Volunteering in India Review

The first weekend of my volunteering trip to Kerala has been really busy! I arrived on Saturday at Cochin International Airport (stressful) and met my fellow volunteers at the homestay. It’s pretty funny how quickly you get to know people! I’m sharing the floor with three other girls: Stacey, Maia and Beth ‘“ we’re the bamb crew! Stacey and I will be on the same placements and hell, I’ve never met anyone as similar.

After we all got settled in and freshened up, we went for a walk along Beach Road, Princess Street (the heart and center of Fort Kochi), the street markets, etc. On the note of street markets, I figured the locals here understand Tamil, and I can more or less understand Malayalam when they speak it slowly. Talk about south India being more or less the same I guess?

So we get back to the homestay around 5-ish and chill the heck out on the balcony, getting to know one another, getting some intense bonding going on too! Guess that happens naturally when you’re on your own, in closed quarters, outside your comfort zone with a bipolar wifi connection.We also met Hanna at this point in time. A bit about him: our other housemate, an insanely cool guy who’d been here for 3 weeks and this was his last night. He’d become friends with a local dude, Charlie (shout-out: one of the coolest people I’ve met), and a few others from his trip in Kerala. So we went to Seagull, a place by the sea (you don’t say) to celebrate Hanna’s last night in Kerala. We had a drink and chilled, met his new friends, etc. Not going to lie, Fort Kochi is completely deserted at night; walking home at 11 is like walking in the zombie apocalypse.

Monday: First Day Volunteering

Monday is our first day of actual volunteering. The first school (MASS school) was in the slum area, implying that kids came from fairly difficult backgrounds. So these kids were Year 4s and there were 3 of us: Stacey, Maia and myself. There were about 30 hyper kids, but they were SO cute it’s insane. Don’t think I’ll ever forget Shahrook, Riswan or Mukhtar. I also think they were a bit too excited to see us, since we’re a lot nicer than the actual teachers (we don’t carry around a bamboo stick). The second class wasn’t particularly challenging, the 5 year olds seemed to be really keen. We taught them the days of the week really. Oh, the assistant teacher was mainly responsible for keeping the class under control. Her stick did the trick. Hell, I was scared of her.

The afternoon’s class in the government girls’ school wasn’t bad at all. In fact the Year 3s (the lot I taught) were so keen it made me wonder the extent to which some of the population in the west take education for granted, if you’ll excuse me for that generalization.

In the evening, we go on our first orphanage visit ever. It’s one of those things that eases with time. We go there from 4:45 to about 5:45, straight after our second shift in the afternoon ‘“ we just get to play with the kids and have a good time. I can’t really say much about this, as it’s one of those experiences that just sticks with you forever. We came out of there pretty much speechless, can’t really describe my experience in words: emotional. That’s all really.

 Tuesday

Our morning session on Tuesday was a lot smoother with the Year 4s. Stacey worked with Noora, a special needs child, so I had the rest of the class to myself. We did a few math games, pretty impressive how well behaved they were! Talk about contrast. The class is really bright too, which made me realize that there’s every chance their intelligence won’t be put into full use when they’re older due to lack of resources. That always seems to get to me, and I feel to be ridiculously lucky to have a good education and to be in a pretty good position in University thus far ‘“ and the day-to-day issues I face seem so minor when things are put into perspective.

The orphanage in the evening was really chilled, just played footie with the little ones. Oh and I somehow got really attached to the youngest kid there, Alvin ‘“ played tag with him on Monday but today he was more tired . At some point he took me round the field and showed me all the places he hides during hide-and-seek. Talk about revealing secrets.

The night was chilled, just had dinner at sunset and went out for drinks. Maia and Beth work with women now (Maia changed programs but then again she’s here for a while) so they teach English to some of the teachers in the schools we work in. So we sort of use the evening as an opportunity to catch up and debrief each other on our days. Also Stacey works with a different lot now in the afternoon so I have a class to myself.

Wednesday

On Wednesday I thought the day would be light, and then I hit the orphanage. I was playing with my usual lot (Alvin and his two friends, Ali and Ranjan), and at one point I noticed a 12/13-year-old boy who was sitting out. Basically the older kids were in a football game and he was subbing. So I decided to simultaneously chat with him (all while keeping these 3 occupied), and then got to know a bit about him too. He seemed more mature compared to the other boys his age. He said he wanted to become a police officer. I asked why? He responded by saying that he wanted to end communal wars, and I could tell that triggered flashbacks. I didn’t know what to say, so I took a step back (and thankfully I didn’t tear up, but it was very difficult hearing that), and then asked whether he was happy here, had friends, liked school etc. and thankfully he did, and he said he was happy that he gets taken care of here too because in the streets he wouldn’t have the same protection.

