Have you ever felt that you belong nowhere? Do you feel alone amidst a crowd that is full of familiar faces? If you are accustomed to this solitude, I dedicate this article to you.
From the very beginning of my life, I have been that child who had to have no opinion of her own. I was the only dark-skinned kid of the family who could never get rid of the social stigma. I was neither the topper nor the popular girl of my class. I was an average awkward girl, barely noticed by anyone; stuck inside my own wonderland.
So when I stepped into BYLC, I had this untamed urge to prove myself. I wanted to be popular, I wanted to be considered everything that I never was.
But things didn’t go as I imagined, no one at BYLC taught me how to be popular or how to make friends. Instead, I learned to embrace myself in the large class. I learned to share my opinions and was appreciated for being assertive. For the first time in my life, I could be myself without the fear of being judged. All of a sudden I was fearless; I was articulate with my peers, and most importantly I had friends, real friends who understood me, who thought like me.
During the Leadership in Action (LIA) phase, my group worked at a roadside school called Hashimukh, where we taught the students about health, hygiene, and safety. I was in charge of educating kids aged between 5 to 9 and first, they weren’t very easy to deal with. But after a couple of days, they began to run around me, hugging me, and asking me lots of questions. I used to bring chocolates for them and some of them even tried to sneak out candies once! On another day, some of the parents of the students came to meet us saying their kids talked about us all the time. So there we were, among those people who worked hard to earn their livelihoods as beggars, domestic helpers, rickshawalas, and hawkers. And the most amazing part was that they were ready to listen, ready to embrace change.
All these experiences made me feel like a curtain had been lifted from my heart. Suddenly I realized earning money is not the purpose of my life. There was more to me and more that I wanted to do.
With this realization, I returned to BYLC for the fifteenth Building Bridges through Leadership Training (BBLT) program as a facilitator. There, I got a classroom filled with 46 brilliant young minds. I also got my own small group of nine students. And from the first day, I tried to teach them how to come out of their comfort zones, how to observe more, how to put themselves in other people’s shoes to be more empathetic, and to think of multiple perspectives so as to understand any situation better. Most importantly, I tried to make them realize that they should participate in the LIA phase not only for the certificate, but for the greater good of their target beneficiaries.
I think I was able to get my point across to them because they had designed and successfully implemented a project “SHONIRBHOR”, where 37 women received training on cattle rearing and home-tailoring; even though they didn’t manage a sponsor. They stood with boxes to raise funds for a week and still the money wasn’t enough. But to everyone’s surprise, they never gave up and made the project a reality. The last day of LIA is one of the most memorable days of my life where the women honored us with flowers and gifts to show their appreciation. And the biggest achievement was they wanted to learn more, they wanted to be financially independent. I am proud to say that my group is still working on the project even after the completion of the BBLT.
I have earned so many things from BYLC and the most precious one has been its people. People I can trust, people I can call when I have some weird idea about life, or when I feel lonely. I have peers here who are willing to accompany me in different projects. I have my students who love and respect me. I have a deeper and broader meaning of life now. I can exchange constructive feedback with others. I can reflect on my own. And these are the most important achievements of my life, achievements that I am very proud of.
So this is my journey of leadership, which started by enlightening my heart, helped me grow into a better person and filled my life with love and positivity!