In the past four weeks, I have spent time visiting local community centers to learn about the various Women@Work projects that Saath, the organization DukeEngage Ahmedabad works with, has implemented, to talk to the women benefiting from these initiatives and to get a deeper understanding of how their lives have improved since partnering with Saath.
Naturally, I came to Ahmedabad with a very “Duke Student” mindset, where many of us believe we can visit impoverished communities and solve all their problems in two months. While this is not necessarily a negative attitude to enter a DukeEngage program with, I think many of us tend to forget that, in the grand scheme of things, we are only here for two months, and that time period is not enough to change the world. What we can achieve in this short amount of time, however, is understanding how not everyone has the same privilege as us, and that we must learn how to take a step back from the forefront of everything to give them an opportunity to recognize their own voices.
I was reminded of this fact this past week when Natassia Rozario, a former intern at Saath, came to speak to us about her time here and the work she has done since her internship at Saath. It was just four words that shook me to my core and reminded me of my privilege: “It’s not about you,” she had said.
While we all would like to believe that we have the power to change these communities in a grand way, the reality of the fact is that we are only college students coming to these areas for two months, working on projects that may or may not have the potential to impact these communities in the long-term. After already being here for a month, I know now that two months is barely any time to have a substantial impact in the communities I am working with. Yes, in a way, this summer is about us because we are getting the opportunity to experience a new culture and learn about service through our various internships. However, the most important work we are doing here is not creating STEM curricula, or fundraising for the microcredit programs, or helping with writing annual reports for the Women@Work program. What is important is the relationships we are building with the local communities and rethinking how we can help them empower themselves to become independent enough to carry out these projects once we leave in August.
Natassia helped remind us that these two months are for us to learn how to “lead from behind.” By this, she means that we must constantly stay grounded and recognize the privilege we come with, so that we may shed light on those who don’t have the same privilege as us.
These two months are for us to learn how to take up less space and make room for those who may have never had a platform to speak on. These two months are for us to expand our own knowledge and understanding about communities we are not familiar with to recognize that not all cultures are the same.
This reality check she gave us was extremely fundamental in how I changed the way I looked at my time here in Ahmedabad. My time here is not about how good I can feel after helping an impoverished community through my service, or how I can increase my leadership skills by leading various projects. My time here is about how I can learn from local community partners about the various issues that are affecting Ahmedabad, and the lessons they teach me about the importance of partnership and community-building.