Career Series – Sidharth Shah: Gandhi Fellowship – The Road not taken

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Chief Editors: Anshul Avasthi, Chirag Chadha


What options did you have in hand? Why did you choose to take up the Gandhi Fellowship?
There were quite a few options open to me. Being from the Physics Department, I could have gone for a Masters in Physics, I also had an interview call from IIM Lucknow for Agri-based management, and a job offer from Educational Initiatives.

And then there was Gandhi Fellowship which was like taking a jump to life in a village. It looked like a wonderful opportunity to put myself in a situation where everything would change.

The Gandhi fellowship is a teacher training and school development program.

The Gandhi fellowship is a sort of two-year teacher training and school development program where every fellow is allotted 5 schools. It is about interacting with a school ecosystem including the headmasters, teachers, school children and the village community. You act as an influence to the teachers and headmasters but do not exert any authority. You act as an initiator to the school and try to influence better methods of teaching. The aim is to make the headmaster a better leader and enable them to run the school better even after you’ve left the system. Apart from this, you also try to identify and execute changes in the overall community.

To sum up, you act as a role model to the school and the surrounding community. It not only involves direct classroom training, but is also about seeking out problems in the community and identifying and executing the changes that can be made. You need not stick to education once done with the program. It is very diverse and it lets you decide who you want to be.

Why specifically Gandhi Fellowship (in contrast with other NGOs doing similar work)?
Gandhi fellowship had a possibility of letting me undertake both – an inner and an outer journey, meaning being able to affect a change in myself as well as in my surroundings via alternative forms of education, immersion in the village life, community activities, etc. The key skill that one is trained in is leadership at various levels – both individual and social.

Gandhi fellowship had a possibility of letting me undertake both – an inner and an outer journey

Change in individual form, i.e the inner journey happens when you spend time reflecting upon your journey with social change – and finding your personal dreams. The fellowship gives you the freedom to explore yourself. They have a meditation course “Vipassana meditation” which is a Buddhist form of meditation as part of one’s learning journey. This meditation helps one in connecting deeply with one’s mind, body and self.

The outer journey focuses on the social changes in the community via bettering the output of the school, getting the community children to go to school, etc. There are community projects as well which are not restricted to schools but can be related to the health-care of the community or anything as decided by the fellow.

It involves going into the ground reality and really finding out what it is you want to change.

What was the change in lifestyle like?
The experience is that of unlearning. However a person has been conditioned till the point they join the program is all removed suddenly. A radical change happens and one asks themselves very fundamental questions about life. I saw immense generosity among innocent villagers living in simplicity unlike the money-minded metropolitans I’d been around all my life. I realized the difference between need and greed.

Now that I feel more in tune with nature, its all about simplicity. You move into a phase filled with introspection and in the process you a learn a lot about yourself and get to know your boundaries. You learn to trust others.

How different was the experience from what you had expected before opting for the Fellowship?

Most of the difference lies in the daily schedule. I had no expectation of the program beforehand. I just wanted to join an organization which would let me explore myself. It is a very diverse program with an intensive curriculum and filled with many processes which are very well thought out and promote self-reflection. It is a challenge worth taking.

Even the people monitoring you never give you any orders – just suggestions.

The work environment is the best part. There seems to be no hierarchy system, one can call even the Director directly and resolve any issues and queries. Even the people monitoring you never give you any orders – just suggestions. It’s upto you whether to implement them or not. It’s just various people simultaneously experimenting with the education system based on their own models, experiences and improvisation.

There was a one-week training period which included many activities like Baal-geets, debriefs, gender sensitivity, people handling and listening skills etc. Everyone is allotted a program leader who initiates processes and provides one to one help. The fundamental thing that differentiates this program from other “companies” is that they pay attention and ask you how “you” feel and stress a great deal on your emotional growth as well.

I’m just embracing the fact that I don’t know what I want to do and am using this fellowship as an opportunity to learn more about myself.

Any specific advice that you have for junta sitting for placements?
When I appeared for placements, I was confused. But I decided that I would rather go slow than rush into things. I feel that it’s better to experience a few years of our lives questioning, doubting and challenging ourselves rather than just finding means to ends. Its not that one won’t be able to get a job or study further later. I’m just embracing the fact that I don’t know what I want to do and am using this fellowship as an opportunity to learn more about myself.

What about your future plans?
None. Relaxing, and finding more and more contentment in less and less.