Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Thoughts on the 10th year of AID

The below was written by Ravi Kuchumanchi who is the founder of AID (http://www.aidindia.org) Its an organization that works on the grassroots development of India and is headed by professionals who have quit lucrative corporate and research jobs to reply to their calling
Dear Friends,
I have been thinking of writing something on the fact that AID is ten years old, but nothing seems to come to mind because of all the action that's going on that leaves pale any general article or poem or speech. Which is good because one of the goals of AID during its forming years was to induce people to act not just talk or write and now its difficult to talk! Nevertheless I am attempting something on the 10-year anniversary of a committed volunteer group I have known since its birth and I also do not know in many ways.
 Over the past 10 years what are some of the significant achievements that also serve to define us in the space of organizations? I think AID's volunteer base of hundreds of people is something that very few groups and movements have in India or the USA. While attracting new volunteers, what is even more important is whether those of us who volunteer are making the best use of our time and training we have accrued over the years. In sheer numbers and team work we are capable of responding to injustice in India by way of petition letters in hundreds, even reaching a thousand at the notice of a phone call or email. This state of preparedness, achieved over thousands of hours of meaningful awareness building, work and debate, is valuable to many causes in India.Now the point that most of us at our own individual level grapple with is not whether we relate to an appeal sent by a dalit or tribal cause but whether we people sending and forwarding those appeals as well as we people reading them actually bother to take a print-out, and sign and mail the letter or fax the reponse making our hundreds of voices actually count. The same holds true in our preparedness to contribute time and money, to seek donations, and to do things that each and every project and process demands from us in its own unique way. Focussing on ourselves, we need to realize that both individually and as a team we have combined in a special manner and 10 years of learning that has accrued within the organization implies that as many actions that we can do by applying ourselves and getting over things like dis-organization, depression, loss of motivation and laziness are bound to be useful for a diverse numbers of causes, projects, NGOs, movements and people all over the country. This is not to make the point that we should stop learning or be immodest or pat ourselves on the back -- this is seriously to say that there aren't many groups with the kind of volunteer strength and knowledge we have and this has come about through rigorous hard-work of 10 years and every minute of our time today is valuable for someone in India to whom we reach out. Let's make the best use of it and become really disciplined in the way we manage our times and respond to each other constructively and make even more and more things happen.
The other achievement is that we have participated on all issues we could lay our hands on. Being a group of diaspora and having this kind of intense involvement in so many areas to do with rural development means that many will approach us for support and solidarity assuming we will understand them more deeply and can collaborate in more involved and intense manner. Moving from CSH to CSH discussing a school somewhere, and then the following week having saathis who work on watershed work in hilly regions and then coming up with action ideas as a part of an agitation for human rights against destructive development, and then working to form a partnership for a movement for savings, micro-credit and health in several blocks of India is happening at a breathtaking pace in AID. Will this breadth and depth of knowledge in people who are primarily located thousands of miles away from the intended field of actual action have a utilatarian value? Will it be useful for the few who return to India to work fulltime so that their time is better spent in villages where everyone of these issues exists? Will the many who remain in the U.S. who have become aware build informal solidarity groups and sub-groups within AID as well as seeking the involvement of other groups, for each and every issue of interest to link with people who have returned or already working in India thus giving much needed collaborative strength to a diverse wide-ranging number of NGOs, peoples movements, activists and social workers? It is all of this and more. We should be aware that our actions in wide-ranging areas will allow us to build lots of diverse partnerships in the years to come and we cannot exhaust ourselves with Narmada or HBP or the earthquake, but this kind of intensity of attention we need to give to many more things like drought, alternate energy, livelihoods, food-security, etc and lead by vision of various people and volunteers in AID and in India, who take up one thing or the other, support groups should crystallize so that there is greater force.
Thus at the end of 10 years if some of us who have been with this organization for a longer time, may occassionally get the feeling of "is this all" that we have worked for and others are working for, it is because at those times we are redrawing the expectations from AID, where whatever it is doing we are taking for granted, and asking for progress beyond that. Looking at the enormity of problems we have to quickly realize that the solutions will have charecteristics that are "repeatable" coupled with being "innovative" in the first place, they will be "decentralized" that they will take root independently in many many places and in people's hearts while at the same time each one of them will have a mass base centred around the context and its own uniqueness of approach, and while giving tremendous satisfaction will require interactions that will frustrate us as the overall situation is gloomy...we have to stand through the thick and thin of all these contrasting experiences including "is this all"and "all this" and indeed any successful social worker not only works on break through things that raise the tempo and the excitement but also does lot of repetitive work on time-tested ideas and everyday routine things that have to be done.
This is by no means an overall presentation or analysis of AID. Indeed I have missed out many things that currently are focus of AID volunteers thinking such as our own personal life-style changes and viewing inequalities not as a problem centred around the poor but around the rich. I have also missed pointing out the new and emerging volunteers of AID-India in various Indian cities. No doubt in the AID conference and beyond there will be detailed presentations and discussions
On the 10th year of AID I feel our strength lies in our volunteers and we need to develop ourselves completely since this resource is needed by many causes and groups. A person who has been drawn to AID or to these causes and has survived through the organization for a year has already built up considerable useful experience that little more timeliness and "finishing the job" and non-postponement kind of approach on his/her part, whether it is in things like "I will recycle and not create so much trash everyday" or "I will build a deeper involvement with this project" or "I will write against that injustice" or in some cases "I will return to India" will get an exponentially greater number of things done. Anniversary of 10 years of AID is the anniversary of a million volunteer hours of AID.
Ravi Kuchimanchi.


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