The Optimist Citizen

How Young facilitators are utilising their vigour and empathy to drive change and thousands along with it

On a quick search over the internet, the word facilitator stated that it meant to ‘make an action or process easy or easier’. The definition, although true to some extent, is far from an apt description of what a facilitator truly is. Beyond this utilitarian definition, a facilitator means multiple things – Dynamic and adaptive, diverse, and above all, empathetic. The author was able to interview with 3 young facilitators working with young people spread at different locations of India. The diversity in their thought and empathy in action was evident, but their ability to facilitate a larger change through young people, in spite of them being young too, was persistent and common along all.

Interestingly, all the three facilitators – 24 year old Sukannyaa Lahon from Assam, 24 year old Sayantani Basak from Kolkata, and 20 year old Sheel Kanodia from Ahmedabad – never intended to dive in the development sector full time. But, the ever enriching life experience and magnetic attraction of learning from others while self learning at all times enticed them immensely. They truly felt the journey from ‘Me to We’ and self to society transition. The 3 of them are currently facilitators and Anchors for the public initiative  Be a Jagrik – Samvidhan LIVE!… Live the SDGs! The initiative aims to enable young, aware, and active citizens or Jagriks live and experience the SDGs and also rights and duties enshrined in the Indian Constitution. As the Jagriks undertake exciting self and community action projects on-ground, they also take their powerful voice for change into the world.

“Working in Pravah changed my perspective towards people. I was an introvert. But, facilitation helped me interact with people on a larger scale.  I had had a chance to find my strengths.” states Sukannyaa who works in Delhi based youth organisation Pravah.

Sukannyaa taking part in an outreach program

“I have been running awareness programs on Human trafficking with adolescents and youth in 4 districts of West Bengal. But, this was never a chosen path of mine. I feel what attracted me to work in a development organisation was the concept of creating new paradigms for young people for what matters to them. I feel the ability to create a 5th space – a space without prejudice and prejudgement – is what lays down the foundation for good facilitation”, says Sayantani Basak from Kolkata based Prantakatha.

Though, only Sheel and Sukannyaa started their journey of facilitation as a Jagrik, initially, all three were well-heeled in dynamicity and active citizenship of what being a Jagrik entailed.   

“I remember a task from my time as a Jagrik. I tried to quash homophobic sentiments of one my closest friends. When I started talking to her, she would not budge. It took me 5-6 days to create a dialogue for the same.But, Instead of just imposing my thoughts on her, I tried to understand the root of her homophobia and I shared my experience with the LGBTQ  community with her. After a period of 15 days, things started to change. Whenever we meet today, she still asks me about my two friends from the community. This incident was a humongous learning for me as I started to transition from a volunteer to a facilitator. Today I know the importance of a sustained conversation due to this experience of mine as a volunteer”, says Sayantani, a proud Jagrik anchor now.

“While growing up, we were taught about our constitution, but till I started doing the tasks as part of the Be A Jagrik game, it never was a more than a textbook. Now I am in a better position to know what it means. That journey hit me hard, and showed me that a true Jagrik is an active and not an apathetic participant in the democracy. A Jagrik learns to be sensitive, empathetic, and explore beyond what is set by social norms”, says Sheel about her experience as a Jagrik.

Sheel (first from left) at a mobilisation Adda

Active citizenship mixed with deep empathy, and the wide tenacity to follow that with conviction is what defines a Jagrik in its true sense. And the experience of all the three facilitators are resonant of the fact, even though all of them might have not walked a similar path of constitutional tasks.

“I worked in the youth intervention team at Pravah. Right from organising our event Music For Harmony, to fundraising, to interacting with NSS volunteers from Deshbandhu college, I have found the tenacity of youth to be marvelous. I remember, we did some tasks of Jagrik in the first year at Deshbandhu college. The students liked the tasks so much, they took the initiative to approach and started a separate chapter for Jagrik, this year in their college. This persistent initiative towards citizenship and the tenacity to explore themselves is what I believe is the core component of a true Jagrik”, says Sukannyaa

These real-life interventions are just a few examples and is just a small indicator of the massive impact these facilitators are bringing to the forefront. These examples stand as a true testament of the fact that a Jagrik is one who reinvents oneself in the constant search for being a true citizen.  And statistics back the same result. Combined, the facilitators have worked directly with more than 250 young people and are looking to have an indirect outreach through their activities of around 6000 young people.

How is one able to support such large scale change. According to Sukannyaa it is in the power of stories and how a facilitator understands them. “A facilitator is one who understands the stories of others and helps them to find a new closure to their story. They help them connect the dots, as a friend.”.  

“A Facilitator is someone who has got your back and always supports you in journey towards being a change agent in your own right. Moreover, I feel they tend to show a realistic picture of what’s happening in the society, and not hiding anything under the grub of secrecy.” adds Sheel.  

“Earlier, I always used to be didactic. I used to tell the Jagriks on specific ways to complete the task. I eventually felt that I should give them autonomy and give them the independence to design and execute their own tasks.  As a participant, I just used to think on my task. Now, I had to balance everyone’s emotions and capabilities and I love that.” shares Sayantani.

These narratives strongly feels like a perfect conclusion – or rather a new start  – about the role of a facilitator. The work of these inspiring young women facilitators showcases that beyond the rhetoric, every facilitator robustly stands for balance and empathy.  From Sayantani’s attempts at quashing homophobic sentiments to Sukannyaa’s approach to stories, every example signifies an acute empathy to look at problems and derive solutions. These young facilitators through their work show that change led by young people is also sustainable and creates ripples. What they do today is create catalysts with an open mind and an understanding of social action within the frameworks of empathy and inclusion. These key elements are what define facilitation at large, defines facilitation and active citizenship for impact at large. Let us pledge too that we can utilise our voice, empathise with others around us, give thought to solutions, and become facilitators in our own right.   

The initiative – Be a Jagrik – is an interactive attempt to immerse young people across the country in responsible citizenship.  Because beyond the tangling subject of tension, politics and all the ballyhoo around issues that divide people, it focusses on an imperative document that is often taken for granted – our constitution. This elixir can become path-breaking for millions and help them carve a new path for them. The Optimist Citizen would be keenly following the course of this public initiative, relaying all positive outcomes, every step of the way.

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