This 26-year-old from Odisha recounts working at the world's largest refugee camp in Bangladesh during the lockdown

Baisali Mohanty hails from Odisha and currently, she works for the United Nations. She is also credited to have started the Oxford Odissi Centre while studying at Oxford. We listen in to her story...
At the camp | (Pic: Baisali Mohanty)
At the camp | (Pic: Baisali Mohanty)

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Best of times when it comes to the sheer learning that it offered and the worst of times because it was during the pandemic. We are referring to Baisali Mohanty's (a Policy Officer with the United Nations) experience at being stuck at Cox's Bazar in Bangladesh. This city is a tourist destination many are familiar with. But what everyone might not know is that the port city also houses the world's largest refugee camp. The mass exodus from Myanmar has made the Kutupalong refugee camp so. And it is here that Baisali was stuck during the pandemic-induced lockdown. "Everyone was working from home while our fieldwork had only intensified," recalls the 26-year-old. 

UN Diplomats training at UN Africa headquarters in Nairobi | (Pic: Baisali Mohanty)

The government wasn't as helpful, understandably, because they wanted to take care of both the refugees and its own citizens as well. There was panic everywhere, with no procedure in place nor any great medical facility around. "Many of them had already been through so much, lost their homes, their whole lives and now, living as refugees in another country," says the youngster who hails from Odisha. But like everywhere else in the world, when the understanding of the virus grew better, the fears started to mitigate.  

She was also educated at KIIT International School, Bhubaneswar and Lady Shri Ram College for Women, Delhi

On a personal level, things became difficult for Baisali, whose core work objective is peace-building and emergency operations, when the line between work and personal life blurred. "It was emotionally draining but with time, I learnt how to balance it. Which is why this has been an experience of a lifetime," says the Puri-born. And the sense of satisfaction over a job well done — that and the inspiration she gets from whoever she caters to — keeps driving her, onwards and upwards.

At Cox's Bazar | (Pic: Baisali Mohanty)

Her Odissi diaries
Baisali is also the same youngster who initiated the Oxford Odissi Centre at the University of Oxford while pursuing her Master's in International Relations with Asian Studies. She is happy to note that as the Founder-President of the centre, she continues to be associated with it. "We started the centre because people had hardly heard of Odissi. So the aim was to take the classical dance beyond boundaries," says the youngster. They not only got The Nehru Centre (TNC), the cultural wing of The High Commission of India in the UK, on board but also continue to conduct the Oxford Odissi Festival.

She has been felicitated by National Commission for Women, New Delhi and won the Aarya Award for her contribution to Indian classical dance

The Oxford Odissi Centre started out as a one-woman centre but very soon, Baisali was able to get on board people who are as committed to the dance form as she is. Amidst the rigorous academic commitments that Oxford demands, she and the team used to meet for practice, ideation and organisation of the festival. "It was a self-motivated initiative," informs the youngster who started learning Odissi at the age of three and counts Padma Shri awardees late Gangadhar Pradhan and Ileana Citaristi as her gurus. Baisali is more than happy to play an advisory role at the centre now as she strongly believes that it is the current students who need to take it forward, though they can count on her for support, come rain or shine.

Performing at Oxford | (Pic: Baisali Mohanty)

Though working at the United Nations was Baisali's goal, it is with this international organisation that she began her career. She worked as an Emergency Communications Officer in Nepal and currently, has shifted base to Rome. "If it wasn't for my parents, I wouldn't know a career in diplomacy existed. My advice would be to participate in MUNs (Model United Nations). Many Indians pursue Civil Services ardently, but this is like the international civil services," she says. Aptly put, Baisali. 

For more on her check out

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