The Power to Do

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Issue 01 | Mar 2023


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THE POWER TO DO – ISSUE 01 | MAR 23 Reach out to us —

Stories of Grit, Determination, Courage and Potential

Stories Collection by Savita Kumari & Akriti Bharti

Compiled & Edited by Rukmini Bhuyan

Designed & Illustrated by Bhavana Borah

Publication Curated & Facilitated by Tonmoy Talukdar

14-36 CONTENTS VOLUNTEER STORIES When Destiny & Purpose Align Choosing Courage Everyday Thriving Through Change Driven to Learn; A Learning Mindset From Education to Opportunity Age is an Attitude 14 16 18 20 22 24 26 28 30 32 34 36 Rewriting One’s Life Story Fostering Human Connections Merging Experience & Learning Taking Charge, The Future is Young Expanding Horizons The Power of Confidence 09 39 41 FOREWORD WAY FORWARD ANNEXURE 11 PREFACE


It is with great pleasure that I bring to you the first-ever publication of Project Potential called — “The Power to Do – Issue 01 | Mar 23”. Our focus is to bring to you the stories of those young people whose participation and hard work are at the heart and soul of our organisation. These are stories of the immense potential of rural youth of Bihar, a significant segment of the young people in our country, showcasing their grit, courage and determination.

The pandemic brought along challenges that were unprecedented for us as an organisation and also for the communities we serve in. The nature of the pandemic was such that it required social isolation. This was a major challenge for us, as the programs that we implement, involve high levels of social interaction. These interactions take place through different activities in diverse spaces, from nukkad nataks performed in front of a street crowd to classroom activities with young children. With the pandemic, all of this came to a halt. Circumstances compelled us to put a hold on our community engagement activities. Our teammates were also confined to various locations, which affected our work. The pandemic was a time of many obstacles which required resilience and coordinated efforts to overcome them.

In 2020, as the world witnessed the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, one thing was most real, thousands of people losing their lives, and many more losing their loved ones. There was also great loss of livelihood, and many people reverse migrated to their villages from the urban areas they were working in.

Change is the only constant, and this became our driving force. So, here is what we did. We developed new strategies to achieve our goals. We adopted virtual platforms, which became ‘the new normal’. At the same time, we made innovations to our existing community engagements and mobilisations. For example, as a part of our Coronavirus Response Project, we transitioned from nukkad nataks to radio nataks — performing plays


over a mike within a vehicle that drives by — to spread awareness of pandemic-appropriate behaviour and the importance of vaccines.

Amidst all these changes, one aspect that always remained unaltered, was the inclusion of local youth. They were actively involved in implementing our on-ground interventions to provide relief during the pandemic. This was also the first time that Project Potential was foraying into the Health sector, and it was the courage and resolve of young people that were pivotal to the success of our efforts. It is our privilege to have been a part of their personal journeys of growth and learning.

involved in bringing this publication together. It was a process of coming together of young people from urban and rural backgrounds to brainstorm, collaborate and create together. It showcased the power of the values that Project Potential proudly stands for.

Lastly, I thank and welcome you, dear readers, to join us in this celebration of personal growth, collective wins, and the inspiration to always strive for a better tomorrow.

At Project Potential, our vision is to end poverty sustainably in the hundred poorest districts of India. We strongly believe that in order for us to achieve this, it is essential for the youth of the country to be an active participant. We believe in the power of local youth taking local actions to bring about sustainable change — a belief that was further reinforced as we witnessed their potential at being the last-mile connectors in this project. I would like to congratulate all the people who were



Although too many people continue to lose their lives and suffer poor health due to the coronavirus, it is almost hard to comprehend what the world went through during the last two years. The unfortunate reality is that the brunt of the pandemic, as with so many other disasters and challenges, was borne by the poor more than any other group. While we like to encourage resilience in others by telling them to “thoda adjust kar lijiyega” (please try to adjust a little) in the face of difficulties, how do you adjust to being orphaned, losing your spouse, or facing prolonged hunger?

What I am grateful for is that our team immediately recognized the pain that would be inflicted on the communities we work with through COVID and that there was no fire brigade coming to put out the fire — we had to become the fire brigade. We had to call upon every strength and relationship we built over the previous 8 years to ensure we could show up for the community in a time of need. During the first wave, that looked like providing ration kits to 50,000 people — a total of 15,00,000 meals. During the second wave, we set up an oxygen pipeline for 80 beds and provided 280 oxygen concentrators to 6 district hospitals in Bihar. Throughout this period, our guiding philosophy was simply — do what is necessary to save lives.

Therefore, once the vaccine was developed, we knew that there would be a gap in the last mile that would prevent the most vulnerable from getting vaccinated. Some of the issue was due to misinformation and rumors, others due to fear, and still others due to facing the unfair tradeoff of either working on a given day or getting vaccinated. We talked with community members to understand each of these challenges and then designed a program to overcome them.


