Person of the Week
Ian Anand Forber-Pratt
Social Worker and Founder Foster Care India
There’s a thing I do that is the most valuable action I can possibly imagine. Whatever I’m passionate about, I reach out to other people who are passionate about the same thing. I’ve found that if you say, “Hello”, to like minded people, with no agenda, with nothing, it will change your life. The first step is knowing that you are valuable enough for their time. It’s comforting to walk together with others toward your mission.
1. What led you to the mission of being a social worker?
I’m adopted from India. My name Anand means joy or happy in Hindi.
I’ve always wanted to combine two things in my life. The first is showing and exemplifying gratitude for where was born, where I came from, and the country that gave me life. The second is giving back to children and to honor my family who has given so much to me – my adoptive family. I want to help other children and others help children. Combining those two things, social work seemed like the best vehicle in which to move forward with my mission.
In 2007, when I started my master’s degree in social work, my first project was on the disproportionate amount of African American children in the foster care system. From that moment on, I realized I had found the vehicle through which I wanted to combine helping children and India.
I wanted to look into what was happening with foster care in India. I Googled foster care and India and the only thing that came up were pet adoptions – how to adopt a dog or a cat. It was then that I wrote my first business plan to bring foster care to India in whichever way I could. That’s when I decided to dedicate my life to do it. I decided that would be my life’s mission.
2. What does this mission mean to you?
It means everything to me. What it means is that I like to think of myself as in tune. I feel like I am now on my track. I feel like I am in tune with what I am on this earth to do. That’s quite the feeling!
3. What was your best day as a social worker?
That is so tough. It’s when people contact me out of the blue and say, “I am interested in foster care or I am inspired by the mission you are doing and how can I do it myself.” Those are my best days.
Recently, I posted a video of the work that I’m doing about foster care – just a small video, showing this is what my mission is and this is my vision. A woman who is also and adoptee, commented on the video that I had just made. She commented that in 1975 she was for a short time in informal foster care in India and that the work that I am doing in India, really touched her heart and reminded her of those foster care days. She told me a little bit of her story.
That’s amazing because what I’m doing is helping people connect back with their history and I’m helping people follow the mission of the things that they want to do. It was a really big deal for me.
4. What was your worst day as a social worker?
There are two different stories – two spectrums. The first is the tenth time I walked out of a government office in India and I had been promised the license, the ability to start Foster Care India. But again I was told to wait another couple of weeks. There were thoughts that people might be demanding bribes and this and that and the other thing. I walked out of there and I just wanted to shut down. I wanted to go for some dangerous fast motorcycle ride, curl up in a ball, or unhealthily eat food – something like that! All of those things seemed like very valid and smart options.
But I took a moment to take a couple of deep breaths. I realized that everything had happened in the time line and in the reason it needed to happen. Everything was not immediately better. I was frustrated. I was sitting in these offices, people would look at me, and I felt like I was outside the country. I felt like an imposter. It felt like the perfect storm of stuff.
As I took my deep breathes and as I thought about my position in the world and the things I was able to do and would be able to do in the future, I realized that I was contributing. No matter what it took and no matter what the time line looked like, at the end of the day, I knew that I was trying my hardest and I was moving forward. Even at the end of the day I felt like I had regressed, if I knew that I had tried my hardest and that I was moving toward that goal of bringing foster care to India, I knew that tomorrow would be a new day — not to say that I was sappily optimistic. I certainly did not feel sappily optimistic, but I needed to do something so that I didn’t do anything destructive. I had to make sure that I could breathe.
That was it. I realized that I’d seen other mentors and other friends who had rough days as well. They had put themselves back together and moved forward. That’s where I gathered my strength. That was really nice, because sitting in these government offices and being so ready to work, so ready to work, and just being told, “Come back in another week”, just felt disastrous. But now when I look at it, it’s not disastrous. It’s just in that moment it was like the world was ending. Gaining the strength from hearing that story from other people was the only thing that kind of kept me going.
The second story is that I had been working in a very, very tribal and remote area in India. The area is highly illiterate. It has a lot of problems with alcoholism as well as a lot of violence. It has a lot of attacking people and tribal things like that. But I really enjoy working there. I met a family recently, a grandmother who is sixty-five plus years old. She is caring for four children under ten years old. Their father hung himself because he just could not provide for the family. The mother left directly after he hung himself. The grandmother has five children, but because she is so remote and doesn’t have any money or anything like that, one of the children got really sick and passed on because nobody would help them.
