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Feedback from India

Below you can read what former EXIS volunteers in India says about their stays there.

The pre-departure information with the basics about the culture and things to do or not to do in India before going was very useful. It helped me to know what I was supposed to take with me. I felt very comfortable to be taken care of at arrival in an unknown country.

At first working in a Kannata school where the children didn’t know English scared me. The first days were a bit difficult (communication: zero!) and most of the teachers didn’t understand me either. But I got used to it, found some things to do with them, and it was great. I got in trouble when they started to be wild, and didn’t listen to me. But again, I made it work! The children were lovely, we played a lot (it was the only thing I could do with them) and they had to speak, which is what I wanted). Andrew and I tried to be very imaginative to make them discover all sorts of things, speak, understand English, arts etc…

With more time, I would have tried to teach more. In one month, I wanted them to practice what they already knew. (not much). It was very interesting a great experience.

I loved the children, I loved the project!

When I came I wanted to live with a host family, to live with an Indian people, to learn more about the culture and the people. The Malekar family gave me all this: knowledge about their culture, their habits, and their life. It was really great! And Rubina made good Indian food (not too spicy). She even taught me one recipe.

Solene

Being a volunteer is the most rewarding experience I have ever experimented. I went to India in November and was sent for 2 months to a small school in Coimbatore, Tamilnadu, to teach the kids Basic English. I couldn’t expect a better interaction with them: First, as they were eager to get to know me, they couldn’t help asking questions about my country which made me feel comfortable. Then, we moved on grammar rules, vocabulary, games, songs and stories.

On Christmas time, we worked out choreography and they really enjoyed performing it for the school day program. By the end, I think they improved their spoken English and could even manage with a bit of French.

Moreover, my stay in the YWCA hostel was another way to assure a lot of Indian culture as I used to live with the lo-cals and this made the adventure more precious.

Obviously, I can’t omit that I had to face culture shock, misunderstandings, religious issues or health problems. But I knew I could always rely on my coordinator to help me out and felt secure. All in all this experience made me grow, taught me tolerance and opened my mind….I’ll definitely come back one day to work for another project.

Cecilie

My experience here in India has been one that I will never forget. Over the past three weeks I have spent time in one orphanage and two schools. The children have huge smiles on their faces when we come around, but behind the smiles you can see the hurt in their eyes. These children tell us of their dreams for the future, but their future looks bleak from their current situation. Before I came to India I imagined an orphanage with bunk beds, a dining hall, a playground, and a washroom in which the children could bathe. Well, I arrived to an orphanage with facilities that were far from that. These little boys and girls pile into the same beds with each other in rooms that don’t even have real doors, let alone heat.

The orphanage only has four rooms. One room for the boys, one for the girls, one for the adults who run the orphanage and one tiny room for the kitchen. Each bedroom is probably no larger than 12 by 12 and the kitchen is no larger than 4 by 6. There is a common area that is not sheltered. Past volunteers have built two toilet stalls that are in the common area. Each child’s story is heartbreaking, and makes you only want to help even further. Today while we were at the orphanage, we talked to a lady who is staying there because her husband left her and her four children for a new wife. She hopes to live there and not only improve her life, but the lives of these orphaned children. Today was her first day there, and it was an emotional day for her also. I didn’t fully understand what she was saying, but the tears streaming down her face said enough. Something needs to be done.

My experience working with the women’s group has been extremely rewarding. They are so eager to learn and to improve not only their own lives but also the lives of their families. They work very hard on their embroidery and show great attention to details. These sewing sessions also provide a great time to socialize as they form a wonderful bond of sisterhood. They help each other with the embroidery and make sure everyone is included. I am privileged to teach English to these amazing ladies after their sewing session. We have reviewed and continue to build upon – phonetics, spelling and the use and meaning of adjectives. When they don’t quite understand the meaning of the work, my humble attempt at drawing does the trick. They write down the English accompanied by the Hindi. So they can review their work at home. Many of them show what they have learned at school to their children. So not only do the lessons greatly benefit the women, they also benefit their children. We have also continued with maths, addition and subtraction in particular. My only regret is that I have such a short time to spend and to work with women. Thank you for everything!

Catarina

These children face not only poor living conditions, but a lack of healthcare and education as well. Volunteers are essential to the success of these programs. They need people to teach in the new schools and to assist in the various other programs. After just spending one afternoon with the children at the orphanage, I felt like I had really done something good. These programs could use skills from every area. A huge asset would be a volunteer that could speak Hindi, or a nurse that could provide basic healthcare, or a multitude of other things. But even volunteers like me, who have nothing really specific to offer, are great assets. Sometimes these women and children just need a shoulder to lean on and someone to talk to.

