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The last night’s rain had brought relief to the perched earth. The rain drops continue to fall down the tree trunks and the leaves. The lawn outside is wet and the dusty road in front of the house lay soaked. The magpie, the crickets and the frogs were on a continuous call, and there seemed a celebration in the air! The dry spell of the season is coming to a close.

As the first rays of the morning sun pierced through the distant clouds and kissed the window pane, Aashir woke up gazing through the window. The freshness from the last night rain and the morning beauty touched his eyes. He will remember this day for the rest of his life. Its his day…his first flight overseas! Aashir knew deep in his heart that he never wanted to leave his country. He would always tell Nathan, “there is so much to see, admire and soak oneself in the beauty of this land, one life may not be enough….”. Nathan would not respond and simply stare at him to understand Aashir’s deep thought and imagination. If there was a choice Aashir would have stayed back!!

Gazing at the window Aashir kept on thinking whether he made the right decision! He kept on pondering how the turn of events over the past few days changed his course of life. He was working on a report when his boss came into his office cabin and asked him to get ready for an overseas assignment which could last few years. He could neither say yes nor no and simply stared at him. The following morning, they had long discussions and every time he thought he would deny the offer, the boss would explain how Aashir needs to plan and execute his new assignment. This went on for few days and reluctantly Aashir accepted the offer. Still lying on his bed, Aashir thought whether he would enjoy this morning bliss in a different country, and whether he could hum his favourite songs while watching the butterflies hop from one flower to another. He thought about Nathan, he thought about his favourite food, he thought about everything and anything….million thoughts crossed his minds…. Holding the pillow he wished to stay on the bed for ever!!!

There was a buzz in the house from early morning. It seemed the entire family would accompany Aashir in his overseas sojourn! The ladies tried their best to cover their face and not let their wet eyes visible. The men were discussing various topics including how Aashir should plan his savings and what food should be packed. Some of them were even demanding booking his return flights so Aashir could be part of various cultural and social events. The workers were busy too getting everything in order before Aashir departs. There was this buzz in the house, and as Aashir walked into the room, a deep nostalgia engulfed him. Everyone wanted Aashir to sit beside them, everyone wanted to ask Aashir if he has packed everything and advised him of all the precautions that he needs to take while in a different country. Aashir was mesmerized, he was dumb-founded, he felt choked!

Aashir didn’t get time to bid good bye to everyone. He spent most of his day with his family members. Deep inside him he felt how much he will miss his family. Most of the time he remained quite with occasional yes and no responses, sometimes he would smile and at other times he would simply wander from one room to another. Aashir wanted to feel the house, every brick, every corner and as he walked from one to another, it seemed Aashir was scanning every bit of the house in his memory that he would carry with him in his journey ahead!

As the moment of his departure came a surprise visitor knocked Aashir’s door. It was his boss. He was carrying a packet for Aashir, a parting gift and said, “Aashir, remember one thing…. as you embark on this journey of yours make your country of assignment as yours. Never compare and love the citizen as your own…if you do you will never miss your homeland!” Aashir nodded and as his boss hugged him, wished him all the best and departed. It would take many years before Aashir could realise the deep and profound meaning of what his boss advised!

Sitting at the aisle seat in the big jumbo Aashir was restless. He was tired too. The day was hectic and he didn’t get much rest. His mind was engulfed with many thoughts and million memories. Sipping his favourite single malt he could barely keep his eyes open. One thought however kept him awake! How can he make the people of a new country his own? What does this mean? How should he do this? That too in an unknown land…! Unknowingly he had slept into his dreams….

The first seeds of human revolution were sown in Aashir’s heart!

….continued

 

 

 

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Aashir

It was a lazy afternoon and the breeze have taken a pause. There is this stillness in the air and Aashir, sitting under a large tree and humming an old folk-lore. He was always mesmerized by the sudden quietness and occasionally gazed the horizon. He was searching something… or may be someone…. When you cant find Aashir anywhere, this is the place to find him. This was his love, his moment with himself, and his silent dialogue with the distant horizon!

