It has been my ardent wish to immerse myself in an active life, motivate others and to live fully. These saw fruition during my first community immersion. Included in the curriculum of the fellowship design, Community Immersion turns out to be one of the best learning journeys where one gets to reach the unattainable. Being one of the most challenging tasks, it has helped me to gain knowledge, experience and perspective.
On October 5, 2016, I signed up for a stay to Pok Nagar, slum in Surat city. It is a small community right near the river bank that feeds into the Tapti River. Living for a month in the community, I’ve worked hard, enjoyed hard, laughed hard and learned much. It gave me the opportunity to live a life which was very different. There was a sense that we should live and visualize the lives that so many in Surat navigated every day. At first I expected to feel markedly out of place, awkward, and potentially, even afraid. Later, I found myself enthralled by the friendly, open, and animated community that is Pok Nagar, a place in which squalor is met gamely with optimism and cheer. I saw firsthand the stark realities faced by the people in the community. Inspite of the hurdles in their life I found them with a smile at every turn. I maneuvered through alleys where hundreds of people lived in an area half of the size of Chowpatty and I felt completely secure and welcomed. Indeed, I felt safer in the slum than in many of the places I’d visited in India.
However, it was not all so easy. Entering the community, the most disturbing issue that was bothering me was the lack of sanitation. The community still continues to defecate in the open every day and this was what I could not imagine myself doing. Till date, it was the most unpleasant experience of my life. Other than that adjusting with the environment meant you often encountered, drunkards, the problems of being in surroundings that were extremely dirty and unhygienic, no enrolment of children in schools, total lack of awareness of the importance of education and so many other issues that confronted us. At first this one month seemed to be like a year. Days passed counting every hour and minute. But suddenly, a slight wind of hope blew around me. As the days passed by, I got to know more about the people and the community. The warm welcoming nature of the people made me feel at home in the community. And gradually, the days and hours seem to run faster than the Rajdhani and I lost track of time. After encountering with the whole community, I came out with few major areas of problems where i felt something need to be done urgently. One such problem area was the problem of sanitation. I started to gather information as to by what means this issue could be solved. My objective was to address the issue before the authorities who are responsible for the Swacch Bharat Abhiyan and to lead the process towards an effective solution. Then I realized at first it is most important to make the community people realize their own leadership skills and use for their own benefit. I started gathering people from the community, held meetings and events on health and hygiene. Gradually could influence a group of people to support me on my idea of introducing proper sanitation in the community. Meetings with the commissioner, the zonal officer, the Corporator and other concerned people, I led the group and started the legal formalities. Most importantly, as a leader, I played the role of influencing the community and pushed them forward to fight for their own rights, making them realize that their problem could be solved by themselves by taking the initiative.
Getting into the process, I got to learn about work process and how to proceed towards my goal. This was the best platform and was excellent for my self growth and developing Leadership skills. At a time when we run behind luxuries to feed our needs, these people are striving every single day to meet their basic needs. The Government seems to be turning a blind eye towards the problems of the community. In spite of belonging to Modi’s state, this very community of Surat is been deprived of the basic facilities lack of proper sanitation and drainage system. Due to lack of drainage system the problem of water stagnation is common and so the community suffers from various diseases. Inspite of so many hurdles to be faced in their daily life, the most important thing one gets to learn is being happy and enjoy every little thing and also how to make the best of a tough situation. Happiness is not so much about what we have but how much we enjoy ourselves. To say that I was deeply moved by what I saw and learned would be quite an understatement. I got a taste of the way they live, the way they cope, the way they hope and they’ve won my undying admiration. This was indeed a most rewarding experience in getting to stay at the slum where I saw and experienced the real India.