I am based in Lucknow and had just completed my B.Ed. degree and was in the last semester of my M.A. when I was invited to participate in the I Have a Dream program. It had been almost three years since my participation in the Study of U.S. Institutes (SUSI) Women's Leadership Program in 2012. The dreams and aspirations I had during my exchange year, upon return, had somewhat faded. The I Have a Dream workshop helped me refresh those aspirations and brought them to the foreground. I rediscovered my passion, thanks to the various exercises done during the workshop. Through various activities and exercises I realized I wanted to work for children with special needs. My younger sister is a child with special needs, diagnosed with Down’s syndrome and all throughout, my parents have treated her with normalcy. But this is not how the world views them; my dream is to change the way people view children with special requirements. I believe they should be treated as independent people, who may need assistance at times but not empty sympathy.
When I came back to Lucknow I was super excited about starting my project, and then other things started coming up — studies, family functions. My mentor, Nupur Samuel, was the most important person in helping me get through this phase. When things started to fizzle out at my end, she would encourage me by helping me set realistic goals without curbing my enthusiasm. For example, I had planned to counsel ten parents, she suggested it would be meaningful to just meet three families and engage with each of the family members at a deeper level. This entire exercise was quite telling, I met three distinct set of parents — where one of them were still unwilling to accept her child and even saw this as a disease. At the end of the project my mentor suggested I write a report, which I was initially reluctant to do. However, I conceded as I could see the importance of doing that. When I sent the report, she not only reviewed my report and provided feedback, but also asked for the revised version, and later commented on that as well. In hindsight I realize the importance of this report, whether it was during the closing workshop or to show my work to other schools in order to gain access to children I am interested in working with. It also becomes a good reference source to revisit steps undertaken during these months. I am still in touch with my mentor but the frequency has reduced. Once I start with the next stage in my project, I will definitely call and ask for her suggestions.
Almost everything worked well with me. I had doubts about how things will work with my mentor because I was the only participant who lived in Lucknow while my mentor was in Delhi, but it worked beautifully. Participating in this program has made me feel special and brought about change in me. All this while I have led a protected life, so traveling from alone to and from Delhi and making decisions has brought about confidence in me. On the last day of the workshop, there was an exercise called the Trust Fall. Here, we had to fall backwards and just trust the people behind to hold us. Initially, I was not willing to let go, which eventually I did. When I fell, I was blank. After that I went and sat in the room, with so many things going through my mind, I felt whatever I had done in the past was not what I had wanted and that things begin from today onwards. My dream is a new beginning for my life.
Adriana Michael is currently in the last semester of her Master's degree in English. She participated in the USG-sponsored Study of U.S. Institutes (SUSI) Women's Leadership Exchange Program in 2012. She was mentored by Ms. Nupur Samuel through the USG-sponsored I Have a Dream leadership and mentoring program for International Exchange Alumni.