I was born in the 90s. Yes, the same generation that has grown up alongside India’s digital revolution. There is another silent change which has kept up with the immense change in India post liberalisation: the growth of the social sector, which has given students like me the opportunity to explore a career in fields apart from science or commerce. With some awareness about this sector, I planned to pursue a course in Development Studies.
The two years at University introduced me to a very different world than I was usually used to. The classrooms were full of lively discussions about theories of development, but they always ended with the same unanswerable questions. Even as I found a job here at Rang De, right after completing my studies, I was aware of the image that the people around me had of the course I was studying or what I was about to do: Samaj Seva (Serving Society).
Most people have a very specific idea of people working in the development sector. They think that people like me, working for not-for-profit organisations are hardly paid or simply do volunteer work. The reality could not be more different.
I still remember my first day here at Rang De, when I walked the two kilometres to the office. In that traffic choked road, I wasn’t the only one moving at the pace of a snail. The lines of my mentor from University kept popping up in my head “You are just a puppet at work if you don’t showcase or apply the knowledge which you have got in the school of life”
Arriving at the office, I remember thinking that this wasn’t how I had imagine the office of an NGO would be. There were no cabins, everyone worked while sitting at long tables. In the first few days of work, I was fighting my own thoughts, about how to behave or present myself. A close friend of mine had told me to ‘change my getup’ because I didn’t look like I worked for an NGO, when wearing a jeans and T-shirt. According to him, the appropriate dress for the development sector was a khadi outfit, because it signified dignity and simplicity.
I had seen people wearing khadi around me at the University, but to me, the T-shirt and Jeans I owned signified simplicity, not the expensive, branded khadi that came out of showrooms.
The other thing weighing heavily on my mind was that I didn’t have any experience working in a rural area. Many people told me that to gain ‘real experience’ in the profession, you had to work for an NGO in a remote, rural region. But what if you were born in a rural area and have grown up in a small town observing the harsh realities of rural life? Does that count as experience enough?
A few months after I began work, I developed a routine. The most important lesson I have learned about work in the development sector is how crucial it is to build relationships. Building relationships sustains our work in the office, in the community, and our partners.
A story often has more than one side, and the negative as well as the positive has value when it comes to learning and understanding the realities of the work you do.
Even after a year of starting work, there are a few people in my extended circle of friends who think I don’t get paid or that I spend my time volunteering. When people find out about my work, they are still astonished “Oh, I couldn’t do that!” they say, followed by a pause and a consolatory “It must be rewarding!” I have to admit, that nobody cares about the rewards of what you do.
As a person working in the development sector, I have realised the work here teaches your patience and makes you tolerant about entertaining ideas and embracing new concepts, things you might not have approved of otherwise.
The one important thing about my work that I like to remember is that you are not doing anybody a favour, for which others should respect you. You are just like people in other professions, who are paid for what they do. And like others, you work with all the enthusiasm and creativity you can muster to do the best that you can do.
By Arvind Mamgain
Arvind is a member of the Impact team at Rang De