While being a Fellow with SBI Youth for India, I had a heart-warming experience during a career awareness program that will always strike a chord when I remember those tear-filled eyes. One day an elderly man walked into the Village Resource Centre with his daughter, which seemed natural to me at first. There was curiosity in the girl’s eyes but the father appeared relaxed. The girl spoke simple English but the father didn’t.
The girl enquired about biotechnology and its career prospects. From my knowledge about a friend who had worked in a good Bangalore-based pharmaceutical company, I told them that the course had good career prospects if she was able to get admission into a reputed college. The girl was not satisfied with my answer and she wanted to know more about the colleges offering Biotechnology and the placements they provided. We called one Biotechnology professor whom I happened to know, to get answers for her queries. She spoke with the professor for a while and his opinion was that the field of biotech is still growing in India and though there is a lot of scope for research work, placements after a Bachelor’s degree are not assured.
I could see that she was disheartened. She conveyed what the professor had said, to her father in Tamil. Her father’s expression did not change much, he still appeared content. I however, felt that he still wanted his daughter to pursue the course, even though placements were not assured. By now, the girl’s eyes had moistened. I enquired more about how they earned their living and she told us that her aged father owned a small shop. I realized that the girl’s family was not well-off, rather they lived in poverty. I asked her why she wanted to opt for Biotechnology. She said that she was not sure, but I noticed that she was hiding her moist eyes from me. I tried to empathize with her by saying that when I started studying engineering, I was also not sure why I was doing it. I did well in maths and science and I liked computers, so I chose Computer Engineering.
My colleague at the Village Resource Centre, who was documenting and translating, looked at me hopefully. I sensed that he wanted me to suggest some career options for the girl. I paused to look at the girl and her father with admiration. I realized that like every other normal family, they had self-respect and did not want to talk about their financial problems, especially in front of a stranger. I thought to myself how could a compromise between her interests and the employment opportunities that were available to her, be justified. I thought for a while and asked her if she would like to opt for Engineering in Computer Science which could provide her a job in the currently flourishing, Indian IT industry. After graduation, she could work for a while and once she had earned enough to support her family, she could take up a Master’s degree in Bioinformatics; one of my friends had similarly studied Electronics and Communication Engineering and is currently working towards a PhD in Bioinformatics. Although Bioinformatics is not the same as Biotechnology, it involves the concepts of both, Information Technology and Biology. Once I had said this, the girl’s face lit up.
I don’t know if my suggestion was the ideal one but I asked myself the same question, regarding ‘Compromise’ – how justified is it? Some people can always find a way to be content with being hopeful. My friend, I feel that the life of a less-privileged person is a series of compromises, though there may be exceptions. Ralph Waldo Emerson, an American essayist, lecturer, and poet, who led the Transcendentalist Movement, said “For everything you have missed, you have gained something else, and for everything you gain, you lose something else.”
– SBI Youth for India fellow, Ankit Walia. His project was to set up a ‘Farmer’s Helpline using IVR’.