The last of the office staff had already left and the security guards were clamping down the main gate. The security lights have just been switched on and the office building stood in sheer silence. The long shadows of the series of parrot, mangoes and other trees across the boundary wall created a magic as the home-coming birds vied with each other to find a place to rest on them. Aashir, on most days, on his way home, will occasionally pause gazing at these large, very old trees, talks to the birds coming home to rest and slowly trot the brown dusty path to his home.

Aashir lived his life on his own terms. He was not spendthrift and neither was he rich. Somehow he managed to live his life in style and in his own ways and terms. He was soft-spoken, had flair for music and drinks, loved to interact with people across class and society, and his biggest asset was his eternal bonding with solitude. Sometimes with frowns on his forehead he would ask Nathan, how someone could live with so much of noise around? Nathan would raise his head and before he could open his lips, Aashir had gone away to his solitude. Nathan knew that Aashir questioning was not always to get a response.

Oh! I forgot to say who Nathan is! Nathan and Aashir grew up together and the bonds became stronger as they grew up. They went to the same college and when they started working they almost always found time and space to spend time, talk about their life,  their dreams, shared joys and sorrows. But there was one difference between them. Aashir lived his life with his own terms and conditions whereas Nathan was more composed, always ready to give and share with whatever little he had. He never questioned when he gave, he simply gave: whether money or his favorite book or simply walk miles in the night to deliver a goody! But Aashir and Nathan were friends for life!

The night had grown deep and looking at the hazy moon, Aashir was rolling his cigarette between his lips and was reminiscing days gone by. One incident flashed his mind few times and even the sheer darkness surrounding him couldn’t stop the passerby to see the lit up face of Aashir. Having a drink Aashir would ask Nathan what is the purpose of life. And every time Aashir would ask this, Nathan in his soft-spoken tone would say to enjoy. Aashir would smile and respond that this is what he is doing and Nathan would simply nod his head in negative without saying anything.  This was a common question and answer between them. Aashir knew that something was missing and Nathan always knew how to support Aashir. In every refusal and decline there lies the unlimited space of growth and opportunity!

…..to be continued

 

Dare to dream…

A long drawn meeting that stretched into the night. And this is what I heard again and again…

In the recent months, I have been pouring my heart out to dream. Away from the realities of life, and far from the daily struggle that we all go through! I dare…! That not a single child will die because of absence of basic health services in the state, where every single mother will receive the required attention both before and after delivery, and each one of them will lead and live a healthy life!  A simple discussion few weeks ago has suddenly turned into a huge excitement and in no time, I see myself, every other day, sitting down and discussing details of costing, timelines, team members, human capacity and the launch of this great excitement! I have heard and seen that when there is a political will, such great “things” do happen but is it just the political will?! I witness how someone’s own human values have been nicely meshed and integrated with the larger political goal. I see, I visualize this is happening…!

It is difficult to change a legacy irrespective of whether the legacy is making any difference to the well being of the citizens. I witness how such legacies were either changed or stopped primarily on the premise that it is not delivering human good! And if it is not delivering human good, then it shouldn’t continue! So as I walk the corridors and meet these very interesting people, I listen to their interesting stories, their efforts, their joys, of making the unthinkable happen. I share one such legacy here, however simplistic it might sound to the readers. As a special religious activity, bag full of rice used to be given to all. Nobody actually knows who all received it and was paid by the state. The change happened in no time! It was discontinued, both the mode of payment and the distribution pattern but the principle of this religious endeavor remained. The efforts were redirected towards the feeding centres (where food is required the most!) and citizens were called to support this initiative!

As I continue to trot the path, a day or two ago I met someone who has recently come in to share and be part of this dream. The person is excited because it is about changing how a Government should and do work; that it is not waiting for another term to prove its worth, and it is about now and here! I could see the glitter in the eyes as the person spoke, and as I continued to listen: the experiences, the dream, the challenge ahead with complete awe, I faintly asked, how will this ever happen as it is not about one person thinking and doing?! The response was simple, it is about one person thinking and dreaming and sharing the spirit with others, joining hand with others! In another parlance this is what is called as “Many in Body One in Mind”!