Many of these programs focus on building their self-confidence, to give them the momentum that they need to survive on their own. This experience has opened my eyes to many things that I never knew existed. It’s hard to imagine the problems that these people face when we can only see them from the television set or the newspaper. I never would have guessed how much one dollar could accomplish, but I now realize that it can accomplish a lot. I urge anybody who is interested to get involved because you won’t regret it. An experience like the one that I have had will only make you want to help even more. Sincerely, Julien

Julien

The first thing you notice when you arrive at the orphanage project, is the sound of children playing and laughing, and in no time you discover how peaceful this place is in the natural, beautiful and rural surroundings of Rajasthan. During my first day, I was positively surprised by how well, healthy and happy all the children were, and I immediately felt very welcome when already the first evening, one of the younger girls took my hand and said ‘Didi, you come to my room.. dancing’
‘Didi’ means older sister, and it really feels like one big family that you become a part of. My first couple of days I spend getting to know the people and the routines of the place, although every day is very different from the other. I was shown all the simple facilities, like the bucket-shower, and also taken to the nearest village, Achrol. We talked about what I was supposed to do and decided that I was to help teaching English as soon as they finished their exams, which were going on at that moment, as well as doing other creative activities with the children. Besides the people in charge and the teachers, I also met the cook Karen, who makes the most delicious vegetarian food and chai, and the caretakers (‘aunties’) who all are extremely friendly and helpful, although they don’t know much English.
But I soon came to learn that in India plans change and get cancelled all the time, and to get half an hour of English class was not as easy as it sounds. Suddenly Republic Day was coming up, and that meant no school for 4 days, so I spend the days visiting Amer and Jaipur, and getting to know more about other projects.
After Republic day, they didn’t think they had the time for English classes after all, and because the place is running so well by itself, and the children have so many different activities, it was difficult even to find time for the other things that I wanted to do with them, like a drawing project I had planned.
So most of my mornings I would spend painting a little, or just sitting in the sun reading, and when the children finished school for the day, I would talk and play with them in the afternoon. It was all very nice, but after a couple of days like that it I began feeling useless, and a little frustrated that no one told me what I was supposed to do or how I could help out with anything, which was what I came to do.
Luckily, at that time I knew some more about the other project at a school for slum youth, who have never had good access to education, so here they learn different trades combined with some basic English skills, and here I could help. So I shifted project, and lived at the guesthouse in Jaipur, while teaching English at Uparjan every day. That was a really interesting way of learning more about many aspects of Indian society and education, and I was happily welcomed by the staff, which in no time made me feel like a part of everything. Every day for lunch we would sit and joke around, and we had a lot of fun with them teaching me Hindi, before I would get to class and teach English to the students, who were so eager to learn and to get to know me that they sometimes came to me and asked for more lessons.
In the guesthouse, also 4 of the oldest children from Udayan lived together with an ‘uncle’, because they were in job training, so I still felt connected to that big family at Udayan, where I would also go back once in a while. For example I celebrated the big Hindu festival Holi at Udayan, which I could never have imagined as being so much fun. Holi is the festival of colors, so after a bonfire at night, the next day everyone at Udayan, children, staff and volunteers would just go crazy, attacking each other with colors, sand and water, while laughing and dancing. The rest of the day everyone was exhausted, but still smiling, and this was definitely the best way to be a part of Indian culture.
After my 2 months, they prepared goodbye-parties, and it was sad having to leave all of people I got close to during my stay.
All of it was a great experience for me, and I really feel that I have learned a lot, both about India, but also about myself, and I know that I will always remember these few intense months, and look back at all the fantastic memories with a big smile.

Camille

My time at the project (St. Johns School in Gowridbidnur) was wonderful, not less than that. I learned so many things from teaching, from the children there, from the teachers and also from living in the village. For me it was an amazing experience to see how everyday-life is in rural India. I was never bored! Always someone inviting me to their houses, giving me food and they were always very interested in talking to me.

The school is such a lovely project. I was teaching in pre-nursery, 5.std and 7, std. In pre-nursery it was sometimes a little difficult to keep the children quite while we were teaching. The small children were so much fun. In 5, 6 and 7 std. teaching was easier. My host family has been abso-lutely amazing! They are the loveliest people and they sure will be my friends for the rest of my life. They have helped me much and they have been taken so good care of me. They made me feel like a part of their family. I have always felt that I was very welcome.

