Community Approach

There is no singular approach on how to connect with community gracefully and authentically. Indicorps fellows recount their experiences and best practices, ranging from sports to cooking to walking with migratory workers.

Using sports and engaging with children to connect with families

During my project to promote organic farming and build farmers’ collectives, I took an interest in the challenges faced by daily wage laborers who toiled away for hours picking weeds in the sun. I was curious about how physically challenging their jobs must be and I wanted to learn more. There were a few women who worked regularly on the plot of land right behind my host family’s home, and I noticed that their young children would often join them and wander around as they worked. Rather than approaching them and directly introducing myself (I thought this may be inappropriate and awkward, especially as a young man), I decided one day to take my frisbee out and started tossing it into the air to myself. When one of the kids saw me, they became interested in the disc and we started playing catch. Ultimately, this opened the channel for me to introduce myself to their parents and build a relationship. When people see that their children are comfortable around you, I think they are more likely to open up and interact. Through two things I enjoy – sports and engaging with youth – I was able to get to know their parents. Eventually, I ended up joining them a few days every week as we pulled out weeds and talked about the work they do.

Deepak Kumar
Fellowship Year: 2012-13
Partner Organization:Centre for Development Orientation and Training
Project: Establish and Strengthen Farmers’ Collectives (Nalanda, Bihar)

Consistently engaging with students through an after school program at my host organization

My host organization offered several community-based programs including a tutoring program for adolescent students from humble backgrounds. My primary project consisted of piloting a community-based palliative care program to offer people with incurable diseases holistic care in their homes. Although my primary project was not related to the youth’s education, I would often use the multipurpose space, where the students were tutored, to host meetings for my project’s team. Everyday I would see these students, and with time we slowly began to recognize and know each other. I requested their tutors to let me spend time with them. I utilized tools from orientation such as the team-building activities. We would play games and they would help practice Kannada. We began to feel more comfortable with each other and I was able to get to know their diverse personalities. The students began approaching me to discuss non-academic issues at home, etc. It was an honor and responsibility to be trusted. Getting to know the staff, who knew the students more intimately, helped me navigate some of these issues.

When I was searching for a new host family during my Fellowship year, several students’ parents generously offered their homes. I eventually lived with twin students in the program, which became another opportunity to further strengthen relationships with students’ families.

I did not intend to immerse myself in this particular community but the opportunity presented itself. I knew interacting with youth would push my comfort zone. When I reflect back on this experience, I realize patience was critical in gaining trust and building meaningful relationships with students and their families.I am grateful for them, for their willingness to engage with me and for accepting me as part of their community.

Priti Shah
Fellowship Year: 2012-13
Partner Organization: Swami Vivekananda Youth Movement
Project: Strengthen Holistic Community-Based Palliative Care (Mysore, Karnataka)

Learning as much as possible about the local food -- visiting local food markets, learning new recipes, and experimenting with cooking!

Abirami Natarajan
Fellowship Year: 2008-09
Partner Organization: Association for Health Welfare in the Nilgiris
Project:Tribal Health Workers Training (Nilgiris, Tamil Nadu)

Specific to migrant communities, traveling with folks on common routes they take from their original communities to their adopted ones. Few people in their lives - often not even their own families - come to understand both of their worlds.

From Surat, I accompanied some of the migrant workers I'd recruited to be peer educators on a loooooong bus, rickshaw, ox cart trip back to their villages in Saurashtra. It took around 20 hours of travel each way. I met their friends and families, dined and cooked with them, shared stories, slept in roadside guesthouses, learned about the dual nature of their lives in Saurashtra and in Surat - the farm and the city, and better understood the mental models of their lives. We often referred to this journey over the course of my year with them; and I quickly met many more people in the community afterwards because of the bond developed during it.

Nishant Shah
Fellowship Year: 2005-06
Partner Organization: Sahas
Project: Adult Literacy for Life (Surat, Gujarat)

Look, Listen and Learn

Indicorps' always suggested to us as fellows to follow the matra, Look, Listen and Learn, which I believe embodies humility. To connect with the community, we have to humbly learn from the community. We can do that by being present, not just in activities that are project-related, but in all things. We have to understand the day-to-day life of those we are working amongst. What are their stories, responsibilities, relationships, motivations, and needs?

I began my project working with Anganwadi workers and Sahayoginis of the village to improve community health. They told me to meet them at the local Anganwadi Center by 9 am, yet I was frustrated to see that they were only arriving closer to 10:30 or 11 am everyday. They were unable to meet most of the responsibilities asked of them due to time constraints and a variety of other challenges, including the intense desert heat. It is only when I began my mornings at their homes, watching how they made several trips to the tap to get water for the day, cared for their children, cooked breakfast and lunch, and a myriad of personal and familial obligations, all before heading to meet me at the Anganwadi Center, did I begin to understand why they were later than expected every morning. Once I attempted to step into their shoes by beginning the day with them in their homes, did I understand all that was expected of them. I continue to use this Indicorps philosophy whenever I work with any new community or group - look, listen, and learn.

Christina Mathews
Fellowship Year: 2005-06
Partner Organization: Bhoruka Charitable Trust
Project: Improving Community Health (Bhorugram, Rajasthan)

I practiced minimizing controllable differences between the community and myself, which helped build rapport and trust and really allowed us to get to know each other. However, I was mindful to never be inauthentic or put myself in great risk.

I applied this in small gestures and actions throughout the day, which all added up. For example:

  • When community members were sitting on the floor for a meal or a meeting, then I also sat with them day in and day out, even though I wasn't used to sitting on the floor.
  • When all the artisans staying at the NGO hostel participated in the daily/weekly/monthly cleaning activities across the campus, I participated with them doing the exact same chores, in the same capacity for the same amount of time.
  • Even though I was given a separate private room, I joined all the residents of the hostel, who slept together in the main hall, sleeping along-side them every night.
  • I followed the same meal schedule as the fellow artisans I stayed with, eating the same foods, at the same time.
Rohan Jasani
Fellowship Year: 2007-08
Partner Organization: Sampoorna Bamboo Kenda (SBK)
Project: Sustain Livelihoods through Bamboo Products (Amravati, Maharashtra)

My best approach was to consistently engage with the community without any given agenda.

I achieved this by visiting their homes, work places, villages, sharing numerous cups of chai, etc. As a result of these consistent and genuine interactions, the community was willing to share, listen, and work together to solve problems. Coming from a results driven environment, this was initially a challenge, as it required some patience and acceptance of not seeing instant results. Fostering and igniting human connection is what pushed me to consistently engage with the community I was working with.

Pulin Thakkar
Fellowship Year: 2008-09
Partner Organization:Aajeevika Bureau
Project: Migrant Support and Services (Udaipur, Rajasthan)