This article is a part of our Founder Series, where female founders share their entrepreneurial journeys.
When I graduated college in 2006, I wanted to start my own theatre company. A friend and I wanted to do theatre which pushed boundaries, asked questions, sparked change- not just for entertainment. We moved to San Francisco with the purpose of growing a network and establishing our theatre company.
But it was too soon. I had a yearning that still, even to this day, has not been satisfied- and probably will never be. I wanted to see the world. I wanted to connect with people from different places, different cultures, I wanted to understand them and have them understand me. I wanted to explore cultural competency, see some beautiful and amazing things, and feel the world coming together in our differences.
So after two years of teaching in a girls school in California, I left the theatre company idea behind and set off to see the world. I traveled for 9 months in a complete circle, spending most of my time in Asia. As a woman traveling alone, I learned so much about myself, others, how I connect with others, and what it means to be an “other”.
My time in India had the strongest impact on me. I spent one month in a girls school in Anupshahr, and truly felt the meaning of the word “other”. Everything was different from what I was used to, the food, the temperature (it was June) the ability to have everything at your fingertips whenever you wanted it. The way girls were treated here, the lack of English language…. And yet the magic came in the connections and same-ness that I found despite the differences. We came from such different places and values and yet we all wanted and felt the same about so many things: friendship, love, trust, laughter, music, and learning.This was the key moment for me. Although it took many more years of traveling and different jobs, it was this important type of connection that would drive me to develop the non-profit (and my life’s passion) that I am creating today.
After returning to New York (my home) and working on another educational/theatre non-profit for two years, many part-time jobs, conferences, workshops, books, music development (I’m also a musician) later, the idea for ‘The Other Side’ came about. Creating a community of girls through global drama exchange, having girls tell their stories through performing arts to other girls and finding that beautiful magical connection between cultures- and especially for girls.
After doing the project once, with a return trip to India in 2013, I realized that I needed to commit to making this my life’s work. Once you find a project that fulfills you in just the right way, you will know. Nothing else could possibly be your life’s work. It’s like putting on those perfect pair of shoes.
Budgets? Fiscal Sponsors? Fundraising? Marketing? Organizing? Board of Directors? 501(c)3? Working from a computer all day? These are all things that would have made me cringe before 2013. But once I had my passion in place, these things were fun, exciting, and made me want to wake up in the morning and work on them. Because it meant that I would get closer to creating this program which I cared so much about. The passion to do the work with girls, to develop a theatre curriculum, to train teachers and teach myself- that moment when I see one girl in New York say, “I love my sisters in India” or the girl in India say, “Can you please tell the girls in New York that we are always thinking of them?”- those are the reasons why I make a budget. Or a marketing plan. Or put together a blog post or newsletter. Or write a grant. These are things that don’t come naturally to me or sound fun to me, but they have become so because my mission drives them.
Now we are working in 3 different countries with 5 schools. We have 9 teaching artists, a board of directors, 501(c)3 status, a development team and graphic designer, not to mention so many volunteers and interns who have helped to develop so many pieces of the puzzle along the way. The project is definitely less in my hands than it used to be, which is a great thing. It’s growing and spreading, and I can start to look onwards at all the work that is getting done and feel proud and excited to see where the next year will bring us.
The following girls participated in ‘The Other Side Drama’ exchange in 2013 and 2014. At the time, they were working in a call center at PPES. They all come from rural areas and broke through barriers set by their families and communities to be able to get their education and training from the call center. Now they have various jobs around India, and school both in India and abroad. Let’s see what rural empowerment looks like:
Currently I am working with Concentrix which is a MNS. I have been selected for a diploma program too for which I will go to the US for a year. ‘The Other Side’ has been played a miracle role in my confidence. I did a radio show with Melanie’s student. After doing that show I really felt awesome and thought about how great it wasto talk a student from another country. Now I am very much comfortable with strangers as well. I can talk about any topic with confidence to whomever I need to communicate with. Drama was very helpful for me.
I’m working as an Information Technology Administrator at PPES. I just completed my graduation and I’m going to do my post graduation from Anoopshahr. I have this position today because of my role model, Prashant Singh. Before I was working as a receptionist at PPES, and here ‘The Other Side of India’ program helped me a lot to improve my confidence and to deal with people. Working as a receptionist is a big challenge because I’m new.
I am a computer teacher, and I’m ‘The Other Side’ assistant teacher at Pardada-Pardadi. I’m really happy with my work and I love to do my work. Simultaneously I’m doing marketing work at ALCC (a marketing corporation.) I have completed my graduation and I will do a bachelor’s degree in education. I will begin that degree in 6 months or so. I learned a lot many things from TOS and gained the confidence and fortitude to break through societal limitations.
Currently I am working with a construction company (Wishwa Mittar Bajaj & Sons (Construction) PVT. LTD) as an Accounts Executive. I have decided to defer my studies for one year. But I have plans to do an MBA in accounting next year. I used to have concentration problems and I couldn’t focus on work, I always used to change my plans. From ‘The Other Side’ drama program I learned how to concentrate on my work. I am really thankful to Melanie and Prashant sir for teaching me how to concentrate in work.
I am working with a BPO private sector in Noida, where international incoming calls are attended. I am really enjoying interacting with foreign customers over the calls. Simultaneously this year I am going to complete my three years degree of Bachelor of Arts within the next two months. ‘The Other Side’ inspired me in many ways. It taught me to be strong for my rights as a girl. On Women’s Day, 8th March 2014 I learnt to really stand on my own feet. Through drama I was able to come out of my shell and see the world. I learned to be more confident in my own decisions as no one can judge my life better than me. I love that I can fully support myself financially because till now my parents had supported me. It was time for a change and give them relief.
“Hi” to all New York girls from my side!
About Melanie Closs
New York based Melanie Closs is the founder of The Other Side, a non-profit organization that explores the problems of girls living in certain communities and addresses those issues with the help of cross-cultural communication using drama as a tool.”
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