Simmi Dixit: Life Skills Counseling
Mid-Year Public Progress Report
Simmi Dixit hails from Ottawa Canada. Most recently, Simmi completed her Masters in Migration Studies at Sussex, UK. Simmi’s background is in social justice, youth empowerment and promoting anti-oppression frameworks in community development programs. Prior to joining Indicorps she served as a program coordinator, for survivors of domestic violence, researcher at a migration non-profit organization, and a baker. She has been understanding and empowering return migrants at their source with NGO Aajeevika Bureau.
NGO community background
Aajeevika Bureau is an NGO that came to life in 2005 to address the growing number of seasonal migrant workers who currently form the baseline of India’s informal economy. India’s seasonal labor migrants have contributed to India’s growing prosperity and constitute more than 80 percent of her labor sector. Despite this pervasive reality, migrant workers remain unseen in public policy, legal frameworks and as a result are denied any claim to fair labor practices and basic human rights. By providing safe and sustainable solutions, Aajeevika Bureau has pioneered an organizational response to the potential hazards faced by seasonal migrant workers who move from rural to urban populations. They provide practical services that are accessible to migrant workers who often do not have the time or resources necessary to ensure their livelihoods are secure, both for them and their families.
As an Indicorps fellow, I currently live in the town of Gogunda (located 35 km’s outside of Udaipur) with labor migrants who migrate out of the district of Southern Rajasthan performing hard-labor in the informal economy. As a result, the constitution of my “community” reaches beyond my immediate spatial environment and into the surrounding panchayats. Through my current field work, abyans (information camps) and our NGO’s ongoing core services, we are engaged with a very rural, deeply impoverished population. The migrants and the families whom I have met, have been some of the most powerful, giving and humbling interactions I have had during my time here. Our mission is to create safe movement for labor migrants, in the hopes of building a sustainable support structure that addresses the inexcusable gaps in public policy in relation to labor migration and the basic human rights of labor migrants in the informal economy.
I can confidently say that my community is expansive and one with which I have a solid relationship based on trust and a spirit of equality. I would also include the Gogunda 3Sk center as a part of my community, since they have all welcomed me into their hearts and homes.
What you see in your vision is driven by your mission and equally inspired by the movements of the world both inside of you and outside of you.
Things have changed since my arrival in terms of my project plan. While I had initially signed on to serve as a life-skills counselor, the scope of my project has expanded and I have recently been conducting field research in the area of return migration. The idea is to address the numerous individuals whose migration cycle experiences a sudden upset and results in an early return to the source due to factors such as health, exploitation at the workplace, domestic responsibilities and poor social integration. Since the mandate of our NGO is to address the livelihoods of migrant workers, the aim of this project is to gain a deeper understanding of the factors surrounding return migration and encourage onward migration and build interventions to address this demographic. Through continuous interaction in 3 or 4 areas, I have steadily build friendships and trust with young returnees in an attempt to understand their stories and combine our efforts to find ways to build their confidence and livelihoods back to a stable and hopeful status.
This project is beneficial because it allows our NGO to gain a deeper understanding of the how(s) and why(s) of return migration specific to our region and to find ways to provide future livelihood security to young migrants and their families. So far, this study has been successful in placing migrants into our existing vocational training programs or provided them with loans to pursue small business ventures or expand subsistence agriculture.
I have also noticed that this study is bringing the project back full circle. The study has addressed returnee populations from a clustered approach, meaning that we have located and surveyed regions, where returnees are present in groups (instead of sparsely distributed). As a result I have been able to go to individuals’ villages and hold weekly meetings with them and do some soft-skills training and informal counseling sessions. For many migrants, an early return can often be harmful to their self-esteem, despite the rigor and value of the time they spent working as migrants in the destination region.
The implementation of this project began in November. During my first two months in Gogunda (October and September), I put my energy into building an understanding of the people around me and building solid relationships with them. Once this study started it was these relationships that allowed me to access hard to reach groups of returnees. Instead of having to spend 3 or 4 days trying to locate and earn the trust of return migrants, I just asked former trainees and current migrants with whom I had already established good rapport with, to act as my field guides into their own villages.
The pilot study was an investigation of two cluster regions to form a basic concept of return migration and build a profile of the “returnee”. During this phase the two regions were investigated through a series of group meetings with groups of labor workers who had returned to their villages and were between the ages of 18 and 35. Myself and a staff member would spend a few hours in an informal setting and discuss the experiences at the source and sought to understand why migrants came home early and build a hypothesis about what and how return migration should be addressed by our center. This directly implicates those whom I consider to be my community (both Gogunda and the surrounding cluster regions) since field activities involve weekly meetings in these regions with the returnees. In addition to working with returnees, it allows regular contact with individuals who are already registered and in contact with Aajeevika Bureau.