We recruited over 300 local youth to work on what eventually came to be called the Coronavirus Response (CVR) Project. More than 70% of the youth force comprised young, motivated females. Recruited for an one time engagement in which these youth received a stipend, they conducted many activities on ground such as door-to-door awareness, loudspeaker awareness, support of the local Public Health Centre with data collection and logistics, hired vans and boats to bring nurses directly to remote communities, and organized vaccination camps. All in all, these youth did outreach to over 4,75,000 people and facilitated 2,85,000+ vaccinations. We were told by one of India’s largest foundations who supported us in this effort that we were the first organization to submit a proposal on a vaccination plan and a lot of these learnings were then replicated through other organizations.

immense potential to get things done at the last mile — where no one else can.

This is an important insight that should not be lost through this horrific experience we have all been through — that there are pathways to help youth gain skills, become more confident, and more employable which solve urgent problems in the community. What we hope to do through this book, though, is to humanize “youth” — to showcase the stories of transformation that happened for the youth and through the youth in the community.

Stories of local youth taking local action in a way that benefits all.

What is remarkable is that all of this work was strategized and executed by local youth who come from the communities we were serving. These youth are generally referred to as “the problem” — the “undereducated” part of India’s “demographic dividend” who will drag India down. Yet, what our experience and successes make abundantly clear is the fact that these youth have


NGOs and visited PP’s office in person. She talked to the team members and learnt about different initiatives taken in the community where she is from. This new information and awareness gave her the confidence to join, and begin a new journey.


When the local team members from Project Potential went to Chengmari in search of eligible women volunteers, the people of the village told them about Ritu Kumari. She was the only girl in the village who had passed the twelfth-standard board exams. At the time, Ritu was working at a tea garden during the mornings. She would also attend computer classes and help her mother with household work, later in the day.

When she was asked to join the CVR project, Ritu was quite skeptical. It was unfamiliar ground for her; on one hand, she was skeptical about vaccines for the coronavirus, as her family did not believe in its efficacy and on the other, Ritu was wary about the workings of an NGO. Ritu took this opportunity to research more about

Working on the project as a volunteer challenged the notions of a formal workspace that Ritu had had earlier. She learnt firsthand how non-profit work contributed to improvements in the society. This opened up a new world of possibilities. She realized that she can achieve her potential through these channels as well. Ritu showed merit as a volunteer and later, as a supervisor in how she overcame the challenges that came her way. An instance she highlights was her experience in Hulhuli. The volunteers and auxiliary nurses midwives (ANMs) were facing difficulties during surveys as the people were very reluctant to sharing any information. Ritu took this challenge as an opportunity, and slowly but surely worked her way through the village and conducted entire surveys on her own. Even repeated resistance did not deter her. There was another time, in another village, when the sarpanch was reluctant to let the volunteers conduct surveys. She was able to convince him of the importance


of it, and by the end, he himself helped them and even invited them to his home. These individual successes made her learn the necessity of effective communication in bringing about change, and also made her believe in her own potential.

From her initial skepticism of the project to being an integral part of it, her journey was long and fruitful. She has emerged as a role model for the people of her village and for the young women of her community, who look to emulate her example. Before this experience, there were times when she had questioned the importance of education. However, her educational qualifications were the main reason why the offer was made to her to join this project. It reinstated her belief in the pivotal role that education can play in the access to opportunities. Ritu says that she is proud of her personal journey during this volunteering project and the positive changes that she sees in herself. Through project-related training, guidance and practices, she has gained skills that will hold her in good stead in the future ventures of her life. Currently, Ritu is enrolled in the Changemaker fellowship for Gram Swarajya. She is running her own learning centre named “Sawera” for young children.

She wants to open an Anganwadi child care centre in her village, as the nearest centre right now is far away. A long-term goal she sees for herself is to join the army or the police services. Most importantly, Ritu is confident about her ability to achieve these goals, no matter the challenges that come her way.



Rinki Kumari belongs to the village of Baghmara in Thakurganj. During the pandemic, her regular college classes had been suspended. Rinki was spending much more time at home, and she also could not go outside as as she used to in her day-to-day life. She had passed an examination to join an ANM diploma course during this time; financial constraints, however, meant that she could not actually enroll herself in the course. This situation changed when she joined as a volunteer in the CVR project. Now, instead of being home, much of her time was spent outside and working on community mobilization efforts. The human interactions that had ceased also came back as she met many different people, within the project and in the villages where she went to collect vaccination information.

The meetings that she participated in increased her ability to articulate her views. Rinki has struggled with speaking up in certain situations in her life before. Here, in spite of feeling uncomfortable at times, she pushed herself to complete her work assignments every single day. It was not an easy task. There were several instances when individuals would be unfriendly because they were unaware of the importance of vaccinations, and the purpose for which volunteers like Rinki were collecting their information. There would be some who would become aggressive, preventing Rinki from doing her work. She navigated these conflictual situations, and also engaged members of the panchayats to help her.

She used practical methods to resolve these scenarios, and also to overcome her own fears.

She became aware that there was a stigma attached to women working outside their homes. At the same time, seeing her working outside made the families of other young women come up to her and ask her how they could provide their daughters with such opportunities. Rinki became an inspiration and example to others around her.