All in all, I wouldn’t have missed my stay in India for anything else in the whole world because of the school and family.

Sara

First project on Sudanna School in Puttur.
Strict discipline, morning prayers and song, school uniforms, parents-payment Mostly female teachers dressed in sari, education in English. 1200 students.
Schooling from pm. 9.30 to 15.30 with a lunch break. Saturday was a shorter day.
We where hosted with the school’s founder and Chief Executive Harwin and his wife Grasie. Was installed in an nice room with double bed and en-suite bathroom with European toilet, sink and shower, only cold water. The room was also used for storage for the family. We were well pleased.
It was a house with many people. A cook, who also cooked for the dietary department and for paying pupils, he made only vegetarian food. There were more men and women employed for washing, cleaning etc. A large kitchen, very different than we are used to see, not much daylight, outdoor dishwashers and washing of clothes on stone wash in cold water.
Were served breakfast, lunch and dinner. The food was placed on a table in pots, so you could come and take when you have time for it. There was rarely communal family, as we know it.

We were there throughout December, when there was great activity at the school to prepare for a big show, dance, song and theater, so in that time, there was not very normal teaching and therefore not much work for us to do.
The school is located approx. 1.5 km. From the small town of Puttur, which is a typical small Indian town with approx. 48 000 inhabitants. Absolutely no white people, therefore people are looking at you going through the streets, but they are very friendly. Comely attire is recommended, no shorts or challenging, tight and t shirts. You have to show respect for the locals. The city is bustling business, here you can buy almost everything you need, prices are low.
Although we professionally did not have the great challenges on the spot, we still have had a great experience out of it because Harwin took us on many trips and introduced us to interesting people. It taught us a lot aboutIndian culture.
We were with him at a Christian wedding in the northern part of Karnataka, a few days in Goa and on the trips, he did a lot to tell us and show us everything that was underway.
In a long weekend, he took us in particular with the coast, north of Mangalore, where his childhood home still is in a small village. Along the way we went out on a fantastic beach, where we had the opportunity to be sailed in a dinghy by some young guys to see dolphins. It was really beautiful, and we jumped into the sea and swam around in the clean, warm water, carried up by the big swells.
At Christmas they gave me a really nice sari, which I was very touched and grateful. This I wore when we together with Harwin was invited to a Muslim wedding. It was a very special experience where I was the only woman present in a large hall. On the stage sat the bridal couple fathers with a number of Muslim preachers and witnesses, it was here that the official wedding took place, the young couple was not until later in the day presented to each other. I was so lucky that I got to see the bride in the room where she was made ready, very nice with sari, lots of jewelry and henna drawings on hands and arms.
In the days before Christmas we were with a bunch of happy students around to different homes and sing Christmas carols. It was very cozy and fun to stand outside in the dark and then being invited in to the coffee and lots of cakes. On the trip we saw a lot on how ordinary Indians live.
After Christmas began a more normal schooling and we got a little more to do, but it was ourselves, more or less who had to push to get to teach. The children were very interested, we talked about our country, about Greenland, where we also lived some years and in general about all the countries we’ve visited in the world.
There is not room for much individual instruction because there are 50 students in each class, they sit very close to the benches, and educational resources is not much.
Puttur was definitely the place where we really got India under the skin, a very good place to start, and a very heartwarming family that we are keen to return to and visit. We are very grateful for their caring and thoughtfulness.
Ananya, Bangalore.

