Many people are captivated by India and dream of volunteering to give something back and there are many great charities and NGO’s in India who are making a real difference to people’s lives everyday. Volunteering is great but it can be expensive and there’s a limited impact you can make in a few weeks or months. If you really want to change the lives of people in India then how about making a career out of making a difference!?
In this very special interview I’m talking to Emily from the UK who has forged a career in the development sector in India.
Making a Difference Every Day: Working for an NGO in India
Hi Emily, I’m excited to find out more about your career, can you tell me some more about yourself?
I’m a 25 year old Devon girl who landed in India with the simple intent of learning and understanding the development sector by diving head on into working with grassroots organisations in India. After completing my degree in Geography, where I focused on human geography and social issues, I realised I wanted to learn more about the world and its populations. Always having a humanitarian heart, I knew that this sector was for me.
And please tell us some more about the role you are currently doing
Currently I am enjoying a fantastic role as a part of a great, women-lead team at The Baale Mane Trust in Bangalore.The Baale Mane (meaning “Girls Home” in Kannada, the local language) is a shelter and loving home for up to 50 girls between the ages of 6 and 18, and a place of support for a further 25 girls over 18 years living independently. The girls who come to Baale Mane have been orphaned, abandoned or subject to violence, abuse, neglect or extreme poverty. Baale Mane teaches the girls how to productively challenge the rigid norms dictating gender structures and power inequities in their communities. Baale Mane helps the girls make educated, informed choices surrounding their careers, sexuality, and well-being and aims to equip them with the knowledge and tools to help them live an independent, self-sustaining life.
So you’ve had an interesting career so far working for NGOs and making a difference in India. Can you briefly explain what your roles involve?
I have been working in the non-profit sector in South India for the last 3 years, focusing on child rights and program management. Previously I was mostly involved in fundraising activities and volunteer management at Reaching Hand, another children’s home in Bangalore.
Now, as External Relations Manager at The Baale Mane Trust, I work closely alongside Mary (founder and much beloved Mother figure of the home) and connect on-the-ground processes with the UK trust. I head up programmes and monitoring and evaluation for Baale Mane, particularly concentrating on adolescent girls. This involves managing operations at the home, improving and expanding Baale Mane’s policies and running the transition and independence programmes for girls who are in college and preparing for a life outside the home, in the city. I also co-organise fun activities for the girls and major fundraising events such as a sleep-out (Under the Stars) and the girls’ performances for International Women’s Day and other celebrations.
And what made you want to go to India in the first place and how did you make it happen?
I have always been intrigued by India’s diverse culture. After graduating from University I was torn between India or South Africa. India is going through a great many changes and development, so I felt it was an exciting time to be here. I wanted to be a part of some positive change within the many dynamic and active social movements.
Is there any such thing as a typical day in your life in India?
Not really! Thankfully this job isn’t the usual 9 -5 in an office. I spend half the week at the home visiting the children and staff, and the other half making visits to the girls in the city, attending meetings or working on any documentation in the city, there are always events in the pipeline, and I also make a lot of visit to other great organisations, or visit the girls in the city.
What do you like the best about working for an NGO in India?
Working at a grassroots level gives you an experience you simply wouldn’t get sat behind a screen in the UK. I really wanted to work directly with beneficiaries and learn and understand practices and principles in a smaller NGO.
But nothings perfect right? Are there any downsides?
It’s not easy to adjust to the way ‘things are done’ here. It took me a long time to understand how to work in an effective way with a great variety of personalities. There’s also ‘Indian time’ an altogether different time zone meaning even the smallest jobs can be the most time consuming!
Do you have one standout highlight or biggest achievement?
In my final month at Reaching Hand I worked closely with a great friend of mine on a social media campaign, an organised ‘Twitter Bomb’ where we tried to grab the attention of Justin Bieber. The Reaching Hand kids idolise him and are always singing his songs! Volunteers filmed a fabulous video of the children covering ‘As Long As You Love Me’ and we wanted him to see it.
The campaign reached 56 million people! Unfortunately Justin didn’t make any reply, but we got great coverage and there were a lot of lessons learnt! I’m not usually a social media buff, but I really got into this challenge as it was for such a good cause.
There have been great many highlights at Baale Mane too. Watching the girls perform, dance, play and create is a particular joy! My favourite dance is the ‘evil spirit’ dance the girls have learnt called Kanachana. Highlight has to be the first time I saw them perform this at our ‘Under the Stars’ sleep-out event. It encompasses their passion, wit, ferocity and strength and blows me away every time!
And what has been the greatest challenge?
My greatest challenge has been adjusting to life in the city. I love Bangalore: the climate is great, it is fairly relaxed and most importantly, I feel safe. However, it is a stark contrast to the rolling Devonshire countryside! It can feel fast-paced, and is polluted and densely populated. I struggle day to day with the eyes of men on, especially when driving or walking down the street. It is mostly harmless curiosity but I don’t enjoy the attention.
What do you wish you had known before you started working in India?
When I arrived, I had no idea that what was meant to be 6 month placement is turning into 4 years living and working in Bangalore. Its very bittersweet, but an experience like this certainly has changed my outlook on many things. Of course I get random bouts of homesickness. Expanding opportunities away from home is so exciting but it’s a strange feeling being torn between two places at once!
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, what tips would you give for people wanting to follow in your footsteps?
- Be curious – question everything!
- Be patient – things take their own sweet time
- Have fun – don’t take things too seriously
- Be open minded and accepting – you’ll learn a lot
- Be easy going – it will lead to more fun
- Be in touch with your intuition – if it doesn’t feel right… don’t do it. It’s not worth ruining your experience. That ‘gut feeling’ tends to be right.
Thanks so much Emily for sharing your experiences and for such an interesting insight into your fascinating career – you are truly an inspiration! Good luck to you and all the girls at Baale Mane!
If you are working abroad and want to be interviewed and featured here contact me!