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Spotlight with Wonder Volunteer – Kavya

Kavya, former Wonder Intern now working for the RSA, sat down with us for this candid interview towards the end of her internship, in which she shared her proudest achievements – including securing a job in the UK – how empowerment through education resonates personally, her aspirations of running an animal shelter in the future, practical advice for anyone interested in volunteering with Wonder and her thoughts on sustaining deeper level change through improving everyday interactions with people.

Can you tell me a little bit about yourself Kavya?

I moved here from India about two years ago. My plan at first when I moved was that I was going to go back, but I actually really enjoyed working with Wonder, and I quite like the City, so I’m staying here now.

I did my undergrad in Bombay, the city I grew up in, and I did that in Psychology and Anthropology, and I moved to LSE to do my Master’s degree in Sociology.

I’m a massive dog person, and everyone in my family has dogs, including me. I’ve always wanted to work with an animal shelter.

What bought you to Wonder?

I was looking for an internship towards the end of my dissertation. I knew the not-for-profit sector was something I wanted to get into, and I was looking at different charities that I could work with. Quite specifically, I was looking at charities working within women’s rights and education, and I came across the Wonder Foundation. Of all the charities that I know in the UK that work in developing countries in this particular sector, I really admired and appreciated Wonder’s approach to development.

What interested you in international development?

During the third year of my undergrad, I picked up a course on the Anthropology of Development. I loved anthropology when I was studying it, and it was instrumental in instilling a critical mindset in me. When I started to take this course, it changed the way I thought about the world quite a bit. It was a lot more practical than other theoretical courses I had taken before, and I could see ideas we studied being translated into action in the field of development. There were a lot of things that we realised during the duration of the course that don't really work in the development sector – for example, the patronising outlook that a lot of agencies tend to have towards development and developing countries.

I wanted to go into development to find a niche for myself in a place that doesn’t have that sort of approach...

...but at the same time does work with vulnerable communities because I grew up with that around my life. It’s something that you see every day, and I know that were it not for the opportunities that were granted to me by my family and the sort of mindset that my family had, I wouldn’t be where I am today. There are plenty of things to hold you back when you’re growing up in India, and all of these things put together made me really want to stay and grow in this particular field and Wonder was a great starting point for that.

I know that were it not for the opportunities that were granted to me by my family and the sort of mindset that my family had, I wouldn’t be where I am today.

What do you enjoy most about interning with Wonder?

The atmosphere in the office and how friendly and supportive everyone is plays a huge part of wanting to come into work every day! You can enjoy the work you’re doing, but if you don’t have an environment that is filled with people that you enjoy speaking with, it doesn’t feel the same. At Wonder, it is something that I’ve learnt to appreciate so much!

What does empowerment through education mean to you?

For me, it stands for opportunity and agency.

I’ve seen women get married at a young age without a strong educational background or a career for themselves to fall back on. When things get tough, they often don’t have the resources –  economic and financial stability – to then support them.

I was lucky to grow up in a supportive family, as I have mentioned before, that prioritised my education and career. This gives me the opportunity to make my own decisions, stand on my own feet and take advantage of opportunities that I might want to seek out. A lot of women do not have this luxury, and I’m extremely grateful for it.

So, who I am today is largely due to the education and family support that I have. It’s put me in a position where I have control over my life, and where I have agency over the decisions that I make.

That is so important in the life of any woman. The minute you have that support and education, you have the opportunity to build a career for yourself and choose the life you want – whether that means you want to stay at home and have kids, pursue a career or even if you don’t want any of that. The most important thing is that you’re making an informed choice, and that sort of empowerment comes through having a strong educational background and family that supports you.

What words of wisdom do you live by?

It’s something that my best friend said to me a couple of weeks ago about how we spend so much time planning out our futures.

Make the right choice for you at this moment in time.​

When you’re faced with a decision, think about the right choice at this moment, given your circumstances, and make your decision.

What has been your proudest moment?

When I finally realised that I make better channa masala than my mother does!

Secondly, when I realised I had landed a job in the UK. I’m an international student and for non-British citizens to navigate through policy guidelines and immigration rules and secure a job is close to impossible. I know two international students who have managed to get a job here out of the thousands that study and graduate within the UK. In addition, I didn’t study business, finance or management. These are probably the three sectors that you’re most likely to get a job.

I did all of this largely on my own. I did my research, I looked for jobs and called up as many HR managers as I could to explain my situation to them and ask them if they’re ok with sponsoring me.

It felt really good that this is something that I’ve accomplished, knowing that the odds were stacked 50 stories high above me.

If you weren’t doing what you do know, what would you be pursuing?

Running an animal shelter. 20-25 years from now, I think, that’s what I’m going to be doing.

If you could steal anyone’s job in the world, whose would it be?

There’s a supreme court advocate in India called Karuna Nundy, and it would probably be her job. I really respect her work, opinions and actions. She started off working in the US in corporate law, earning a tremendous amount of money but decided to move back to India to pursue a slightly different side of the law. She’s worked quite a bit on fair speech laws in India. Most importantly, she’s been a very strong advocate for women’s rights; she’s been responsible for producing the transformation in sexual harassment and rape laws in India. It’s along the lines of work that I want to pursue, and what I’m doing right now – which is working towards women’s rights and empowerment, and she is part of that transformation on a substantial scale.

What is your biggest pet peeve?

When people don’t squeeze toothpaste the right way!

If you could implement any form of change in the world, what would it be?

Be kind to someone you have no obligation to be nice towards. It brightens their day and makes you feel good, knowing that you made someone smile. That individual is going to go about their day thinking that an absolute stranger was lovely to them. It can have a domino effect and improve the overall wellbeing of people and communities.  

On a daily basis, if we start being nicer to people that also means people start being nicer to each other and you don’t look at others with as much prejudice and assumptions about their character.

What advice would you give someone interested in interning with Wonder?

Be prepared to take up a lot of initiative, which is something that I admire so much with my time at Wonder. I was given responsibility for things, and I was allowed to make decisions and propose ideas.

You also need to be the kind of person that is willing and able to do that because Wonder is a small team and it does rely quite a bit on interns. If you’re going to sit around and wait for orders to come by your way, you’re not going to get as much out of your internship.

Do your research about the people you are working with. Find out more about the organisations that Wonder partners with. It’s very important not to have a patronising outlook towards development, which is easy to adopt, thinking we know better because we tend to be in positions of relative privilege compared to the number of people we work with. It’s important to step back and realise that the people you work with have lived-in experiences of being in developing countries, and you should let their knowledge guide you, rather than the other way around.

What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?

I would really like to start working with an animal shelter! Perhaps also, volunteer with a befriending service offered by organisations like Age UK, where you can start to develop a friendship with an older person and enable them to feel less isolated. Moving to the UK and working with Wonder made me realise how much loneliness can prevail in a person’s life. That has been a theme throughout Knowing Me Knowing You (KMKY) because part of our project has been about combatting loneliness and isolation that comes with migrant communities being pushed to the fringes of society.  

If you could sit down for a coffee with anyone dead or alive, who would it be and why?

Maya Angelou. She was an African-American author and poet and an incredibly proud feminist. She went through so much through her entire life – she was sexually abused, she went mute for a number of years and then used her writing as a form of expression. The things that she’s done in her life and the message that she’s sent across to further the women’s rights movement and civil rights movement is incredible. Her writing really touches you because it is so powerful and strong, coming from such a gentle and kind woman.

A big thank you to Kavya for agreeing to be featured in our very first 'Spotlight with Wonder Volunteer' and for all the amazing work she has undertaken and the incredible support she has provided us with while interning with Wonder. We wish her every success in the future!