The GAP initiative, also known as Global Action on Poverty is taking place in India. The whole idea behind this initiative is to eradicate poverty in the world by gathering people from around the world. With the help of catalysts and inspiring social workers, ideas, innovations, and various actions are brought to life in order to help the unprivileged.
The first selection process was held at Imperial College during my first term in London. With a team of four members, namely, Carissa, Sriya, Debo and myself, we came up with an idea, a project, and finally a business plan. The pitch was presented and chosen by a panel of judges, meaning the elected team could send a member to the GAP summit for a thrilling opportunity in India.
Ahmedabad, here I come.
As it was my first time to India, I really didn’t’ know what to expect. Of course, we all heard about poverty, rural life, and slums. However, the impression given by TV and media is all about Bollywood, spicy food and economic rise, well, the part I knew. For me, poverty remained merely a concept that I acknowledged, but refused to accept.
On my first day in Ahmedabad, I took a stroll along the newly constructed riverside walkway, the “Sabarmati Riverfront” (picture on the left). Apparently China has been investing in India as well. As soon as I left the fancy area, I suddenly found myself in a very different setting. Being a foreigner, I can’t blame people for staring at me. However, THIS was the part of the city I walked into:
As soon as I stepped into it, people were all so surprised to see a stranger walk into the “hood”. Some of them offered me a smile, others talked to me, asking me where I came from. The best request came from a kid who invited me to sift sand (picture above on the right).
Later on, advancing further into the area, someone called out to me: “What are you doing here? Why are you here? You know that the nice places are across the bridge?” To what I replied: “I know, I came here on purpose, I wanted to see…”
“To see?”, he questioned.
Deep down inside, I answered, I want to see the REALITY.
It is in those moments where you start reflecting on yourself, your life, that you realise how lucky you are, at the end. Indescribable feelings of uselessness and compassion will overflow your head, regardless of you being a tough man or usually being good at impression management. Being here for the GAP summit and trying to make a change, I just couldn’t imagine how I was supposed to start this. Where do I even start? Why am I studying this masters in International Health Management?
On the other hand, questions like these also popped up in my head. Is there a room for change here in India? Are the people ready for it? Are they going to accept what we would like to propose?
During the following days, here I was, at the GAP conference.
The best place to start with motivation, inspiration, wisdom, and humility was this sanctuary called “Gandhi Ashram”, that exact same place where this man used to eat, walk, meditate, and protest.
The conference was organised in such a way that every minute of our time would be utilised to take on some motivation, work on our project, meet new people to collaborate, network, listen to more experienced social workers, take on some more motivation and so on. What everyone needed to be convinced of after the summit is the following: altogether, by creating synergies, we believe that poverty can be eradicated; because poverty only exists because WE allow it.
Every day had a special topic for us to reflect on, like equality, human right and dignity, partnership and collaboration with the community, scaling up a project, and finally, our life purpose. Here are some of the best quotes:
“The day we stop talking [for the poor/the unprivileged], we stop living”. The panellist then mentioned some political issue and government led massacres… This woman … She first worked with policies and governmental bodies, trying to make the change. The moment she understood she wouldn’t be able to do anything, she immediately dropped out and started something of her own, bringing the notion of justice, righteousness and freedom of choice bolstered by knowledge and education into reality.
Raising social, political and religious issues in India, another panellist added: “We have a problem when we raise our children with the legitimacy of inequality.” Or, “Never be afraid to do what is right! Punishment from society is a small pain compared to the one inflicted to our soul when we look away” (Martin Luther King).
Thanks to a group of motivated volunteers, dedicated staff, inspirational panellists and catalysts, I have to admit, the event was a blast for most of us.
Of course, there was some disappointment and some other perfectible areas for next year. For example, during a one-on-one meeting session, I was supposed to meet some catalysts (people that are working in the same field as our project and supposed to facilitate or give insights), but none of them showed up.
But worse, the feedback I got from almost all of the people I met, was that our project, as good as it may look like theoretically, is not operational, partly due to our lack of field knowledge. When we are trying to bring change from our very occidental western wealthy world, it tends to backfire and fail, because we don’t understand the real needs. People are hungry, people are suffering. No accounting, no innovation, no process can erase that fact. No need to get frustrated, I took it as a lesson. Now, I know.
In conclusion, even if I didn’t quite get what I was looking for, this trip to India definitively changed my vision of social work and now I know I only scraped the surface of the challenges faced by those amazing people who are bringing change. Being back in London in my small comfortable room, I reflect back on those four days. I know I made a promise, we all did. We will not stop until poverty is eradicated. Especially when I later learnt that the slum I ran into wasn’t even the worst.
I would like to take this opportunity to openly thank all the GAP2016 organisers, coaches, catalysts, other change-makers, volunteers, committee, speakers, guests, all the connections and friends I made, etc.
Thank you also to my team who did an amazing job for pulling this project off and making the RAAHAT Initiative qualified in the first place : Carissa, Debo, Sriya.
Here is my experience of the GAP2016. Thank you,