Running on Thoughts

Vandana led us up the bannerless wooden staircase to a room full of drying paintings, each one displaying a prominent motivational quote and lovely background picture. The open jawed stares of the Niswarth students and teachers quickly revealed our internal emotion. During our first days in Ahmedabad we had spotted dozens of these beautiful paintings on many walls of Manav Sadhna (the parent NGO which Niswarth works with in Ahmedabad) buildings, leading to dozens of pictures and conversations regarding the motivating phrases which remained in our minds for days. We had no idea that Vandana, the CEO of Gramshree, a women’s empowerment based crafts organization associated with Manav Sadhna, was behind the paintings all along. Vandana, in characteristic kindness, asked us to each pick out a painting to bring back to PA. As the shock of her overflowing generosity wore off, one painting in particular caught my eye. “Thought is the wind, knowledge is the sail, and mankind the vessel.” This quote struck me as a sailor but more importantly connected with me as a student and a member of the Niswarth program. The quote describes human thought and ideas as pushing the sail of knowledge, which provides the forward motion for humanity, the boat. As a student, my mission is learning and accruing knowledge while gaining the tools to think to my fullest potential and create in the world outside school. My increased knowledge and thinking ability is and will further knowledge and humanity on the whole. Without education, mankind’s sail of knowledge would likely fail and the depth and volume of thoughts would certainly lessen. More specifically to the mission of the Niswarth program, the quote I picked out illustrates an essential Niswarth objective: learning from and about the communities we work with, an element of our work as essential as our hands on work in the communities. By learning from the communities we can propel humanity with our newfound knowledge and we can bring our knowledge back to the US and challenge some of our communities’ norms, creating positive discourse and increasing the levels of thought and overall knowledge which are necessary to push our communities and humanity on the whole forward.

A week after first seeing Vandana’s paintings near the Gandhi Ashram, we are in Pune with a new mission: to create positive change in a local school (K.C. Thackeray - Vidya Niketan English Medium School) by working with recently graduated alumni and recent graduates of another nearby local school on a Design For Change project. On our first day meeting the students from Pune, we sat in groups within one of the classrooms, an open room filled with wide benches combined with desks. Our mixed group was asked to consider what collaborative innovation looked and felt like. We considered our past experience and future hopes and decided collaborative innovation is each member contributing their own ideas in a space where they feel respected and able to fully open up to the group. Without ideas, there is no innovation. The concept of thought and ideas as an essential driving factor in a project brought me back to the quote I had selected in Ahmedabad. The only way we could truly innovate in a collaborative manner is if each member contributes their personalized input, even if they have an idea totally opposite to the plans of other group members. In preparation for the Design for Change project we are undertaking, we also thought about the value of different perspectives as illustrated by the classic indian story of the blind men and an elephant, in which each blind man only feels one certain part of the elephant and draws their conclusions about how the animal looks. Only by combining their ideas would they have been able to create a full picture. Without a diversity of perspectives, there is no challenge to your assumptions and misconceptions and therefore no way to spark fresh thoughts. A range of perspective and idea and some challenge is essential to pushing forward knowledge and conversely humankind on the whole. For the next week and a half we have in Pune, my goal is to both learn and to contribute — my thoughts in conjunction with those of my teammates will push forward our communal knowledge whereby we will propel mankind into the future, beginning with this project.