This blog post is going to focus on three of our alumni students who we are incredibly proud of: Vijay, Raja and Akash. These three young men are from the Wadala community, which was one of our most high-risk areas. There were high rates of crime, human trafficking and illegal trade and so there was a dangerously high chance of young people going down a dark path. But over time, due to interventions by NGOs and the efforts of the community, we have seen the Wadala community be transformed. Not only this, but we have seen these three students also change: seen them grow confident, come out of their shells and become positive and inspiring role models for those around them.
At the Alumni Meet in early February, Raja presented a short film that he made about Vijay, with the help of Akash (you can tell these boys are somewhat of a trio!). It told the story of Vijay’s journey to fencing success. It may seem odd that a sport that has its roots in the French aristocracy is popular among students in Mumbai, but such is the global nature of our city! And Vijay’s story is inspirational in a way that crosses borders.
At first, he had a strong interest in cricket. But his cricket practice, though sincere and dedicated, wasn’t giving him the results he wanted. The film shows Vijay practising in a field with a voiceover explaining his frustration. He wanted progress and improvement, but he wasn’t getting it. He then found out that there were fencing classes at his school, and the coach persuaded him and his friend to go. Vijay explained to me that he never really knew anything about fencing before he began! “But the coach explained the sport to me, and I decided to try it.”
He thought that he should try it at least once, and this is an attitude that we are aiming to instil in all our students. When you are embarking on a career, or trying to work out what your dream career might be, it is important to be open to trying new roles, learning new skills and to be ready to take on what work you can. Vijay certainly has this outlook! He wanted to find a sport he was good at, and so was open to giving new sports a try. “Sport is beneficial for young people,” he tells me, as he explains why he has been so determined. Indeed, he says that fencing has really helped him in many parts of his life. His concentration has improved, so he is doing better at school. He learnt the importance of discipline and punctuality so had high attendance for CareeReady (without which, he would not have been able to graduate).
When he begun, he was one of four students. By the end of the week, he was the only one who had decided to continue. He continued to go to class and to practise in his school’s yard. Other students would watch Vijay practising and admired his skill, and little by little, they began to join the class. It goes to show the power of a good example!
Vijay then began to compete. First at district level, then at state level where he won medals. He continued to practise and continued to improve until, this past January, he went to Chandigarh to compete at national level!
After he tells me this, we spend some time chatting a bit more about fencing. I then ask him how else he thinks fencing has helped him and he tells me that it increased his confidence. “But,” he says, as I furiously scribble down everything he is telling me, “CareeReady helped me with that too,” Akash and Raja both nod. They are both working, Akash for Mumbai Metro (that’s right, the train company!), and Raja at Starbucks (he’s in the photo above, making coffee!). In their jobs, Akash and Raja talk to new people every day. They believe that the exposure visits, mock interviews and mentorship program from Antarang helped them to become more comfortable with interacting with strangers. “We get to serve people from all different walks of life, so we have to be confident enough to talk to them, sometimes have a little conversation if they’re in a chatty mood. Because I met new people from CareeReady, I now find it easy to serve people I don’t know, make them feel comfortable, and make sure that they’re happy with they’re order. In fact, there are some customers that only let me make their coffee because I’m their favourite server!” Raja says.
Similarly, for Akash, the program taught him that it is important to be open and friendly, even if you don’t know the person. Vijay tells me that he is going to start his job at Starbucks after his exams, and that the communication skills he learnt helped him in his interview. All of them agree that from CareeReady, they understood how important it is to be enthusiastic, on-time and well-groomed. For Raja, the advice he got from the program about having a clean appearance and the importance of hygiene has really helped him prepare for his job. “Because we are serving people food and drink, it’s very, very important that we are clean and that we wash our hands regularly.”
All three young men tell me that they are grateful for the CareeReady program. We are also grateful for them – not only are they role models for their community, but they are also role models for all of us connected to Antarang. Their hard work and ability to overcome obstacles in their path is truly inspiring. And not only this, but they “give forward” to their community: Akash and Raja volunteer at a local school and all of them help Antarang’s Community Engagement team with enrolment. They have a dedicated and positive attitude, and we should all aspire to inspire the way they do.