Professional Exchange Experience in Cleveland Inspires Change in India

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Each year, the Cleveland Council on World Affairs coordinates professional and learning exchanges – sponsored by the U.S. Department of State – for emerging leaders from around the world. As a result of the meetings, conversations, and experiences the international visitors have here in Cleveland, they are inspired to make a difference and take action in their home communities.  

CCWA hosted Gautam Singh from New Delhi, India, in October 2019 for a four-week fellowship, where he was embedded with the Cuyahoga Regional Human Trafficking Task Force. Gautam’s work in New Delhi revolves around policy, research, and advocacy on issues facing women and children, including human trafficking and sexual assault. The opportunity to shadow detectives with the Task Force enlightened him on our local efforts to combat trafficking and build social service partnerships.

Here, Gautam reflects on his time in Cleveland and how this fellowship contributed to his professional development.  

You spent your fellowship focused on combatting human trafficking and strengthening women’s rights. How has the fellowship experience impacted your current work in addressing these topics in India? In what ways did your time in Cleveland influence your work in New Delhi?

Since my return from the United States, my life has seen an upswing in professional growth, as well as personal development. My time in Cleveland taught me several critical lessons. After my return, I was entrusted by the Delhi government to conceptualize and execute three new initiatives on human trafficking, cyber crime, and safe shelters for survivors of violent crimes. My experience in Cleveland came in handy and I was able to replicate many initiatives experienced in Cleveland here in Delhi. These initiatives were in the final phase of planning when the coronavirus crisis hit and we hope to execute these in the near future.

What is life like for you right now living in New Delhi? 

The coronavirus crisis drastically affected our work priorities. We have been engaged in relief and mitigation measures to fight this crisis. My experiences with community empowerment measures in Cleveland by the Renee Jones Empowerment Center and Salvation Army provided a fresh perspective on my personal response to the crisis. I was able to organize community action and facilitate relief to marginalized communities which suffered job losses during the lockdown and, as a result, were in dire need of food and shelter. Slowly, we have begun to get back to normal but it will now forever be the ‘new normal’. I am confident that we will all come out of this stronger and better.

How did you adjust to a life working and living in Cleveland for a month?

Frankly, neither I nor any of my fellow participants had any challenge in adjusting to life in Cleveland. In fact, the facilitation by CCWA staff and my mentor Sergeant James Mackey was so smooth and considerate that I never felt out of place. The four weeks went by effortlessly and by the end I was heartbroken to leave. Our initial days were beautifully designed by CCWA, which included interactions with some of Cleveland’s prestigious institutions and also home hospitality dinners with local families.

What was one memorable moment from your fellowship?

I cannot pick just one. Every moment spent in Cleveland is memorable to me. Be it the initial orientation weekend organized by CCWA, the holistic fellowship designed by Sergeant Mackey and his team, or the leisure time spent with everyone, I cherish every single experience. My fellowship placement with the Cuyahoga Regional Human Trafficking Task Force deserves a special mention. I will forever be indebted to Sergeant Mackey and his team for treating and looking after me as one of their own. I met many of the agencies working to combat trafficking in Northeast Ohio, including visits to local prisons and courts, the Federal Court, shelters, major hospitals, and even witnessing a full two-hour autopsy. I accompanied the team on a serious raid, which involved multiple law enforcement agencies and saw firsthand the stressful situations officers encounter in their work. I will miss our lunches where the entire squad would take me out to a new food joint every day. Another special mention goes to the CCWA staff for personally reaching out and taking us out for ice cream! 

This experience was made possible through the Professional Fellows Program for Governance and Society, a fellowship exchange sponsored by the U.S. Department of State and led by World Learning in partnership with CCWA. Not only has this exchange brought nearly 40 professional fellows to Northeast Ohio but has also provided opportunities for Clevelanders to travel to India and Nepal on reverse exchanges.

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