Went to princess street with the girls later that night and chilled, just really needed that time off things. Maia is right though- it’s really important to almost forget the kids and detach yourself from them when you leave, otherwise it just gets heavy. But I’m learning that it’s best to take it day by day because there’s a lot to handle on a daily basis and it can be really overwhelming.

Thursday

Today’s morning session went swimmingly smooth. Afternoon class was over the top (OTT) but I can’t say they weren’t well behaved, my friends had it much worse.

I think I had the best evening of my life in the orphanage. In India, it’s really common for families to go into orphanages and celebrate their birthdays/their kids’ birthdays with the kids and give out cake, samosas and chocolate. So one couple came in to celebrate their daughter’s second birthday. As per usual we played with the kids for an hour (ran around played tag, monkey in the middle, etc.) and then the Father/priest along with the other staff invited us to join the kids for tea time. I’m having a hard time describing this but basically the family was there with the cake and all the kids sang happy birthday to the kid, in both English and Malayalam. It seems really casual/chilled but at that time it really got to me; pretty damn emotional. And then obviously we ate with the kids. I sat on the little table with my crew (they pretty much dragged me to sit with them, all whilst calling me ‘chechi’ , which means big sister), and then came home later than usual.

We went to Dal Roti for dinner – amazing restaurant. Feel like an OompaLoompa.

Friday

Fridays are the equivalent to fun-days, so we tend to really keep the options open. For my first class, I started it off by playing a category game with the ball. Basically I’d write an area, say fruits. And it’s just basically hot potato from there.

And then for the second half of the lesson, people were free to do what they want. The boys decided to show all the acrobatics they knew (Farhan is the new yoga teacher), we did a few dance moves etc. the quieter ones made some of the world’s cutest drawings and gave me some of their masterpieces. Some of the boys joined later and I ended up with quite a few drawings: ‘Brinda miss- for you’.

And when Stacey and I had to leave the kids literally cornered us. Don’t think I’ve received so many kisses in one go, I was quite touched.

The decond class was chilled ‘“ they just did all sorts of crafts, got a few more stickers. I just spent the hour talking to them when I went round, and then talking to the teacher and finding out what they wanted to be covered next week. Just about started lesson planning but I only had a 45 min lesson. Nothing special in the afternoon happened anyway.

The orphanage was super-chilled until I encountered another staff member, and had a really good chat with him. He said how it was really nice I was getting involved (clearly observed me playing basketball with that 5-year-old friend of mine). We had a bit of a chat, and then I figured out that the child’s father was an alcoholic, his mother couldn’t handle the situation at home so she ended up leaving him in the orphanage a month ago. He’s slowly getting settled ‘“ the other kids really look out for him, since he’s much younger. Sometimes I wonder why I decide to ask questions about the kids past lives.

In the evening, we went for a drink with the team, the project leader and her boyfriend.

Saturday: Biking to the Beach

Alright so basically my day was fabulous. We left quite early to the bike shop, but the guy didn’t open his shop until 10am (mind you he said last night that his shop opens at 8:30).

So we got our bikes ‘“ basically £1 for the whole day. Pretty neat. So we left, the road was really straightforward as we looked it up last night (basically a straight road). 2.5 hours,25 km. may not seem that much to you, and I don’t think it’s that much, but try that on Indian village roads (gotta watch out for all sorts of traffic including cars, trucks and cows) with some ridiculous heat and humidity. Nonetheless, it was a fantastic ride. Maia made it cooler by having her iPod and speakers so music was being played, talk about road trippin’.

I think it was the last 7 kilometers that got to us, seeing as the afternoon heat was peaking. Also this was the time people were at different paces, so we all lost each other. It’s all good though, the village locals are far too friendly and they help you out. Hell, one old lady offered me homemade buttermilk/lassi.

We reached Anthakarnazhi Beach at around half past twelve. Felt like pure bliss! The beach was all chilling but because of the heat (round 40 degrees) we took the TukTuk back ‘“ bicycles attached with string. All in all a fun experience, would definitely do it again.

Sunday: Backwater Cruising

Road trip to Allapey, famous backwaters exist there. Really beautiful view too. We were picked up from our home stay (Stacey and I ‘“Maia and Beth didn’t join us, they are here for a while I guess, and Saturday was tiring as hell) and had a 1.5 hour bus ride to Allapey. Once we got off a local took us to the boat. But that took a while so we were just chilling with a bunch of other tourists. The view was fantastic; Kerala has its unique breathtaking beauty. I’d visit if I were you!

-Written By Brinda Varhan, Volunteered in Kerala, Teaching Program in India

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