Directions and opportunities

It’s a recent admission that I lack direction. I’m sure this comes as no surprise to colleagues and friends, who have long frowned upon my regular forays into unknown or ambitious climates; laden with aspirations and intentions and lacking thought-out plans. Even I often wonder when I will settle down with family and a career.

My lack of direction is something I stick to; it’s my chance to explore opportunities. And it’s something an Indicorps Fellow should be no stranger to either. My familiarity with the unknown actually goes hand in hand with the rogue nature of my trajectory this year, in a project that sees me training teachers, promoting inclusive education, and raising awareness of developmental disabilities in local communities. In my own way, I’m engaging in an adventure of discovery.

In any other occupation, in any other choice of study, or in any other ambition, you have objectives that you seek to achieve. These are generally set; as an engineer you will need to design a bridge, as a teacher you will have students to teach. If you are studying, you will specialize in a defined area and if you have an ambition – well – it goes without saying that you have a target you aim to reach. It’s also true that my fellowship project also has objectives, designs, people to teach and a target I aim to reach.

But that’s where the similarities end, and it’s where I – and the Indicorps Fellowship – seem to disappear into a black hole of tangents. My fellowship appears as a coral reef littered with abandoned constructions, sinking projects, half-afloat ideas, and stranded children.

Take for example one of my early projects in Rajasthan. I wanted to observe lessons and understand teaching methods, and offer my solutions or adaptations to classroom management, activities, and use of resources. My observations went well, and I know the teachers appreciated the feedback and made changes accordingly, it seemed to work. But I was soon distracted by shiny new projects involving sports, community rehabilitation, business plans and gardening. My changes to the classroom lost the will to become habitual. Without a manager, or a real understanding of what I wanted to achieve here, I found myself adrift.

Perhaps much like my previous career, I’ve often wondered into new waters seemingly unaware of dangers and treasures alike. It’s in my nature to become over excited by the potential of a new project – somewhat grander in my child-like imagination – and then loose interest or patience once I find a new idea to play with. But is there a route I can navigate?

Frustrated with the lack of stability I engaged in a side project I hoped would center my focus. I began painting a world map on the wall of a childrens’ hostel as a side project. It’s grand in scale and impressive to the eye and after three months it’s somewhere around 75% complete. But it’s recently been overshadowed by the development of the entire hostel around it, which has been repainted, resupplied and invigorated by the dedicated work of a team of Canadian volunteers. Now, my map looks more like a blemish obscuring an orchestrated design. Once again, I’m thrown off course by prevailing winds that are probably out of my control.

As I enter the final chapter of my fellowship year I’m trying to steady my rudder. After seven months of frustrations and challenges I’m beginning to understand my community enough to know what needs to be done. More importantly, I’m able to recognize how my skills – and skills I want to develop – can go hand in hand to help me provide support to the children I work with. But is it too late? I don’t think all is lost.

The benefit of having projects in abundance is that while most of them will fail, occasionally a spark of ingenuity will offer hope. It’s like Darwinism, except instead of fate churning out experiments of nature to see which DNA combination works best, I’m throwing out guesswork-cum-projects to test my own capacity to make progressive change.

Earlier this year I decided to compete in a nationwide competition run by the National Trust. The E3 (enterprise, economic, empowerment) competition was open to designs for a sustainable enterprise that would employ disabled people. There would be no harm, I thought, in submitting a business plan on behalf of my partner organisation. I disregarded the fact that I had never worked in a business, had never studied enterprise, and had no idea about the markets in which we operated in Rajasthan. I barely understood the exchange rate from pounds to rupees that would be used to inform decisions for the three-year budget that formed the final part of the proposal.

But like so much else I’m working on this year, my lack of background knowledge did not stop me from testing my potential. It’s important not to let losses get you down; persistence – and the good use of a compass – can help get you on track. By taking every opportunity to succeed that comes your way, you can open avenues for success; crucial to something so challenging and laden with diversions as the Indicorps Fellowship. Don’t doubt the importance of a good map, but in its absence be prepared to run on reserves and patience in the quest for successes. Or in my case, a calculator.

When I returned to Rajasthan last week from an Indicorps workshop I was met by an excited staff team. We’d won first prize in the National Trust competition to launch a sustainable enterprise to employ disabled people. My organization will now receive funding, equipment and consultants to establish a long-term enterprise. All the worries I’d logged in the back of my head, all the trepidation that I’d burrowed out of site of the community I was working to invigorate, and all the stress of persistence that wasn’t yielding results – all of it – was all forgotten. And the community I serve, the disabled children and adults, were guaranteed employment that would help them to support themselves and their families in a society that provides limited welfare for those who are less able.

Now it’s not just me, but my community also, that can benefit from my lack of direction and the seemingly corrupting trait that enables me to embrace distractions as opportunities. It’s proof that even without a goal, a map, a manager or targets, that even the most simple and basic of beginnings can yield results – with persistence. Most importantly, it’s a call for members of my community, and Indicorps’ Fellows, to embrace every opportunity they come across; you may surprise yourself.

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