So, I’m in India. Again.
I know, I know. It sounds like a big cliché – a “spiritual seeker” returns to India, right? And in many ways, I guess it is a cliché, except that this time I’m not in India for any “formal spiritual” purposes. I’m not undergoing a retreat, nor am I looking for a teacher, a community or new meditation practices. I’m also not here a traveller. Strangely enough I’m still content with life and practice as they are. Still, life took a turn and somehow I landed in Delhi last Tuesday. On the 15th of February I will be heading South – East to the city with the impossible name of Bhubaneshwar which will be my home for the coming year. (see map)
So, what am I doing here? well, first and foremost, it is a dream coming true for me. For many years I’ve been wanting to get involved in promoting row development matters and contribute directly to initiatives that tackle poverty and it’s consequences. But it is also fair to say that although I’m not in India “my” “yogini” identity, next year is yet another stage of my Dhamma journey, except that this time I’ll mostly be wearing the identity of a human rights/ development professional. This coming year in India is also an important part of the commitment I made to dedicate my life to the benefit of others. And above all, regardless of what identity I’m playing with – “spiritual” or professional – this opportunity in India is an attempt to take a few small steps towards repaying the kindness of the poorest people of the world who supported me so beautifully and overwhelmingly on my Dhamma and life journey.
A few months ago I embarked on a recruitment process with an international development agency called VSO. The VSO recruits professional volunteers from across the globe and sends us to some of the most disadvantaged countries of the world. Our task is to share skills and experiences and assist local initiatives that support some of the poorest and most vulnerable individuals on earth. The VSO partners with local initiatives worldwide and recruit volunteers based on the needs of different countries. The emphasis is mainly on strengthening organisational capacities in an array of institutions ranging from governmental branches, non-governmental organisations and private sector initiatives. The VSO also attempts to strengthen corporate-social relationships. As volunteers we are asked to dedicate most of our time to sharing professional skills such as strategic planning, HR, people and budget management, fundraising, monitoring and evaluation tools etc. Usually VSO volunteers do not provide direct services to local communities – i.e. you will not likely to see us teaching English or working in an orphanage or a hospice, rather we support local initiatives who provide education, medical, social and other services in order to increase their capacities so that they could provide better and more efficient services to their respected local communities.
The VSO is not paying us a salary but it covers our expenses, takes care of flights, in-land travels and medical insurance, makes sure we have a decent place to live in and offers us a modest monthly stipend which enables us a comfortable yet modest lifestyle for the duration of our placements.
Personally, over the next year, I will be utilizing my management, advocacy and research skills to conduct a monitoring and evaluation consultancy for a large scale Indian state NGO called AAINA. AAINA works for the inclusion and rights of individuals with disabilities and focuses mainly on supporting vulnerable children and women. AAINA is located in the state of Orissa which is the poorest state of India. I still don’t know much about the projects that AAINA is carrying out, but from the limited information I have, upon hearing favorable feed-backs, reading important documents and browsing their website I can say that I am humbled to be assisting AAINA in the coming year and happy to contribute to their already very impressive work.
How I Ended Up In India
The VSO works in roughly 40 different countries around the world. In addition, the organisation usually asks it’s volunteers for a two years’ commitment. So as much as I love SE Asia, statistically I didn’t think there was a good chance for me to be sent here. Truth is, I was psychologically preparing myself for a couple of years in Africa when my volunteer placement adviser phoned and asked if I will be willing to accept a placement in India for a year. Of course I happily said yes. So I’m back in magical India and in a sense this is an answer to the fantasy to return here, yet, the fact that I was sent here for a year was completely random. Or karmik some would say.
“Spirituality and Social Change”
I very much look forward to this coming year, not only because the project I’m about to embark on really excites me. But also because next year will be the first meaningful step I’m taking towards integrating insights, compassion and equanimity with international development work.
I have a feeling India will enable me a space to explore ways of playing with an array of different identities which don’t necessarily co-exist in other walks of life, such as the game between my professional and “spiritual” identities. I offer this and the following posts and my experiences in the coming year as an open on-going dialogue on the relationship between “spirituality” and social change. I’d like to welcome those of you who share a similar lifestyle to share your stories and experiences and contribute to this discussion.
Interconnectedness And Generosity
And finally, if you would like to participate in and support my personal journey in India, or if you are inclined to support the VSO’s meaningful work, and if you can assist in the attempts to share the limitless existing wealth and knowledge with as many people on this planet earth as possible, you are welcome to join us. You can either contribute your time and skills and become a volunteer or, if you can, we welcome any financial contribution you can offer. If you can assist financially it would be highly appreciated. Just drop me a line.
I end this post with this hilarious perfectly accurate description of one predominant aspect of life in mother India. It is – for better and for worse – an analogy to many aspects of this incredible place.