Reflections of a Self-Proclaimed Talker
Q&A with Srisruthi Ramesh
When did you first get involved with the Ignatian Center?
The summer after my freshman year I went on an immersion trip to Mumbai, India. I had become particularly interested in social justice issues and wanted to experience them first hand, so when I saw the ad for the trip, I decided to look into it. I didn’t fully understand the purpose of the trip until I had an interview with the Ignatian Center and discovered it wasn’t just about service, but self-growth. My first year of college I had a lot of identity issues—I struggled with what being a minority, both as an Indian and a Hindu, meant to me in a Catholic school. Through my time with the Ignatian Center, I’ve grown tremendously in discovering spirituality and reflection, rather than blindly following religion.
In what other ways have you been involved with the Ignatian Center?
I became an immersion coordinator my junior year and led a trip to the Arizona boarder during spring break. As a student coordinator, the role they cast me in wasn’t to know everything about the trip, but rather to be a leader in the reflection process. Sharing the concept of silence and reflection with the group was important to me, as I wanted them to be engaged in the act of processing.
During the summer before senior year, I was a Jean Donovan Fellow (JDF). I returned to India and volunteered with Equal Community Foundation (ECF), a non-profit organization fighting gender violence and discrimination against women. Their model was unique in that they mentored boys in the community, working to broaden their perspectives on gender equality and violence.
What was your draw to ECF and in what capacity did you complete your JDF?
When I first read about ECF in an NPR article about one of its participants, I thought the idea was really revolutionary and it seemed like the perfect fit for my JDF. ECF’s volunteering model is exceptional because they are not bringing anyone on board without a specific, designated purpose and measurable goals. I reached out to ECF with a general volunteer interest, but they took my background in online systems and created a project building a partnership management tool. I was able to make a tangible impact in the organization that benefitted us both.
At the same time, I was exposed to every aspect of ECF – from an in-depth understanding of their operations and data collection, to observing sessions in the villages of West Bengal. Some of the places we worked were in villages that were 10-hour drives from the city, and we even had to walk the last part. The boys had never been outside of their small villages. ECF is really good about engaging their communities with a community action project. Two of the boys in the program recently got an award from the state of West Bengal for improving the conditions in the state.
How do you think that experience helped you in your current vocation?
First of all, the experience helped me in the job hunt and interview process, as it wasn’t just a fellowship, but an internship. I got to do both! In every single job interview, I talked a lot about the work I did in the JDF. It’s different than a traditional internship since I was simultaneously adjusting to a new role in an organization and learning to live alone in an unfamiliar city. In non-profits, unlike most big companies, my ideas directly fueled the resulting project, since there was no existing infrastructure for my work.
Secondly, in seeking a JDF partnership, I really had to think about what talents and gifts I could bring to the table. You hear mostly about the people who taught in orphanages or worked as counselors, but I shied away from that because teaching was not my strength and I was only going to be there for a short time. It was the skills I learned in college that they were missing: organization, computers, etc. They were looking for a data management system and someone to organize their information, so that was a perfect fit for me to help them. I had a sense of accomplishment because I was able to use my strengths and complete an important project within the time frame of my fellowship.
What was it about that first immersion trip experience that drew you back to the Ignatian Center?
Being involved in the Ignatian Center really formed who I have become. Studying philosophy and my Ignatian Center experience gave me an avenue to explore questions and make progress. Identity issues can be paralyzing. So when I got to college, I would have been lost without the Ignatian Center. Freshman year was hard but I really bonded with the people that I went with on the first immersion trip and it exposed me to some of the most eye opening and powerful experiences of my life. Sophomore year, I was more career oriented and missed that feeling. But I remained close to the other girls I stayed with on that immersion trip and they are still my friends now. Being in community with them helps me understand myself better and share. This has helped me identify what type of people were “my people.”
In a lot of ways, the Ignatian Center has given me an opportunity to meet like-minded people and gave me space to share about that. The space that I got to grow the most while in Mumbai was in moments of silence. Previously, I never understood the concept of “processing” in our culture of go, go, go. My immersion trip experiences taught me to be okay with silence, and I find that I am using that skill now to listen more and understand how other’s work.