The Annual Volunteer Meet (AVM), which took place between 1-3 December 2023, was hosted by the Bangalore Chapter at The Chancery Hotel in Bangalore. It was a much anticipated and awaited event for AFS India, as the AVM was taking place after a gap of four years. The Meet was abuzz with the gathering of the participants, which included the AFS India Board members, 1960’s returnees, National Office staff and volunteers from all the different chapters.

The AVM started off with an energetic flash mob by Bangalore volunteers, followed by an icebreaker, conducted by Madhusudan Rao, where the participants got to know each other.

After the official welcome, the inauguration took place with the ceremonial lighting of the lamp by the Bangalore volunteers, followed by members from the new chapters: Jamshedpur, Karaikudi and Lucknow.

Next was the keynote address by Ms. Keri Dooley, Executive Vice President, Government Relations and Compliance, AFS USA. As an AFS returnee, she spoke about how AFS impacted her life. At the end of her speech, she distributed AFS badges and requested everyone to pin onto each other. After that, everyone gathered with their respective chapter members for the group photo session.

The second day of the AVM began with a keynote speech titled “Give Peace a Chance”, by Dr. Geetha Narayanan, AFS Returnee (1960s). A visionary educationist and instruction builder, she is the Founder Director of the Mallya Aditi International School and Srishti Institute of Art, Design and Technology. Over the last four decades, she has moved from founding institutions that support and enable change to working, both creatively and constructively, in generating capacities for change within teachers, artists and other creative
practitioners. She’s a Director’s Fellow at the Media Lab at MIT USA, held the UNESCO Chair in Culture Habitat and Sustainable Development and is a trustee of the Maharani Lakshmi Ammani College for Women. In her talk, she brought out the different meanings of the word, ‘peace’, which was the central theme of the AVM. Her passionate and inspiring speech was riddled with fascinating insights and thought-provoking philosophies, and mesmerized the audience. She imparted wisdom on Wabi-Sabi and the concept of “let go, to let come”.

This was followed by “Reflections and impressions”, a panel discussion with the AFS Returnees of 1960s: Ms. Anuradha Rao, Ms. Renee Jhala, Ms. Purnima Rao, Ms. Malini Kini and Ms. Angela Roye, where they narrated their stories about their AFS journey and regaled the audience with interesting incidents and anecdotes on their stay with their host families.

The thematic address was then given by Ms. Diya Badgel, National Director, AFS India. She reinforced the need for peace and passion in our volunteering journey.

After the address, four groups of participants proceeded to the four different halls, where the eight thematic workshops by the AFS India Board members were scheduled to take place in two sessions.

In the first session, the initial four workshops were conducted. ‘Peace and Marketing’ was conducted by Mr. Dave Banerjee, who has over three decades of experience in the advertising and marketing industry. He is currently serving on the Board of Fisheye Creative Solutions, a premier marketing solutions company, and Proyog Yoga Wear, a sustainable yoga-wear brand. In the workshop, he spoke about integrating inclusivity, social responsibilities and campaigns, educational content, collaborative partnerships, crisis communication and conflict resolution into marketing strategies, to enable businesses to contribute to positive societal changes. These peace-promoting values can also help them build a brand image and relations with customers who value social responsibilities.

Mr. Jayant Hari Har Lal, the Chairperson of the AFS India Member Schools Committee, is a former Housemaster and Deputy Headmaster at The Doon School and the Founder Principal at Sanskaar Valley School in Bhopal. Currently working as an Education Consultant, Mr. Lal is an Honorary Member of the Round Square International and a member of Global Connections. He conducted the workshop on ‘Peace and Environment’, where he touched upon sustainable practices for conflict resolution, environmental education for peace, climate change mitigation, collaborative international efforts, environmental justice for social harmony. By recognizing the interdependence on peace and environment, individuals and communities like AFS can develop the nations’ holistic approach towards both social harmony as well as ecological sustainability.

‘Peace and Law’ by Ms. Ranjana Iyer, had her emphasizing the inter-linkage between peace and law, which is crucial for maintaining social order, justice and harmony. She threw light on the legal framework pertaining to conflict resolution, protection of rights and promotion of justice, mediation and arbitration, international laws, human rights and its protection, etc., all of which contribute to a peaceful mindset and environment. Ms. Iyer is a practicing lawyer with over three decades of experience and expertise as a senior litigator. She is a Member of the Board, School of Law, Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU).

Mr. Siddharth Singh is the Vice Chair on the AFS India Board. He is the Director of The Emerald Heights International School, Indore. He was selected by Education World magazine as one of the “Young Shining Stars of Indian Education” in 2017 and was felicitated at the ASMA India’s Top 40 Under 40 Awards 2021’ for his contribution in the field of education. Mr. Singh conducted the workshop on ‘Peace and Education’, where he discussed the importance of education in fostering social harmony. He apprised the audience that peace can be obtained through various ways such as teaching tolerance, promoting understanding of different cultures, regions, perspectives to our students, along with social skills, global awareness, environmental education, critical thinking, media literacy, peer mediation programs, empowering girls and women through education, providing equal education opportunities, etc.

