I always believed I had the fire within me, but that alone is not enough. My dream of enabling economic independence for underprivileged women in my hometown, envisaged during my participation in the Study of the United States Institute (SUSI) for Student Leaders on Women’s Leadership in 2015, needed guidance. This is when Pravah’s I Have a Dream program came my way. During the course of four days in the workshop, I felt various shifts taking place within me. At the outset, we were told to not accept things, but to question. There was an exercise that made us think of all the reasons why we chose one idea over other possible issues, which was particularly impactful. We keep telling ourselves stories of wanting to do things for the world, but through the “5 Whys” exercise, I realised it finally boils down to myself, and what gives me happiness. I was shocked to learn my dream was for my satisfaction, and not out of some kind of altruistic concern.

The biggest difference I see in myself is in the way I communicate now. I am in a college where almost all my peers come from schools where Tamil is the medium of instruction. I have always feared being ridiculed for speaking in English by boys in my class. With the encouragement provided by Chirantana, my mentor, I have stopped being self-conscious about what people around me would think of me. Another insight has been on how to communicate with people who come to me with their problems. My natural tendency was to advise; however, I learned during the workshop it is more important to understand the problem than providing solutions.

I am currently studying English Literature, and have simultaneously partnered with SHEPERD—an NGO dedicated towards poverty alleviation. I surveyed ten women, and identified possible economic opportunities they may be interested in taking up on a sustained basis. Initially, many of them said they don’t know anything (remunerative); however, it took some persistence from my side. Some said they could cook, so opening a mess becomes an option, some want to start a stationery shop, and then there are a few who know how to stitch, and would be willing to take on contracts. As part of this project, I am going to facilitate financial support through NGOs that provide livelihood support for women, while emphasizing this funding is for regeneration, and not for purchase of jewellery or to pay off old debts.

Throughout, my mentor kept me motivated by sharing personal experiences. She also helped me plan, gave inputs on the questionnaire, helped me get in touch with people doing work I am interested in, gave ideas on use of social media for better outreach. It is heartwarming to see her reach out even after completion of three months, to see her still interested in the progress of my dream. On looking at my proposed idea, my mentor had said it was achievable within the timeframe we were given. She further encouraged me by saying, even if we have positive impact on one person, it will benefit several lives, and that I would have succeeded in actualizing my dream. I chose this journey because I believe women who provide economic support to the family are treated better and more equally than those who don't. So far, everything has worked very well for me. This has been an important and meaningful journey, an opportunity of a lifetime.

Aniruthiya is a second year student of English Literature at Mannar Thirumalai Naicker College, Madurai. She participated in the USG-sponsored Study of the United States Institute (SUSI) for Student Leaders on Women’s Leadership in 2015. She was mentored by Chirantana Kar through the USG-sponsored I Have a Dream leadership and mentoring program for International Exchange Alumni.

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