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An Indian Abroad

by Webmaster Masala

Lavisha Kapoor discusses what she hopes to achieve at the Know India Programme‘s 50th edition.

By Ashima Sethi

As someone who holds Thai and Australian citizenship, as well as an Indian OCI, Lavisha Kapoor is the epitome of a third culture individual. Currently residing in Melbourne, this esteemed go-getter works alongside Australia’s Department of Education to promote the country’s colleges and universities among Indian students, while also mentoring the Indian youth. This has led to a firm grasp of the importance of bridging cultural gaps — an understanding that helped her secure a spot at the respected Know India Programme (KIP) hosted by the Government of India in 2005. She returns once again this year to further her understanding of her homeland and to continue inspiring Indians around the world.

Can you tell us more about your background?

I grew up in Thailand where I attended Ruamrudee International School, before moving to Australia in 2006 to complete a Bachelor’s Degree in Event Management & Tourism from Victoria University. I then went on to pursue the Executive Master of Business Administration Degree at RMIT University where I graduated the youngest in my class. I now work as an event manager in Melbourne, as well as in the training sector facilitating activities with the Department of Education. I also mentor Indian students in the area, providing them with help in higher education, as well as career guidance.

What exactly is the Know India Programme (KIP)? 

Established in 2003, the KIP is a flagship programme run by the Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India, to encourage Indian youth from around the world to enhance their awareness of India’s heritage, art and other contemporary aspects, through discussions, sight-seeing, meetings with influential people, and so forth. Until now, I am the first and only participant from Thailand to attend the programme.

What drew you to this programme?

As an event manager, I’m always looking to grow my network, and the programme is a great opportunity to meet like-minded Indians from around the world. It also aligns with my career objective of strengthening bonds between Australia and India so that more Indian students can benefit from their respective higher education programmes.

What was the application process like?

We had to submit an online portfolio of our academic and professional achievements, interests and hobbies, as well as an explanation of why we believed we were deserving candidates. Because I had participated before, I also had to explain what I had achieved during my first experience.

What motivated you to apply for this particular programme twice?

I believe the programme brings value to me professionally by providing me with a platform to form connections. It also plays a major role in assisting my work with Australia’s Department of Education to provide educational benefits to the rising number of Indian students opting to pursue their education in Australia. Moreover, being invited back for the second time allows me to add value to the programme, as I can suggest ways for it to improve and develop.

What were some of the highlights from the first time you attended the programme?

I attended KIP’s third run in Uttaranchal in 2005, where I experienced a live Parliamentary session and had the chance to meet former president A. P. J. Abdul Kalam. We travelled around the country to visit landmarks like the Taj Mahal, and we even taught yoga at an ashram in Rishikesh. Moreover, throughout the programme I was featured on DD National TV and various newspapers like India Today.

What do you hope to discuss at this year’s edition?

This year, I’ll be returning for the 50th anniversary, Golden Jubilee, as one of 49 candidates chosen from 1,533 previous attendees. Being a first-generation Thai Indian and first-generation Australian Indian, I want to learn how to motivate Indians living overseas to reconnect with their roots, and how we can create avenues for young Indians to better understand their culture in order to create stronger ties with their motherland.

Why is staying connected to our roots so important?

Staying connected is important, because like your DNA, your heritage is what makes you unique. I also believe that understanding your family history is the key to understanding yourself, because in order to know where you are heading, you must first know where you came from.

From a personal standpoint, how do you stay connected to your heritage?

In Bangkok, I lived in a neighbourhood filled with Indian families, which helped me stay close to my culture. Also, every year my family would visit our relatives in India which allowed me to learn more about our customs. When I moved to Melbourne, I got involved with various Indian community groups. Nowadays, my mentorship helps me stay connected to the Indian community, as I’m constantly helping young Indians transition into life in Australia.

Apart from the KIP, what other notable events or programmes have you been a part of?

I helped organise the 2017 Modi Express, a 12-hour train journey that saw 200 Indians travel from Melbourne to Sydney to see PM Narendra Modi’s speech. I’ve also organised concerts for Shreya Ghoshal and Jagjit Singh, taken part in various fundraisers to support NGOs in India, and helped organise cultural celebrations like Holi and Diwali.

What tips can you give people who wish to participate in cultureoriented programmes such as the KIP?

Keep tabs on your local embassy for updates about upcoming culture-oriented programmes. Now with social media, it is easier than ever to find relevant information. I also suggest getting involved in paid or volunteer work within your local community. Whether it is hosting events like Holi or organising other types of get-togethers, it provides a great way to network.

AN EXCLUSIVE UPDATE FROM LAVISHA’S TRIP TO THE 50TH EDITION OF THE KNOW INDIA PROGRAMME (KIP)

An Overview

The 50th edition of the Know India Programme (KIP Golden Jubilee) was held in conjunction with the 15th Pravasi Bharatiya Divas Convention (PBD). The convention is a biennial event that attracts over 6,000 attendees from around the world. It aims to strengthen the engagement between overseas Indians and the Government of India by providing the community an opportunity to reconnect with their roots and a platform to network.