As the euphoria continues, there are (anti) actions too that either undermines such movement or simply ignored! Can be frustrating, and at times painful! And at other times, anger sets in!! But this is what dreaming is all about, isn’t it?!! In one such recent development I witnessed how an action, or rather an inaction, at down the order was delayed only to promote that new ways of working may not be the best option. For some it didn’t matter whether and how such delayed action will impact millions of children in the state! If this pain doesn’t come how one will ever know the purity and the depth of one’s dream!!

Let me end this little exploration with an enriching experience. I received a phone call from one of the highest offices of the state. At one point I thought why should I get this call?! The call was about colleagues reaching late for a meeting and I was asked why so? As the person spoke, I closed my eyes and said to myself, the time has come: its a new era and there is no tomorrow, it is about now and here! Where pains don’t bother me anymore, where frustrations dont deter me, simply because I have dared to dream!!

I will continue to explore the joyous drama that we all enact in this huge canvas, called life: we rejoice, we cry, we dream, we trust, we touch lives, we connect. And more I explore, I express…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why do we make them…Possibly it took few minutes, may be for some a little longer with the end result being same! if we have made with all the efforts that it takes, why then break?

If there was one statement in my mind it was this as I moved among a large number of children as small as toddlers and as old as teenagers. So what had happened to them? And why does this statement brews in my mind…

I experienced this where violations were rampant to the extent that violations were undertaken to break them..break possibly a generation! The biggest and possibly the worst force was applied to destroy the very facet of existence. Teenagers being pregnant, and not by choice, could as well be the manifestation of such a devastating force. Possibly it took few minutes, may be for some a little longer with the end result being the same. I witnessed the after effect as I moved among them!

It was hard to define and to an extent unbelievable to fathom how these many toddlers and young children have survived the tragedy. Many are not even sure who their biological parents are although they have someone to take care of them. On the other hand the women who do take care of these children have also lost significant amount of their lives…their peace, their livelihoods, and to me, possibly lost the very reason to live. The opportunity to rear “other” children not only gave them the joy but also the reason to restart again! They saw their men, their boys, their daughter…they saw them losing in front of them, they could actually narrate how it happened and in the midst of so many toddlers, this was their best choice to restart their lives, their very existence. I witnessed their agony in silence…

In the side meetings, an intrigue question was asked and that is what happens to children’s children? The discussion itself can turn few heads and create shocks!! What do we do and what are the ethics? What does the law say and why one should or shouldn’t ask the mother even the mother is a child? A child was born but why were they broken down?

The little joy that I experienced was to see many young, most toddlers, boys and girls having a smiling face, playing around the corridors and in between the rooms where they live. It seemed to me, atleast for a moment, that they are rejoicing the very essence of life. The support being provided is giving hope, a belief that everything is not lost. Atleast the children could face up and smile!

Such a large affected population and I only witnessed a small group but the agony is found in hundreds of communities across provinces and across generations. They have been experiencing this now for years and my little exploration made me think that why were they born to go through what they are currently going through, why did life came to them only to be taken away and why such a harsh reality.

I live and work in a comfortable environment and I have lot of time, could as well be understood as free time. I don’t experience what breaking means neither I experience what tragedy is. But surely I witnessed, and importantly felt, how a life could be broken, and the struggles that goes to rebuild them. Why did we make them if this is what was thought while breaking them…

This journey has just begun and this is my first exploration, something that I am myself experiencing. This expression is simply a gratitude to all those who are rebuilding such lives, who are giving life another chance, who are challenging the very notion that we don’t make to break them….

After a very long time…please accept my apologies for being so silent….!

Lot of water has gone under the bridge in these two years as I have travelled many countries, from Ethiopia to India, to Central Asia, to Zambia and to Nigeria! Its been a brilliant journey, connecting with many people and also doing my little bits to make somebody, a group, a life happy!

