Saturday, June 29, 2013

Impressions from our first AID Conference [May 2013, UNC Charlotte]


After hearing a lot about the AID (Association for India's Development) annual conference from volunteers at the Bay Area chapter, Anitha and I enrolled for the conference in April 2013. At a point we were thinking if we could donate the money that we incur for the conference instead of attending the conference. But that wouldn't have been wise to do. Looking back, it was one of the best decisions that we made this year. If joining AID was a big milestone for me this year, then going to our first conference turned out to be a bigger milestone. The conference had a lasting impact on us. It was wonderful to see and feel the enthusiasm and energy in the volunteers to learn about and discuss and share the issues that we as AID deal with everyday.

Group photo after the Conference
Group photo after the Conference

It's the Volunteers

From infants to seniors like Mohan Bhagat, there were people of all ages. If volunteers who had become parents recently or who had kids came together with their kids, there was no reason for us not to be there. It shows the level of commitment that they have. It was humbling for us to see so many volunteers who were Ph.Ds or who were enrolled in Ph.Ds in various fields. Roughly there were as many students as there were working professionals. Whether it's a student or a working professional it's a tough job to take out time for AID along with the demands of our profession or studies, but all of us volunteers somehow manage to do that. 'The strength in numbers' was there to see.

AID Family and Culture

As it is said, every organization has a culture that it builds over the years. The conference is probably the best place to witness the culture of AID. Volunteers of all ages and backgrounds coming together with no inhibitions and discussing openly on how to address their common problems. "No individual is bigger than the organization and it's goals" - this is so true of AID and was clearly visible at the conference. All the senior volunteers including the founders were all very approachable and welcoming to talk and discuss and learn from them.

New and junior volunteers are treated similar to others and given opportunities. For instance, when I approached Naga to check if there was time at the end of the conference to recite 'Gandhiji's Talisman', he immediately accepted and gave the air-time. Like I had noticed previously, any volunteer is allowed to take any initiative and take it forward and most other volunteers come forward and support him/her. In a time where 'social', 'collaboration' and 'crowd-sourced' have become quite popular, I believe an organization can realize it's true potential when this kind of culture exists.

The organization where it's goals are the same as the goals of it's members, is the ideal organization and AID like many other volunteer-based organization is definitely of that kind. Since the volunteers have similar ideas and concerns, it takes only a short while to connect with each other and have meaningful interactions unlike the 'small-talks' that we have in our professional lives which seem so artificial. These interactions are the basis of the bonding and result in the creation/flourishing of the AID family. How often we listen at our workplace the term 'family' and immediately a smirk appears on our face expressing 'Really?'. Things like these cannot always be pushed down from the top, they have to evolve from the bottom.

On the first day, being new to AID we didn't know many of the people at the conference and it looked like a professional setting and we hadn't opened up much and so we didn't really connect much. So we preferred to take rest instead of going for the informal gathering at the dorm later that night. But the next day was a transformation which we hadn't anticipated. We talked to other volunteers and speakers and formed the connections and we soon felt like we were part of the 'AID Family'. This pulled us to go for the gathering that night and we wouldn't have known what we would have missed had we not done so.

As volunteers we become sensitive to many problems that we work on and imbibe a similar outlook in our own lives. AID conference certainly leads by example. Practices like 'Being Green', 'No Gender/Race/Economic Inequality' were there to see at the conference.

Speakers and Grassroots-Workers

This conference was an amazing opportunity to meet, listen to and discuss with notable speakers like Dayamani Barla, Prasad Chacko, G V Ramanjaneyulu, S R Hiremath, Ilena Sen, Meera Rafi, Mallesh, Bharagavi and our Fellows who work on the ground like Ravi Arunachalam, Kiran Vissa.


Back in Hyderabad, I had read about an agricultural scientist who had given up his job and who was working independently on sustainable agricultural practices and I was quite influenced by him. All the while, the emails and presentations about the conference speakers were floating around, but I didn't realize that he was one of the speakers. Only after seeing Dr Ramanajneylu in person, the memory of the the news-clip resurfaced in my mind and it was a pleasant surprise to meet him in person. The presentation and the talk on the state of agriculture in India and the impact that their collaborations were able to create using indigenous sustainable practices were very informative and inspiring.

