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Ankit’s Journey and Young India Challenge

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Change never happens in isolation and once it starts happening, it cannot be confined or controlled. I have experienced it in my journey of bringing change. 

Hi, I am Ankit Raj, and I belong to a small remote village of western Bihar. From the very beginning, like most of the families who aspire to fix the financial insecurities by getting a government job, my family was also very ambitious and wanted me to be an officer in Indian Army and carry forward the legacy of my previous generation dominated by officers of Indian Army. After several failures to get into military schools, the memorable successes during my NCC Career brought me the opportunity to go through Officers Training and also the title ‘Pride of the Battalion’. Henceforth, rather than choosing to secure the nation from external threats, I chose to eradicate the bigger threat to internal security and prosperity of the nation that is ‘poverty’.

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With 93.8 percentile at national level in AIMA-UGAT 2012, instead of pursuing business studies, I chose to go for B.A. Honours in my English Literature and remain close to my villagers and apply my whatever little knowledge I had for their welfare. That drove me to student politics, RTI activism and citizen journalism. I successfully solved some problems also and that ignited to work for impact at scale. After completion of B.A English Honours, I was chosen for in Gandhi Fellowship and got placed in the tribal block of Surat Gujarat. While working with tribal communities in remote areas, I used to come across several issues and used to feel an urge inside to solve all the problems. I tried my hands in some of the problems and tasted partial success. It made me think about the process I followed and It brought me a realization that I didn’t use the perspectives of my collegues for the solution. That led me to the realization that to solve the traditional issues of the community, we need to bring creative, holistic and comprehensive ways. There starts the search for opportunities where I may meet ‘creative-problem-solvers’ and the nature conspired to bring Young India Challenge 2017 in my way. I just grabbed it and made myself available for a life changing opportunity. 

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YIC may be several things for several people, but for me, it was a platform which expanded the framework of my thought process which made my outlook more spacious for knowledge, aspiration and vision. It stretched my outlook from local to global; and due to that along with my interest in local governance and rural development, I started getting interested in international developments and challenges. The challenge of finding solutions to global problems in few hours was like shaking your brain like anything, but with the enthusiastic team members, we could find a solution, propose a business plan and appeared replicable. This brought me a learning that solution will be in our hand as and when we want it. 

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The habit of visualizing problems in global framework and local resources made me realize the importance of even a small positive step anywhere in the world. It increased my interconnectedness, expanded my knowledge base, my network, capability and opportunities. Today, I am a person whose interest lies in foreign relations along with local governance of India.

In 2019, I am working with the National Institute of Rural Development and Panchayati Raj to implement a national project which aims to bring youngsters in Panchayats to increase the capacity of Panchayat Elected representatives and government employees and ensure that participatory, planned and sustainable development is taking place. Now, when I apply the global lens and find myself solving several of UN – SDGs. This makes me visionary and makes me ahead of the average thought leaders.  

I will always be grateful to YIC and will keep being a problem solver for the community. I think this is the best way to build the nation and self. 

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Life is beyond uncertainties – The spark of Doing What You Love!

Every day, at around 5:00 AM, I’d be rushing down the flight of steps to board the Churchgate local transiting through Vasai Road (a small town in the outskirts of Mumbai) to kick-start my day as a University student. In about 90 minutes I’d be at the Churchgate station at an hour of the day where Bombay still seemed to be dressed in the freshness of a golden morn. Treasuring the silence, I’d be happily strolling down the heritage lanes of South Bombay, or stop by the bay and relish the beauty of the morning calm. With the rise of the Sun, my hours would soon be devoted to attending Sociology lectures followed by French lessons until late afternoons.  Towards the start of a pleasant evening, I’d slip into the shanty slums of Dharavi and transition my role from a student to a part-time English and French teacher at a non-profit. This was what had got me productive during the weekdays. The weekends, however, were quite rigorously meant for short day trips and a volunteer project that identified me as an online English tutor for the orphans of rural West Bengal. Occasionally I’d also be gladly working part-time as a city guide, showing around hidden nooks of Bombay to guests from Sri Lanka, Turkey, West Indies, Canada, Australia, just to name a few! 

Bundi, Rajasthan

Right from my hours spent studying culture, norms, and society to exploring the diverse vividity of this globe as a Sociology and a French student, I’ve always loved the idea of materializing my learnings; in an environment that would allow me to share my skills and take it to the ones in need. Certainly, that was what led me to start working in Dharavi and eventually handed me a fellowship in rural Rajasthan. Simultaneously, my love for traveling to foreign lands and connecting with people from across the globe also motivated me to come up with my travel blog – ‘Steps and Streets‘ to share my travel stories. 

My work in Rajasthan was that of an English teacher at a rural school which parallelly also allowed me to travel and write stories during school vacations and long holidays. However, a few months down the line, a prolonged illness dropped me at the crossroads of quitting the fellowship and looking for another job in the development sector or diving into a less-promising career option of being a full-time travel writer. I chose the second one. The one that I’ve always had connected with. 

With my students in Tilonia

Tanisha with her students in Tilonia, Rajasthan

Since then, my travel-writing career has taken me to the remote villages of the Uttarakhand Himalayas, to lesser-known heritage nooks in Rajasthan, and several other parts of West Bengal, Gujarat, and Maharashtra. 

But none of this was a bed of roses. There still are days where I think of opting for a full-time job. But every time I think such, I’m turned down by a virtual loop of all the adventures I’ve had on the road ever since I got into travel blogging. Despite the pain and the instability of financially sustaining my life as a digital nomad, I’d never trade this life of pure bliss and pure struggle for anything that is less exciting than the one that I’m in. 

At an unmapped village, Uttarakhand

Ever since I was 17 till today that I’m 21, I’ve never thought of rewinding or living my life differently! As a less-experienced teenager to an ever-evolving adult, I’ve always chosen what rang with my passion. 

By the verandah, as I sip my coffee overlooking the fresh paddy fields of Bengal, once again, I ask myself, ‘how do I manage to stick to the drama of having a life with all sort of uncertainties?’, my gut simply murmurs, ‘That’s the spark of doing what you love!’

Tanisha Guin
(YIC Mumbai 2017)