2. project.
If we had not had too much to do before, so we got it now. Ananya is a school project with about 50 children, boys and girls aged 8 to 18 years. The clientele are children from extremely poor families, Bangalore slums, and children who have a very traumatic background. They live in two houses, one for girls and one for boys. They sleep much of each bunk, the smallest on the floor.
There are teaching about 4 hours a day in outdoor classrooms. There are no textbooks, pedagogy running a part by Rudolf Steiner ; ask and get answers. Attaching a group of very dedicated teachers for the project, many highly educated. Emphasis is also dedicated to sport and movement.
You live as a volunteer with the children in their houses, but in our own room. But it is absolutely primitive. The toilets are “Indian” , there are two sinks with cold water, a shower unit with cold water attached to a coconut palm.
George and his wife Suhmann a permanent resident of the school, they also live with their son in a room with very little space. Our mistress Shuvamma, also established at the school in a small room in the girls’ house where she sleeps with 3-4 little girls. The three persons are school fixed pivot point, and those who follow the children through thick and thin throughout their childhood.
Meals are served 3 times a day in the school kitchen, pure vegetarian food, much rice.
If we had planned a little better, we had brought with vitamin pills, as there is very little variation in the diet.
But Anaya is a fantastic experience and also quite demanding. It was literally the children 24 hours a day, except weekends, when they are sent home after Saturday breakfast and come back Monday morning. Then you have the opportunity to relax, wash clothes, clean your room and do some shopping. There are buses to Bangalore, it takes approx. 1 ½ hour to downtown.
Daily Days start at. 6 -6.30. Three days a week with running, children are also at the daily cleaning, can be a bit of a struggle, then “circle up” joint session, where current topics are discussing , dancing, singing and playing. Concludes with a brief meditation. After tea, classes.
The volunteers participating in the shift in teaching and also has activities in the afternoon. We had art class 2 hours each afternoon, where we taught the children in drawing and color. It was very funny and popular. After that homework, quiet hours, which must be signed, read in books and writing, but calm.
Cl. 20 – 20.30 dinner, then washing and brushing. Cl. 22 quiet in camp.
Children are incredibly sweet, very contact-seeking, very physical, would like to touch and sit tight.
It was a very different experience than the first project but also very meaningful. Here you really feel that you give and you get. Our own culture and way of life is put in sharp relief, and we must recognize that we live a very privileged life in our world, but also that here under harsh and primitive backgrounds found much joy and life value.
It was with great sadness that we left 2.3. 2011 Ananya, but we will never forget it.
Our contact Dwarakanath Naidu, who received us the first morning, very early, when we arrived in Bangalore. We want to give him many stars. He has been with us as a dear friend throughout. He has been incredibly helpful, very knowledgeable and have been there, when we had just the slightest problem. He has had us on trips, which gave extra color on our journey, inviting us to his home and in restaurants. We very much hope that the pleasure has been mutual, for we have been very close to each other for many hours on long journeys. He is a person we would love to keep in touch with, and we can definitely recommend others who want to work as volunteers to contact him, he does a great job out there.
It was also a sad goodbye, but also a big thanks to him.
From Exis we have only had contact with Miriam, who has given us the most rudimentary information but thanks Dwarakanath and a lot of other wonderful people we met in India, it has been an amazing journey in a fascinating country, filled with impressions of all senses.
Thanks to all of you out there.

Birgit and Niels from Denmark, worked at two different institutions

As soon as I arrived in Aikya, I knew I would like the place. There is such a peaceful atmosphere, that I soon forgot all about the noisy and traffic-jammed Bangalore.”Auntie” Filomina welcomed me warmly an was always there to answer my questions or advise me on books and others. I came here to learn about organic farming and medicine with plants, but I learned much more. It was a true human experience.
I came to Aikya at the beginning of the rainy season, at the time where crops need to be planted. It is a lot of work, but I learned a lot about farming in this way. We had to take out the weeds, plough with the oxes, which is not so easy! Then we fertilized carrying the compost in baskets on our heads and finally plant the beans, chilies and other culture. But from all, the hardest one and probably the most interesting too was the rice paddies. Even if it is exhausting to spend hours in the muddy paddies and back breaking, it gave me a true insight of the life of Indian farmers and I can now appreciate the real taste of rice.
I did not learn as much as I expected about medicinal plants, but the farming did not leave me much time. But I got a very good insight of it, as many of these plants also are used in cooking, because of their aromatic values as well as their properties. I also got to learn a bit of Indian cooking when a conference was hold in Aikya. I truly enjoyed this experience.
One of my favorite things in Aikya would be the library, where I spent hours going through the wide diversity of subjects treated. It is a great source of knowledge! With the advice of Filomina and the books she lent me, I was introduced to yoga and meditation. I started practicing on a daily basis and I believe it helped me dealing with the pain of the hard work.
The main problem I encountered during my stay was the language barrier, as most of the people only speak Karnáta. It was sometimes hard to be understood or to understand, and I could not ask for explanations. It led a few times to misunderstandings. There is also a great cultural difference and people did not always see that something that might be evident or easy for them might not be to me. But this why I came here and with observation and signs, I learned. I also wished I may have had proper lessons in medicinal plants, but I then I should have had more time.
I have to leave Aikya a few days earlier, as I am starting university earlier then I expected, but this does not change the fact that I had a wonderful experience. I hope that I will be able to come back and lead a little project at Aikya. I will always remember the people and the time I spent here.
I am also really happy with the way I have been welcomed by Dwaraknath, with whom I felt in good hands. He gave me all the information I could ask for and took me to Aikya.

Melaine from France, worked with organic farming in the South of India