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Volunteering here in India

Being here in m beach is so different than being at host family and working with those children.  I wanted a journey that will make me feel that I am doing something,   make me moved,   not just for pleasure.  

An interview with Laura Troi, Gaia Brandolese and Amanda Boje Formann. Written by our reporter back at India

Question: Laura, from what you told me before, you are volunteering here in India. Can you explain me about the organization you are volunteering in?  Can you also explain me about the cooperation between the organizations of volunteering in India?


Laura: We all have organizations at our own countries,  and they have a partner organizations FSL,  which is an organization in India.    When we came to India,  we had an introduction week,  in which we met many volunteers from different countries all over Europe.   There was an  introduction of what it was going to be when we get to the families and what we should expect.   After that week,  we split up,  each to their destination.       Once a month,  we have a get together in which we meet and make an evaluation and talk about how its been in the last month.

Question:   for how long have you come, and how much time done so far ?

Gaya:  for me its just 2 months because I have some work problems in Italy and I have to come back.  But others stay for 4/8/12 months as they choose.  This depends also on the coordination that the organization in your country makes with FSL,  the main organization. 
Amanda:  me and Laura are away from Denmark for 5 months total – 1 month we have done in Lucknow for the introduction course,  then 3 months of the volunteerting,  of which we have completed 2 months already,  and then we’re going to travel for 1 month more.   So we have 3 different journies in 1 trip.


Question:   did you pay for your air ticket ?

Yes we paid for everything.

Question:   Why did want to volunteer ?  most people just come to hang out.  Why work for someone else.

Amanda: being here in m beach is so different than being at host family and working with those children.  I wanted a journey that will make me feel that I am doing something,   make me moved,   not just for pleasure.  

Gaya: it’s a part of my studies of education of science – I am in the third year in the university,  everybody needs to do training for social worker skills.   Most people choose to do it in Italy – more convenient, fast and cheap.   But I wanted to go to another country, and not just in Europe.  Something completely different, like India.    The meeting with the culture here and the family that is trying to explain it to me,  as I am trying to explain mine to them,  so it’s a beautiful meeting in the middle. 

Laura:  it’s a great experience to stay with the host family.

Question:   how does your day look ?

Laura:   we live in a host family.   We have to get up really early then we are used to,  bacause that’s what they do.   We are more lucky – getting up "only" at 07:30 am..  other volunteers wake up earlier like At 6.   you have to make some adjustements.  Its not a vacation,  its work.     And its hard,  like having communication with the staff at the school and the communication with FSL is also difficult because they do things differentely.   Like,   they take their time,  and sometimes we want to get their help in this and that.   We get used to it.  Its challenging.  

Amanda:  when we wake up our host mother brings us our morning coffee,  which is very nice part of being in a host family .  Then,  we have an hour when we don’t really do anything,  just take a shower and breakfast. 

Laura:  We live in a small house and we have just one room with no doors to the rest of the house,  so we can’t really put lights at night if we want to read or something.  They make us turn off the lights at 2130, and if we leave it they say "Laura,  light off,  light off".  They go to sleep early at aroung 22:00 and sometimes they wake up really early like at 4,   because they have the water coming and they need to collect it in buckets so that we can shower,  have food,  etc.   Such a different life.   We actually have a nice family,  but a lot of the volunteers have really controlling families,  telling them what to do,  especially if your’e a girl – in India – this means more control on you.   Like how to dress – we have to respect the local customs,   cover our knees and shoulders.   But our family is nice more or less.  Gaya’s one is more difficult.   

Gaya:  my family was a little bit different.  I was living in a small small village called Gangavati in the middle of nowhere,  with a lot of slums,  and my house was near a slum.    So my family would not let me go outside,   especially in the dark and if I do – always someone from the family comes with me everywhere,  even to the internet shop.    Another limit is privacy. Almost none.  The house is only 2 rooms,   ofcourse 1 bathroom for all of us,  but more than that – I had to share a bed with the host mother !    everyday at 5am she wakes up so ofcourse I wake up…  more like asking me "Gaya, are you sleeping ?". But besides that the family is just fine and open minded relatively.     My work – is in school with slum children.    I am teaching a little bit of english,  but mostly teaching how to stay together,  because children in slums first learn how to think for themselves first,  and only then – for others.  Help others.  So I am doing with them a lot of things and activities in which they need to collaberate.   Also theatrical things,  that makes them show more emotions.   In the schools that have 2 rooms – one for ages 3-5,  and another in which I participate primary school – for ages 6-15. Some of the children are frastrated with doing things that do not suit their age,  because the teachers don’t care about the younger ones,  and I try to improve, to give them attention.   The biggest difficulty I found,  was that in Indian culture it is allowed to beat kids – it is actually something that they teach you when you become a teacher – how and when to beat the children.   It was difficult for me, mostly in the first 2 weeks, because the children were watching me and asking for my help.

But at the end, you even start to change the way they teach the children, that if you give them a chance and let them try things they have more interest in learning then with punishment.


