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Laura Abecasis, EIL, India

Photo by Laura

On the Rocky Road to India.

I haven’t always had the best ideas in my life, but I have to say this one was a good one! Volunteering in India. Volunteering, where I come from (France), is not very popular. I had lived in Ireland for 2 years (a dream of mine) and knew I would be happy to stay. However I had another dream: to become a volunteer, and it was the perfect time to go for it. I could even combine it with the fascination I had for India, a fascination that had led me to follow a course of Hindi at the Sandford Institute in Dublin.

Of course, I would not have trusted any NGO other than an Irish one and that is when I found that colourful website which inspired me, and I decided I would leave my life in their hands. EIL Ireland was the one I was looking for!

They organize pre-departure workshops but as I had moved back to France, I did not go. However they have a very good pre-departure book that makes future volunteers think about their real motivations, and put themselves in the situation so that they can meditate on the reactions they might have once abroad.

Volunteering was a unique experience, where not only could I make a difference, but also immerse myself completely in a culture to better understand it. Living with the locals is what opens your mind to new angles, and makes you start thinking differently. Our own culture influences us so much on our way of seeing things! So I guess stepping forward and applying for this kind of program is already a sign of interest in our human nature in the end.

Adventure began and I went for a 12 week project in India, teaching English to small children in the Jaipur Slums called Katputali Nagar, where the people are specialised in making puppets. Not having children myself I was scared not to teach properly. Another challenge to myself, on top of the language barrier and the environment. But the children were extraordinary.

Every day I had more children, sometimes even girls of my age or almost. I was asked by the host organization to give more attention to the girls so that they can feel involved. One  of my students, Krishna, was a very clever girl who used to understand things quickly and help me explain in Hindi to her fellow students,. Also two other very dedicated pupils were: Karuna, and Tara (meaning “star” in Hindi).

I received a lot of help from the host organisation to create my teaching material as I was the first volunteer on that project, and on my own: cardboard for the alphabet, the colours, the numbers, and the shapes, which are the basics the children should know. We were repeating those 4 subjects every day.

The rest of my time, I was at the host organisation’s office to work on my classes, prepare exercises, or with the host family. The family that has become my family since then. They were taking so much care of me, reminding me to clean my clothes when I was coming back from the slums, to remove the germs, and prevent skin infections, reminding me to drink bottled water when they were drinking tap water, to get enough sleep, to eat properly.

Last summer, 5 years after that incredible experience, I went back to Jaipur again, for holidays this time, to visit my family, and the friends I made there. I was lost between past and present, it was wonderful!

In the meantime I had Volunteered a second time in Peru, Cuzco, in a Medical Centre.

*Picture sent in by Laura, not part of Kate’s work*