Veerini has been a pioneer of change to facilitate the lives of the disadvantaged. From volunteering at an NGO to becoming an ambassador of change herself, she has transformed the lives of many children and young women. During these uncertain times, she radiates positivity in the world through her Podcast.
1. Please tell us about yourself and your journey as a social worker?
The name given to me by birth and is decorated on my AADHAR is Dolly Aswani but for the longest of time I couldn’t make my peace with the name ‘Dolly’ professionally and decided almost a year ago to name myself ‘Veerini’ on social media or any social interaction in general. Coming to my journey as a ‘social worker’, I graduated from Banasthali Vidhyapith, Jaipur in 2018 with a bachelor’s degree in technology but during the course of my degree, I was actively engaged with the ‘Women Empowerment Cell(WEC)’ of my college, it was during the work that I did with the WEC that I understood about my passion for social work, while I interacted with the women from the neighboring villages from my college, helped them understand personal finance, addressed the need of menstrual hygiene, employment through small cottage industries for khadi production. When I completed my degree, I started working as an Operations Head for a local NGO in Agra and managed district level events and fundraisers for the same.
It was in November 2018, that my journey in the social sector took another interesting turn, I discovered a government primary school about a kilometer from my residence and to my surprise, I saw some 20 kids sitting in chilly winters of November sitting outside the school on the floor, when the school was about a 500-1000 square feet huge place, when I enquired more about the school, I got to know that the school’s building was so fragile that it could collapse any day and it has been in the same condition for the past 30 years, something in me just lit up or rather I would say, I was called from inside myself to take action to make the school a better place to at least sit inside and study peacefully for the kids. I took to twitter, filed complaints on Jansunwai App which directly reports complaints to the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh and finally the BSA(Basic Shiksha Department) pitched in with some funds for repairing the school, but eventually the funds started to dry up and I decided to start a material raiser on my Instagram page and asked people to provide me with packets of cement, bricks, paint, electrical needs, temporary furniture etc. and the material raiser on Instagram blew up and people from all over Agra city pitched in for the goods. Currently, the same school has 80+ students and electricity, a separate mid-day meal room, best hygienic conditions and happy faces of teachers and students and is now the best primary government school in a 2-3 km radius! I went on to assist 6 more schools in the same way through whistleblowing and bringing the matter in the eyes of the authorities and raising materials for the schools via Instagram. I recently worked as a Trainee at the Ministry of Women & Child Development in Delhi, India and assisted the ministry on various ongoing scheme and developed a public-private model to assist the government in operations of a particular scheme (details cannot be disclosed). As of now, I have been working on field during the pandemic to help local slum dwellers with dry ration kits and basic necessities. Last month, I have also started a new initiative in the form of a podcast, which is called “Your daily of goodness”, the podcast features real life warriors who are creating ripples of change and making this world a better place to live in, in short it is somebody’s very own 10-15 minutes of positivity and goodness, since we are surrounded by negativity or tragic news in general in this year of 2020.
2. What inspires you to be a change-maker?
Frankly, I don’t know the answer to this question and I don’t want to write a halfhearted sugar-coated answer. There is only one thing I know and can tell you with all honesty, the feeling of bringing a change, fighting injustice, standing up for the weak, helping people selflessly comes to me naturally, I have never tried to inculcate these qualities and I am blessed to have them instilled in me naturally, it is maybe the way I was raised or I don’t know it can be anything. But, I know one thing for sure, there is this fire inside me which never stops and is always ready to become a volcano when and whenever it is required (of course, a good volcano! A volcano of change which keeps erupting every now and then in a very balanced and calm way but with full force!)
3. Imbedded within every challenge is an opportunity. What are some of the challenges you have faced in your life? Share with our audience how you overcame them and what you learned.
There is one thing, which a very few, handful of people know about me and I would not be lying if I say this, but I have a vulnerable side and the main connection of this vulnerable side is related to the background that I come from, so, here it is.
