I was never one to run a triathlon or climb a mountain to support a cause. Not to say I didn’t try but it wasn’t the best use of my talents. So, when I got the opportunity to get involved with an educational, humanitarian mission I jumped right in. This year, myself and 11 colleagues from Omnicom Media Group MENA were selected to work with Planet Water Foundation on their Project 24 mission. This project was set up to observe World Water Day by building 24 water tanks in 24 cities across the world to bring safe, clean drinking water to communities with no access. Two teams set out to build a water filtration tank in a village called Palla, in the depths of Greater Noida, India, and a village called Suplang, in the greater Manila area in the Philippines.
This was coupled with educational sessions for teachers and students at the school where the tank was built, as well as house visits within the community. Most villages in India, that I had visited, use hand pumps to gather water straight out of the ground to drink, bathe and feed their crop, exposing millions to water borne diseases. The situation was even more severe when we did an extended visit to the children of The Bucket List organization in New Delhi. Beyond basic sanitation and education, we saw the dire living conditions that these children as young as 4 to 17 years put up with.
These conditions were not new to me. As an Indian myself, I have always been aware of the living situations of these communities. Yet, coming face-to-face with these individuals, hearing their stories, seeing them laugh through it all just for the pleasure of having the company of a foreign group of visitors, made our hearts melt and broadened our perspective.
Thinking back to the entire experience, I realized that there were practical lessons that it taught me and that apply to my work life. What were they? 4 main lessons remain clear in my mind.
1. DISCOVER YOUR POTENTIAL
Whether you have 20+ years of experience or a just a few years, potential is an endless pool of opportunity. 13-year old Vineeta had a lisp and speech problems. A few months into getting introduced to acting and elocution lead to a startling transformation on stage. It takes a mix of knowledge, skill and attitude to create something. Making positive changes begins with the right attitude and willingness to start. However big the goal, start small but start today.
2. DON’T BE AFRAID TO TAKE RISKS
Dare to take a chance and try that one idea you’ve been tossing around. Many of the biggest ideas that define this era were fueled from a single thought – much like every one of these organizations that change the lives of hundreds every single day. All of it started from a single thought of making a difference.
3. CREATE AN INCLUSIVE COMMUNITY
The essence of several outreach programs is built on the ideology of community. This is particularly important for children who grow up knowing they are part of a helpless ‘minority’. The enlightened few that begin these missions realize that the most rewarding work is produced by a team of like-minded individuals setting out to achieve a common goal. This is as true in work communities as it is in living communities. This has always been the open secret to success.
4. TEACHING = LEARNING
Teaching is a method of learning too. There is value in every person’s experience, regardless of their age or socio-economic status. To teach something of value, one must be willing to learn and be taught as well. When they start out, many of the street children we talked to weren’t open to learning – simply because they are not familiar with the concept. Spending time to understand these children’s outlook, past and interests helped to get them talking and receptive to learning something new. This can be translated into the work setting as well. Teaching skill while taking away valuable lessons.
Many of my friends and colleagues have asked if my experience left any life changing repercussions. The short answer is no. But I know that it doesn’t stop there. This adventure will always be unique to me; one I will look back on. It will remind me that I want to be a part of that change. Does that mean I should quit my job, pack my bags and dedicate my life to teaching the underprivileged? Not necessarily. It means, I am more conscious of aligning my work life and personal life with that larger vision; I have a bigger goal to think about and my current habits and lifestyle need to support that goal consistently. And if you haven’t found your big goal yet, I suggest you start exploring.