By Pavan Kumar Ramachandrian
I was finally going to complete my bachelor’s degree in commerce. The difficulty of an average student completing his bachelor's with part-time jobs and friends is a Herculean task experienced by many. “So what are your future plans?” my brother (also my mentor) asked me. “MBA” was my instant reply. My answer was reciprocal to many peers who aspired for a high paying job, dreams to buy a car, apartment, and so on. “All right, but remember you need to get to the top institute, and to do that, you have to prepare well for the entrance exams. You can get yourself a job and prepare for the entrance during the free time.” That sounded like a plan. A plan formulated by many, but mostly not implemented, the reason for which I was about to experience. My mentor got transferred to another location and the communication was limited to e-mails and sms.
My first job was in an American market research company. I started to enjoy my new freedom, the money, the work culture, and the colleagues. Saturday nights slowly started to take an important place in my life. I was good at work given to me, so I did progress from designation. I also started exploring other domains and organizations. From marketing to customer support to accounts receivables to the banking sector, it was a good transition both in designation and salary. I even worked in The World Bank for two years. Having worked at some leading MNCs, life seemed great.
2011 Reality Check!
My Oxford graduate brother asked me what I was planning to do with my life (the very same mentor). My answer again went to MBA. Preparations went well for the entrance, and I finally got selected in a leading institution in Singapore. Just a month before leaving togo to Singapore came the actual realization. Is this what I really want to do? Is a high salaried job the only requisite of my life? That’s when it struck me that during my last job, I was an active member of CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility). I even started a club called "Symponia" and encouraged all employees to take part in raising funds in providing monetary benefits to orphanage and accident victims. I felt a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction that was much better than the recognition of "best employee of the month" (which invariably goes to all employees in turn). Without informing anyone in my family and with my PF fund to back me, I enrolled in the master's program in social work in Dr. GRD College of Science, Coimbatore.
The rude shock!
The MSW program was a rude shock to all my perceptions about social work. First, it was not the same as social service. Distributing goods and money is not what social work is all about. The concept of helping people to help themselves is what social work is based upon. Then I came to know about various specializations, namely human resource management, community organization, medical, and psychiatric social work.
The field work in the first semester was a reality check to my life (a life that had been lived in a cubicle for 8 years and having spent most of the weekends in pubs and discos). Each NGO we went to had a unique story. Yet the greatness of their work is concealed by the simplicity in their appearance and their talk. Each case study discussed brought me to the ground reality that some problems are beyond monetary help. There is a greater need for emotional and social support among many.
Ten days of rural camp in a village trained me with the required managerial and administrative skills, but from a different perspective. Managing resources made me feel like CEOs and CFOs in the absence of an air conditioned multi-storyed building or a limousine waiting for us. Yet, I learned to measure success in qualitative and quantitative measurements through the various community works carried out, empowering rural women in vocational skills, educating children on social evils, environment protection, fire safety measures, and finally conducting medical camps. Mobilizing people to avail the services provided in the camp was a glitch and thus evolved the advertising and marketing skills in all students.
By the second semester, our focus was shifting toward the specializations. I chose medical and psychiatric social work. Before I joined this course, I never recognized mental health as an important requisite in the sustenance of mankind. The crucial role a psychiatric social worker plays in helping children, teenagers, addicts, adults, elderly, and others appealed to my interest. The satisfaction of helping someone face a challenge or come out of grief was the right path I was in search of all these years.
It was not just the program, but the constant support and presence of like minded friends and faculties that changed my perception of life, my confidence, and most important of all, my purpose. I now reply with confidence to my brother on what I want to do and how confident I am about my decision.
The MSW program has been the life skills training in my life and has molded a better human being out of me.
Pavan Kumar Ramachandrian wrote this as a second year student at the GRD School of Social Work, Dr.GRD College of Science, Coimbatore, Tamilnadu, India.