Shriti’s visit to rural India
Why did you decide to volunteer in South Asia?
Being brought up as a Hindu in London, I decided to volunteer in India as I felt this would be the best way to learn more about my roots. I had a basic understanding of Indian culture. However, I wanted to see it for myself and have the opportunity to probe further into issues that interested me. I wanted some hands-on experience with local people. I also thought it would be a really good opportunity to experience a different way-of-life and to learn Hindi. I left with an open mind and was excited about what laid ahead.
What was the organisation that you volunteered for like?
The organisation was called Indian Volunteers for Community Service (IVCS). It supports a rural development project in a village called Amparpurkashi in Uttar Pradesh. It is open to people from all backgrounds to visit. They run a ‘DRIVE’ (Discover Rural India for a Valuable Experience) scheme which allows visitors from abroad to visit the project and learn about their work.
What was the placement like?
It was really well organised, yet laid back at the same time. We would wake up in the morning at 7am for a yoga session, and then have breakfast. Lunch would be at around 12 pm. There was always something nice to eat, particularly if you like biscuits and bananas! Hindi lessons were at 4pm and a discussion session followed at 6.45 pm. There was lots of free time during the day to go for walks, write you journal, read in the library, wash you’re your clothes etc.
There were some organised events such as visits to the village, cultural performances and music shows. The local people were really friendly. They would always say ‘namaste’ to us when we walked passed, and many invited us into their homes.
The discussions were particularly interesting as they gave us a great insight into how the village came to be as it is. They also helped build a bigger picture of rural development issues and challenges.
What was your main contribution?
One of my main contributions was helping during English lessons. Simply talking to students and assisting with pronunciations and meanings of words seemed to be a big help. Discussing our lifestyles and experiences as a Westerner seemed to be a popular topic for everyone to hear about. I was teaching some computer skills to a member of staff but was quite restricted due to electricity problems.
What did you gain from the placement?
I gained a greater understanding of development issues and the way India is governed. In particular, I learnt a lot about the health and education systems. I also learnt about Indian people and their views of the Western world, and their eagerness to learn English. It opened my eyes to a lot of the obstacles facing people in rural areas. Some of the most memorable experiences were when we were invited into people’s homes. They were really hospitable.