Research Hypothesis and Field study
During February, a survey (the tool) was developed by myself and discussed among our staff, based on the preliminary study and we refined the concept of return migration among our block center. This was a great opportunity to really engage some migration concepts with the field work we do as a staff.
The decision to expand the project came, when I started to feel like I needed to start building something more concrete and shift my focus from core activities to something new. To expand the study, I went into the field everyday for three weeks and completed 100 surveys in Gogunda and Kelwada (the next closest block to Gogunda). These forays were sometimes done with the help of a staff member, but also on my own. Going into the field by myself made me realize that all the relationships I had built over the past few months were a big part of my survey successes. People knew me and trusted me and this made going into villages on my own more fluid. Although there were also days where it was hard to be taken seriously and hours of walking only led to 4 or 5 surveys.
The next phase is going to be rapid action during the first week of March. The survey findings need to be complied, analyzed and presented during our March research workshop. I am looking forward to departing from theoretical understandings of return migration and sharpening a definition that has emerged within an “Aajeevikan” scope. It was fun to do some background research and to do something a little different and engage with other elements of our center and the subsequent interactions with both staff and community.
Progress and Future Plans
The interventions that emerge will aim to address our return migrants. Since the mandate of our NGO revolves around ensuring safe migration, I will try to focus interventions on brining young returnees back into a position of financial forward movement. The problems of access, support and confidence need to be addressed and from here, together we can reconnect returnees to a sense of purpose either at the source or the destination based on the barriers they have cited to potential onward migration. The key is momentum and continued interactions; even if they cannot leave the source immediately, I want to spend time with them, run sessions around building life skills and opening them up to understanding the importance of their experiences and the potential for future success and well-being.
Growing pains are absolute, necessary and always worth it. Let me first say, that in the beginning of my time here, I put a lot of energy into building trust, understanding the people around me and maintaining humility. There are potential numerous power imbalances that can emerge when you are perceived as coming from a place and position of affluence — which is where the espousal of a Ghandian lifestyle is imperative. The work culture here is very different from anything I have ever known and I have gotten used to learning how to flow. The one thing that still upsets me is the degree to which people do not practice any form of self-care. I understand hard work and being focused, but the degree to which I have seen people make themselves sick with stress and exhaustion does not seem effective. Migrant workers we serve are the hardest working and least rewarded people I have ever known — but how can we assist them, if we ourselves are so hungry and tired that we can barely see straight?
These are the livelihoods of people and if there is one thing I have learnt from the field and the past 6 months, it is that, if you can work with just one person and make sure their migrations are safe and fruitful, then their life and the lives of their community will experience this via the ripple effect. The “roti-kapda-makaan” (food-clothes-house) needs are something that I try to keep at the forefront of my mind — something we all need.
My community, our staff, my family. Countless nights making dinner together and talking about life in all its strangeness and beauty. My hindi is ample enough to make me feel understood most of the time and the openness and honesty that is between myself and the people I am surrounded by is a great gift. Sometimes it is hard, because there is so much I want to express…but then I remember that people know what is real, people can feel your intentions and understand who you are through “andaaz” (intuition) and the unspoken intangibilities that unite us all, beyond cultural boundaries.
I know who I am and love who I am and sometimes I feel like I cannot be that person, being open and loving is not always the safest route when you are a lone woman in a rural setting. I am still trying to understand the inner workings of this element, but know to just be gentle with myself and take it one day at a time and remember my presence here is about something far larger then me. I take a day of silence once a month and it always recharges me and helps me sift through what is inside and around me.
The cool thing is that when I think back to the Indicorps Orientation and our “worst fears” session, mine was interacting with all-males. I can honestly say that this has not at all been a problem and I feel a sense of ease with the people I am with (both migrants and staff).
This experience, both as an Indicorps fellow and with Aajeevika Bureau is etched into my being. The dedication and strength of the people I am with everyday (both Aajeevika staff and migrant workers) have humbled and taught me more than any university degree could ever have.
Being constantly engaged with migration issues has been a passion of mine for a few years now and it is something I will be involved with and around for as long as I exist in this planet. It is integral to my personal and professional identity, growing up as a first generation Indo-Canadian and daughter to migrants, themselves. The hardships of my parents during my childhood, the strength and courage to be compassionate will always be an intrinsic part of who I am and what I do.
Simmi Dixit, August 2009 Indicorps Fellow