The I Have a Dream program was conceptualized with the intent to engage young alumni from India, who have participated in the United States Government-sponsored exchange initiatives. The American Center reached out to over 100 of these student and young professional alumni, referred to as mentees, who come from several cities across India. These young women and men, along with 40 mentors came together from various parts of India and attended workshops held in Chennai, Delhi, Dharamsala, Hyderabad, Kolkata and Mumbai. Each of these alumni were assigned mentors who are senior exchange alumni of various USG-sponsored programs, such as Fortune/U.S. State Department's Global Women's Mentoring Partnership, International Visitor Leadership Program and Edward R. Murrow Program for Journalists. The exchange journeys for these participants began as early as in 2003 with the International Visitor Leadership Program attended by Mr. S.S. Akhtar, one of the mentors for the I Have a Dream program, while some of the younger mentees such as Aniruthiya have returned as recently as in 2015.
One of the foremost aims of the I Have a Dream program was to deepen these exchange experiences and to make mentees more aware of who they are and their place in society, while providing motivation to take on more active regional and global roles. This program began and concluded with workshops facilitated by Pravah. The mentees were invited to enter the space with the aspiration to realize two dreams—one societal and one personal. During the opening workshops, mentors and mentees at each location were taken through various exercises, separately as well as in a group. Several activities with elements of play and insight kept the mentees engaged during the opening and closing workshops while helping them move closer towards their dreams. One of the most momentous activities that mentees have mentioned is the Trust-fall, where each of them had to stand on top of a chair that was further placed on top of a table, and with backs facing everyone, had to fall backwards. This activity inspired several mentees to learn to let go of their fears and inhibitions, to learn to trust that you will be taken care of, and take that leap of faith with respect to their dreams.
As each narrative unfolds, one can notice the shifts and changes that took place in the perspectives of these participants. While for some mentees, their dreams —whether it is starting an NGO of their own or working on a book-length project or a music album or commencing their own startup—have reached the stage of execution, in other instances, due to academic/professional considerations, they are in the process of being realized. Not just limited to the mentees, this experience has been equally compelling for the mentors as well. This program has now been concluded, and through these change stories, an attempt has been made to capture its impact on the lives of the participants—both the mentees as well as the mentors.
What also emerges from these change stories is how a series of workshops conducted by I Have a Dream program became a safe space for introspection, self-work, and self-awareness. For several, it was a gentle reminder to re-invoke the dreams they had envisaged during their exchange in the United States. For the senior alumni, this workshop became a platform to give back by way of mentoring young people, and several of them speak about how this program caused significant shifts in the manner they perceived the very act of mentoring. These mentor-mentee relationships are being sustained beyond the duration of the program, and there is a serious intent to nourish them on a continuing basis. The conclusion of the program does not mean conclusion of these journeys, and the personal and societal dreams that took form during or on account of the I Have a Dream program will continue to evolve. Read the inspiring stories of mentees and mentors below:
Abrar Ali Khan Amit Patro
Adriana Michael Dr. Avinash Dadhich
Aniruthiya Chirantana Kar
Avinash Maurya Shripal Nitin Sawant
Mohammed Fazil Shareef Parveen Hafeez
Mohamed Himayathullah Syed Saud Akhtar
Namgyal Tsekey Stuti Jalan
Sakina S. Vakanerwala
Syed Maaz Hasan
Zainab Shoeb Samad
All the stories are authored by Kumud Bhansali.