was the philosophy behind starting an internship program?
What do I say for a program that was actually started as a student initiative? Students, volunteers and interns have played a significant role in the growth of the program. When the program was initiated, after I graduated from TISS (Tata Institute of Social Sciences), there wasn’t much support. We did not have money or people who believed in the importance of this work. Resources, therefore, were limited. Support from the institutional staff was also restricted and limited. Students came in as a huge support at that time. Koshish enjoyed a huge volunteer base of students who played crucial role, especially in conducting social investigations,employers visits and family tracing.
Gradually, we decided to have a structured program for interns and volunteers. It’s called ‘Youth Engagement’. The underlying idea is quite simple: Youth has a tremendous potential and all they need is little bit of hand holding and guidance. As an organization, we believe that it is our responsibility to provide that support. We don’t want the ideas, passion and energy of the youth to go unutilized just because of lack of encouragement or opportunity.
Every year, we get large number of students who come and spend time with us. Koshish works in different cities and interns are placed at all locations. I ensure, I travel to the unit they are placed with. I try and share my experiences with them. I share with them how this project was initiated. It is done to make them realize the power that students are. Since I started as a student, they realize that if constant and sincere efforts are put in, difference can be made. Most people do not take students seriously for their lack of experience and students too start believing this. We want them to realize that it is not the experience but the knowledge and the intent that is the driving force of the project.
IS- “Project Koshish” pertains to the social sector. So do you prefer hiring inters from Social Studies background only or do you hire interns from other streams also? Besides, do you notice any particular difference between the interns from Social Science background and the others in their approach towards a problem? The general skills/attributes you look in while hiring interns are?
It does not really make a difference which stream an intern belongs to. We take interns from all streams. In fact, we encourage students from non-social sciences background to engage more. See, this internship program is not for the organization to get its work done but to prepare students to face the realities of life. All we want from them is the commitment to make honest efforts and respect the field. Since we work in custodial institutions, it is a huge risk that we take by giving responsibilities to the interns but we are happy doing that. We want them to know the realities. As part of ‘Youth Engagement Program’ we aim to create opportunities and ways for the youth from colleges and Universities to engage with us and experience the realities on the ground. We want our youth to understand what street life means. This has been an effective way of not only ensuring that they get rid of their prejudices and biases against the poor but also transform themselves into more caring and concerned citizens. Our engagement with them is in the direction of building a youth that has strong sense of justice and fairness. Therefore, the stream or background does not really matter. What matters is honesty and sincerity.
Respect for the poor is essential for us to take them in. Also, since our organization believes firmly in working with the system to bring in structural changes, we appreciate students who see the value of engaging with the government. Working with system in no way means compromising the values, and this is what we want them to learn while they are with us. Students from non-social science background may tend to justify the final outcome while ignoring the process. For eg; a student (who is not from social-sciences background) may justify the arrest of an old or mentally ill person because she gets food and shelter while in custody, without realizing the fact that if the intent of the state was actually to provide safety or food or shelter, then what was the need for the arrest; why was the same facility not provided without any legal prosecution? On the other hand, a social sciences student may feel it is futile to work with the government. But this in no way is a general trend. Most students take time to understand the context and the supervision or inputs from mentor determine, to a large extent, the approach that they will develop ultimately.
IS- In your opinion, what are the pros and cons of working with interns?
To us, as an organization, idea of working with interns is exciting. It means the possibility of something new being created. Very often, passion and commitment of the youth elicited through this program can change them for better. This growth is gradual and benign. Beginning mostly as an emotional response to the pragmatic experiences of a sense of injustice that is being meted out to certain groups; these have the potential to grow to be an inspiration for many.
Mental illness, destitution, and criminalization of poverty is an extremely complex combination to understand. Therefore, response to address these too is a big challenge. It is not possible to meet the needs to these groups without regular support programs that government may have to offer. Students challenge and widen the notion of rehabilitation that the government and society have. Possibilities could be endless, depending on how far one is prepared and is willing to travel with the person requiring support.
There is also a risk involved. As an organization, we show them everything we have. There is no aspect of work that they are not allowed in. There is a strategic understanding that we have with the government. While we are opposed to them fundamentally, we have also partnered them in our effort to humanize the institutions. Situation is emotionally draining in these institutions. Students may get extremely disturbed and suffer. Also, some students may not understand the complexity of alliance with government and react. One wrong action from a student can break years of efforts. Another thing could be the frivolous attitude of a student.
We make it clear that if they will not make an attempt to learn, we will stop investing or making any effort from our side towards their learning. The issues and the circumstances that we work in, investing any energy on students requires great deal of effort from us and we do that as our commitment to the field. But we do that only when students match this with their sincere efforts.
IS- Any specific project/program in which interns played a vital role? If so, what was the project and what did they do?
Any student who joins us as an intern, gets to spend time on all the programs/ activities of the organization for initial few days and then they are asked to work on whatever they feel most comfortable with. However, if I have to name a particular program where interns have played a vital role, it has to be protection of legal rights, where interns make visits to families or employers and accordingly we initiate the process for the release of those clients. Also, for cases from other states/cities (except Mumbai and Delhi), it is not possible for us to visit every case for verification or tracing. It is then that the interns/volunteers come in as a huge support. We ask our interns from that respective place to work on such cases. It saves a lot of time, resources and ensures support for the client.
IS- As so many NGO start-ups are coming up, what is your message to the students who are interested in the field of social welfare?
Having excelled everywhere, it’s very easy to take up some lucrative job and then do something that they don’t believe in or hardly relate to. Do we work only because we require some money to run our lives? Is work also not a way to live what we believe in, desire for? It’s easy to crib about things going in the wrong direction. But who do we expect to take up those issues? It is important that youth engages with the issues of development. These issues, in the current socio-political environment, are no more those of charity or services being rolled out, but of governance.
Koshish strongly believes in the potential of the youth and find them really promising and willing to take up lots of challenges. We would really want to see more and more youth coming forward and join us. There is no denial that there are problems all over. It is time we realize that we too have an important role in finding solutions. As youth, it is important that you speak up for the weak, without worrying about the consequences or fearing the failure. It is important to question self about what it is that you want from life. It does not take much to be true to self and to people. All you need is to some courage to stand up for what you know is fair and right.
IS- A message that you would like to give to other employers running an internship programme?
More than the interns, we think it is we who gain from this association. Interns are always full of energy and ideas. With little bit of hand holding and encouragement, they can be a tremendous force. We all must realize, and I’m saying this based on our experience, that if we are able to support even some of them in their efforts to fight injustice or to improve their situation, then that would add a different kind of value to whatever work we do.
As an organization, Koshish believes youth has the capacity as well as the responsibility to make this world a better place to live in for the marginalized. As far as our organization is concerned, the encouragement and guidance that we ought to provide the youth has to be irrespective of what issue they may take up. This engagement with youth should actually to make them see their potential and role in the society. Student can be in any space, any field, doing whatever; our training should be to see whether he/she can be conscious of the rights of the other person? Can he/she be respectful and fair to the weaker person? We should be committed to build this culture where youth is fearless when it comes to speaking up the truth.
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