Monday Smiles

Because I finally have some pictures of the brightest smiles in Pune!

The quiet and sweet Sauda

The quiet and sweet Sauda

You won't find more confidence in another soul at that school.

You won’t find more confidence in another soul at that school.

Troublemakers

Troublemakers

Such lightness

Such lightness

Peace signs have traveled far!

Peace signs have traveled far!

We were supposed to be reading in the library...

We were supposed to be reading in the library…

Post break smiles

Incandescent smiles

Happy Monday everyone!

Happy Monday everyone!

Advertisements

Of Work and Joy

I don’t know how to say this without subscribing to a cliche, but here goes: there is a delightful sense of joy and lightness within the Akanksha team. There is such dedication. It is amazing how many of my coworkers tell me how they switched from jobs in the private sector to Akanksha and how now they cannot see leaving. There’s something about this mission that entices people to give this NGO their all.

Not to say that everything is unicorns and rainbows and pixy dust. There are varying ideas regarding what is best for our students. People have different methods of approaching logistical problems. I notice the same barriers that box in other development NGOs (both domestic and international) at play in Akanksha – lack of funding, staff turnover in schools, the overwhelming struggle to combat a lifetime’s worth of problems. Education can carry students further than they might imagine, but the daunting mountain of obstacles they must overcome in the process remains a massive hurdle that Akanksha does its best to recognize and address. Yet one organization cannot solve the ills of a city or a society.

We are actors trying to make a difference in a limited sphere of influence.

However, there really is something about this mission that fuels people here. So many have experience in the classroom; there is an honest and earnest belief in education. And there is such excitement about learning. The passion is real.

As a young professional, it is encouraging to see an organization so dedicated and hardworking also embrace joy and playfulness at its core:

Staff meetings: learning and practicing resilience with spaghetti and marshmallows

Staff meetings = learning and practicing resilience with spaghetti and marshmallows

Trying to get the tower just a little bit higher

Trying to get the tower just a little bit higher. Things got intense for a few moments.

The final product

The final product

Gratitude and New Beginnings

Sometimes the best plans are those that never come to fruition.

IMG_20141031_193342

My plans for my birthday weekend changed again and again since touching foot in India. My first idea was to travel – to spend the day exploring in some new, exotic locale. The sobering realization that my birthday was a) on a working Saturday and b) that I would need to present baseline data from our centers meant that traveling was not in the cards for this year.

Earlier in October, resigned to staying in Pune, I contemplated keeping my birthday a secret. I thought that given the turbulence of the past year, a quiet day could be put to use. The age of 25 brought about many changes. Taking a moment to reflect quietly would be a good idea, I figured. Last year I was told (not unkindly) that if I wanted something to happen for my birthday, I’d have to make it happen. This year I wanted some time to myself I decided, time to learn about myself.

As Saturday approached, I realized my self-set deadline for my side project, a case study on mobile money, was looming and I had yet to incorporate any of the new information I needed to conclude the study. Forget relaxing, I started thinking. I’m going to be writing this thing all weekend!

And as life often goes, whenever you decide on one path, another unexpectedly pops up and whisks you away.

Cake #1

Pineapple cake – The start of birthday sugar madness

Celebrating November birthdays and holding a post-Diwali party for the teachers at the Akanksha office on Saturday afternoon

Celebrating November birthdays and holding a post-Diwali party for the teachers at the Akanksha office on Saturday afternoon

Birthday lunch, plate 1

Birthday lunch, plate 1

A proper feast

A proper feast

My favorite sari yet!

My favorite sari yet!

Midnight surprise

Midnight surprise

IMG_20141101_000125

IMG_20141101_132019

My birthday included several surprise cakes, roses, a lovely cafe visit, some very potent drinks, and numerous kind wishes from people scattered across the globe. Given the lack of notice, it’s amazing that anything happened at all. I was fortunate to have a Halloween party turn into a birthday surprise at midnight, and I was even more fortunate that birthdays are such a honored event here in India.

The best part of the day was hearing from people. I am extremely grateful for the technology that now exists. I know that even a few years before I began going abroad communication was incredibly limited. Being able to chat with friends and loved ones from so far away is incredible.

The hectic pace of Friday night and Saturday’s work day provided the prefect contrast to the remainder of the weekend. After rushing here and there, celebrating, eating vast amounts of cake and Indian food, I enjoyed curling up in bed and snuggling in with my current read, Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air. (So glad I’m reading it now, after trekking Nepal!) A quiet end to the weekend is the perfect way to usher in a new era of my life.

But still, I figure that some reflection is indeed due. In keeping with the spirit of this weekend, I am veering away from the serious and instead focusing on the positive. There is so much to be grateful for today.

I am grateful for:

  • Friends, both old and new;
  • The beauty of sharing moments with others;
  • Encouraging comments on the case study draft;
  • The opportunity to be in India;
  • Learning new things about the world, myself, and humanity;
  • The realization that the past can be the past but it need not be the future; and
  • Knowledge that today is a new day.

So while it is a bit sad to say goodbye to the first quarter century of my life, I welcome the start of a new age and the continuation of life’s adventures.

IMG-20141102-WA0012