I have always wanted to go to India. I was never really sure why, just knew it was a place I had to visit, so when my mum asked if I wanted to come along to keep her company while she checked out some new volunteer placements, I jumped at the chance.
I’m not really sure what I was expecting at all – but the reality probably wasn’t quite it! On the surface, India is a mad place. Expect driving like you’ve never seen before (and I know, everyone always says the driving is terrible in every foreign country they visit – but seriously, this is something else), everywhere you go is loud (beeping your car horn seems to be some kind of sacred activity out there), and there are animals everywhere (mostly cows, of which we saw in all sorts of interesting positioning, including on a train station platform seemingly waiting for the 8.30a.m train to Dehli, and a group of cows holding up a whole host of traffic as they sauntered down the road in Jaipur rush hour.) People seem to think it’s quite ‘normal’ to poo in all sorts of public places, the public toilets are out of this world (and not in a good way – hey, perhaps that’s why the locals seem to prefer going ‘au natural’ in public), and, did I mention they are the worst drivers EVER? (Ok, I did, but its worth a second mention).
However, India has shown me some of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. The people are just the most lovely kind I have ever come across, and the Spiritual energy of the place is immense. Never before have I met a culture of people who are so keen to share their spirituality with everyone, no matter who they are and where they come from. The food is fantastic (despite the inevitable ‘Delhi Belly’ which led to my fantastic experience & knowledge of the public toilets), and the general vibe of India is just lovely. The travellers/tourists aren’t there to party and get wasted every night (in fact, in Udaipur where we stayed 3 nights there didn’t even seem to be any bars), but are serene and keen to learn and explore what this wonderful country has to offer.
Anyway, back to the real reason we were even there – the volunteer placements. We visited the charity on the Tuesday morning of our weeks stay. A very kind man named Himanshu (who I believe started the charity several years ago) took pride in showing us around some of the projects that they have been sending volunteers to, and I have to say this was the part of the week that absolutely changed my life forever. I did try to prepare myself, but absolutely nothing could have prepared me for what we experienced. The volunteers have been teaching English in the rural and tribal areas outside Udaipur. These areas have only really had schools for the past few years, and everything is heartbreakingly basic. Some of the areas don’t have running water or electricity (others have recently had it), and the majority of the schools are literally just a little shack with no furniture, much similar to the houses within the local community. The local families live in awful conditions, some of them having to collect water miles away just to have anything to drink. As we drove around these areas I just couldn’t believe that areas like this still even exist. That sounds ridiculously naïve, and I suppose I did know really, but seeing the reality of it was the hardest thing to process.
Driving around was hard. I don’t think I have ever felt such heart-ache for somebody elses situation before – for something that doesn’t involve me. It was a huge lesson in humility for me, and something which quite frankly has left me as a completely different human being. We got home from the morning of visiting the projects, and I actually had to go to bed for a few hours, just to try and let myself catch up with the fact that what I’d seen was in fact a true reality. It was incredibly hard to process.
I won’t go into all the different projects we saw – I know Mums blog posts will be very informative and more detailed, but what I will say is that this charity is doing such fantastic work. The kids in the schools were by far the happiest children I have ever seen (and given their life situation that makes it even harder to process just what they’re going through, and how lucky we are the UK to grow up in a place where nothing is really a hardship). They have a thirst for knowledge like I’ve never seen before. It made me so sick to think that children in UK schools almost have an aversion to learning – they’d rather be playing on their computer or eating mindless amounts of chocolate, merely grunting at their teachers when asked a question – yet these children who come from such heart-breaking backgrounds were just so keen, testing out their English wherever they could, wanting to shake our hands and just communicate with us in any way they knew how.
One thing that Himanshu said to us that really stuck with me, was that in India they have a Caste system (a bit like our ‘upper class’, ‘middle class’ system I suppose but way more strict and embedded in peoples minds) which is very set within the Indian culture. Most of these children were the bottom class, named ‘The Untouchables’. They aren’t allowed to move caste. These children are born as ‘Untouchables’ and will unfortunately always be labelled as this. This restricts what jobs they can have, which means its very difficult for them to do anything with their lives. This is why teaching them English is so important – it broadens the selection of jobs that they can get, which at least gives them some hope for achieving a better life than they have grown up with.
So… if this is something that pulls even the tiniest of heartstrings, I suggest coming out to India to do this volunteer work. The charity is incredibly well run, the accommodation is fantastically clean/comfortable and everyone involved in the project seemed like lovely people. We spent a lot of time with Himamshu, as I said, but also Gaurav (manager of one of the area projects), who accompanied us on our trip to Ranthambor National Park and then to Jaipur. Both Himanshu and Gaurav were two of the loveliest people I think I have ever met, and both cared so much about the work that they do. It was lovely to spend a week with them, seeing all the fantastic progress they’ve made so far.
I plan to go out and do this work as much as I can, and am hoping to get a group together to do this very soon. The placement would suit anyone – we met young gap year students, older people on 2 week work breaks, and even a family of 4 who came as their ‘family holiday’. The charity needs volunteers for it to be able to run, so if you would like to help, not only would it be incredibly rewarding work, it would benefit the lives of these people who are sadly nowhere near as lucky as ourselves.
I hope this is helpful info, and should you want to ask any questions I’d be happy to answer if I can help.