(More information about PBD can be found here: http://pbdindia.gov.in/en/about-us)

Programme Schedule

  • The programme began in Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, where we attended a convention that saw welcome remarks but a number of influential speakers, followed by interactive sessions and cultural programmes.
  • The second day saw PM Narendra Modi address the convention group alongside important members of the Ministry of External Affairs, the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh and other keynote speakers. This was followed by plenary sessions about: The Role of India diaspora in capacity building for affordable solar power and Giving Back to India: Opportunities and Challenges as well as cultural programmes.
  • The third day involved an honorary address from the President of India, Shri Ram Nath Kovind and discussions about:
    • Indian Community Organisations working for Indian nationals in distressed Situations
    • Role of Indian Diaspora in Capacity Building for Affordable Waste Management
    • Indian Diaspora’s Role in Capacity Building of Artificial Intelligence in India
    • Developing cyber capacity of India
  • On day four we went to Prayagraj to participate in a holy bathing ceremony at the Kumbh Mela.
  • After this we travelled from Prayagraj to New Delhi by train to attend the 70th Republic Day Parade, where special passes were given to foreign delegates of PBD 2019.

What were some of the highlights of your trip?

There were many highlights, but I really enjoyed meeting Sushma Swaraj, Minister of External Affairs of India as I consider her one of my role models. I’ve even labelled her as ‘India’s Super Woman’ during one of my talks because I respect how she is a strong female figure in a male dominated political sphere. When I met her we had a stimulating conversation about the role of the Indian diaspora in building a new India. And during her speech she stated “Indian born or not, you are the ambassadors of India wherever you go” and because I am a third culture individual this really struck me. I will always be Indian at heart, no matter how many generations pass by, and this programme has only motivated me to continue inspiring the youth to embrace their roots and reconnect to the motherland.

I also enjoyed interacting with other influential individuals including PM Narendra Modi, who I had met when I helped organise the Modi Express Train in Australia. I also had the opportunity to speak to former Indian Army Chief General V.K. Singh (who has also served as Minister of State of External Affairs) during the train ride from Prayagraj to New Delhi. I thoroughly enjoyed his humble demeanour and exciting stories. The Sports Minister Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore, Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh Shri Yogi Adityanath, Prime Minister of Mauritius Pravind Kumar Jugnauth and New Zealand Parliament’s first Sikh MP Kanwaljit Singh Bakshi were also all wonderfully inspiring. And to top it all off, all participants had the chance to watch the legendary Hema Malini perform.

Other highlights included being treated like a VVIP by the Indian Government. Vivek Jeph at the Ministry of External Affairs took really good care of all of us. and the UP Government and police were very cooperative with everyone who attended the PBD. Everyone was quick to offer their support, which made us all feel very welcome. I also enjoyed being interviewed for local media channels which included Zee TV, Aaj Tak News and PIO TV. Moreover as I am a professional events manager, I was asked by members of Ministry of External Affairs to assist with some of the events. This led to many opportunities to network and grow my portfolio.

Did you find anything particularly challenging?

A few things. The programme runs on a very tight schedule, which left minimal time for us participants to really get to know each other. Despite that, we have all made an effort to keep in touch post-trip. It was also a challenge for those who did not speak any Indian languages as many of the PBD speeches were in Hindi. It was also slightly overwhelming trying to keep up with all of the VIPs as many of us were new to the country’s political sphere, but the event did a wonderful job it helping us learn and become more familiar.

What are some important things you are taking away from the KIP?

There are so many ways that overseas Indians can stay in touch with their roots including programmes like KIP and volunteer work. The biggest lesson I’ve taken away from PM Modi and Sushma Swaraj’s speeches is that although we have not been born in India, we are still considered very valuable parts of the nation.

What were some pressing issues that were brought to light?  

There was discussion about how overseas Indians can transition back into a life in India. I asked a question during my presentation about what India was currently doing to motivate their youth to return to the country after they go abroad for studies, jobs etc.

What do you plan on doing with the information you have gathered?

I have realised that being Indian is my ethnicity, and no matter how many generations pass by, I will always be Indian before anything else and this programme has continued to motivate me to inspire the youth to embrace their heritage. I plan on working closely with the Indian embassies in both Bangkok and Melbourne, as well as the Ministry of External Affairs in New Delhi to promote the Know India Programme further so that more youth will choose to get involved.

Thailand, Australia and India are three countries that make up my identity. I have always wanted to find ways to connect to my roots in India through my profession as an events manager, so I’ve been thankful to be given to opportunity to participate and help run the PBD and I look forward to taking part in similar future events. Since I’ve been back in Melbourne, I have begun contacting universities to offer mentorships for international students (from India and Thailand) coming to study in Australia.

In summary, the Know India Programme (KIP) has made me more proud to be Indian as I now feel closer to my home country. I have also discovered new ways to motivate young Indians around the world who want to reconnect with their roots. I would recommend the programme to all of my peers who are looking at a prestigious opportunity to discover our rich and beautiful heritage.

For more information about the Know India Programme (KIP) please visit this link

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