Her own family took great pride in her work and lent her the support that she needed to go out and work every


day. A defining point in this volunteership for her was when she met other women volunteers who talked more openly about menstruation and periods, a subject of taboo in her community. It came as a shock, but evolved into an environment of openness and freedom she now enjoyed being a part of. She, along with her fellow volunteers, travelled together to Pothia block, where Rinki was an invigilator for exams held for selecting new volunteers and supervisors. She has always been curious about the invigilators she would see in her exams as a student and now had gotten to experience the same.

After these trips, she and her friends would eat together and enjoy some free time. At the writing workshops held by PP, Rinki improved her writing skills and became more confident in it. For data entry of the surveys, she became better at using technology and also worked on a laptop, which she had never done before. What had been a time of physical and social confinement during the pandemic had changed into a time of learning, independence and personal growth.

Her confidence in her own capacities has increased manifold. She has gained the confidence to communicate to her family that she wants to pursue her education and build a career before she gets married. Rinki is now positive that she will pursue her goals in spite of all odds that may come her way.

Rinki is currently finishing her sociology course and also taking classes for young children at home. She wants to enrol in the ANM course in the near future.



When Jyoti Kumari joined as a volunteer, she signed up for a big change from what her daily life had entailed until then. She was a college student pursuing her degree in history from a school of distance learning. This meant that she mostly remained at home for her classes. In the evenings, when classes were over, she helped her mother with household work. Volunteering meant that Jyoti now stepped out of her house and was on-field for long hours every day. The physical step is only a part of the story; what this also meant was a big mental leap as she took on an entire world that she had not known of before.

While there were volunteers who had scooters that they used to go to villages that were farther away, Jyoti travelled on her cycle. She estimates that she cycled for more than fourteen hundred kilometres on her ‘two-wheeler’. She traveled to many places that she had not before, and interacted with many people from different sections of society. In her interactions, she learnt much about the nature of people. There were some who were not receptive toward the volunteers and were reluctant to share information with them. There were others who came forward and were cooperative, and who helped her in her work. It helped her learn more about the community she had lived in her entire life. It was also a chance wherein she transcended social boundaries, and engaged with people from communities who were not her own. She overcame her own stereotypes to understand the negative impact of barriers like caste, creed and religion on social progress. At the same time, she could see how education played a very important role in breaking these barriers. Jyoti could relate this to the social nature of man. Just like social conventions can make individuals discriminate against others who are not like them, education has the power to help people overcome the same, and bring about social growth.


Communicating with people from different social groups helped her consolidate the importance of education, tolerance and acceptance towards holistic social development.

through them as well. After she completes her education, Jyoti is confident that she wants to build a life for herself where she uses her abilities and skills to create a space of financial, social and physical independence.

Jyoti participated actively in the project workshops and even spoke on a microphone for the first time. She enjoyed speaking and presenting in front of an audience and gained confidence in her own abilities. Her leadership skills also became evident during her volunteership. Using a smartphone to conduct surveys during the CVR project, she explored and learnt about the use of technology in social work. Traveling came with its own sense of freedom. Exploring the villages and localities of her community helped her know the people and places much better than she had before. After the volunteership, Jyoti got connected to an organization named Pradan and took up the role of community mobiliser. This was possible because she channeled the confidence she had gained so far to look for opportunities after the CVR project came to a close. Jyoti made many new friendships with the other young volunteers. Her friends now come from diverse communities and backgrounds, and she has learnt much about social networks and relationships



Nisha Kumari joined the CVR project right after her tenth standard board examination. Apart from her school work, much like in the stories shared so far, she used to help her mother with plucking tea leaves in a tea garden. The difference here is that she used the income she got from this work to pay her own school fees. Any extra time she had was occupied with teaching her nephews and nieces at home. Nisha enjoyed school, and was also good at her extracurriculars and sports. This project was her first such experience of volunteering. She came into close contact and engagement with her community, and was exposed to new tasks and challenges. When Nisha went from house to house, from one village to another, collecting information for the survey, she gained insights

into the different aspects of society. There were some receptive to her and the other volunteers, while others were skeptical. These experiences mattered because they were shaping her knowledge about the dynamics of social work. She learnt of its benefits and its challenges. The people associated with the project, like the ANM workers, helped her overcome some tough challenges which helped her learn the importance of local stakeholders in making the CVR project a success. At the same time, there were times when she had to face these difficult situations on her own. She was often younger than the people she would have to talk to, and this brought into play power dynamics that proved to be a challenge to her task at hand. However, Nisha took upon these situations with determination and used the learnings from the project to hold her ground. With some help from other volunteers, and her own grit, Nisha was able to convince people and achieve her tasks in these situations as well.

