It’s my last day here in Fort Kochi, Kerala, and I’m much happier saying that than you may initially understand….I came here with Volunteering Journeys for a very short stint never having volunteered before, never having really back-packed before, and now know that I can do this kind of thing and would very much like to do it again, indeed I’m feeling much richer for having had the experience.
The program that I worked on ‘“ the Women’s empowerment program- was very much about working with women who may have had fractured or halted educational experiences earlier in their lives. So, whilst concentrating on learning English, there was also the need for an underlying positive reinforcement of their renewed engagement in learning ‘“ for they too were taking the very brave steps to restart learning and volunteering their time to do this. They were keen but shy, initially very hesitant but with time more responsive. It was fabulous to see their interaction become more free. However, this is a very slow process and the steps needed to encourage their confidence takes a lot of time, patience and care.
Give what you can, be exuberant, fearless even, and don’t forget, a smile or 3 never goes astray!
In Kerala, unlike what you might have heard about India, you are going to be very welcomed and feel safe. Fort Kochi itself is a small, safe and very comfortable community, and to live in the community while also working here really helps to build an awareness of the lives of the women in the class. Days and lives are not wide but they are filled with ‘˜auto’ rides (watch out as you cross the street!) to the programs, maybe a walk down the street to the ‘˜cool bar’ (a place you can buy fresh fruit and juices!) or early in the morning to the man selling fresh milk on the corner (look for a guy with lots of little plastic bags full of milk and also pots of ‘˜curd’ or yoghurt just as you turn left at the end of the homestay street): all things that are easy enough to negotiate as the people are friendly and very willing to help. The community is very accepting of us volunteers and although you might stand out a little at first, you soon get used to it, and of course they soon get used to you!
That’s all for now, I’m off to catch my plane…hoping very much to be back soon.
- Kristin Walter, April 2016 , Volunteered with Women’s Empowerment Program, Kerala.