This is the first of a two-part series on YUVA’s ‘Me to Diary’ initiative which provides reflective spaces for the youth to explore hidden aspects of their emotional identities. The first part introduces the philosophy behind the initiative and concludes with reflections of a few of the diarists. The second part continues with these reflections of the diarists and concludes with the parting thoughts from the facilitators.
The Initial Steps – Me to Diary
On September 9, 2023, the ‘Me to Diary’ Program, an initiative supported by Anubhav Shiksha Kendra (ASK) and Youth for Unity and Voluntary Action (YUVA), reached its momentous culmination. Swapnil, one of the founding members of the program, reminisced about the beginnings of the program, painting a vivid picture of a casual brainstorming session that would eventually birth this novel initiative. In the quest to create a meaningful initiative centred on mental health, a myriad of ideas flowed, spanning topics from politics to capacity building. Amidst this brainstorming, Asma’s nostalgic recollection of friends writing diaries together struck a chord. It ignited a spark in Swapnil, leading him to ponder, “What if we could design a diary-writing schedule where experiences of the youth could be expressed on paper?”
There were multiple ideas around what these experiences could be including social and political aspects of the lives of the participants. Eventually, Swapnil, Anjali, Yasmin and Pranaya arrived at the idea of creating a social space for the youth where they can deepen their emotions and build empathy for self and others; and thus began the ‘Me to Diary’ program. Launched in the tumultuous backdrop of the 2021 pandemic, this digital diary initiative wasn’t just about penning thoughts; it was a journey into the soul, a quest to fathom the depths of human emotions. Crafted with love and passion by Anjali Tripathi, Pranaya Patade, Yasmin Faruqui, and Swapnil Shinde, ‘Me to Diary’ has since become a journey of personal growth, fostering a space for genuine conversations and introspection. As an intern at YUVA, I had the privilege of being present at this event, tasked with documenting every poignant moment.
I had the opportunity to converse with team members Swapnil and Anjali. They told me that the essence of the program revolves around “Sundays for Self-Reflection.” These sessions, spanning over three months, are not just meetings but transformative experiences. They bring together individuals from distinct educational paths, including BTech graduates and those fresh out of 12th grade, all converging on a shared journey towards self-discovery and empowerment. The program encourages its diarists to navigate the labyrinth of their emotions, using creative outlets like drawing, writing, and spoken word as their compass.
What struck me most was the program’s core belief: no emotion is inherently good or bad. It’s how we understand and express these emotions that truly matters—upholding principles of safe and brave spaces. It propagates the idea that emotions, in themselves, are neither positive nor negative. It’s the lens through which we view them and the manner in which we express them that shapes our experiences. Over the past three years, the team has meticulously designed sessions, discussions, and activities to equip diarists with self-dialogue skills, deepening their self-understanding. This approach fosters a sense of ownership and community among the diarists.
I’ve come to deeply appreciate the term “diarist.” There’s something profoundly personal about it. When I think of a “participant,” I imagine someone attending an event, perhaps passively. But a “diarist”? That’s someone who’s actively engaged, someone who’s diving deep into their own psyche, chronicling their thoughts, emotions, and revelations. They are not just attendees but storytellers, each with a unique narrative. I feel like it’s this personal touch, the sense of identity, that makes the entire program of ‘Me to Diary’ a very deep and personal experience.
The program spans three months, dedicating 1.5-2 hours every Sunday to self-reflection. What’s unique about these sessions is the absence of any external facilitator. Instead, the core team designs activities encouraging participants to introspect on various topics, with organisers and fellows collaboratively steering the discussions, creating a space where every voice is heard and valued.
According to Anjali and Swapnil, The inaugural 2021 cohort was a resounding success, leading to the continuation of the program in 2022. While the foundational model remained consistent, the second year introduced fresh topics to the session series. The last two years of the “Me To Diary” sessions encompassed a range of topics, including self-awareness, emotional understanding, and practical aspects like anger management and communication skills. Participants highlighted their personal transformation, emphasising the newfound confidence and self-assuredness they gained from the program. The sessions were structured to encourage open dialogue, allowing individuals to share and receive diverse perspectives on various topics fostering a community of mutual growth and learning. The safe and non-judgmental environment of the sessions allowed for honest self-exploration and vulnerability, contributing significantly to personal and emotional development. The impact of the program was evident in the participants’ testimonials, underscoring the value of self-love, communication, and emotional understanding in personal growth and empowerment. This year, the tradition continued, and the program had contemporary themes, ensuring a dynamic and enriching experience for every diarist.
Reflections and Revelations
The event was about the felicitation and closing ceremony for this year. As participants arrived, they were engrossed in vibrant conversations, reuniting with familiar faces. The air was thick with joy, laughter, and the hum of happy dialogues. The ceremony commenced with an intimate internal session involving seven participants and two facilitators. During the check-in, each individual introduced themselves, sharing their current emotional state. Everyone was sad since it was the last day of the cohort gathering. A particularly touching moment was when the diarists were handed back letters they had penned to themselves seven weeks prior.
These letters captured their aspirations for emotional growth. Reading them now, the diarists reflected on their evolution and the strides they had made since penning those words. Another heartwarming segment was the gratitude session, where participants exchanged notes of appreciation. During the ceremony, these notes were returned, allowing each diarist to bask in the warmth of their peers’ kind words. They each shared a favourite gratitude note they had received.