She enjoyed the closure residential workshop because of the feeling of community and camaraderie that it created. The different activities were a great way to learn and bond. She presented in front of an audience and


spoke on a microphone for the first time here. She took part in theatre and plays as well. Her experience of the extracurricular activities in her school paid off. She was active in all these events and functions. These events also helped to consolidate the strength of the volunteer group, of which she was an important member. Nisha went around in an auto to spread the information about the vaccination camp. Travelling to villages much farther from her own came with much joy and excitement. Once, she cycled her own way to Vidhan Nagar for this purpose. These were places and villages that she had never been to before. She came to learn more about the physical and social environment around her village. Through the project, she also became aware of the local ward election process and how local leaders were formally elected. During an interaction, Nisha highlighted all these different learnings and how they have helped her know more about the community she belongs to. She wants to become an active member who contributes to the betterment of her society.

her home across the district after school. Apart from her dream to learn coding, Nisha wants to become a teacher and get the professional training necessary for the same. She now knows that there is a world of opportunities that she can tap into, through her abilities and hard work, and her belief in herself.

Nisha is interested in learning computer coding in Navgurukul. She is currently also preparing for her twelfth standard board examinations and wants to move from



Anshika Kumari is a young volunteer from the village of Powakhali, located in the Kishanganj district of the state. She had her hands full as a tutor at a private school, teaching young children, and also with tuition classes for a few children at her home after official work. At the same time, Anshika is a student herself and is in her first year of college studying history. She is passionate about her job at the school. Teaching and interacting with young children is something she really enjoys. It also mattered is that her job contributed to the household income. She had created a space of independence and agency for herself within her family while doing what she loved.

As a volunteer, Anshika was able to use her experience as a teacher and educator to spread the message of vaccinations. The similarities between how she taught her students their lessons, and effectively communicating the benefits of vaccination to the people in communities, became apparent to her. Traveling to villages in her block, she got to interact with various stakeholders including members of the panchayat, which she had never done before. Just like it was for others in the CVR project, it became an opportunity for her to learn more about society and the people that she was engaging with. She noticed that in some villages, there were children who were not being sent to school. Education was not given enough priority. As a teacher, the importance of children going to school and the benefits that it can bring is something she was well aware of. These benefits come not just to the children and their families, but to the entire community. As a volunteer, she realized the impact of economic constraints on the opportunities for growth available to young people, especially with regard to education. There were also young women who would come up to her because they were interested in the work that she was doing. The importance of the visibility of women as independent individuals, like Anshika herself,


to make young girls aware of their own capabilities and the opportunities around them was also an important takeaway for her from this volunteer experience.

Anshika travelled to distant villages that she had never visited earlier, a story of change she shares in common with many of the other women volunteers. She learnt how to ride a scooter so that she could travel and return home on time during the short winter days. Anshika later became a supervisor for the CVR project. During this time, she was still tutoring her students at home. Time management became crucial, and she effectively managed both these worlds. Her passion for work shone brightly in all these different spheres of her life. She enjoyed performing theater during the residential workshop and actively took part in other internal workshops and activities. Her involvement with the other volunteers, as a supervisor and in these group events, showed how good a team player she was.

in Powakhali village, which to this day, does not have a school. This goal is intrinsically tied to the insights she got about the importance of education and its integral relationship with change in society. Anshika is committed to bringing about this change among her people and in her community

Anshika continues to pursue what she loves as a teacher and educator. She runs her own coaching centre where she teaches twenty children today. She is also completing her degree in history. Her future goal is to open a school



Madhumita Som joined the CVR project with rich experience in social work. She had been a full-time worker with ChildLine India, an organisation that focuses on rescuing women and girls who had been trafficked or forced into marriages. She is also a parent to a 9 year-old son. Her experience meant that the areas and communities within which she had to work in the CVR project were familiar to her, having already worked among them extensively. However, she went on to experience new learnings and challenges every day at work. Each task also came with its unique lessons. In the project, Madhumita was engaged in the recruitment and onboarding of women volunteers. This proved to be a monumental task. She developed her skills of negotiation and persuasion, and ultimately succeeded in building her very own team of volunteers. Madhumita takes great pride in this team, and this was an impactful development in her career.

Her abilities led her to become a coordinator between Project Potential and the Public Health Centre (PHC) during the CVR project. This was also a new sector for Madhumita and she gained insights into the functions of the health department. She represented the project at different events with great flair. A particular event that stands out to her is the presentation she made at a workshop organized by Quest Alliance in Patna. Her presentation was appreciated by everyone in the audience.

Madhumita notes the importance of building trust and effective communication. As she was out in the field, the trust she could build with the people was vital to complete her goals. Participating in the internal sessions made her aware of the nuances of leadership. This, combined with the practical experience she had in the vaccination drive, made her a better leader and supervisor to the other volunteers. She engaged young women volunteers to convince women to take the vaccinations, as they were victims of rumours which linked the vaccines to infertility. Madhumita was a key player in making the coronavirus vaccination drive effective in Nimbuguri, where many people were not accepting of the vaccination and did


not want to share their personal information for project tracking. Madhumita took the initiative of going to the villages and used her negotiation skills to convince people. Apart from work, Madhumita made friends who share her love for traveling and shopping. Life has taken a turn toward a brighter and more hopeful tomorrow. Before joining the project, there had been certain feelings of stagnancy in her life, as she felt like she was becoming older and there was not much scope to grow anymore. This experience has turned her opinions completely around. She highlights the support that she received from her husband during this time. It was crucial to the time and efforts she could give to her work.