Dr Ilena Sen and Dayamani Barla spoke about the plight of the tribal communities in Chattisgarh and Jharkhand. The strong and fiery talk by Dayamani was a reflection of pain arising out of the atrocities and injustices that the tribal communities encounter in their daily lives. Dr Prasad Chacko explained the history and the causes of the inequality and exploitations in the context of Dalits in India. S R Hiremath presented on how their organization encountered the mining mafia in Bellary.

Apart from the Q&A time after each of the talks, the conference provided us an opportunity to engage in offline conversations with the speakers as most of them were available on both days of the conference.


The planned and unplanned fun activities had their own place at the conference. The skit was well done and depicted the different concerns of the members of a family akin to the different concerns of the various sections of the society. The highlight for me was 'the Evvar-Nevvar-Newer Ready' trialogue. It was very well scripted and as it was related to the different phases of an AID volunteer we could instantly relate to it. It was quite humorous and the audience would burst into laughter on many occasions during the event. We thoroughly enjoyed it. This can definitely be termed the signature-fun event at the conference.

Evvar Ready Nevvar Ready Dialogue
Evvar Ready-Nevvar Ready Dialogue

Although we missed the late-night gathering at the dorm on day 1, we were eager to join on day 2. It was during this gathering that we came to know some of the other volunteers well and connected to them. Got an opportunity to listen to some of the good singers in AID including Pavan ;-). We were part of a very interesting discussion on dowry and the flamboyance of Indian marriages. Neela did a good job moderating the discussion.

Late-night gathering at the dorm
Late-night gathering at the dorm

We had taken a day off from work after the day of the conference. We hadn't planned anything specific but Naga suggested we drive around the scenic Blue Ridge Parkway. While we were heading for this short-trip we inquired if anyone would be interested  and Rohit joined in. We hadn't imagined it would be so beautiful and it turned out to be a memorable trip: the sight of the waterfalls along the route and the green hills were a treat to our eyes and mind.


Many other significant experiences, memories are here:-

  • Novel fundraising means like Adrita taking pictures with a camera in exchange for donations to AID, selling tickets to entry into the cute structure built by the kids during the conference, auctioning Nishikant's photo album from his site visit
  • All the participants taking a pledge not to seek or give dowry and encourage others to do as well
  • The popular CVC session where all the chapter office-bearers discussed about the problems that they face and came up with ideas and suggestions to address them. This exchange of ideas was much needed
  • It was unfortunate that some of the volunteers {names of the volunteers} who were driving along with Nishikant to the conference met with an accident. Luckily nothing major happened to them and Nishikant was able to make it to the conference.
  • Staying in the dorms in the university reminded us of our college days
  • Mohan Bhagat, self-christened Beggar and his relentless passion at that age in life
  • The chain-reaction kind-of volunteer-introduction where-in one volunteer was introducing the next volunteer in the chain was nice and because of this many volunteers had an opportunity to others, which might not have happened otherwise


We were quite surprised when we came to know that the Charlotte chapter which hosted this conference had less than 10 active volunteers and only a 2-year old chapter. Right from picking us up from the airport to dropping us at the airport after the conference. Special thanks from our side to Ramana, Vijayshree, Kiran, Deboshree, Shalini and Nitin. Kudos to their incredible efforts without which this conference wouldn't have been a success. Also due credits to all other AID volunteers who helped the charlotte volunteers from behind the scenes.

Charlotte Chapter Volunteers
Charlotte Chapter Volunteers


Like all things impermanent, the impressions from the conference will gradually fade but we have a feeling they will outlive many other memories.

As someone put it :-
'All in all, for us as AID volunteers, this conference was everything an AID conference should be: energizing, rejuvenating, restoring faith in human spirit, tackling difficult issues, connecting volunteers in a deeper way, and showing new directions going forward.'

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