In spending time with her and being there with her and seeing how poorly she was being treated by her neighbors, it felt like a devastating situation. She wears a veil over her head whenever men approach. Seeing her crying through her veil… sitting there, knowing she has one cup of flour and two teaspoons of oil in her home for these children… and seeing the children’s eyes… and looking at the fact that I know the ten year old has been going off to work construction just so they can get a little bit of money… it seems very devastating.
I have choices – just like all of us have choices. The choice is that I can feel devastated about her and that can render me unable to help. I can think, this problem is too big and I just can’t address it – like deciding to bring foster care to India – a country of one point two billion people. Or I can say, “What am I going to do right now in whatever way I can, using my strengths to help this woman?”
It’s been an amazing unfolding. I came back to where I live and immediately did a clothing drive. I was inundated with clothing that I could take to her. I purchased clothes. I purchased some food for her because I don’t give people money. Then we figured out all the sustainable things to do. I did research on what government schemes she can get and what widow funds – all this and that and the other thing.
It’s been very interesting to support that family. Every time I go back to see her, she is so grateful and I’m so grateful. It’s devastating to see these situations, but when you sit on the mud ground with this woman and these children who are clearly sick, not clothed, and other stuff, it really rattles you. But then you have the choice to allow that devastation to stop you from doing good work or to figure out just in the small steps moving forward how you can help this family. Those are two tough, but wonderful things.
5. How did you survive your worst day?
The belief of others is huge, but let’s be honest here, many of us feel like at times that we do not have the belief of others. I can’t count on that. Even if we have the belief of others, it’s really easy to feel like the world is crumbling around us.
So what really gets me through is taking a step back and thinking about how to be in tune with the stuff around me. I don’t mean like some Kumbaya type of thing. I mean being quiet and realizing that everybody has strengths – no matter what it is. Whether you’re doing IT (information technology) stuff and programming a computer and you end out helping out a not for profit that needs a website; whether you are an artist and end up connecting with children or adults – or whatever – through art or dance or anything like that; or whether you are a social worker who is not a mathematician and is not going to make huge amounts of money — you are still help people… in different ways.
What I do is I think, “How can I be in tune with my different strengths and how can I allow that feeling of being in tune to get me out of the depths of whatever I am in.” I also don’t have unrealistic expectations for myself. If I’m upset about something, there’s a chance in two seconds after being in tune, I still won’t feel like I’m on top of the world and everything is great. But I need to give myself credit that as long as I have forward movement and that I’m moving towards doing good, and that I work as hard as I can to practice not being destructive, then it will allow me to bless the world in which ever way that I can. Those things help me move forward.
I’ve had difficult times. I spent five years drinking because a good friend of mine passed on. I was also struggling with identity, adoption, and who am I, and how do I fit into this world. Throughout that time, there were people who were always there for me. They weren’t necessarily pushy, but they were there for me and they expected that I would come out of it.
I learned from that experience that every human being in this world no matter what they are going though and what’s going on deserves to feel like they did something right by themselves. A lot of times we cannot learn from ourselves because we are in the thick of it. So we have to see from a couple of other people with who we can connect and who can realize what is going on.
When I take adoptees back to their birth countries, one of the most powerful things is not me going to India and doing this thing or that thing, but going to India with other people who are going through the same thing – people that they can connect with. If they have grown up in white suburbia and they are an Indian child, they’ve only known being an Indian child and saying, “I’m from India but have no idea what that means.”
Then they come to India and all of a sudden there is someone else who says, “Oh my gosh, that is my story too.” It changes everything. It doesn’t make everything magically better, but it changes everything because then you are not all alone in the struggle. That’s a huge deal.
What’s happened to me is that I’ve seen enough people when I’ve had my head held up high and when I’ve been down, and they have shown me that I have the ability to do better. That’s it!
There’s a something that I have done that is the most valuable thing that I can possibly imagine. That is: whatever I’m passionate about, I just reach out to other people who are passionate about it. For example, if somebody is really down, and say they don’t have access to the Internet. Say it’s a person who is homeless or they just don’t have anything at all. But they know deep down inside of them they are passionate about something – whatever it may be like helping elder people doing this or that or whatever. If you can figure out a way somehow to just say, “Hello”, to somebody else who is passionate about that thing, with no agenda, with nothing, it will change their life.
For people who do have access to the Internet, their lives can be changed. Here’s my story. When I learned that foster care in India and adoption was what I was passionate about, I spent a few minutes a day Googling that subject and contacting people and saying, “Hi, my name is Ian, I’m interested in this, I’d love to talk to you.” One out of a hundred responded to me. Then a fraction of those people I ended up having a meaningful conversation with.
What happened was that I learned and built confidence. It happened slowly. I recommend that whatever you feel led towards doing in life, just do not ignore that or do not think that you are not valuable enough to go for it. Do it and that will literally change your life.