Madhumita became better at her work, and now she knows that it is, in fact, never too late to learn and grow in the areas that one is passionate about. This change in attitude stayed with her throughout her time on the project, and it is something she carries with her today. Through Project Potential’s guidance, Madhumita raised funds to support her journey to Kutch in Gujarat and participate in a rural immersion program facilitated by Gramya Manthan. Her involvement with the project also led to her elder sister becoming a volunteer on the

CVR project and her younger sister becoming a part of Saajhe Sapne’s flagship Development Management program. Madhumita currently works as a documentation coordinator at Emmanuel Hospital Association (EHA) and pursues her passion for social work with renewed vigor.



Musarrat Jabeen is a 27-year-old volunteer who comes from the Kochadhaman block of Kishanganj, Bihar. Before joining Project Potential, she was working as a teacher in a private school. She also had the experience of working as a community mobiliser with the JEEViKA. However, due to family restrictions, Musarrat had to stop working after her marriage. When she decided to volunteer, it meant that she had to go against her family to step outside her house for work. Perhaps, this was the last straw on her back; Musarrat took the decision to leave her marriage. This was a life-altering step that went against many conventions of society too. Musarrat was determined to take this decision to fulfil her desire

of being independent and to work for the community. She acted with conviction in her abilities, and she is very much aware of the courage that she had to show, so that she could join as a volunteer. Musarrat had to move away from Kochadhaman to Thakurganj and was the only woman in her village living away, all on her own to work, during the pandemic. As she worked so far away from her village, she was not familiar with her surroundings and the people; an additional challenge for her.

Musarrat faced it head-on. She began to engage with the children in the villages that she visited and became friends with them, they would later go on to help her in navigating the localities and in talking with their families. Slowly but surely, through these friendships, she was able to reach out to people and complete her volunteer tasks. Another challenge that she faced was the issues with her commute in these interior parts. It would become ever more difficult as the day ended and it became dark.

To overcome this, she took to beginning her work as early in the day as possible so that she could finish her work on time and commute safely as well. Every time she was faced with a challenge, Musarrat faced it in a manner that was not just courageous, but also proved to be an effective method of problem-solving.


While attending the sessions at the residential workshop, she overcame her prejudice about menstrual periods and does not consider them a taboo topic anymore. She also presented her work before all the 200+ volunteers and showed first-hand how her work on the field could be converted to numbers and data points. The fear she had for numbers before, had vanished as she learnt to analyze what they represented. Engaging with the community meant that she did not just work with them, but learnt about them too; Musarrat particularly noted the lack of physical mobility among women from her community outside their homes. She realized that this hindered their access to education and work. Women like herself who had braved all odds to live an independent life were powerful examples to other girls and young women to pursue their goals without fear.

good of others too. Her story tells of the level of grit, determination and skill that these young people like her hold within themselves; realising which is pivotal for the holistic development of society.

As the volunteership ended, Musarrat is now preparing to return to her role as a teacher. She also wants to resume her studies. The powerful personal journey that Musarrat underwent is telling of the potential she has, and how she realized it through her volunteering journey. Just like she stood up for herself, she now knows that she will be able to stand up and speak out for the



Pratima Kumari was working as a teacher at a private school before joining the CVR project. Her daily life revolved around teaching and spending time with her students. Her social interactions were somewhat limited as she did not have too many friends. Due to certain difficulties, she and her family had to leave their village of Sakhua Dali in the past, and therefore Pratima had completed her eleventh standard in Punjab. When they came back to Sakhua Dali, she had to readjust to the change. The family happened to lose important documents and as a result, Pratima was unable to enroll herself back in school to complete her twelfth-standard examination. In addition to that, she has been finding it difficult here to make friends her age. She talks about how these circumstances were unfortunate and made her feel unhappy at times.

During the volunteership, Pratima was able to meet and interact with many other volunteers. She made new friends whom she could relate with, and talk to every day. This was a big positive change in her life that changed her attitude towards work as well. She sees these friendships as learning opportunities; learning from differences, attitudes and outlooks of the people around her.

As a supervisor, Pratima traveled alone for the first time in her life, which included a trip to Patna, by herself.

During the surveys, she realised how important physically knowing the alleys and passages of villages are, in helping build a strong sense of social identity. She made use of her communication skills in dealing with situations at work which could develop into conflicts, and this made her aware of her ability to deal with tough negotiations on her own. Pratima was able to use her insights to learn so much while volunteering. The difference between reacting and responding was an important lesson that stood out for her. She knew that it is the ability to listen and respond, not react, to the concerns and queries of the villagers that would help her achieve her goals.

As a supervisor in the project, Pratima helped to make some key changes and achieve key goals.


