One odd rainy day during Delhi winters last month, while sipping chai near the LSR College with a group of people who have come together for a purpose, turned out to be one of the most amazing times of my life. The chit-chat moved to conversations beyond the work and home life taking deep dive into some grounded purpose and reality. We all were there for a community event which couldn’t happen because of the rain, and that is when chai and maggie came to the rescue. Anyone I meet these days seems super rushed in life! Rushed to be home, to be at a meeting or to the gym; seemingly everyone is leading a busy life in between the personal and professional. It looks like we have forgotten to talk to our neighbours, play with kids on the streets and not give two hoots about the injustices around us. And then here, I meet this group of citizens, – with their simple acts of social accountability, they aspire to make the change happen!
When we talked further, I realised how little acts in the neighbourhood were initiating a bigger change. They called themselves active citizens who were enrolled in a Fellowship Program with an organization called Haiyya. I learnt that they underwent a lot of training; they learned tools to run their own neighbourhood campaigns over a course of three months in this Program. The aim is to bring power back to hands of people, making them active and informed citizenry. I was amazed at the composition of the group; their age and diversities in their profession! These are the nine things that I heard and learned from their experiences which were different, meaningful and inspiring!
- Meeting a Set of Awesome People Beyond their Social Circle
The Fellowship Program trains and coaches a batch of 15-20 passionate and enthusiastic citizens. This has been quiet reflective and developmental for their personalities, as they seemed to be easily interacting with people who were from a different background. I saw them helping each other develop different perspectives on issues they were working on, for example, the way they interacted with over 100 community members of Amar Colony including residents, vendors and commuters on sanitation related problems and how can they come together as a collective. As a team, they functioned so well, with even the residents knowing about their work and volunteering with them in the campaign.
- Making a Change is Not that Difficult as I Thought
These Fellows worked in different neighbourhoods of Delhi and targeted issues that have been neglected and ignored for long. They equipped people with techniques like weekly community meetings which they called the ‘People Sabha’, ‘One on One conversation’, ‘Team building and Snowflake’. I saw over 30 people raising their voices in the neighbourhood over the poor sanitation conditions they live in, with one of them voicing to send in a petition to local authorities after getting signatures from everyone, hence demanding accountability from the system.
- Getting Trained in Hardcore Field-work: Relationship is the Currency of Community Work
The best way to work for the community is by being in the community. These Fellows repeatedly talked about knocking at the doors of residents; having conversations around issues that matter to them and then potential ways of solving it. This is a pretty interesting question; I as an individual, never gave much of a thought to it as well, can I also do something around the civic issues I face in the neighbourhood? On further talking about it, I was inspired by how the relationship is a currency to them – Fellows establishing strong bonds with the community and enabling them for taking action and working towards effective solutions. The flea market vendors behind the LSR college wanted the Public Toilet facility there to be functional again. It had been there for years but was locked by authorities and hence, no one was able to use it. I realized the importance establishing relationships that are based on shared problems, shared vision and a shared purpose.
- Escaping From the Comfort Zone and for the Better
By growing up in a comfortable environment and by not stepping out into the real world and meeting people to know the problems that affect the society at large, we are limiting ourselves and missing out on worldly experience. These Fellows have been participating and eager to associate with the real world crowd and find real world solution. In one of the Model Town neighbourhoods, a Fellows made strong efforts to get the enrollment of over 20 kids from the local community to the neighbourhood schools and also establishment of a process to get student enrollment on the regular basis. I sensed not only a strong civic sense but also a humanitarian and leadership edge to them.
- Crafting the Campaign on Issues Close to the Heart- Let’s Snowflake
Over conversations, I overheard this term, ‘snowflake’ a lot of times. As curious as I can be, I had this urge to know what that meant – it sounded like a building block to everything they did. Snowflake was the way they structured their teams, where the core leader at the center had 4-5 leaders around them. Each leader then built their own team of 4-5 volunteers, who in turn reached out to different sets of citizens in the neighbourhoods. It’s a wonderful way to build interdependent leadership structure where team members are connected to each other through relationships and commitments. I understood now, how they managed to reach over to hundreds of citizens, it’s with the snowflake. Plus the skills set and a focussed thinking for campaign, snowflaking, leadership building, structuring team and story-telling etc, led them to strategically learn , explore, and work around issues they care for in the form of campaigns. These skills are vital as they make the idea of change open source and not group specific. Do you care about an issue in your area and want to take action? That is all you need to ask yourself.
- Learning to Work in Teams and Learning About Leadership- ‘Walk the Talk’
The art of campaigning requires the art of teamwork. Likewise, the Fellows follow the mantra of ‘you can’t do it alone’. The Fellows operate in a way where they have teams with specific norms, roles and purposes. The large number of supporter base in the community they build in terms of having volunteers and leaders using snowflake, help them in building bigger teams. Within a team one learns the art of leadership – how it is not about walking ahead of the crowd but with the crowd. Another essential component of leadership the Fellows seemed to have been using well is the art of enabling others as leaders. I was inspired to see how these Fellows have identified so many leaders for their campaigns within the community.
- Hard Ask- Do it to Learn it!
One of the essential arts of organizing people is “hard ask”. I learnt it the Haiyya way as I observed the Fellows getting down on the road. Who likes asking for help? It can make us feel needy, weak, or lazy. Nobody wants to feel that way. Even the thought of asking for support can be scary for some people A ‘hard ask’ is a specific way of making an ask to people which is clear, direct, specific and to the point. It leaves no room for ambiguity. It adds a sense of urgency to your appeal. I heard a Fellow inviting a lady at the door be a part of neighbourhood awareness event on skill development. It went like, ‘Can you come this Sunday to the community hall at 5 pm for the Skill Development workshop. Can you also get three more of your friends to join us?’
With the frequent door knocks and street canvassing, the hard–ask skill is used to organize campaigns and keep it going. And it’s more respectful of your contributor’s time and attention because it doesn’t leave them wondering what you need them to do.
- Fear of Talking to People, Not Anymore
They will not ask you to take a mic, your voice will become strong enough. For the Fellows, great communication is like an integral part of their lives. The bundles of experience and coaching seem to have broken their apprehensions and instilled confidence in them. I saw this for myself. Getting down on street, talking to anyone in the community, getting into conversations at the doorstep – seemed easier done than said for them.
- I Got to Know That I Have a Story ! And My Story can Inspire Others to Join Me
Well, I realised that too! After listening and speaking to this extremely fabulous bunch of Fellows, I felt that I too have a story to tell. It is this story that made them connected to the work they are doing, to the community in which they are enabling people. I learned how sharing your story is also an art and a skill. Technically, as I heard from them, it is called a “Public Narrative” which had components of ‘Self, Us and Now’ and how it connects the emotions with actions. It left me truly motivated and inspired and now I am all pumped to craft my own story.
Haiyya runs two cycles of Fellowship Program annually. The applications would open post May 2015. Contact us at email@example.com to know more about Haiyya and its Programs
Author’s BioSoumya Raj, Haiyya Intern
As an Intern at Haiyya, Soumya, closely observed people, their personal and collective struggle and got a chance to write, photograph and participate! This coupled with a commendable creative margin is a workplace paradise for her. A third year student of English Hons at Indraprastha College of Women, University of Delhi, she is driven by story-telling and using it as a tool for change, she can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org