I come from a family which used to be pretty conservative and orthodox in its views and used to have strong patriarchal figures who took each and every decision for every family member there is. When I completed my 12th standard, I was pretty clear about the fact that I’ll be leaving the city for my further studies but the patriarch didn’t support the idea of sending girls even 10 kms away for college, going out of the city was a different ball game altogether! It was during this time, that I understood and was introduced to my inner strength and courage which I never knew I had and stood boldly on my decision, luckily I had my parent’s support and amidst all the chaos and backlash I faced, I was the first girl in my entire family or generations rather, to move out and pursue a full-fledged degree! I won’t lie and say it was a piece of cake for me! It was not! It took a lot of rash behavior, incessant dialogues to my parents of how their daughter will be a rotten kid just because she has gone out to study but I knew one thing from that instance, there was no looking back after that. I moved cities after cities for internships and trainings and the best and my most favorite part is that because of that one bold step that I took, I ended up empowering others girls in my family, in my vicinity, from the society that I came from and the snowball effect started and would never cease in the near future.
For all those who are reading this, I know my struggles come from a very privileged point of view, but I had to face them, I had to look to the struggles in its eyes and keep taking baby steps and according to me, half of the battle is already won when we try, the very first step is to ‘TRY’ and leave the rest.
Let nobody tell you what you are capable of, let nobody put you in boxes because there is no box! Be like water, like water changes its shape according to the vessel, you change your perspective and the way to deal with problems but you never change yourself!
4. What is major development challenges specific to women?
In my opinion, most of the development challenges specific to women are structural in nature, practices that have been accepted and followed since ages are going on because they are considered normal or ‘just-meant-to-be’. A very simple example would be the duties of the household and child rearing, it is naturally given or rather allotted to women because this has been going on since ages (even if the lady of the house is working a full time job) and is expected to create this fallacious ‘perfect’ balance in everything she does which should leave no room for mistakes. Most of the women are faced with this dilemma and chose to do the thing which is ‘natural’ and it leads to most of the developmental roadblocks in a woman’s lifetime both on a personal and professional tangent.
5. You are clearly a leader in learning. How do you balance investing in yourself with investing in the relationships you have with other people?
Honestly, I have dealt with this imbalance of keeping others before myself because the social sector requires you to go this way and believe me, it can be really daunting both physically and mentally and the best way to balance such a scenario is to always keep in mind this quote I read somewhere, it goes something like this, ‘You cannot pour from an empty cup, take care of yourself first.’ And whenever I feel the imbalance coming back in my life, I remind myself this quote and it helps me ground myself a bit.
6. What are your sources of happiness and inspiration?
Currently, the first thing I look up to every morning, especially during this pandemic, is to be super conscious (or in the moment) of the things and the people I have been given without even asking and to be grateful of them as much as I can, it starts with the most trivial thing, like, I have a mattress and a bed to sleep on, a roof on my head, eyes to look at the sky and the beautiful sunrise. In short, the sense of being conscious and being grateful throughout the day is my source of happiness, my yoga sessions every morning, every sunset that I am able to notice and the beautiful canvas on the sky during the sunset are my sources of happiness as well and that makes a major part of my will to do things (my inspiration), the fact that if I am so abundantly gifted, it is my duty that I pass this goodness/positivity forward and not hoard things and thinks to just myself.
7. Please share a quote or life mantra you live by.
The quote that sums up my life currently is a Doha by Saint Kabir, it goes something like this, “धीरे–धीरे रे मना, धीरे सब कुछ होय, माली सींचे सौ घड़ा, ॠतु आए फल होय।“ (which literally translates to, Gently gently, O my mind, Gently all things go, Though you water a tree a hundred times, only in spring will fruit grow).
This quote is a safe haven for me, it grounds me during the chaotic times of self-doubt, it gives me a sense of perspective in life, makes me more patient and helps me understand that not everything is a piece of cake, you have to hustle, bring discipline and follow the things close to your heart with utmost dedication, focus on your actions in the present and leave the results for later.
8. What advice do you have for youth and our growing community of leaders? In other words, what would you tell a younger version of yourself?
I feel I’m too insignificant to advice someone, be it today or tomorrow but when it comes to putting a submission of thought out in the universe or to the younger version of me, it would be ‘Learn to unlearn, learn to accept the things which seem weird to you but comes easy and naturally to others, acceptance and respecting other’s way of living is the first step to be a wise person, you may have extremely opposite views with respect to the person in front of you, but understand and accept that everybody is brought up differently and you have to be compassionate when it comes to breaking the structural norms or social conditionings one has, after all, they did not choose to be brought up a certain way and if you wish to create a change or bring a change, you do not have to be a rebel. You should always have a blend of rebellion and compassion within you, both of these qualities are interdependent and co-exist together, but when they are used alone, nothing fruitful comes out of it’