Desk Officer Tom Longden recently visited Project Trust’s volunteers in India and Sri Lanka. Here are five things he learned on the visit:
Volunteers in Sri Lanka make the most of their students’ positive attitudes
I had more time to observe teaching in Sri Lanka on my visit this year, which gave me the chance to appreciate how impressive the students’ attitude to their education is. Although the school day is long – it starts just after 7am and finishes at about 5pm – you really get a sense that the pupils are there to work hard and learn. Our volunteers are harnessing that positive attitude to run lots of after schools clubs, including English tutoring, painting and football.
The similarities and differences between India and Sri Lanka
Where India can be culturally very intense, Sri Lanka has more of a relaxed vibe. The food is quite similar, although Sri Lanka has its own distinct stamp on each dish, in the same way that each province in India has its own particular speciality. Two volunteers in Bangalore have been particularly engaged in learning Indian cooking and are really enjoying it. You really do have to enjoy your food to volunteer in Sri Lanka or India because you’ll be eating Dhosa, Dhal, biryani etc for breakfast, lunch and dinner every day.
How saris are like marmite
Saris tend to be quite divisive – volunteers in Sri Lanka and India either love or hate wearing them. I visited one pair of volunteers and it was the first time they’d worn saris to teach. They are very warm items of clothing, and I was a bit concerned one of the girls was going to faint. On the other hand one volunteer in India has about nine saris. It can take up to an hour to get a sari on properly, which is important to do because they can unravel slowly if they aren’t done correctly.
The rewards of volunteering in India
The volunteer experience in India is challenging. Expectations are high, and our volunteers are treated like any other member of staff at their projects. They have a full workload, usually working six or seven hours a day, and it is very hot in the second half of the year. On top of that volunteers are thrown into a culture very different from what they are used to. It is a pretty steep learning curve – but by the end volunteers feel very independent and capable of solving any problem or taking on any challenge.
A memorable visit to Hyderabad
I had a really good day visiting Devnar, a school in Hyderabad for children suffering from visual impairment – it is a really incredible project. It’s quite an intense project for the volunteers – the students know where they live and regularly come knocking on their door, sometimes with specific things they want but sometimes just for company. The volunteers have to have energy, enthusiasm, drive and motivation to teach and take care of students. It is hard work but a very rewarding experience.