Dec 3, 2023

“I was born and brought up in a big joint family in a small town, a kind of place where everybody knows everybody and where the concept of locking your house was more or less non-existent.

‘I want to be a responsible citizen of my country,’ was the line I often wrote in my friends’ slam books. Post-schooling, when the time came to choose a path, with a lot of enthusiasm, I went to my uncle with ideas of joining the armed forces or doing journalism or becoming a lawyer. All the choices were denied – because they were inappropriate for a girl in the family.

Upon finishing my Masters, I was part of a corporate setup for a few years. The ideas about changing the world, making a difference, all took a backseat and the need to earn money, stand on one’s own feet, have a house in the city became the drivers of life.

In few years I realised that this race of wanting more, finding joy in material things is never ending. So I decided to get off that train. The break of few months rekindled the thoughts about contributing to the society and making a difference.

I made a transition into the Developmental Sector where my first job was with GiveIndia, from where my journey of learning about the social space began. After working with GiveIndia for a year and a half, I decided to move to the grassroots to work on my dream to provide a happy childhood for every child. It was this dream and need to understand rural realities that brought me to the first Gramya Manthan in June 2012, which was organised by Youth Alliance.

Children’s Home and Observation Home in Dongri

The dream of providing a happy childhood to every child brought me to the Children’s Home and Observation Home in Dongri, Mumbai which is locally known as ‘bachchon ka jail’ literally translating to “jail for the children”. The children’s home houses kids in need of care and protection.

Ashiyana – a project that works within a Children’s Home and Observation Home in Dongri and Matunga area of Mumbai

For first one and half months, I visited the home frequently. I would sit there for hours, just observing and writing about the place, the children, the people that passed by. And it was during those hours that I knew that this was the place where I want to make a difference. After a year of being scared of accepting and believing in my ideas and dreams, there came a day when with the support of community we started a library inside Dongri home

For a year I spent about 8-10 hours every day with these children, listening to their stories of pain, struggle, joy and dreams over and over again. It was the year which taught me the incredible healing power that a small act of listening possesses.

That year, with the help of friends, we founded Project Ashiyana with a hope to transform the place and bring hope and love into the lives of children.

As time progressed, the project was receiving more and more support, and the work we did was getting a form, and becoming bigger. On the one hand, I was feeling incredibly overwhelmed and grateful to have been part of such a beautiful journey, but somewhere I had started feeling uncomfortable. After being part of it full-time for a year and a half, I realised that creating and running an organisation is not how I want to engage with the world around me. I knew it was time for a change but the journey to let go off something that was born out of me was long and challenging.

It took me almost three months to hand over the project to Sachi, who now nourishes Project Ashiyana with her unconditional love with the support of an excellent team and dedicated volunteers.

Since the past two years, I have been exploring different ways of engaging with the world through listening. I continue to volunteer with Project Ashiyana while facilitating processes with young people and adults through various academic institutions, NGOs and Social Enterprises as a freelance professional. In past two years, I was part of a Digital Storytelling workshop for adolescent girls and boys on Gender and Reproductive Health for University of Chicago’s Project Kissa-Kahani in Lucknow, co-facilitated a collective intelligence dialogue series for real-estate developers titled ‘De-constructing Construction’ for a Mumbai-based social enterprise, facilitated sessions on storytelling and Integrated Arts for adult learners for Tata Institute of Social Sciences (Mumbai) and developing a curriculum for a Bachelor course (B.Voc. in Child Protection) School of Vocation Education at TISS (Mumbai).

One of the things that have given me immense strength in my journey is listening. Being able to listen and being listened to, for me are the greatest gifts that I can give and receive. So I still have the dream to change the way the world operates, shift the way we treat each other and I am doing that every time I am being vulnerable and sharing my fears and insecurities or listening to someone who wants to share their story.

So today, if I have to write my purpose it will sum up to be something like this, ‘I intend to be a means through which people are reminded and enabled to slow down, reflect and listen. Tejal’s journey with Gramya Manthan

She is an alumnus from Youth Alliance’s first Gramya Manthan and ever since has been part of Youth Alliance’s mission. She feels that the organisation gifts her absolute freedom and acceptance to love and to be loved. She brings her passion for creating safe, reflective spaces of listening and love and her skills of envisioning and setting up processes that allow for people to learn and grow to contribute to the program design, facilitation and documentation part of the work at Youth Alliance. One of the other reason that brings her to Youth Alliance is a community of people who are walking on a similar path.  Her journey has made her realise the importance of having people who hold you as you walk the path of your values. Being part of Youth Alliance supports her dream of creating such spaces where young people find community and a gift to realise and practise one’s value.