There has never been a time in history, when there has been no violence and suffering. There has never been a time, when conflict hasn’t won over peace and equality. Through all of these mountains and valleys, one part of the population has been the undisputed victim: children.
In India, this culminates into a matter of preserving the future of not only the country and its people, but also sustaining the future of the world, of which we form such a crucial part. Kashmir, Manipur and more recently, regions like Tamil Nadu and Punjab have been brewing grounds for socioeconomic struggles. And, to put it simply, children DO NOT deserve this.
With this precise ideology in mind, a lady works towards rehabilitation of kids from disenfranchised parts of India such as Kashmir and Manipur in good educational institutions. Meet Anokhi Parikh, the Director at The Foundation, an NGO that has Project REACH to its credit. Having accomplished a PhD in Economics, Anokhi had a choice between the comforts of the finance world and the development sector. She chose to follow her dreams.
Here’s a short conversation we had with her:
Although you always knew you wanted to be part of the social sector, what encouraged you to take this sudden ‘leap of faith’, as you described it, having worked in the safety of the corporate world for so long?
Sometimes, all it takes is a single moment of courage to make that move. I realised that I was my best and most energetic self, when I was working in development. I learnt a few years into my work life, that the challenge was steeper for me, when it was an emotional challenge. When emotion was missing from my work life, it wasn’t enough for me. Of course, it is as necessary to be independent and everyone with a career to choose must keep that in mind. You have to build a sustainable life around what you love to do. To me, the comforts of the corporate sector were negotiable. But that’s different for each person, and you have to learn what matters to you, and couple that with what you’re passionate about and what makes you want to spring out of bed each morning to work. I’m glad I didn’t wait another 15 years to make that decision!
You have a PhD in Economics. How did you find the transition from the discipline of science to the freedom of the social sector?
There is freedom and discipline in everything that you do. There was as much creativity in my doctoral thesis as there is in my work today. Having said that, the form of discipline that I learnt working with a child was more stringent, because it came with responsibilities that grew each day. How much freedom you are willing to give your mind to create something new and what sort of discipline you work with, it’s up to you, may it be in whatever field.
You have worked with children from Kashmir and Manipur, both conflict zones. In what ways did you find the children affected in these regions?
Having grown up in the safety of Bombay, I don’t think you and me can imagine what a luxury it is to grow up in a place where you can walk around freely or run around fearlessly. I don’t pretend to fathom the pain my kids have experienced − losing people close to them; growing up with violence and curfews. Violence affects each child in a very different way; its manifestations vary with each child. Despite that, it is incredible how children will always have the ability to imagine a beautiful world. Last week, one of my kids from Kashmir wrote a letter to me in the context of the current situation in Kashmir and the letter ended saying “Di, Is there anything I can do to help at my age? I hope I grow up fast.” That says everything and more.
What is the hardest part about your job? Is it difficult to aid the children to overcome the impressions they have formed about the world, living in constant conflict?
The hardest part of my job? Wow, I don’t know. I guess living out of a suitcase for so many years gets tiring sometimes. But then each of these places become home to me, so it doesn’t feel too far away. For the second part of your question, you’d be surprised how beautiful the thoughts of children are regarding these things: their ability to trust, hope and love with an open heart is immense.
When you were in Manipur, there were several protests going on. Were the children aware about the reason for conflict and did they understand it? What were their reactions?
Children in conflict zones will know that there is a protest going on because it’s impossible for them to not know. They might not know too many details or understand the conflict completely when they’re too young. But here’s the thing, they’ll always want to make it go away. Ever watched ‘Life is Beautiful’? All parents in conflict zones relate to that story.
What role has your family played in your journey, especially when you were in Manipur?
My family didn’t know a lot about what happened in Manipur, till the evening I moved back home and told them about the year. Manipur was only fleetingly on the news, except for a few isolated incidents. I chose not to tell my family and friends too much while I was still living there, because I felt it was unnecessary to cause them stress, when I could avoid it. Those were some of the choices I had to make to see my project through.
In your interview with Humans of Bombay, you said, “We have forgotten places, corners and our own people.” Why do you think so?
If we hadn’t, Manipur would be on the news much more, as would many other corners of this country. We all should be doing much more to resolve these issues.
Today, you see the impact of your project in the children that you have helped place in good institutions. Was it worth all the trouble it took?
Absolutely. Every day. I’m thankful for the decisions I’ve made. If I had to live it all over again, I would do it exactly the same way and end up exactly where I am today.
The next ten years of a country as young as India are crucial. How will your work contribute?
My work as an individual is tiny and it always will be. But I truly believe that, when we all do our best in whatever we do, in whichever field we choose to take up, the synergy between each and every micro movement we create will change the world beyond borders. It is one day at a time, one person at a time, one small revolution at a time.
Khushi Desai is a handpicked product of the Bayside Pathfinder where we empower the young and the young at heart with the power of storytelling. To become a part of our extended family of unique contributors, call up Prem Madnani at +91 9892913788 or email him on [email protected].