By actively onboarding young women volunteers, Pratima was able to help them stall their plans for an early marriage, which may in many cases not be the women’s independent decision. She took her own experience and was able to convince other young women like her to focus on their personal development before committing to a marriage. Truly, agency as an independent and working woman matters; as much for self-preservation as it is an example to others, it is a critical element in creating positive social change, especially for the future of young women from the communities.

the community. Now, Pratima is determined to finish her twelfth-standard studies soon, become an educator and work towards improving the education status of rural communities.

These developments in her own life and the lives of people around her hold great importance for Pratima. She notes that this was a process of simultaneous learning and growth through community integration and that the experience changed her life as well as the ideas she had for her future. An event that stands out for Pratima was the day she received her first monetary compensation from the project and was able to give it to her mother. The pride that she felt in herself, as well as to see the pride her mother had in her work, was a feeling that drove home to her the importance of working as a means to create a space of independence for herself in



For Resham Begam, joining Project Potential was an addition to her vast repertoire and experience in social work. She had been actively involved in many community development projects on domains such as - eradication of tuberculosis, polio etc; sensitization and awareness around HIV/AIDS, and also been a para-legal volunteer in District Legal Services Authority. Resham joined as an experienced volunteer who had her share of knowledge about working on-ground. With CVR, she found a new platform to put her passion to effective use.

interacting with. While some people were new to her, she strengthened previous ties. She became a familiar face for many, and this increased her own prospects of being able to follow her passion and work for the community in the future. At the same time, there were tasks like data collection and daily activity plans that Resham had to learn about afresh - a new side of social work for Resham.

It was challenging to learn these new skills and ideas, and also to work within a different structural setting than she was used to. Resham took upon these challenges with the same openness and positive energy that she carries for everything else. She developed skills of negotiation as people refused to open their doors to her. An important ability, that she highlights to have been of great use in this volunteership, was the ability to listen patiently to the worries of people about vaccines. Using her own discretion, Resham was able to bring in doctors who would share apt information and facts directly with the community members.

Resham was already well-versed in many aspects of the tasks she had to handle during the project. She was able to use her knowledge of the community to build upon her relationships with the people she had been

In due course, Resham began to recognize more disparities and inequalities within the communities. She could see how young women like her did not have the structural support they required to go to school or


work; there were no public restrooms that she could use while she was out on-ground for hours. She also started understanding about social dictates that held women back from pursuing their dreams. These inequalities were sometimes apparent. She talks of this one incident where she saw that a young girl was not being sent to school while her brother was. Sometimes this discrimination was subtle, like the tension and worry in the words of a father when he talked about having two daughters, and no sons. Resham picked up on these cues, and it reified the importance of intervention in these situations by individuals like her. She holds onto something she learnt during a leadership session held by PP’s team.

The subject was positive psychology. She quotes verbatim: “For any learning to take place, one must always have an open mind.” As a result, her own capacity to listen to the opinions of others has increased manifold, and this makes her more capable of addressing their concerns.

She gained patience, and the ability to listen to others while also navigating her own views and putting across the message of community welfare. Now Resham works as a facilitator at 38 Madrasas across Thakurganj, and her dream of being a social worker, with an open mind to learning in all situations, has become stronger than ever.

Resham made fast friends with the other volunteers. She traveled long distances, often on her own, to spread awareness about the coronavirus vaccines and to collect information. In the midst of work, she also found joy in visiting tea gardens and getting her pictures clicked.



The volunteer experience that Pooja Kumari speaks about is multifaceted and involves different spheres of her life. Before joining, she was a college student herself and was also teaching younger children in association with Adarsh Gramin Yojana (AGY). In the CVR project, she experienced the world of community work and a formal workspace for the first time. She experienced interactions with the village elders of the Panchayats to complete her volunteer duties and collect information during the survey. This was entirely new to her, and she learnt much from these meetings in the different villages she would visit. It would not always be a smooth experience. Like other volunteers, Pooja also faced unpleasant situations

because of the spread of misinformation about surveys, vaccines etc. While these incidents did affect Pooja, she did not let them hinder her tasks. She discussed it with her fellow volunteers and they noted that the women volunteers in particular would face such resistance, and people would sometimes not listen to what they had to say. It was also challenging because, for many of them, it was their first experience travelling and working independently. They came together and decided that the solution to this issue was to travel to these villages, in groups of two or larger. They realized that travelling in groups instead of going alone would effectively strengthen their influencing power. So they did just that, and Pooja was able to complete her work, using active problem-solving and negotiation skills with an effective group effort.

The list of firsts that she experienced was long. Pooja travelled to Patna for the first time, (a recurring highlight in most of our stories so far!) and made a presentation in front of an audience for the first time in her life. It is an experience she recalls with much happiness. While in Patna, she explored the city and visited the zoo. Pooja even took part in a street play, something she had


never imagined doing. She attended a session about the workings of the government in the country, facilitated by the Accountability Initiative wing of the Centre for Policy Research (CPR) and called “Hum aur Humaari Sarkaar”.

