Heather Keats Presents the Hubballi Diaries

February 27, 2018 | by: Heather Boyd-Kinnie

Welcome to our next installment of the Hubballi Diaries shared in this inspirational story written by Heather Keats, NouLAB-EIL Member.

If you had of asked me one year ago or even 6 months ago if I had ever thought of traveling to India-I would have emphatically said “No!” Traveling to India, no not me…I work for government, I have busy family of five, I’m not a world traveler and there is no space in my life where those words even make sense. I mean, don’t misunderstand me, I would love to, and I certainly have those dreams locked safely away, but they are for another space in time, not now, not today, maybe later. No, India was definitely not on my radar.

So on that day that I received an email titled “Chance to Travel to India” of course I thought it was spam or at the very least, sent to me by error.  I needed more information and I definitely struggled to get to sleep that night as my mind worked to make sense of the words Heather Keats and India in the same sentence. I honestly felt like I had won the lottery. It was completely surreal; the opportunity of a lifetime.

It has taken some time for me to be ready to share my experiences. Of course there were photos on social media and snippets of conversation here and there as everyone wanted to know “How was India?” However, it’s difficult to really share the essence of what happened for me personally in those short conversations in passing.  I admit that I have been greedily replaying the moments, the visuals, the feelings, the entire experience for myself. But preparing to share what I have tucked away in my brain and in my heart, in a way that can be publicly consumed, well, that challenges me.

When I was asked to participate in the NouLAB Economic Immigration Lab last summer I energetically said Yes! Having worked in the field of immigration for a number of years I was naturally curious about the lab and thought perhaps I could offer some value. Of course there were nerves and I felt out of my depth and not sure if I was the right person to help solve New Brunswick’s social and economic issues. So I prayed. I prayed for an open-heart, an open-mind and the courage to listen and be vulnerable in ways I have never let myself before.

Amazingly, what I found on the other side of those hopeful prayers were a room full of change warriors-like-mined, powerful, bold women and men, who just like me not only wanted to see change, but to BE CHANGE!! I found my groove. I liked the way it felt. I loved the skills I was learning. And I could not wait to be challenged over and over and over again!

So back to the email…after I was assured this was the real deal-of course I said YES!!! And the preparation (wow, lots of vaccinations) and excitement for what was to come began. However, I can tell you this-I was in no way prepared for the pilgrimage ahead.

My eyes have never seen anything like the beauty, the rawness, the tapestry that is India. When we landed in Hubballi, it was as though the gates of the most incredible adventure were opened- just for me!  The feelings I experienced as we set off from the airport towards our hotel-I will never forget. I couldn’t SEE enough! I wanted to have my eyes everywhere! I wanted more than one set of eyes. I wanted to mentally snap 100 pictures….click, click, click, click, click! I was so fascinated and hungry to see it all!

For me, India knitted together so many pieces of my life. There’s who I am day-to-day, my government job, the work I enjoy, the subjects I know well. Then there is the person I found through the NouLab experience, she is more free, maybe a little edgier and definitely a more engaged version of the day-to -day girl.

And last but not least, there is the girl I dreamed I would be…bold, spirited, adventurous, someone who stepped outside of themselves and had the courage to make change in the world. She is the girl that has been buried by the day-to-day. That girl, SHE LOVED INDIA! India reignited her energy, her soul and her commitment to herself, her family and her community to do better and to be better!

You see India reminded me of whole bunch of things I already know. I live a privileged life. I am not wealthy, but I am rich beyond means. Simply by the virtue of where I was born I have opportunity and gifts at my fingertips. Yes, I know these things-we all do. But nothing prepares you for the impact of feeling the weight of that knowledge being placed upon your shoulders like a very heavy cloak.

When you have the opportunity to stand amongst school children proudly preforming for you and all you can imagine is them practicing over and over and over again in that small little one room home that you just passed…the one with a mat rolled up in the corner and a few brightly coloured pieces of clothing hanging outside on a small clothesline.

When you drive by hundreds of small stalls before dawn along rural roads in India and men and women alike are proudly setting up their meager shops for the day while small children sit watching close by.

When you comfortably sit in your travel bus and you pass small trucks with women and children literally stacked in the back heading for what you know is probably a long, hot and exhausting day of back-breaking work.

When you realize that 1.6 million children are starving and waiting for just one meal each day and that there are literally millions more that never get fed.

When a small girl with the sweetest smile and the prettiest braids you have ever seen reaches up and grabs your hand with her tiny fingers and says “What is your name & I love you,” all in the same sentence.

You realize. And it’s heavy.  And amazing.  And quite simply is the most beautiful journey your heart will ever take.

So to say I was humbled and honoured to have been chosen to represent the Economic Immigration Lab as part of the Pond-Deshpande Centre’s delegation that attended the Development Dialogue in India is a complete understatement. It was a privilege. Learning through the Deshpande Foundation and being surrounded by leaders who exude energy and see only possibility, growth and opportunity in their surroundings, is a gift. Having the opportunity to stand on stage and address hundreds of people, although unplanned, that was an incredible gift.  Saying yes and speaking to that large of a crowd was an ENORMOUS LEAP outside of my comfort zone. And I survived! And maybe, just maybe, my words resonated and impacted someone in that audience.

I am safely back home now, back to my easy world that I know. I don’t have to think as much here, I can easily do the things I need to do. The difference is this, auto-pilot doesn’t feel as comfortable as it used to. And settling for good-enough doesn’t seem right. You can’t go back. Experience imprints your heart.

You have to seek new; your eyes are WIDE OPEN and it makes you hungry for possibilities and hungry for change.

Someone I work with recently asked what the ROI was in sending me to India. The question rattled me and forced me to pause. And if I am honest, one of the reasons it took me so long to write this account was that I have questioned that myself. What are the links? So what, I had a spiritual awakening and now I want to be a better person. What does that all really mean, does anyone else care and better yet, how does it even link to my job?

Here are my thoughts…this journey started long before I stepped off the plane in India. This journey started when I walked into the first Economic Immigration Lab workshop on September 11, 2017 with sweaty palms and a willingness to learn. These life-changing moments can begin anywhere at anytime. India just happened to be mine. But I believe having an engaged, enlightened, eyes-wide -open public service is absolutely critical to solving New Brunswick’s economic, social and demographic issues. Building leadership and capacity by empowering people to lead with their hearts and do what is right; encouraging people to help their neighbours, to build strong diverse communities and to grow a workforce that understands they have a stake in what happens, that the work they do MATTERS DEEPLY and directly impacts the greater good! And building cultural competence through first hand experiences would seem to me to be invaluable. Every single one of us, no matter who we are or what we do has this capacity within us. So yes, the ROI is Huge! Employers must encourage, support and nurture growth; lest we settle for good enough and auto-pilot will always feel just right.

And so I ask myself, is the New Brunswick that I am currently living in, working in and raising my family in good enough or could it be better?  And where do I fit? And who am I to make change? And who am I not to? I challenge you to do the same.


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