Living on a Budget with a Changed Perspective

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This blog was originally posted on the Atlas Corps blog.

Being an Atlas Corps Fellow is challenging professionally, socially and (most importantly) financially! We join this program as fellows knowing full well that we must live on a challenging stipend but do we really accept the challenge intrinsically? I know that I did not. Naturally, I would complain about always feeling like a sub-human when I couldn’t join friends or colleagues for lunch because my budget for the month wouldn’t accommodate that meal or always thinking twice before incurring a minor expense. I’ve felt like this throughout, until recently, something changed my perspective

So what happened?

I was selected to attend the StartingBloc institute in Boston. To attend, I had to pay a tuition of $1000, plus travel and other costs. I was in a fix about attending but then someone recommended using a crowdfunding platform to raise funds. I was skeptical about the whole thing for 3 reasons:

1) Uncertainty: I come from a culture where asking people outside your family for money is normally frowned upon if you come from a certain background. My mother freaked out when she heard I was asking people for donations. She called me asking “Are you in some kind of trouble? What happened to you?” I’ve been on fellowships and attended conferences before but I have never had to raise funds for myself, so I was skeptical.

2) Self-doubt: I doubted my own ability to raise the funds subconsciously. It happens to the best of us.

3) Behind on time: Two other Atlas Corps fellows were also selected for the same class at StartingBloc Institute. They launched their campaigns before mine, so I was behind on time and outreach to our common networks. I felt like I had lost out already.

Rising to the challenge

I was unsure about going ahead with this until a colleague of mine asked me this very important question, “Do you think this experience is worthwhile for you?” Then another colleague asked me, “What makes you stand out? Why should people fund you?” I had never considered any of these things, but I took their advice and considered these questions. Once I had the answer, I got to work on my campaign.

Starting Block fundraising- pic 1

I already received a scholarship of $500, so I only needed to make up the difference. Still unsure, I launched my campaign. To my surprise, within the first four hours, I had raised more than half of my target, and over the next few days, people approached me asking how to help.

It was the most humbling experience I have ever had. I received help from friends, Atlas Corps Fellows and Alumni, colleagues, and people I had recently interacted with during my brief time in the US. Their donations allowed me to meet my goal, and I will go to the Startingbloc institute this Summer.

Starting Bloc pic 2

What their generosity conveyed to me above all else was that these people believed in me. It restored my faith in myself. I now wake up every day with a feeling of self-confidence and determination. I hope to make these individuals proud of their investment in me.

What about living on a budget?

Sure, it’s tough. I will continue to calculate and think about every expense twice—but I will no longer resent it. Why? Because it placed me in a position where I was hungry enough to reach for a goal that I really wanted, even though I didn’t have the resources to do it. If my stipend were higher, I could have simply paid for my tuition with it. But this challenging experience taught me so much more than I would have learned if I conveniently had access to enough funds. So now I embrace this challenging lifestyle with a smile!

About Younas Chowdhry

Younas is currently is serving as an Atlas Corps fellow and Training Manager at Atlas Corps, in Washington DC. There he is running Atlas Corps' Global Leadership Lab for international development professionals. In 2009, while he was in college, Younas came up with an idea to start a street theater for underprivileged children, where he would teach the children of factory workers how to act and produce plays, as a means of creating cost effective entertainment for average laborers in the community. The plays he selected highlighted the problems and plight of the poor and other societal issues. The project is still in existence – called Laal Theatre. Younas also is the co-founder and general manager at Social Awareness Media and Art Junction (SAMAAJ).
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