I blog for Change…

As I attempt to orient the windy and often treacherous roads that encapsulate life, here are some of my thoughts on the successes, failures and ultimately the hope and positivity in which I strive for a better world. I also hope that I can use this blog as a platform to elevate the social justice issues that are somewhat forgotten in the modern discourse of staying silent on issues that challenge.


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To self-love.

As the year slowly winds to a close it’s been a natural tendency to reflect on all it has had to offer. In relative terms, it’s been an easier and quieter year for me than many which have preceded it. However, that doesn’t mean it hasn’t been without its challenges. It simply pays testament to the fact that my battles, hurdles and setbacks this year have all been those in which I have fought internally. It’s been a tremendous year of self-growth triggered by the need to resolve my inner most insecurities and thereby the things that have been inextricably holding me back.

I’ve had to come to terms with a lot of things that have either been a source of tension or made me uncomfortable and therefore held me back from admitting them. It’s always easy to look to the future in which the person you wish to be is heeding the adventure. I personally have tended to look forward and imagine an existence where my inner most flaws and the things I consider as weaknesses are no longer present. What I hadn’t realised in the past is that happiness was not to be had by wiping away the things that have innately made me, me. For better or worse they are a part of my psyche, of my being and in order to move forward with content I didn’t need to eliminate them, quite the opposite, I needed to embrace them.

It always seems to be the material things that we assume to be at the heart of the pursuit of quality of life and happiness. Earlier in the year I was the skinniest I have even been and somehow drunk on the ability to wear whatever I wanted because I just could. But looking back at it, I wasn’t actually happy at all. In reality, I was innately miserable because I hadn’t made peace with the events of the recent past and was on a constant pursuit for more… more of the skinny-ness, more of the euphoric feeling of losing those kilos, more of that praise from those around me for my so-called complete overhaul of image. Looking back on it now, it’s easy to see where I went wrong. In placing the source of my happiness externally, I had attempted to validate my existence outside of my own being. A pivotal mistake in which cannot be sustained for a prolonged period of time.

In the months since, I’ve been forced to come to terms with some inevitable but uncomfortable facts. That I am and have been my own worst enemy in the past and that in order to progress in life, I have had to forgive those who have wronged me and more importantly myself. I have forgiven myself for not living up to unrealistic expectations. I have forgiven myself for not being further along in my career than I would’ve anticipated. I’ve forgiven myself for letting my emotions drive my decision making capacity and influence how I interact with people; because at the end of the day, I haven’t been kind enough to myself. I have not treated myself with the same dignity and respect that I attribute to others. What I have listed as character flaws in the past are anything but that. They are my strengths and what make me inherently my own individual entity.

So as 2017 draws closer, I am finally ready and willing to accept myself and to love who I am without any ifs, or buts. I am prepared to love who I am right now, not the person in the future who is more educated or 5kgs lighter or in a higher job designation. I love and accept the version of myself that exists right here and now and will continue to do so as I grow and evolve in the years to come.

Sx


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Life of a Development Worker – Change through Collective Action in Dumka

We entered the state of Jharkhand on a dusky afternoon amidst the sprawling open fields of paddy crops against the backdrop of a dramatic sunset. As the train rumbled along I found myself daydreaming about the existence of the farmers that cultivate this land. I wondered about the harshness of rural life associated with long days of backbreaking labour under the debilitating heat of the sun. I also considered what this must be like for women, and women with disabilities who have been unable to escape a cycle of poverty in which their existence hinges on unstable livelihoods mechanisms such as daily waged labour. I thought about children as they grew within the communities that dotted the horizon, did they have equal access to education? Were they able to attend school outside of the household demands on their day towards assisting their parents in their day to day survival? I wasn’t sure of any of these details but was keen to find them out for myself.

After an initial half day in the office we drove out to a community site in which a strong women’s only Self Help Group (SHG) had been assisted in formation. As we entered the community I caught sight of a large group of local Adivasi women in their traditional tribal dress. The Adivasi people are the indigenous inhabitants of the region and continue to face endemic challenges relating to their development, inclusion and empowerment. Despite all these elements, I instinctively felt the warmth and pride that they exuded in welcoming us into their community. After we had been garlanded a discussion formed within a smaller group of the communal gathering, of which I learnt were representatives of the local SHG. All of the group’s members were women and had formed this entity due to not being able to effectively input into and influence inclusive groups in which men were active members in the past.

