It was a scorching summer evening in Delhi. I had completed one year at Teach For India - as a "Didi" (read Teacher) in a government school in an urban slum in Delhi – with my kids (students), their parents, the community, the school-staff, the TFI fellows, and everyone who was important in my students' life.
My life has had changed in almost infinite ways.
From travelling in air-conditioned cabs to waiting for overcrowded buses - from walking on smooth IT Hubs to walking through the filthy, stinky, muddy, unhygienic streets, life seemed to have become a roller-coaster. I hated the idea of using the public transport in my life. I was always privileged enough to afford private cabs, auto, taxis, or at least own a scooter for myself. I could never stand the smell of that public air which touches everyone in the room so closely, the stare of those indecent eyes that daringly stare at your chest, or the touch of you-know-what-I-mean.
I could never see the dirt of Dilli from behind the black-glasses of the four-wheeler in which I used to travel around the city. I had never had my clothes getting wet from the spattering of water by the SUV’s while one walks on the road to get on a bus. I was always lucky enough to be indifferent to the chaos that goes on in the city roads during monsoon, summer, winter or any other weather for that matter. My relentless efforts of surviving through the month with that pay cheque, which was almost one-fourth of my previous salary, was an icing on the cake.
At times, the smell of your own sweat could disgust you enough to make you hate your job, its derived pleasure, and every other reason you choose the Development Sector.
My mornings would often start very early, with a phone call from one or other student or their parents - requesting -
"Didi, can I be on leave today as I have stomach ache?" or "Didi, I could not finish the homework", or "Can I come late in school today as we had no water at home since last one week?"
Sometimes I would wonder should I get mad on my students on waking me up at 5 am or should I fall in for their innocence and empathize with the tonnes of issues they face in their homes.
On days, I wouldn’t know where I am headed to; why I am sailing in this big ocean where the harbour is never conspicuous; I knew my two years in this classroom would not change my students life immediately. There would be no miracle. They will have to work hard for another 10-15 years continuously to stand out in the crowd- to be able to lead the kind of life I used to envision for them. And even hard-work alone might not suffice. Their parents would need to work harder to pay for their higher education, travels, books etc. Not all students would get the scholarships. The system isn't as sweet as it may look like from election brochures and few success stories that get published.
A very large part of the world just suffers, terribly every single day of their lives!
At times, I used to doubt my own intentions; I used to feel dragged behind ‘others’ –who were running unstoppable in the endless race of pay, promotion, pleasure or prestige.
However, today, I feel so proud that I have crossed over that road and that I have been able to ignite that spark in my students hearts which I had when I was growing up - the spark which kept me pushing all my life to do better and better - to find my own path, and keep following it without worrying for the results. I know right after my two years with my students, there would be no miracle. But now when I hear them talking about their future, thinking about the various issues and talking about how to solving them - it's like a miracle come true for me. It's the first step to their dream world. I am assured now that they will go somewhere at least. They will be able to lead a decent life if they continue to work hard. They are aware of what it takes to"be the change".
I strongly feel that the development sector in developing world is still evolving - it's dysfunctional in many aspects - it's still finding its sweet spot where it can pay the bright, young people enough to attract them for the work they do, and at the same time provide them with opportunities to grow further in their lives with a clear career path and aspirations.
But believe me, you don't chose this sector because the sector needs you. You would come here to get away from the craziness of the corporate world, to find your 'light', to touch some lives and get yourself the love and peace you have been looking for.
You don't join this sector because anybody needs you; You join it only because you need it more than anybody else.
Wish you all the best finding your 'light'!
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Swati is the General Manager of Social Venture Partners (SVP) Hyderaad, where she builds powerful partnerships with non-profit organisations to tackle India's most pressing social challenges. SVP is the world's largest network of engaged philanthropists, with over 3,200+ investor-donors across more than 40 cities worldwide. Swati is a Teach For India Fellow - she has taught 100 girls for two years in a slum community in New Delhi. She has previously worked with Hedge Funds for four years as a consultant in New Delhi and New York. Swati holds a bachelor degree in Computer Science from the Institute of Engineering and Rural Technology.