When I heard about the I Have a Dream program, I thought it would have something to do with making better career choices. I wanted to pursue an MBA then and had connected this personal career goal to my social dream of wanting to become an entrepreneur, and create livelihood options for women suffering neglect or abandonment by their families on account of diseases or other reasons. This workshop enriched me with deeper awareness about myself and others. Activities like Trust-fall made me realize how in order to succeed, it is important to be able to trust others. The exercise of sitting in circles and drawing opened us to sharing our personal experiences, pains and dreams. The best part of the workshop was how safe we all felt opening up with everybody. During the closing workshop, we were all asked to note down a habit or trait we would want to work on and then, hand over this note to one person in the group who made us feel safe, someone we trusted. I was so touched to receive two such notes and that made me feel good about myself.
As a participant of the Community College Initiative Program in 2012, I was all alone by myself in the U.S. This led me to explore my strength and weakness, and also developed my understanding of people and cultures around. This learning continued during the I Have a Dream program where we were encouraged to introspect, understand ourselves and others, and were given tools and techniques that can be used at workplace and in life. Also, meeting people working in different fields who want to contribute to society in a meaningful manner, interacting with the mentors who were welcoming and excited about us was wonderful.
My mentor, Sudhanwa sir, gave me ideas to conduct a plantation drive and similar events at my school. Apart from my personal mentor, I also reached out to other mentors and peers. Charu Mathur, another mentor, is also actively involved in the field of education and was always willing to help. Among my peers, Sadaf, who works in the field of human resources, equipped me with better understanding of interpersonal issues with my school staff. Another peer, Fazil, who is a faculty member at a university in Pune helped me with several ideas for the school I am working at.
My dream, however, took a different turn and I began working in a marketing position for a community school last June. At school, I have initiated a dialogue on several issues that have been overlooked so far. My aim has been to enable better student-teacher relationship by dispelling certain notions, and in the process informing and transforming the mindsets of the teachers and the students. One such attempt has been to debunk the idea of a notorious child by telling teachers there is no such child and that it is just a label. At the time when I went for the workshop, I was focused on issues related to my community; this program gave me a different perspective. Most importantly, my view of society expanded and I started looking at the larger society, much beyond the immediacy of the community I belong to.
Sakina Vakanerwala is currently working with Saifi High School. She participated in the USG-sponsored Community College Initiative Program (CCIP) in 2012-13, where she spent a year as an exchange student at Houston Community College, Texas. She was mentored by Mr. Sudhanwa Kopardekar through the USG-sponsored I Have a Dream leadership and mentoring program for International Exchange Alumni.