In my first week as an intern at YUVA, my supervisor gave a presentation on all the work that YUVA was doing, ranging from housing, workers rights, child rights, youth empowerment, sanitation and ration services, emergency COVID-relief, and much more. At the end of the presentation, I naively asked which of these they were focusing on currently. My supervisor laughed and said — ‘All of them’.
Over the course of this internship, I learnt that it is a privileged perspective to be able to look at these challenges as compartmentalised issues that can be tackled one at a time. Lack of access to proper documents and low rates of registration among informal workers feeds into lack of access to basic social services during crises. This makes it more difficult to use government housing schemes, which leads to poor living conditions and susceptibility to health and safety issues. This, in turn, leaves less time and energy to wade through the bureaucracy to get essential documents like Aadhar cards and ration cards.
Everything is connected, especially when you are working directly with people, who each have complex individual conditions and needs. I realised that this is what draws me to this field of work, the ability to work on a deeper level with specific communities, and provide holistic support.
For the 4 months of my internship, I mainly wrote articles and created graphics based on interviews with YUVA’s team members doing field work or with community members, understanding their access to ration, sanitation and vaccine awareness drives. This was a good experience in trying to understand someone’s story, connect it to a larger context and share it with others to raise awareness and empathy. I also designed graphics for a fundraising campaign that were shared on various social media platforms. Although Instagram advocacy has often left me feeling powerless and superficial in the past, watching the donation numbers rise every week as we shared these graphics, and seeing the funds actually being used to buy and distribute supplies, gave me a new perspective on the importance of digital advocacy.
My most valued experience during this internship was a rare opportunity to attend an in-person training camp for youth leaders from informal settlements across the Mumbai Metropolitan Region, called City Caravan. My task was to document the various training and discussion sessions on policy-making, gender, religion, labour rights, etc., but I quickly found friends among the attendees and became a participant myself. It was an incredible experience to meet other people, my age, who were doing such great work. They were working for themselves and their immediate communities, while often working within the very conditions that they were trying to improve. Understanding how they approach various challenges, like housing issues or sanitation issues, in practice, was a very different experience from learning about these issues in a classroom’s theoretical environment. Through this, I understood these issues simultaneously at a larger and a more personal level.
A major takeaway from this internship experience was the importance of being fully present, being eager to learn, and leaving behind any preconceived notions, to be able to truly understand people’s situations and contribute to them meaningfully. I formed lifelong friendships during my time at YUVA, and I am incredibly grateful for an unforgettable experience that will strongly shape my future forays into the world of social and developmental work.
Niyoshi Parekh, Brown University. Niyoshi interned with YUVA from February-June 2021.