My Story: I Wanted To Become A Soldier, Journalist Or Lawyer, My Family Decided Against All Of My Choices Because I Am A Girl
“I was born and brought up in a big joint family in a small town, a kind of place where everybody knows everybody and where the concept of locking your house was more or less non-existent.
As a child, I always aspired to do something for my country. ‘I want to be a responsible citizen of my country,’ was the line I often wrote in my friends’ slam books. Post-schooling, when the time came to choose a path, with lot of enthusiasm I went to my uncle with ideas of joining the armed forces or doing journalism or becoming a lawyer. All the choices were denied – because they were inappropriate for a girl in the family.
Upon finishing my Masters, I was part of a corporate setup for a few years. The ideas about changing the world, making a difference, all took a backseat and the need to earn money, stand on one’s own feet, have a house in the city – these ideas drove me for a few years.
But my real calling was in social service. I made a transition into the Developmental Sector where my first job was with GiveIndia, from where my journey of learning about the social space began. After working with GiveIndia for a year and a half, I decided to move to the grassroots to work on my dream to provide a happy childhood to every child. It was this dream and a need to understand rural realities that brought me to the first Gramya Manthan in June 2012, which was organised by Youth Alliance.
Children’s Home and Observation Centre in Dongri
The dream of providing a happy childhood to every child brought me to the Children’s Home and Observation Center in Dongri, Mumbai which is locally known as ‘bachchon ka jail’ literally translating to “jail for the children”. The children’s home houses kids who have been neglected by society, who ran away from abusive home, or are rescued from places of labour and exploitation. The first time I entered that place was in May 2012, to meet four children who were rescued from child labour by a local NGO and police.
Aashiyana, the home for street children in Dongri
For the next one and half months, I visited the home frequently. I would sit there for hours, just observing and writing about the place, the children, the people that passed by. And it was during those hours that I knew that this was the place where I want to make a difference. After a year of being scared of accepting and believing in my own ideas and dreams, feeling uncomfortable sharing them with my friends and families, overcoming fears and anxieties that came with financial insecurities, there came a day when I finally took the first step.
I gave wings to my dream of starting a library, bringing in books, toys, games inside Dongri Home. So began the process of setting up the library, which for the first time made true for me the feeling of Ubuntu – the feeling of I am who I am because of who we all are! I was so touched and moved seeing how friends and family came together, gifted books, cupboards, toys and games to create the Ashiyana Library.
For a year I spent about 8-10 hours every day with these children, listening to their stories of pain, struggle, joy and dreams over and over again. It was the year which taught me the incredible healing power that a small act of listening possesses.
That year, with the help of friends, we founded Project Ashiyana with a hope to transform the place and bring hope and love into the lives of children. Ashiyana was instrumental in starting volunteer driven art projects, mental health initiatives and a children’s library.
As time progressed, the project was receiving more and more support and the work we did was getting form, shape and becoming bigger. On one hand, I was feeling extremely overwhelmed and grateful to have been part of such a beautiful journey but somewhere I had started feeling uncomfortable. After being part of it full-time for a year and a half, I was realising that creating and running an organisation is not how I want to engage with the world around me. I realised it was time for a change. It took me almost three months as I handed over the project to Sachi, who now nourishes Ashiyana with her unconditional love and courage with the support of a wonderful team and some amazingly dedicated volunteers.
Since the past two years, I have been exploring different ways of engaging with the world around me and while doing that I am realising that most of the times the lens is focussing on myself, on how can I bring harmony and wholeness into the way I live every day. So today if I have to write what is my purpose or calling in my friends slam books, it will sum to be something like this , ‘I intend to be a means through which people are reminded and enabled to slow down, reflect and listen.’
Tejal’s journey with Gramya Manthan
She is an alumnus from Youth Alliance’s first Gramya Manthan and ever since has been part of Youth Alliance’s journey.She feels that the organization gifts her absolute freedom and acceptance to love and to be loved. She brings her passion of creating safe, reflective spaces of listening and love and her skills of envisioning and setting up processes that allow for people to learn and grow to contribute to the program design, facilitation and documentation part of the work at Youth Alliance. One of the other reason that brings her to Youth Alliance is a community of people who are walking on a similar path. Her journey has made her realise the importance of having people who hold you as you walk the path of your values. Being part of Youth Alliance supports her dream of creating such spaces where young people find community and a gift to realise and practise one’s own value.
This is an initiative of The Logical Indian with Youth Alliance to share the work done by their alumni in respective societies.