[caption id="attachment_6347" align="aligncenter" width="850"] Capturing those beautiful smiles[/caption] It was a scorching September afternoon. I still remember it so vividly. The market in the Bhachau district was roaring with rage, with a river of people occupying the entire street. 43-year-old Miraben, was sitting in her usual spot in the market, selling spices, tending her injured leg and back when an entire wall had collapsed on her during the earthquake 14 years back. This brave-hearted woman is one among the many earthquake-affected people in Kutch district of Gujarat. But the horrors of that disaster still haunt her. The earthquake of 2001 was one of the worst tragedies in India in last 180 years; one where thousands of people died and vast areas of the district were laid waste. As Miraben shared her tale of survival with me, I realized with a pang of shock about how horrendous it must have been for her. I sat there patiently, listening to her as the gravity of the situation sank in.Precisely six months back from now, I was trying to comprehend where the fellowship program of Milaap would lead me to. Sitting in my chair with my feet tucked up, I furrowed my eyebrows as a dozen thoughts paved their way into my mind. Yes, I knew it right there and then that this would be a life-changing experience.The talk with Miraben remains crystal clear in my head even today. And so do the varied and various encounters with most of the inspiring women that I got the opportunity to meet, through this fellowship. This huge community of Milaap borrowers in Gujarat that I met has left an indelible imprint. Most importantly Milaap taught me not to view the world with suspicion.The memories of the very first day at Prayas still bring a smile on my face. I was greeted by a bunch of warm and friendly looking faces. Having been established in 1997, this organization has done a remarkable work on the ground. It has impacted as many as 14 different areas and thousands of lives. And it indeed has come a long way.There are all these unbelievably different experiences, thoughts and words whirling inside me. Penning it down will sum up my entire fellowship.Long yet interesting bus rides. A walk in the green fields. Those picturesque villages. The uniqueness of all the regions. Misconceptions and superstitions. Those innocent rural kids who want to study. Inspiring tales of success. That ‘never say die’ attitude. The women who hold three jobs just to hold up their children. Donating of kidney to sustain the family. Poor but with hearts of gold.From the training period in the silicon valley of the nation to the field visits in the incredibly diverse state of Gujarat, all of it shall stay with me forever. Words cannot express the gratitude that I feel for Milaap and my field partner Prayas.Its only when one gets out of one’s comfort zone, that one experiences life in its truest sense. So yes, this is what my fellowship was all about.
Six months of Fellowship: One transformative journey