My fear was my ignorance

I was brought up in a traditional Marwari family. To say that I was raised and trained from a young age to be a good housewife would not be an exaggeration.

However, as I grew older, I felt the need to stretch the limits of my boundaries and discover myself closely. So after my graduation, I decided to break the mould and venture into an unfamiliar world. And so this city girl joined the Gandhi Fellowship to work for two years with government schools in rural Rajasthan. The experience was profound. It helped me recognize my desire to be a part of the educational space. And I learned to influence change by stepping into the shoes of those I was working with.

After the fellowship, I returned home to join Quest Alliance. I began to work with youth in Industrial Training Institutes (ITIs) and Vocational Training Institutes(VTIs) to help them develop life skills, professional skills and plan for their professional career. I began to realize that my contribution was restricted to being someone viewing the system from the outside. I had little knowledge of the backgrounds and realities of my stakeholders. Thus, I made the decision to register for an Industrial Training full-time course, myself.

The reality

Once the admission process was complete, I was now faced with the very real situation. It suddenly hit me, that I was just not ready. Since I had registered for the welding course, I realized I would undoubtedly be the only female in the classroom and perhaps even the oldest. My most important concern was the lack of bathrooms, especially since I suffer from a shy bladder syndrome. Many a sleepless nights were spent wondering and worrying on my course of action, should I ever happen to be in a sticky situation. Fortunately though, I didn’t encounter any such misfortunes.

“ In hindsight, I realize that my fears were prejudiced. It is unfortunate that as a society we perpetuate discriminatory and irrational stereotypes on other groups based on irrational fears and ignorance. My decision to face my fears introduced me to people and scenarios that opened me up to the possibility of a more inclusive and accepting society.”

The first ice breaker occurred during a lecture on environmentalism. It was a hot day. We had just had lunch and were expected to sit through a listless lecture on an issue that has been covered numerous times. I struggled to stay awake since I was in the direct view of the guest lecturer. My classmate Srinivas, who had become a friend by then, realized how close I was to visiting la-la land and decided to save me from myself. He had to literally hold me up and keep talking to me throughout the lecture to ensure that I remained coherent and awake. The incident was the theme of class conversation outside the auditorium. Soon enough, the entire class had joined in the laughter, including me.

The acceptance

As time progressed I felt more accepted among my peers. Whether it was something like creating a bulletin board for the class and putting up interesting news clips and articles on it, or working together to spruce up the garden area for Ayudh puja, identifying little insects and learning about them from my peers, or even being dared into lighting fire to paint thinner on my palm; slowly and steadily, we all started becoming more comfortable with each other and formed strong bonds of friendship.

The acceptance as an insider and the perspective it gave me on the lives of my peers strengthened not only my understanding of the system but also helped me grow into a goal oriented and independent professional. It helped me contribute more authentically to the system.

My startup. My Superheroes.

In time, Ashwini, a close friend and I partnered to organize a series of workshops on design thinking, entrepreneurship, banking and insurance and team building. Our learning and efforts were the foundation to our organization Superheros Incorporated where we provided a platform for students of ITI’s to enhance their soft skills and better their career prospects.

It is an attempt to provide an exposure to new perspectives, professional networks, work opportunities and most importantly to new ways of learning. Presently we are working with three hundred students across four ITIs in Bangalore. These students complete their three month training program next week and are in talks with companies for appropriate employment opportunities. We also launched an android application Skill Up V.2 last week to help our users update their professional and soft skills. We hope to reach one thousand students in the next two months through our mobile application.

Both my experiences in Rajasthan and at the ITI were a chance to step into the shoes of someone very different form myself and in the process see my own potential and boundaries differently.

Archita is the co-Founder at Superheros Incorporated, Bangalore.