On the 20th August, 2016, I stepped off the plane and into India for the very first time. After passing through immigration and collecting the baggage, I met another volunteer and the driver who would take us to the Fort Kochi base. My first impressions of India were from the taxi, and it was certainly different ­ from the jungle to the rivers and the vibrant colour of the city ­ and quite overwhelming, but is a place I now don’t want to leave! On arrival at the homestay, we were given time to relax before being given a wonderful walking tour of the local area by Middhu, one of the local staff members, which included useful info about local amenities as well as the best place to get coffee and cake! Fort Kochi is one of the friendliest places I have visited; everyone is willing to help if you are struggling to work out what to do!volunteer-in-Kerala

A typical full project day involves 2 hours teaching in the morning at the first school, and 1 hour in a second school, where we initially helped in another volunteers class to get an idea of how we should be teaching. Teaching the kids is amazing and so much fun; they are all so enthusiastic and really want to impress you, and they especially enjoy playing lots of games! There is also a chance to volunteer for a women’s empowerment group, which I did in the mornings for the last 2 weeks of my stay ­ the women are lovely and really want to learn, and it is a very different but important experience again.

Another part of the experience in Fort Kochi is the opportunity to go on trips away to see more of Kerala. At the end of the first week, I went to Munnar with another volunteer for the weekend. Munnar is situated to the east of Kochi, in the mountains, with beautiful scenery. There are many tea plantations which you can visit and lots of wildlife too including monkeys and wild elephants. It is also easy (and very cheap) to get to Ernakulam city by boat or bus where there are many shops and cinemas where you can see both English and Malayalam films. I also went on a day trip to the backwaters, which makes a very relaxing day out, as the boat is punted peacefully through the various stretches of the backwaters.

During my stay I was lucky enough to be around during the Onam harvest festival ­ and what an amazing experience this turned out to be! From joining the school projects for their celebrations to experiencing the traditional Onam meal served on a banana leaf and watching the parade on the local streets, visiting Fort Kochi during Onam is something very special.

A month in India has gone so quickly; it will definitely live long in my memories as one of the best things I have ever done. I would definitely recommend it to anyone wanting to volunteer and give something to the community whilst at the same time enjoying the amazing culture and scenery Kerala has to offer. I will definitely miss it!

By Thomas Swan