Julianna Joss is one of Profugo’s current field fellows in Wayanad, India. Julianna has been in the field since September 2019 and will be staying for another year. She’s passionate about sustainable development and grassroots community building. Prior to journeying to Wayanad, Julianna told our team she wanted to go to Wayanad because “meaningfully contributing” in regards to sustainability and social justice in “a place like Wayanad would be a dream come true.” She hoped to handle all situations with “grace, resilience, and humor” but feared that she wouldn’t be able to “offer… what the [Wayanad] community and Profugo’s Center of Development need most.” A year after telling this to our team, Julianna reflects on the past 12 months in the field and looks ahead for the next year.

As you come up on a year of your stay what have you learned about yourself?

It is hard to imagine an experience that would afford me with more opportunities for growth and self-learning in one short year.  I’ve learned that I am stronger and more resilient than I realized.  If you would have told me about the challenges I would face one year ago, I would not have believed I could withstand them. But I’ve surprised myself.…I’ve learned that I can let go of that need for control.  Now I appreciate and can even enjoy the fluid, spontaneous nature of working and living.

Share an example of something that the field team accomplished this past year that you’re proud of/pleased with.

I am proud of our revived biogas program.  This had been stagnant for a few years, but in carrying out our Community Needs Assessment and from informal conversations with community members, there was a clear desire for families to obtain biogas digesters…I love this project because it completely exemplifies sustainable development…We had plans to help 25 families obtain biogas digesters over the course of twelve months, but this has been sidelined due to the pandemic.  However, I am hopeful for when we can continue supporting families obtain biogas digesters, and expand the program in the future.

What are you looking forward to as you look ahead to 2021?

Recent events have only reinforced my steadfast belief that community building is the way to heal a broken world.  Profugo’s decentralized, community-empowerment facing approach towards development is important, now, more than ever… I am honored to play a role in making life a bit brighter for the community members I’ve come to know and love.  Also, maybe I’ll be able to start giving the Chechis hugs again at some point in 2021.  (Chechi is a Malayalam word for sister, used to refer to a lady older than you.)

Can you describe a particularly inspiring/memorable moment from this past year?

Every day affords me with inspiration, but one involving the ABoL (A Beam of Light) young women’s empowerment group stands out to me. In December, a group of these ten young women visited an elderly folks’ home in a nearby village, Kattimoola.  Completely spontaneously, they started singing together to entertain and bring joy to the residents.  Whilst they were songs that they were previously familiar with, they naturally performed a complete group arrangement – a soloist, a chorus, percussion with snapping and clapping.  I couldn’t believe how they came together so effortlessly and beautifully.  I felt as if I was watching a scene that could be featured on a local news channel back in the States.  But here, this is normal, in the best way possible.  These young women have the most contagious, bright energy and it’s genuinely heartwarming to spend time with them.

What community programs are you most proud to be working in?

I am proud of all of our community programs, but in particular, I’ve been a big advocate for bolstering our community leadership and organization.  Our work’s sustainability is rooted in community members leading and driving initiatives.  Since January, the field team has worked hard to strengthen our existing corner groups, as well as start new ones.  In addition, we started a Community Resource Ambassador program, where we are investing in local leaders to gain new skills, which they can impart to their neighbors.  I’ve seen so many people rise to the occasion, gain confidence, and demonstrate compassionate, effective leadership.

What do you think is a key to uniting a community for a common cause?

Whilst uniting a community for a common cause is inherently difficult, I think that creating space for people to talk is a critical key.  This may sound simplistic, but given that many people’s lives here pose enormous challenges and it takes a great deal of time and energy to fulfill basic needs, intentionally bringing a community together can be a powerful act.  Carving out this time for people to share and discuss has led to important developments, both in how Profugo can support the community and how community members can support one another.

Thinking about your experience in the field, how can we best support each other in times of uncertainty?

I believe that as humans we have the imperative to do the best we can with what we have.  What I mean by this is that each of us have some talent, skill, resource, position, etc. that we can employ to support one another.  The beauty of this is it looks different for every person.  No one individual can solve every problem, but everyone has something inside of them that can make life better for someone else.  And each of these efforts deeply matter.  In times of crisis and uncertainty, we can feel powerless.  But what we can does matter.

Based on your experience with Profugo, what is an important part of helping and supporting others without speaking/ acting over them?

It is important to meet people where they are.  Rarely does my vision for an initiative, an event, a meeting, etc. come into fruition as expected because we always have to adapt to what a community wants and how they need to operate…Our process and our approach ensure that we do not speak or act over community members and allow them to have agency.  This, in itself, is a victory.

Based on your experience this year, how do you hope community members, yourself, and Profugo will grow/go in the coming year?

I hope the community members will continue to realize their own power and brilliance.  In my experience, these community members have endless capacity; they have overcome adversity that most could only dream of facing and accomplished incredible feats in their lives.  They can survive completely self-sufficiently, but I see Profugo as a partner in ensuring that they do not just survive, but flourish and truly have a great quality of life.

I hope Profugo will continue to be creative and find ways to support the community in spite of the current challenges.

With the knowledge and experience that you’ve gained this past year as a field fellow, do you see your role in the community any differently or in a new light?

I definitely see my role in the community in a new light.  To be honest, I do not see my role as anything extraordinary. I like to think that I am becoming more integrated in the community…Community members are more comfortable with me and treat me with less formality.  They tease me and are honest with me, which I really value.  And this feels quite appropriate because I truly feel like it is I who has been given so much.  The community members have displayed so much generosity towards me, taught me more than I could ever explain, and inspired me in ways that will motivate me for the rest of my life. Any contributions I’ve made in return feel rather small comparatively.  So it is both an honor and also just feels right to be treated as a sister or daughter.  I will spend the rest of my time here, and my life, striving to pay forward the beautiful learning, love, and friendship I’ve received.

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