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Rome wasn’t built in a day.

This mantra has been ringing in my head for the past few weeks. As a Duke student, it has been reinforced that “nothing is impossible” and “if I put my mind to it, I can achieve anything.”

Coming into my DukeEngage experience, I had the expectation that I would be able to make a huge impact on the organization I am working for, Saath Charitable Trust. During the first week, all of the project mentors came to discuss what they hoped the Duke students could achieve for their respective programs during our eight weeks in Ahmedabad.

One project that really peaked my interest was working on a mobile application. I have not had any previous exposure to a project like this and I was excited to seize the opportunity! Finally…a chance to step out of my comfort zone and create an entire app! “What a huge impact I can make on the program!” I thought. So, I immediately dived in head first.

I soon found out that projects in the workforce move slower than I would’ve hoped. Saath Charitable Trust has been established for 30 years and here I was thinking that I could move mountains in a matter of eight weeks. It was definitely a challenge to move past this mindset in that first week. I felt bored and frustrated with the organization and myself for choosing such a difficult project. I kept thinking, “if only I had taken on less of a burden” or, “if only I had chosen a project I was comfortable with and didn’t need much help with.” This feeling continued for some time till one day, I found myself going home feeling happy and content.

This newfound sense of confidence confused me for I had not been able to finish all of the work I cut out for myself that day. I wondered what I had done to feel so gratified. I thought about this more and I realized that I had actually accomplished something much bigger.

That day, I went to the Women @ Work site and genuinely got to know the inspiring and beautiful people that make Saath as successful as it is. I had crossed language barriers and cultural differences as I formed friendships with a wonderful group of women. We sat on the floor while eating lunch and shared our foods, discussing both the upcoming 2020 election in the United States and the recent elections in India. One woman asked if anyone had anything sweet. I happily shared my slightly soggy cookies and they thanked me to no end. It was a beautiful experience that I know I will remember for years to come. Though I left the site only partially accomplishing what I came for, what I truly accomplished was so much more; the ability to form friendships despite language and cultural barriers.

After this experience, my mindset completely changed. I realized that even though I haven’t been able to create an entire app in eight weeks, I have been able to really get to know my co-workers and the communities served at Saath. I have been able to be constantly inspired each and every day and learn how those who have close to nothing find hope and happiness in life. I have been able to learn how to communicate and form relationships without using language. I have been able to travel all across India and learn so much about the country whose blood runs through my veins. I have been able to realize that I can make a difference in an organization that has made such a big impact on me.

Eight weeks is truly a minuscule piece of time in the scale of 30 years since the formation of Saath. While I cannot accomplish as much as I hoped to, what I can do is continue to take time to make each experience meaningful. Now, every morning I make a conceited effort to say “hello, aap kaise hai (how are you)?” to every co-worker I cross paths with. Little efforts like this on my part have made the office feel much more like home. When I look back on my time here in Ahmedabad, I won’t just remember the projects I had to complete, but the people that make Saath the incredible organization it is. Rome wasn’t built in a day…but by realizing this, I can gain so much more from this once-in-a-lifetime experience. I cannot be more grateful.