I was very much interested in this element and further questioned the women about their reasoning for the formation of this group. The narrative that emerged was that in their previous SHG, women members, especially those with disabilities felt an inability to not only participate in group activities, but also to avail revolving funds to access vocational training pertaining to the group’s micro-finance opportunities. Essentially, due to deeply entrenched patriarchal conditions they were being crowded out of the process towards their own development. The importance of consideration of different groups amongst those with disabilities seemed none more prevalent that in that instant. After all, it’s easy to forget that people with disabilities are not actually a homogenous group. The situation of women with disabilities and the specific barriers they face are very different to those of their male counterparts and needed to be treated as such.

While I continued to watch and interact with members of the community, I was taken aback at how vocal the female members of this SHG were. When I commented on this to a member of the local Partner team they filled me in on just how far these women had come since the inception of the group. Prior to forming, the majority of these women barely came out of their homes without their husband’s presence and permission. Yet, a mere 5 years later, here they were sitting, talking and interacting with strangers and lobbying for their rights directly to local Government institutions. Through their collective voice they had enacted change for all people with disabilities within their communities whilst also making strides in breaking down taboos associated with what women with disabilities are capable of.

Leaving the community I felt such a sense of pride and sisterhood with these women. By being assisted to form their group, they had also gradually built up their own confidence towards changing the scope of their lives and that of their families. They had also become one of the most vocal and consistent accountability mechanisms for the provision of government schemes and services to persons with disabilities in their village, block and region. These tribal women, in this sand covered remote region of Dumka, Jharkhand had managed to break the glass ceiling that continues to limit many others around the world in its most basic form. I left the village with a smile that I am yet to wipe of my face even as of today.

Sx


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Life of a Development Worker – Building on Resilience in Chamrajnagar

My third monitoring trip for the year took me back to the South of India, to the state of Karnataka more specifically. I was there to evaluate a Community Based Rehabilitation (CBR) Project which had been in existence for 6 and a half years. As we went from village to village visiting project beneficiaries it struck me that at the core of the fight for inclusivity & a barrier free existence for persons with disabilities was one underlying element, that of resilience.

In the backdrop of an orange setting sun, the local Disabled Persons Organisation (DPO) met in the shade of their local community hall. Here I watched as women with disabilities spoke openly and proudly of their ability to raise their voices and lobby for their rights. Having admitted that prior to project initiation, they often felt challenged to draw on their agency to effectively articulate their grievances. It was easy to see the impact that had occurred in these women’s ability to influence their local structures towards sustainable and inclusive change in the future.

However, there still remained immense challenges for participants of this project, of which I observed on the last day of my visit.

As I sat in the Partner office towards the end of the afternoon I observed a curious but quiet young lady who made her entrance flanked by female family members. As she passed me by I noted a pronounced sense of observation and wisdom of which was beyond her meagre 14 years of existence. When I attempted to introduce myself I ascertained that she had been born with a hearing and speech impairment which prevented her from being easily able to interact with others. Due to the rural conditions of her upbringing and a lack of knowledge about disability and ENT services, she had never been screened, received treatment or learned sign language. As my colleague attempted to interact with her, she learnt from her Aunt, who instinctively answered on her niece’s behalf, that this young lady’s only form of communication with the outside world was through basic hand gestures and written word.

In that moment, I remember thinking how is it possible to exist with such limited forms of communication? What made this situation even worse in my mind was an inability towards any form of self-expression beyond the conveyance of basic needs. For a teenager especially, what an isolating existence it seemed to me and yet here was this girl, silently but emphatically fighting to continue her education and lead a fulfilling life. Resilience, there was that element again, more and more pronounced as I continued to encounter it.

As I wound up my visit I reflected on how easy it was to revert to sympathy and a welfare model of operation by considering this girl as a victim. But she is anything but that. Yes, she may live below the poverty line and face endemic challenges to her existence due to her impairment. However, she remains a resourceful and capable being who simply requires assistance towards the provision of opportunities to empower herself and thereby determine the direction of her own existence.

I couldn’t help but think about what this young lady’s life will look like in a years’ time when she is assisted to learn sign language and be openly able to communicate. Through such a small gesture, alongside educating her teachers and peers about inclusive education techniques, her scope for change, growth and quality of life have increased exponentially in the blink of an eye.

Sx