The second session included “Peace and Wellness” by Mr. Joseph Kuok. Mr. Kuok, highly passionate about swimming and water polo, has represented India at various international championships. He won a bronze medal in Water Polo at the 1982 IX Asian Games held at New Delhi. He is the Vice President of the Delhi Swimming Association, Treasurer of the Cerebral Palsy Sports Federation of India (CPSFI) and Secretary of the Delhi Cerebral Palsy Association. In the workshop, Mr. Kuok talked about the connection between peace and wellness and also between our mind and body. He spoke about our body being a temple and the need for us to nurture it through healthy habits, daily routines, quality sleep, etc. Wellness of the body leads to peace of mind. Pursuit to peace is not only a journey, but a destination.

“Peace and Finance”, was conducted by Mr. Ravi Pandit, who is a Chartered Accountant and Chartered Company Secretary. He has donned leadership roles across the management spectrum in his distinguished career spanning over 3 decades. He has worked in large Indian conglomerates, such as the Tatas, Bajaj, Essar, Walchand and Global Group. Winning the Golden Peacock Award for CG from the Institute of Directors is one among his many achievements. Mr. Pandit very rightly stated that there is no peace without money. He talked about the negative impact of war on the economy of countries. He also listed out the huge budgets allocated towards defense by different governments and mentioned that if the same amount was spent on resources for peace promotion and development, it would have a huge positive impact on the world as a whole.

Mr. Jayant Krishna conducted the workshop on “Peace and Opportunity, Search, Achievement, Motivation for Global Citizenship”. He said that opportunities come to us brilliantly disguised as problems which don’t have an obvious solution as yet. He used very interesting stories, exercises and facts to bring out the fact that our conditioning and beliefs come in the way of our success. Thinking differently from others is an important way to capitalize on opportunities. We should be ‘fishermen’ kind of people, who are always on the lookout for other/new opportunities. Mr. Krishna is the Founding CEO of the Foundation for Advancing Science and Technology (FAST India). He has served on multiple committees of the Government of India, chaired several task forces of the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) and is an independent director on the boards of a few companies. He was the first Indian to be appointed Group CEO of the UK-India Business Council (UKIBC), where he strengthened bilateral economic ties. Mr. Krishna was awarded the Chevening Scholarship by the UK Government in 1997 and is a recipient of the APJ Abdul Kalam Award for innovation in governance in 2016.

Ms. Angela Roye, an AFS returnee (batch of 1966-67), is the Chairperson of the AFS India Board. She has also been a former President of the AFS Asia Pacific Initiative, where she headed the international relations of about ten countries. She is an Early Childhood educator, environmentalist, counselor, and an avid gardener, among other things. She is the Founder-Principal of Angela Roye’s Child Development Center, Bangalore, where she followed a unique methodology and curriculum, to make learning easy and enjoyable for children. In “Peace and Volunteerism”, Ms. Angela Roye, took everyone on the journey of a volunteer, making everyone realize the what, who, why and where of volunteering. The session was packed with an interesting icebreaker, activities, guidelines and many valuable learnings for those present.

After a quick lunch, four process training sessions were conducted by volunteer trainers from different chapters. Hosting training was conducted by Ms. Meera Surve, the Hosting Coordinator for the Mumbai Chapter. She is an experienced educator with over sixteen years of experience teaching French. She currently serves as a visiting faculty member at V.G. Vaze College of Arts, Science and Commerce. She is also an international trainer associated with Junior Chamber International since 1991, conducting numerous training programs.

Ms. Sudha Raj Raman, a devoted volunteer and a former President of the Delhi Chapter, conducted the session on Sending. She has also essayed the roles of intercultural learning (ICL) trainer and counselor trainer. She has also participated in AFS India community service programs in Indore and Gandhinagar.

Ms. Mayura Pande, the President of the Pune Chapter and Marketing Director at Purple Pelican Consulting, conducted the training on Leadership. She went on an exchange program to Japan in 2006-07, where she developed a passion for global
connections and community service.

The training session on Counseling was conducted by Mr. Ajay Mehta from the Rajkot Chapter. Mr. Mehta is an esteemed Associate Professor of English with over three decades of experience at a commerce college in Rajkot. He is a qualified facilitator for various programs like AFS Global You Adventurer, Global You Changemaker, AFS Global STEM Innovators, Global Competence Certificate (GCC), etc. Later in the evening, all the participants were transported to The Chancery Pavilion for the Gala Dinner. The evening began with the inter-chapter fashion ramp walk, where all the volunteers displayed the culture and traditional attire of their respective regions.

This was followed by a musical extravaganza by Mr. Peter Isaac and his band, “The Chronic Blues Circus”, where the congregation was entertained by popular blues songs from a variety of singers like Bob Marley, Bob Dylan, etc. The performance concluded with the AFS song, “Walk together, talk together”. The evening ended with a hearty dinner.

The final day of the AVM commenced with the keynote address by Mr. Kris Ramachandran, AFS Returnee 1960s, and Independent Director, Vodafone Idea Ltd. He is a former President of the Bombay Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCCI). He has been
an Independent Director of the Board of Directors of Thomas Cook India, Cyient Ltd. And Nelco Ltd, and a member on the Board of Directors of BITS, Pilani. He spoke about his experiences in the exchange program to the US in the 1960s and how the learnings from the same have molded his personality and taught him to make the right choices. He inspired the audience to focus their energy on matters where they can influence people and bring about change.

The recap by Ms. Vinaya Sawant, Vice President, Bangalore Chapter, ensued, wherein she summarized the events that took place over the length of the AVM.
Next, the different chapters presented their roadmap for the year ahead in the areas of sending, hosting and volunteer development and engagement.
Ms. Sundari Surya, President of the Bangalore Chapter, concluded the AVM with the vote of thanks.