Heading into my trip to India I had no idea what to expect. Any time for research had been swamped by studying so I anticipated it to be similar to my trip to Sri Lanka. But India had a different feel, a buzz and spice in the air seemed to make people smile at each other in the streets and this sort of normalized, genuine kindness is what I found India to be all about.

As we waited in arrivals I caught my first glimpse of India when a little boy ran up to me hugging my legs (and warming my heart). I’d heard that Indian people were friendly, but I hadn’t expected them to be at 3 o’clock in the morning! When we had passed through the visa check and exited the airport the humid Indian heat awaited us. We were taken to our hotel by driver, Martin and this was when we first encountered the crazy but thrilling Indian driving. Cows laid or meandered down the streets peacefully and untouched and goats scuttled from place to place.  The streets were filled to the brim with colour, all of the women’s beautiful saris and dupatta encapsulating the true soul of the country.

Fort KochiThe jetlag set in. When we woke from our deep sleep we ate our morning curry and set out for a quick explore before reaching the volunteering journeys homestay. Geetha welcomed us at the door and there was an immediate sense of homeliness and comfort. We learnt that Nimmi was coming along with us on this journey and her willing kindness to help our every concern amazed us. We met Ana and Collette, fellow volunteers and immediately knitted together as a team of explorers around the town. We were often sighted in Oy’s café sipping on one of their deluxe milkshakes. Fusion Bay was also a crowd favourite, a place where everything on the menu is delicious. Our personal favourite dishes were the paneer, fried okra, fried cauliflower, prawn moily, and lemon rice. The people that surround you become a family that works, laughs, and tours together.

During our first week volunteering we had Collette as our teacher, she’d been there the previous week and knew all the ins and outs of the job. In the mornings we tuk tuked to Veli, a local high school and taught years 5,6 and 7. The kids there greet you, smiles plastered on their faces with a loud exclamation of ‘hello teacher’. Some children have a born enthusiasm to learn, others to play. They accept differences openly, not even taking notice of anyone who might considered weird or unusual in a western society.

In the afternoons we headed off to GHS to teach our year 2 class. The little ones are avid, attentive learners and fuel off of the competition. They worked well with the knowledge of some fun at the end of the lesson (Duck, duck chicken and bubbles; sure class favourites!) Simple concepts like transport and countries thrilled them and seasons and body parts excited them to the point where we had to take a few minutes time out. Their little voices were constantly posed at the words ‘Teacher, Teacher’, making sure they were doing the right thing and showing off their cleverness.

After school and on weekends we enjoyed the backwaters’ serenity for some time out and the fishnets offer some entertainment- you’ll be amazed by the efficiency of the men and their ancient contraptions. Restaurants and cafes welcome you inside with the friendly people within and the sweet aromas that entice you in.

In terms of drinks, a cold ginger lemonade was always a hailed retreat from the humid heat. With food, you can never go wrong with Sindhu’s homecooked food, a true treat bringing everyone together. The curries awaken your senses, coconut oil assisting in the making of every dish. Her food was nothing but a delicacy and we looked forward to it everyday.

In regards to my first Indian experience, I couldn’t of hoped for a better one. The immense kindness and genuineness we encountered were like nothing we’d ever seen. The bonds we formed with everyone were enough to make us shed a few tears upon leaving. Volunteering with the kids was so rewarding… the love given off by each of them enough to convince you that you have to come back.

Although we were the teachers we probably learnt more from the kids than they did from us; that kindness has no price and that no matter what background you come from neither does happiness. Something that stood out a lot was how appreciative everyone was and how much we take for granted. Most of the kids didn’t care much about the books or materials- for them it was about the interaction with other cultures and the new experience.

So thank you to everyone at Volunteering Journeys for giving me such an unforgettable time! Geetha, Nimmi, Veena, Sindhu, Doni, Ana, Collette and Kerry -thank you for being a part of it. We miss you all and wish you the best for the coming year. See you soon.