Leonie volunteers at a remote village school for the first time
India has always held so much fascination for Leonie. The colours, the food and the many smells that are in the air; the temples and dedication to religions and customs. She wanted to see the ‘real’ India for herself – not just a holiday but an opportunity to help where there were people in need. Leonie decided to divide her time between travelling and volunteering and upon arriving at the end June, was involved in a teaching project for 3-4 weeks.
Using ball games to teach Maths and English
Leonie taught English, Maths and general knowledge to children in a small remote school in a deprived area. She often taught alone but sometimes also with other teachers or volunteers. Teamwork was an essential part of the project as the volunteers and teachers could share activities and make sure that the children were always stimulated and motivated to learn. Games were a fantastic way to teach as each and every child could be involved – even if it was just learning the alphabet or counting by throwing and catching a ball in the school’s outside yard!
Heat and Indian toilets a challenge
Preparation for the trip was key and Leonie made sure that she adjusted herself mentally beforehand so that she was ready to deal with lots of different situations. Life in India is so very different to Europe – it’s very chaotic, hot and the toilet facilities are basic! But on the whole, Leonie had a fulfilling and hassle-free trip.
It may come as a surprise to learn that Leonie had never taught before: “My mum was an Art and English teacher so she helped me to prepare some ideas but I didn’t need any specific experience to connect with the children”. The only thing that she found tough whilst teaching a full class of excited students was the climate: “It was incredibly hot which took my concentration and energy to teach as I’m just not used to it”.
Leonie found it easy to make friends with locals. Pictured above, Leonie with local teachers at the school.
Making friends everywhere was easy
Despite being a self-confessed nervous person, especially standing in front of a group of people, Leonie says the social atmosphere was always relaxed and comfortable. Making friends was a huge benefit and Leonie connected well with other volunteers who had travelled from Italy and England. Together, they could discover India on the tourist trail to view such unique delights as Delhi, Goa, Pondicherry ,Bangalore, take part in adventurous camel, horse and bus rides, tea plantations and the stunning Taj Mahal. During their travels, Leonie and her friends also met local people and says: “it was a fantastic experience! I hope and think we will remain in touch too”.
Bonding with the children amongst favourite memories
Leonie says her favourite experiences included a horse ride along the beach in Chennai http://wikitravel.org/en/Chennai , the Goan beaches and the seafood! Although her experience of teaching the children and bonding with them remains her most satisfying part of the trip and one that she will never forget.
So what are Leonie’s ‘Top Tips’ for other volunteers?
“I’m afraid you’ll need to be prepared for getting sick so make sure you pack diarrhoea tablets and moist tissues! You’ll also need insect repellent spray. Be prepared for adjusting your lifestyle quite drastically. When you’re out shopping in the local markets, always bargain with the sellers! Something you may not know is that the date stamped on local food is actually the date it’s packaged in the factory and not the expiry date!”
“If you want to use the internet or ‘phone home, be prepared to travel to the next village as the connection isn’t always good enough where you will be staying. Do some research before you travel but don’t be put off by the media – they tend to report the bad things more often than the good! Just remember to act responsibility and you’ll be fine. It’s usually best not to go out after 10pm; wear appropriate (modest) clothes and be aware that you are away from home and experiencing a very different culture to your own. Follow these guidelines and you will be welcomed by very friendly local people who will be thrilled to meet you!”
Leonie’s visit a privilege
Leonie says her visit to India was a real privilege: “I’m really happy I went! I got to see what I always loved to watch on TV and I wasn’t disappointed. I’m so pleased that I was able to be part of the project; especially as the children and teachers were so nice and very welcoming.”
For anyone interested in getting involved
The school directors also run a home about 20 miles away for women with a range of learning and physical disabilities. If you would like to get in involved with either project take a look at the India page on the Original Volunteers website.