Volunteering: Bringing Change to Myself

 

Abhishek Bhargava

As clichéd as it may sound, all good things do come to an end. My vacation ended meaning that I was no longer in India. As such, now seems an appropriate time to reflect on my experience with the ETASHA. Like it has for countless trainees, ETASHA has brought about many subtle yet important changes in me. In my case, though, this transformation hasn’t been brought about by education, but by exposure. When I first heard about ETASHA several months ago, I was unsure of what to expect, since I did not have any prior experience with NGOs aimed at enhancing employability skills. Certainly, I could never have foreseen what a thoroughly enjoyable period it would be.

After wondering for several days exactly why I so thoroughly enjoyed being at ETASHA-associated locations—Tigri, Madanpur Khadar, or GKII—I came to this conclusion: ETASHA facilitators create an atmosphere of genuine warmth and enthusiasm. This fervor is contagious, and quickly spreads to the trainees and myself. Because every single employee views his/her job as  enjoyable, the trainees themselves are happy to be at the centers, and volunteers like me don’t feel like we’re at work. Instead, it’s like spending time with friends to teach other (granted, in my case, “friends” refers to people that are anywhere from seven to forty years older than me, but they are friends nonetheless).

This is one of the qualities that makes ETASHA such a special organization: when work doesn’t feel like work, it isn’t  This means trainees are getting the same training benefits they would otherwise, but they’re also having fun while learning. I was extremely impressed by the dedication of the staff.  Whether facilitator, placement coordinator, community team member, or administrator, almost every single part of ETASHA was in attendance every single day, six days a week. And despite the heat of middayin summer, they are always every bit as energetic as their eager students.
Like countless others, I have discovered that the change I have affected in the organization is dwarfed by the change the organization has affected in me. While I am still as privileged as I was pre-ETASHA, I like to think that post-ETASHA Abhishek is at least more aware of life’s hardships, and better equipped to communicate with those who endure such difficulties. In just a little over a month, I noticed a marked improvement in my Hindi speaking skills, as well as my ability to understand various accents. In addition, just as the children of ETASHA learned social confidence, I too gained confidence when speaking in front of a new batch of trainees that I had never met before.

The inhibitions that ETASHA works to remedy in these children aren’t just unique to the trainees themselves; they exist in all of us, albeit in different amounts. For example, no matter how privileged one is, without proper practice, any adolescent or young adult will feel nervous when addressing a strange crowd! Being a fifteen year old who attends a public school, I know perfectly well that strangers in classrooms—whether they be guest speakers, substitutes, or observers— aren’t always held in high esteem by students.

That is why I was terrified when on my first day, I was asked to speak with a batch of MUPSE trainees that were about my age at Madanpur Khadar. My glaringly obvious flaw was my paralysis when it came to Hindi speaking—my grammar was awful, my speaking was not fluent, and my accent sounded distinctly unnatural. However, after just a few minutes, I was astonished to find that none of them were laughing at me (secretly or otherwise)! Instead, I soon realized that they were all genuinely interested in me and wanted to know more about who I was. Once this became clear, my apprehension dissipated, and I started to enjoy myself.
I would be lying if I said I never felt nerves after that. Every time I would speak to a batch I had never met before, I felt some trace of tension. However, with each subsequent meeting, my stress levels would decrease another notch, until finally, with about two weeks left in my placement, I spoke to trainees without any inhibitions at all. In turn, my confidence when speaking to them gave them the confidence to speak freely with me. When I started visiting the centers with more often, I familiarized myself with the trainees as well. Since many of them were older than me, I convinced them all to refer to me as just “Abhishek” rather than “Abhishek sir.”

While this took some time, on my last day at the office, I was thrilled to see the CSWC-54 batch calling me by my first name only without the slightest hesitation. All in all, it was an extremely rewarding experience, and this interaction with the trainees is no doubt what I will miss most.
Although I’m now not in India to help physically, I’m pleased to say that I am continuing to write blogs with the help of ETASHA facilitator Arjumand, and thus am able to continue to spread awareness about our trainees and their accomplishments. So in reality, my goodbye wasn’t a goodbye; far from it. It was just a new beginning.
–Abhishek Bhargava

2 thoughts on “Volunteering: Bringing Change to Myself”

  1. Abhishek,

    Think I speak for everyone when I say how much we value, and continue to value, all that you do for us, and that you’re much missed by all your friends (from those of us nearer your age to those 40 years older!!! 🙂 ) here in Delhi.

    A great and sincere bit of writing! Glad you’re keeping it up!

    Ian

  2. Pingback: ETASHA Revisited. Then and Now…. » ETASHA Society

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