All these activities made her experience fruitful and brought definite changes in her life and her attitude toward it. Pooja learnt many things about the community and was able to identify the challenges that her people faced. The implications of the lack of access to education and life in extreme poverty became more concrete to her during this time. She identified the challenges that informal women workers in tea gardens and brick factories faced concerning the protection of their rights. Her active involvement with the different project initiatives facilitated and also consolidated these changes in her outlook. Because of her work, Pooja was able to help pay for her father’s medical fees. She had earlier helped him in his work in the fields and now was able to help him financially as well. This was important for her and reified the importance of financial independence in her life. She made new friends, who also shared with her the experience of working and volunteering. Currently, Pooja is working at Adarsh Gramin Yojana.

After working as a volunteer and seeing the importance of Auxiliary Nurse Midwives (ANM) workers, she now aims to become a nurse herself in the future. Most importantly, perhaps, Pooja has gained insights into her own abilities and the importance of the exercise of agency by young people like her to bring about positive and sustained change in society.



Akriti Bharti - a volunteer from Chattegarch Village, Thakurganj is a graduate in Zoology. After having completed her graduation, she has been helping her younger siblings with their studies. Akriti went to school at the prestigious Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalaya. The education she received there had been enriching and well-rounded. She wants her siblings to also get through and study at the same school, and this was the main reason behind her helping them with lessons. At the same time, she was engaged in preparing for competitive exams. During her leisure time, Akriti liked to read books. She enjoys reading different forms and kinds of books, and it is her favorite hobby.

This volunteership was her first experience working in a formal environment. Akriti was involved in data analysis

within the CVR project. This data was vast; it came from the surveys conducted across twenty-two panchayats from Pothia block, by more than three hundred volunteers. The scale and importance of this task made it challenging and demanding. Moreover, Akriti was new to data analysis and had no prior experience in this domain. However, she was not daunted by the challenge that lay ahead of her. It is through this work that she learnt how to use applications like Google Drive and Google Docs for the first time. The guidance that she received from project mentors was crucial to her learning these new skills and applying them. She highlights how encouraging the environment was. The emphasis was always on a collaborative process of learning and application. It spurred her to keep learning and improving her newly-acquired skills. Akriti was an important member of the team whose work in data collection and analysis was critical to the successful completion of the CVR project. Her attitude toward this demanding assignment was always that of openness and an eagerness to keep learning. During the time that she spent interacting with people and collecting information, Akriti made many


observations about the social and economic structure of the community. An important phenomenon she noticed was the large-scale out-migration that takes place from villages to towns and cities. The driving reason behind this is the lack of viable options for work for the rural youth. In fact, her own experience is also reflective of how the lack of opportunities after studies can impact the lives of young people. Akriti completed her graduation in the year 2020, after which she was not sure of what she wanted to do and achieve. This is in spite of her interest in further education and higher studies. Now, as she talked to more people during the project, she noted how outmigration can be related to such a state of affairs for more young people like her. She also braved her discomfort in interacting with strangers during this task. She feels like her time on the project was productive; along with the contribution to social well-being, she has also grown a lot.

to receive her doctorate degree one day. Akriti wants to have a career in which she can help and support the disadvantaged of the society. The experience of data analysis that she had, has changed how she views her own abilities. She now knows that she will not be deterred by the unknown, and will always be able to persevere in order to achieve her goals.

Akriti was actively involved in conducting and transcribing the interviews for bringing together this publication.

Akriti is currently volunteering part-time with Youth Alliance. She is determined to pursue further studies; she recounts how the workshop on ‘carrying out research work’ was insightful for her and reinforced her dream



Aradhana Jha is a young student in her first year of college pursuing her bachelor’s in commerce. She comes from a family of seven from the village of Dhibri Para in Thakurganj, and her father is the only breadwinner. Aradhana is very invested in doing well in her studies. During the time when she was preparing for the twelfth standard board exams, she loved studying accounts and also practising math. She is diligent with her studies and enjoys doing them well. In her free time, she likes watching Korean and Japanese dramas with her sisters. She would also attend coaching classes in the evenings, post which her time was spent meeting her friends and finding entertainment in their company.

not been a confident person. It would take her effort to talk to people and express her opinions. Her main fear was the disapproval of others, and this concern kept her from being herself. She has effectively overcome this fear through the exposure that she received. Having talked with many people, including people in important positions in local bodies, she realized that the fear of the opinions of others is irrational. One must have belief in their own abilities, and one must trust their decisions.

Self-belief is more important than anything that other people may have to say. This is a key takeaway that Aradhana notes about her experience.

Her journey was marked by a change in her idea of herself. Aradhana highlights that before joining, she had

She also understood that people are not always rude and critical. She encountered so many people who came forward to help her during the surveys. There were even some villagers who became so fond of her, that they sent her home with gifts. Aradhana notes these instances as important in the change that came about in her perception. While such warm interactions were also interspersed with uncomfortable situations where people were unfriendly, she could rationalize their behaviour. The experience of meeting people from different faiths had a significant impact. Aradhana was not used to such


interactions, and it demanded from her the capacity to listen to what other people had to say. This did not deter her as it may have earlier. She maintained her calm and remained adaptable, which helped her conduct her assignments well during the volunteership.

work in the health field for people with thalassemia, which is a disease that she has seen occur in her family. She is motivated to achieve her goals; Aradhana now believes that she is not simply ordinary, but so much more than that.

