Updated: Aug 17, 2018
By: Andreana Barefield, M.S.W.
University of Pennsylvania Summer Intern, 2018
For two and a half months, I have had the pleasure of joining Balaram Dey Street Anandam (BDSA) as the University of Pennsylvania’s summer intern. Last summer, I worked with Anandam’s affiliate, Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee, but I would soon come to learn that nothing could have prepared me for the work Anandam and I would set out to do. What accomplished truly embodied the principles and values of post-colonial feminist social work practice - (1) challenge the belief that one’s mind can become so stagnant that it cannot move toward change, (2) work long hours for little to no pay for the most valuable work, and (3) intentionally honor each person you meet by truly seeing them and hearing them. In the short amount time spent in Kolkata, the BDSA team and I managed to complete all preparations for a mini-documentary regarding the trans-movement in Kolkata, travel to New Delhi for a national conference on Indian Penal Code 377, launch an official website for BDSA, and host a Cafe Mela. Much like India as a whole, my experience with Anandam was the best and the worst all at the same. I was forced outside my comfort zone. I was often lost in translation. I experienced “fresh off the boat” syndrome. I completed extremely tedious, sometimes boring (but equally important) tasks, and I met the most incredibly beautiful, awe-inspiring people who will have forever change how I walk, talk, look, feel, and see the world. It is for this reason that I feel the best use of my blog post would be verbally show my appreciation to the Anandam team, and pass along the lessons I learned to future interns.
To Future Interns,
The best piece of advice I can give you is assume you don’t know anything about anything. You may have previous experience in X, Y, and Z, and I’m sure its these qualifications that attracted Anandam to you; however, Anandam is at the crux of true psycho-social-historical-ecological change. They are the experts in their field, and I appreciated my learning process more when I kept my “expertise” and preferences to myself. In the words of the Great and Righteous Kendrick Lamar, “Be humble. Sit down.” But don’t let this stop you from being inquisitive, especially about the community members. As you will find, a lot of people in Kolkata think they know a lot about the LGBTQKHIA community. They don’t. Honor the community members you’ll be working with by getting to know their histories, and using them to challenge the backward and ignorant mindsets you’ll encounter. Furthermore, understand all the work that you may do, no matter how big or small it may seem, is equally as important to Anandam. There is no hierarchy when it comes to the delegation of tasks. If not you, who? If not now, when? Each piece is necessary to realizing Anandam’s true mission.
To Dr. Soma Roy,
If I ever had to have a mom in India, I’d chose you, but since that goes against professional ethics, I’ll settle for a mentor and friend. I cannot begin to describe how much I admire you, and how lucky Durbar is to have you on staff - even though they might not always recognize it. Thank you for your clear guidance, brutal honesty, contagious laughter, and pure heart. I promise to honor you and your work (as much as I work to honor Anandam’s community members) through the lessons you have taught me. Please continue to fight, while also getting some rest. I’ll try to do the same.
To Sintu Bagui,
I don’t think I have exact works to express how much I have learned from you. Even though we didn’t always have the words to communicate with one another, I truly enjoyed simply observing how you lead with such grace. Thank you for teaching me Bengali, feeding me until I felt like I was going to explode, and especially always making me feel so special and beautiful. I hope I can do the same for others back home.
To Surajit Kare,
Even though we didn't spend as much time together as I would have liked, I was able to tell how much you care for Anandam. Your diligence over your work is impressive, and reminds me that as a social worker I too should know the all the logistics of my work. I so enjoyed getting to know more of your story, and I think its value is worth telling others. You show us how different members of the queer community can come together to support causes not directly applicable to themselves (like the trans-movement). In times such as these, such comradery and solidarity is rare, and you set an important example for us all.
To Nitu Giri,
I love your presence. When I am around you I feel so at peace and calm. The silent storm within you is as beautiful as it is powerful. To know you have been working to fight for gender-equality and rights for so long is extremely admirable. Its a reminder to me, that if I am truly dedicated to affecting change, I will stay in the fight for the long haul. You have my upmost respect as an activist, a feminist, and a woman.
Thank you everyone for the wonderful memories, important lessons, and everlasting friendships. I am so blessed to have met each and everyone of you, and I look forward to seeing you again soon.<3
See you later,