To foster deeper connections and encourage open dialogue, the group was then divided into pairs. This format allowed for more intimate sharing, and it was evident that many felt more at ease discussing their journeys in this setting. Anjali emphasised the importance of introspection and encouraged everyone to delve deep into their experiences over the past three months. Participants were prompted to reflect on their internal journey during the sessions, the challenges they encountered, the adjustments they had to make, and their overall evolution during this period.
Recognizing that some sentiments might be too intimate to share in a larger group, Anjali suggested a paired sharing approach. But here’s the twist: Participants were paired with individuals they hadn’t interacted with much during the sessions. This was a deliberate choice, fostering trust and allowing for fresh perspectives and unbiased listening. It was a testament to the safe and trusting environment of the program, where diarists could open up, share, and reflect on their transformative journey over the three months.
Journeys of the ‘Me to Diary’
As the curtains drew to a close on the “Me to Diary” program, the atmosphere was thick with anticipation. Participants were poised to present their journeys, and I, as a spectator, was eager to immerse myself in their stories. The diarists took centre stage, reflecting on their experiences throughout the program. They delved into their reasons for joining “Me to Diary,” recounted memorable sessions, and highlighted their favourite ones.
From Patchwork Diaries to Profound Insights
The first presenter stepped up, her diary in hand, a tangible testament to her journey. Crafted from items she found around her home, it was a patchwork of memories, reflections, and insights. She spoke of sessions she attended, painting vivid pictures of the discussions that took place. For the sessions she missed, she filled the pages with her personal musings on the topics, offering a unique perspective.
Her motivation for joining the program was rooted in her previous involvement with ‘The Project’ which was an independent initiative spearheaded by Swapnil. She sought a similar experience, a space for introspection and growth. Her excitement was palpable as she recounted the anticipation she felt before each session, wondering about the new topics and tasks that awaited. It was this very curiosity that kept her coming back, week after week.
A particularly poignant moment was her recollection of a session where participants shared items from their childhood. While she appreciated the online sessions, the offline ones held a special place in her heart. They offered a more intimate setting, away from the prying eyes of family, making it easier for her to share.
She delved deep into various topics, from the multifaceted nature of love to the duality of self-criticism. Her reflections on love were profound, emphasising its varying shades for family and friends. Her thoughts on maturity were insightful, emphasising that age doesn’t dictate one’s level of maturity. It’s about making decisions, prioritising, and understanding oneself.
For her, “Me to Diary” was more than just a program; it was a brave space, a sanctuary where she could be herself, share her thoughts, and embark on a journey of self-discovery. As she concluded, it was evident that while she might still be figuring out her path, the sessions had given her the tools and insights to move forward with confidence.
The next presenter took the stage, her demeanour reflecting a mix of excitement and introspection. She began by sharing the roots of her curiosity, “I’ve always believed in learning from people. Whenever there was a group or a gathering, I felt compelled to join, hoping to glean something new.” After a hiatus from such programs due to her exam preparations, she felt a void. Eager to reconnect and learn, she reached out and found her place in the ‘Me to Diary’ community.
She spoke with gratitude, “These past three months have been an enlightening journey. I came with the aim to absorb as much as I could, and I’m leaving with a treasure trove of insights.” However, the journey wasn’t without its challenges. While online sessions offered the convenience of logging in without any preparation, offline sessions posed logistical challenges, especially with travel. She candidly shared her initial aversion to online spaces, a sentiment stemming from her online schooling experience during the pandemic. “But ‘Me to Diary’ transformed that perception,” she said, her voice filled with conviction.
She fondly recalled the session on jealousy, which stood out for her due to the spirited debates and probing questions. “While I cherished every session, the one on jealousy was particularly impactful,” she reminisced. But it wasn’t just the content that left an imprint; it was the environment of acceptance and encouragement. “Standing here, articulating my thoughts, is a testament to the confidence ‘Me to Diary’ instilled in me,” she expressed.
She concluded, “This was the first space where I genuinely felt that there were people eager to listen to our emotions, to understand them, and to help us navigate them.”
Artistic Exploration of Emotions of a Virtual Participant
The digital screen flickered to life, revealing another participant who couldn’t be present physically but had joined the ceremony online. He shared an evocative image he had crafted, encapsulating his journey with ‘Me to Diary.’ The artwork was a vivid tapestry of emotions, each stroke telling a story.
“As I observed everyone during our sessions,” he began, “I was struck by the profound realisation of how deeply we, as humans, are enmeshed in our emotions. Emotions, I’ve come to understand, are both subliminal and intricately complex.” His initial introspections led him to believe that his feelings and experiences were unique. However, as he engaged with fellow diarists, he experienced a paradigm shift. “Interacting with all of you made me see the universality of certain feelings, even as we each have our unique emotional signatures,” he said.
His image was more than just a visual representation; it was a narrative. It showcased the myriad emotions each individual can harbour and how these emotions can evolve over time. “This image is my journey, but it’s also a reflection of our collective experience,” he explained. What stood out was his keen sense of observation. “I found myself increasingly drawn to understanding others. There was so much to learn from the group, from the subtle nuances in reactions to the profound insights shared.”
As he concluded his presentation, it was evident that his journey with ‘Me to Diary’ was not just about self-reflection but also about understanding the broader tapestry of human emotions, all beautifully encapsulated in his artwork.
Read Part 2 here.