Aradhana had much support from her family. Her mother even went with her to the villages to help her conduct the surveys. It was a wonderful experience for her to see her mother so supportive and active like this, and how the people responded positively to the questions that she asked them. Her father also took great pride in the fact that she was contributing financially to the family. She even helped him with the money to repair his electric rickshaw. Her opinions began to matter and her family would listen to what she had to say. This was a key positive transformation in her life. Aradhana is more confident in her abilities than she had ever been before. Through Project Potential, she became a fellow with the Changemakers 4 Gram Swarajya Fellowship of the Connecting Dreams Foundation, within which she travelled to Delhi for the first time. Now she hopes to complete her bachelor’s degree and also has an MBA degree in the future. She is passionate about wanting to



This was the first time Project Potential was able to conceive a publication that allowed for us to highlight and capture the amazing stories of youth who have walked with us in the paths of courage, grit and determination.

social change, making a difference in the communities, individual and collective agencies etc; especially at a time when the entire world was going through various turmoils.

The entire project rested on the shoulders of an amazing on-ground team, led by Abodh Kumar, Om Prakash Ram, Tonmoy Talukdar, Rumi Perween and Savita Kumari, who facilitated multiple projects that were running along with the CVR vaccination project; namely, Ration distribution, TB eradication drives etc. Essentially, the last couple of years, beginning from 2020 has been a period of immense growth for us as well as for every young person who was engaged with us. The CVR project helped Project Potential unlearn and relearn about what youth development means to us, and all these learnings will critically inform our future programming.

We are so grateful to have been part of the amazing journeys of 300+ young people, whose stories resonate and align very much with the stories you have read so far. These stories are a testimony to the passion towards

We want to take this opportunity to thank all the supporters we met along this journey, without whose inputs, donorships, funding and partnerships, the journey would have been even more challenging for us.

Azim Premji Foundation, Bhoomi, Charms, Crypto Relief, Impact Foundation, Fischer Jordan, Give Foundation,


Jan Sahas, Lal Family Foundation, MCKS Trust Fund, Piramal Swasthya Management and Research Institute, Radha Mohan Mehrotra Trust, Sai Dham, Adharshila, BJUP, Donate Kart, Innovators in Health (IIH), Pradan, Health Department (Bihar Government) Kishanganj.

Since the closure of the CVR project, many of the supporters have been continuing to extend active support to us in diverse ways.

possible only when the right people, who have audacious dreams, get in touch with the apt ecosystems. And so we call on each and everyone out there who may have loved reading these stories; Come! Be a part of creating many more.

As an organization that believes in the power of people’s potential, we have continued to design and implement programs that have focussed on grassroots leadership development. Our approach is in enabling local people to take local action — as a pathway towards youth and rural development. In the long-term we plan to achieve this by building eArthshala as an institution which can enable rural youth in actively learning, skilling, researching, defining and creating pathways of the future; A future that is purposeful for themselves, their families and their communities.

For this future to become a reality, we look forward to hearing back from everybody who is interested in co-creating with us in this direction. Such a future is



The Coronavirus Response Project. A project started by Project Potential to assist various underprivileged and vulnerable communities tackle the ill effects brought on by Covid 19. The said project started in June 2021 and came to completion in August 2022. A more detailed insight is provided in the preface by our founder.

Project Volunteer Supervisor

Auxiliary Nurse and Midwives. A village level female health worker based at a health sub-centre or Primary health center in India. They are also known as the essential frontline workers under the National Rural Health Mission. Initially, when the cadre was created - ANMs looked into basic maternal health including midwifery and child health. Gradually, the ANMs were designated as multipurpose workers (MPW) and their responsibilities included family planning, immunization, infectious disease prevention and care, in addition to maternal health and childbirth.

Local youth whose primary responsibility was to diligently implement various activities of the CVR Project in specific localities that were assigned to them.

Local youth whose primary responsibility was to onboard new volunteers in 2-3 panchayats assigned to them and lead the implementation of the various activities of the CVR Project by supporting an average of 20 volunteers working with them.


Residential Workshop

3 day closure residential workshop held in June 2022 , with a selected cohort of the 50 best performing local youth from the CVR Project in order to formally reflect and review on the project implementation, personal –professional journeys, celebrations of achievements, articulating challenges and subsequent learnings that the youth were able to garner during the project duration. This event culminated with a gathering of all the 300+ volunteers.


Primary Health Centre (PHCs) are state-owned rural and urban health care facilities in India. These centers provide comprehensive health care, covering around 70% of outpatient care, including noncommunicable diseases and maternal and child health services. They also provide free essential drugs and diagnostic services as well as referral access to secondary and tertiary health care.


The Government of Bihar (GoB), through the Bihar Rural Livelihoods Promotion Society (BRLPS), an autonomous body under the Department of Rural Development, is spearheading the World Bank aided Bihar Rural Livelihoods Project (BRLP), locally known as JEEViKA with the objective

of social & economic empowerment of the rural poor.


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