Over these years, in my different roles, I have interacted with a large number of people, many communities across these countries, many officials and many people, here and there. As I moved and walked with them, spoke, laugh and danced with them, I realize that my professional ability to capture these various points are not there. Why? Because, always, they don’t follow a logic! But then, they are the springboards, they make the unrealistic realistic, they make the unimportant important, they make the impossible possible. And yet the logical head of my responsibility doesn’t capture it so easily. So what am I missing…

On one such important event, I was talking to few health personnel who were working on an important virus eradication. As many were trying to, so did I! Took out my mobile to capture their heroic endeavours. But then came the reply, “please don’t take our pictures, we have left our families, our communities, almost always against their approval, to do this piece of work. If they see our pictures on social or other sites, we will not be welcomed”!! I realized how little I know and how much more I need to explore this. But for them, it was a sheer joy..why? Because they were giving life or atleast trying their very best! I learned yet another important lesson…

I moved on and experienced another important aspect. I met a group of health workers, who in somewhat quite difficult conditions were serving more hours in a health clinic than we sleep and gossip. I asked them what makes you do this especially when it is so strenuous, difficult, many a times salary comes late, so what makes you do this? I didn’t realize that it was not their job description or their positions for which they were doing this. It was a matter of heart, they meant it, they wanted to, within them they wanted to challenge the paradigm, they were doing it because they believe in it. My management role was trying to capture elements like what is their performance, how many patients they were catering to and what is the status of the cold chain! I hardly realized, then, that if these springboards didn’t exist, so many lives wouldn’t see the next morning sun!!!

My final experience on this comes from the people I interact with, not always people who are associated with what I do. I met someone, in my little journey, who has touched many lives. I tried understanding the premise and why so? The purity of life was the answer. When I heard the person’s story, whatever little, I realize that as a human being, irrespective of the roles we play, we have a bigger mission, much beyond the immediate realities. The interesting part is the person does so selflessly but surprisingly doesn’t fall in any particular category of “work”. If they are not the Springboards of Life, then who are…!!

I continue to explore this breadth and depth of life. And more I explore I want to express, in my little and humble ways. This human drama that we enact in the respective canvas of our own lives, I get more enthused to do that little more…More I explore..more I want to express…

It has been just over two years and one sees a dramatic change that is sweeping this small village, Bulaya, about 50 Kms from the main town of Lufwanyama, the second biggest district town in Zambia and in the middle of the copper belt. The 50 Kms drive looked like for ever as our vehicle jumped and crossed the terrain, driving through the natural forest and the human habitation.

Mothers have shown exemplary strength and leadership when it comes to providing motivation and care, not only for their own children but to the society at large. This has been through the time known to humankind and will continue into the eternity.

As we see in many other places across regions and countries, villages which are far away from the district or provincial head quarters lack some of the basic amenities, sometimes such amenities are not even available. Bulaya too is not very different. Lack of access and poor delivery of services characterizes this village, and all the neighboring  villages in the zones (A zone comprises of anything between one to five villages). Access to health facilities and services are neither easy nor dependable, there are no out reach services and only one primary school catering to a number of villages. High prevalence of maternal and child malnutrition exist and so are pneumonia and diarrhea, some of the main causes for maternal and child deaths. It is in this situation that the communities supported by Save the Children came together to discuss some of the problems associated with the maternal and child health and developed plans to addressed them.

It was a joy and music to the ears to hear some of the mothers who took charge of the situation and became volunteers. They received training and coaching. A young mother, member of the Safe Motherhood Action Group narrated her experience as she learned to undertake pre natal checks, and provides care during pregnancy and escorts expecting mothers to the health centre during the labour. The pride in her eyes and jubilation was evident as she narrated that there are fewer complications during delivery now. Another mother, Community Health Worker and trained to identify malnutrition among children and mothers is working to improve health seeking behavior of the community. She said, “first, we wanted to improve mothers health…as that is key to the health of the new born”. Many such testimonials followed one after another, and possibly one of the best reflections came from a young mother, “It is sad to see a child falling sick and dying. The entire community gets affected. And, when we understand the causes, we realize that these could have been prevented and taken care of.”

These groups of volunteers, I met some 30 of them (and there are more than 50 volunteers covering 10 zones), move from one village to another providing training, checking health condition of the mother and child, monitor growth of young infants, escorting mothers to the health centres at the time of labour, guiding mothers on breastfeeding and raising awareness on food habits and child health. One of the male members, who heads one of the Neighborhoods Health Committees, said, more community health workers will drastically improve the situation of mother and child health, not only in this village but in the entire region! Very promising indeed!!

