In 2010, Monisha had just graduated from one of the best fashion schools in India. But she realised that she did not want to pursue fashion design as a career. Instead, she decided to participate in Global Xchange – an international volunteering programme by Pravah, VSO, and British Council, during which she spent 3 months in London and then another 3 months in a village in Rajasthan.
This experience was a turning point in Monisha’s life. It gave her an opportunity to question her worldview and how she understood the concept and practice of development.
After the programme was over, Monisha landed a job as a graphic designer in a corporation. After 6 months of doing the job, she realised designing packaging for yet another brand that would just be part of a capitalist market, was not her thing. So she quit her job to find a calling that aligned with her values.
For the next 5 years, Monisha freelanced as a graphic designer and worked closely with adolescents and youth by facilitating rural exposures through Pravah and CYC in Delhi. She went on to become one of the founding members of Anhad Pravah, a youth organisation based in Indore, Madhya Pradesh.
Monisha was so inspired by her own journey as a volunteer and youth worker that she wanted to create a space where young people could be free, open and vulnerable. With this intention, she co-founded Rubaroo with Hema and Neha in 2014, which is also a member organisation of ComMunity – The Youth Collective (CYC).
Based in Hyderabad, Rubaroo is a youth organisation that aims to build spaces where young people from schools and colleges can explore themselves and other issues that affect them, for example, gender and interfaith issues, among many others. It has engaged over 5,000 adolescents and college students till date.
In this unusual conversation with CYC, Monisha shares what a day in the life of a youth worker looks like.
Q: When do you wake up and what does your morning look like?
I wake up at about 5:30 am in the morning and then I head off to play tennis. I come back home at around 9 am. I cook and then leave for work. I begin work at 10 am and finish usually much after 6 pm.
Q: Do you prioritise your tasks before the day begins? How do you do that?
I am a big to do list person. I work with 2-3 task lists each day. I start thinking about my tasks for the next day right before bedtime. I create a mental list of tasks that need to be completed immediately on the next day. Once I get into office, I prioritise these tasks based on immediate needs and deadlines.
Q: Do you follow a practice by yourself or with your team where you define your personal and organisational goals daily?
Yes, I have personal goals and then I also have team goals at work. My team and I talk about our goals and how to accomplish them regularly. We bring ourselves back to why we started Rubaroo and remind ourselves of the impact we want to create.
At work, we have weekly, monthly and annual processes where we discuss our goals. We also look at each individual’s personal goals – its a list of things that a person wants to learn or the areas in which they want to challenge themselves. It can be anything from learning to drive a car to building relationships.
We have also put up our goals on our office walls so that we remember the things we want to achieve together. These days, we’re using this cool app called Teamup that allows upto 10 members on a team and helps us collaborate. Now our calendar is more colourful and we can see who’s working with whom on every single project.
Q: Who will you be interacting with today at your workplace and what kind of interaction would that be?
Today I have meetings lined up. Since it’s Monday, we have a weekly team update and review meeting to talk about what happened last week and plan for the upcoming week.
We just finished a workshop on gender with 40 participants who are now designing an event for Women’s Day. Today this group of young people will be in our office to plan and organise the event which I’ll be mentoring.
I will also be talking to some people over the phone and doing online meetings apart from working on a proposal. This is how my typical day at work looks like.
Although I like a structured day, I’m also flexible when young people come to our office because I want to spend time with them and invest in such relationships. At times, this becomes chaotic and I’m trying to figure out how to do it better.
Q: How many hours do you spend with young people every day?
My team is under the age of 32 and I spend my entire work day surrounded by young people. The college students we work with come to our office 4 days a week so I see them quite frequently.
Q: What are you major challenges every day?
I feel group management is a challenge. My role as a youth worker is to analyse the needs of a youth group and help them understand what direction the conversation or sessions should be.
The last project that we did was Samvidhan LIVE! The Jagrik Project, a campaign around Constitutional Literacy. As a part of it, we had to do a final event and the core group of young participants had to organise it. This group met everyday to plan the event but I soon began to notice conflict developing among them. I had to make sure that they stopped, recognised, and acknowledged this conflict and then moved forward together. This generally can take up a lot of energy.
It is challenging when you get a youth group to do an event. I was constantly negotiating between how I would like them to meet certain standards required by our partner organisation vis-a-vis giving them the freedom to experiment and handle the event as they would like to. One day before the event, we realised that the plan was still up in the air and had to up our game.
Q: You already mentioned that you are surrounded by young people most of the time. Chances are that they are looking up to you as a role model, confidante or a person who can solve their problems. This might feel overwhelming. How do you create boundaries and prioritise self-care during your day?
The kind of youth work I do requires me to interact with others, think on my feet and consciously shut up and let the other people do the talking without any judgement from my side.
Once I start facilitating a youth group, I have to let go of the control over my boundaries. This goes on throughout the day and it takes up lots of energy but in a way, it also drives me.
I am not the kind of person who likes to talk all the time. I like to spend time on my own and I take out time for myself through my morning tennis practice or at the end of each day. During the morning, I just play and don’t engage with people. This is how I negotiate my boundaries every day.
Q: How do you reflect on your growth as a youth worker? Do you have any techniques that you use?
I reflect through the conversations I have with my team. We create a space where we share our lessons.
I also like to reflect when I am sitting alone and simply think about how I am progressing with youth work. I have epiphanies several times a week!
This process of reflection is always an ongoing one. In fact, a conversation like this in itself is a space for me to reflect. With you asking these pointed questions, I’m asking myself once again what it means to be a youth worker. I may not have structured my thoughts in a particular order on certain topics before and this conversation is helping me do that.
Q: What is the best part of your job everyday? What do you look forward to when you go to work?
I derive lots of love and energy from the work I do. I look forward to expanding the community that I began to create through my work. I like that my work challenges me regularly – it creates opportunities for me to learn.
I like to try new things such as using a new app to creating a new routine and my work provides space to do that.
Youth work is not about programmes or workshops. It’s about the relationships we build.
The most beautiful thing about being a youth worker is that the process of learning continues each day. Each time I facilitate young people there is a different challenge externally for the group and also internally in terms of my feelings, fears and comfort level. That internal and external facilitation is what keeps me going and this is why I love youth work.
Q: What are the top three things you would advise other youth workers if they wanted to maintain their energy & ensure their overall well being at work?
The first thing is to find space and time for yourself. So, do things that help you grow and learn new things.
The second thing is do not lie. Sometimes I see how the pressure that comes with being a role model to others might inhibit us in some ways.
I think it’s very important to bring your original self to other young people so that they look at you as a human being to be inspired from and not as a role model.
The third thing is do not assume you know more than the young people you’re working with just because you are a youth worker. I think that is dangerous because then you end up becoming just another figure of authority whom they might resist.
We hope this interview with Monisha offered you a sneak peek into a youth worker’s day to day life.
If you’d like to get updates from Monisha, follow her @monvema on Twitter or @monishavema on Instagram. You can also learn more about Monisha’s organisation Rubaroo on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
Still curious about youth work? Then head over to our blog post why a career in youth work is awesome.