Facing Obstacles in Real Time

by Shyam Desai
June 20, 2013

Shyam Desai '15 is a Starr Fellow living in Gujarat, India working for Let's Be Well RED.

This past semester, during numerous sessions of “what did you take away from this Starr workshop/meeting/dinner," I responded with confidence that I had come to understand that progress is slow and that, although we tend to create a picture-perfect plan for our ventures, it is more than likely that the summer ahead would belligerently attempt to derail these plans every step of the way. I was sure that I had mentally prepared myself to face the inevitable obstacles and failures that come hand-in-hand with social entrepreneurship. Well, I was lying to myself. My first week in India has confirmed many of the insecurities and worries I had about working with Let’s be Well RED to combat iron deficiency anemia in the new location of Surat, Gujarat. With Let’s be Well RED’s success in Mumbai, I think I (secretly) believed that success in Surat was bound to run smoothly, but as I have been told numerous times since landing in India, the culture difference between these two cities is immense.

Before leaving the states, I could list all of the hypothetical roadblocks to success with all of their hypothetical solutions by memory, but the key word here is “hypothetical." The feelings of frustration that accompany continuous effort matched with poor outcomes are always a figment of our imaginations. That is, until they are carelessly dropped on our doorsteps as the rickshaws, cows, and mango carts meander by as if nothing has happened.

In the past ten days I have meticulously made phone calls, sent emails, and visited in-person numerous schools, both far and near, just to be able to speak with a principal or vice principal. In doing so I faced a great deal of disorganized bureaucracy and worst yet, apathy. In all of this, however, I have met one assistant to a head administrator who has been open and willing to fight for my cause alongside of me, and one teenager who, despite not knowing what anemia even is, is more enthusiastic about my work than most (If not all) of the highly educated professionals I have come in contact with thus far.

Therefore, I have realized that, as much as you can convince yourself ahead of time, you never truly understand the difficulty of an obstacle or failure until it happens. You may look back and scoff at how optimistically naïve you once were, but in truth, there really is nothing else you can do other than to think positive. Of course it is essential to be realistic and improvise, but focusing on your successes, however small, and being optimistic about the future of your work, however naïve this may make you feel later, is equally important. Thus, as I enter my second full week on the ground in India I will remain dedicated with my head up, and if anyone else is facing similar issues, I recommend the same. Hopefully in doing so, we will all have plenty more to say when it comes to actually discussing “what we all took away from our Starr summers."