At a short distance from where the meeting took place, a group of men and women were busy constructing an Early Childhood Centre. They provide two days of voluntary labour every week and keen to complete the centre as early as possible. Few of the mothers were taking rest after some hard work and as I approached them on the topic, in one voice they said, “we want our children to study and go to school. This centre will help these toddlers to get ready and learn better in the primary school. Children should go to school”. Six similar centres are being constructed in and around this village and we hear similar enthusiasm from all the different corners. What an impressive story of commitment, love and affection!

And I wonder how many times, and from how many places, we will need to hear such stories of mothers taking charge of their communities before Governments, donors, change makers, private sectors can act together to ensure that every mother and child in this world lives a healthy and educated life? We have heard this before and this was my own exploration of how mothers, being in the front line, are giving hope and aspirations to so many lives.

As we took the long ride back home, my mind wavered between whether what I saw and experienced are simple and easy and, how such significant change can take place in every community across the country, and across the region? Is there a simple answer? Many Governments are investing to improve health and education services but we still have many children and mothers who die every day primarily because basic services are not easily available. I know this exploration will continue, understanding and learning from such experiences here in Zambia and elsewhere, and I also know that Bulaya is now ready to embrace a healthy and good life for their children, mothers, actually the entire community.

The sparkling cotton

An early morning drive from Nagpur to Amravati and as the car passes through some of the villages and towns my memories take me 25 years back when I would take a bus and travel to some of the villages on this road to understand what does “rural development” means. I will interact and in that excitement, most of the days, I will miss my return journey. This “missing the bus back home” became a practice and a good reason to stay the night there! The change is visible and my memories fade to identify these villages with what it used to be ….

My car leaves the highway and takes a left turn to a village called Borda. As I approach this village, I could see farms with white pods, one or may be two harvesting already over and getting ready for the next harvest. Communities say that the total area under cotton is marginally less than the previous years and the reasons are known to all. I could see large tracts of grams, coriander and other crops. My mind wavers…can they not be sparkling and bring joys to families and communities?

Three years and this is what they took to abolish child labour from this village. As the villagers narrate their progress and the road they took to achieve this, a lady sitting beside me says with a beaming smile, “I will work harder if this is what is required but will make sure all my three children complete school and college. My elder daughter is already in college and the other two who are in elementary grades will also follow their sisters’ footsteps’. How did you do this was my spontaneous question to her and to the other members who were around me? “Yes it took some time to understand, to challenge our current poverty levels, and decided to educate our children. One of the members of the School Management Committee proudly reiterated that all children in the village between 6 to 14 years of age are going to school and there are no drop outs. We checked this (the development professionals’ inquisitive mind!) from the school head master and he gave us the details including how the students are performing in different grades. A prominent member from the village assembly said, now that we have reached to this point, there is no looking back and we will always help, motivate, convince and whatever is required to make sure all children in this village complete their school education. There were only three teachers for 125 students and now have six. The district officials gave in to their constant persuasion and most of the teachers are now trained on child friendly tools and techniques. Children enjoy and this was obvious when most of them said they want to become teachers and teach students.

The volunteers, the project staff, the community members didn’t stop here! Borda, Ashok Nagar, Gawanipani, Mokhar, Vayi and many more are now child labour free in this district. A staggering 137 out of 275 villages in the district where cotton is grown is free from children working in cotton farms! Village leaders are called by the district officials to explain how they achieved this; they go to other villages sharing their experiences and as one of the Child Protection Committee member said, no matter what, this momentum will continue.

We moved on and met a group of adolescent boys and girls, who after training are in the hospitality industry. They are nearing completion of their training period and eagerly waiting to be absorbed as full time employees. They narrated their journey and their confidence and humility touched my inner chord. We discussed a range of topics including protection issues, how they group themselves up and the way they interact (and manage!) different visitors. We had a cup of tea together and as I pondered on the incidents that shook and shamed Delhi, realized there are these voices that have crossed their village boundaries, made their parents and community proud and are now eager to conquer the wider environment.

We all know cotton farms especially during harvest employ children. With support from IKEA Foundation, Save the Children in India and their partners have brought this change. For once we can say that these cotton buds are not only white but as well sparkling. I continue to explore these moments and possibly this is the only way we can send strong message, that we can build a better India. So much more to express…