Question: Why they don’t have motivation to learn?

Some of the children are like 13 years old, and they have decided that in their future they are not going to use their education, so they are not so interested in school.


Question : What gives them motivation? They want to play? To become business men?

Yes, we make a lot of things with them. They have dreams different then those in Europe. If you ask a European child what would he like to be when he grows, he will say he wants to be a football player, or an astronaut, or a superstar.  But in here they want to become a doctor, or an engineer, or a teacher, these are jobs with money. Also, we work with tribal Slam children. So with them our attention is both for the teaching but also about another part – be a lot of time together with them and make a role model for them. And it is so much fun with the children and we have only been doing this for not a long period of time.


Question: Are you playing with them?

Playing and giving them educational games. For example, we played a game where we asked everyone to present himself, like: what’s your name, how old are you, and more questions, and then they created themselves identity cards which they were very proud to present to each other, one of the guys was excited and proudly announced: "I am Paulo…".  Another example, we also give them games with animals and colors, a lot of games with colors. The purpose of the games is to make it more easier for them. The class is about English teaching, but we have to find a way to make it interesting for them, like to make games or competitions while teaching to interest them. It’s difficult with Slam children because they are used to not come to school if they don’t want to.


Question: And their parents, they don’t care if their children go to school or not?

No, the parent don’t care. I’ve tried to arrange a meeting with the parents and no one came. It was a little bit frustrating at the beginning, but then after making more interesting lessons for the children, I was very happy that the children came much more to school for these lessons.

Question: What do you think is the effect that you make on the children?

Amanda: The most important thing is to show the children that you care about them. The important thing is not to teach them how to say elephant or other words, but to show them that you care about them, and ask them about their names and what they are thinking.


Question: And what affect did it had on you? How was the experience for you?

I think it was a little bit tougher for me, before that I worked in the kindergarten for six months in Denmark, and we were very protective there and watched every move the children were making. And here, the children are much more taking care of themselves, so it gives you a different point of view.

Lora: It impressed me so much the emotions we get from the children, we became closed to the children. We don’t have many children in class, we only have 14. So I know what every child wants to achieve, and I care so much for them. I thought I was just going to teach, but then we created personal connections. I’ve create special connections with the children, and then other teachers even asked me how do I success to create such connections with the children. I told them that the first thing to do is not to beat them, so they will feel more comfortable in school. I think that that’s one of the meanings of the volunteering, to affect also the teachers and the way they teach


Question: Do your parents like the idea that you come here?

They were excited about it, they supported it. There were some other people, like teachers in school or other people which tried to tell me "why to go there? You can do many things here". But I answered that if I won’t go now, then I will not be able to do it later, and I want to help the children.

Question: How do you spend your vacations here? Like weekend vacations and tourists things you do here?

We met the other volunteers from all around the country, and then we called each other at the weekend and went together to places, like Hampi. Since its hard to share my thoughts and feelings with the family I’m hosted in, because they don’t really listen, it was really good to meet with the other volunteers and share them with my thoughts and feelings. It was really hard in the first week, but then in the weekend, in Hampi, there were other volunteers working in hospitals, so we met in the middle, which is Hampi.


Question: Can you describe one experience that was very strong for you? Either funny or sad, but something that really effected you?

– I was working with children but also with mentally disabled children. And a funny thing happened when I went to the mentally disabled children school, they were like: "Aka, Aka, Aka" – come, come, come, and we played together. It was very fun and joyful since they are so full of joy. But on the other hand they have to wear these cloths with a writing saying that they are mentally disabled children. Its because that when they go out of school, they should not play with the regular children. It was very sad for me, because all every child wants to play.

– I can’t point out one exciting experience, since there were so many exciting experiences. The villages in India are a major part of it, and their culture and tradition is very different than the culture in the big cities of India. And its very exciting to discover this culture and tradition. And if you just go to India without visiting these villages, you will not experience that side of India, which I think is overwhelming.

– In the last day, when I was leaving the school, one of the children came to me, told me he wants to get accepted to a college, and told me that in an exam he had they asked him what’s his name, and asked him to give an animal which describes him best, and these sort of questions which we were talking about in class. So he said that what we did in class it helped him and I was proud of it.

Question: What would you say to people who are considering to volunteer? Would you recommend them?

We would say "Do it, Do it, Do it!!!".

Gaia: I think that volunteering here contributes not only for the others, but also contributes to you. Because you develop close relationships with the country, the family you stay with, the children. You can learn from them many things, and share. You get an experience which you take with you to your home.

Amanda: I will definitely recommend it. It was amazing. First of all, I think its really important to see how simple people live in India, and how they are so happy. How you can be in a restaurant and see young children washing the dishes and work hard, but they were smiling and happy. They have a joy of life, they don’t need cell phones, or  i-pods, or a hot shower, or new clothes to be happy. And I think that is very important to know and experience.

Laura: I think that communicating here with the people was very challenging. We have to do something here, we have a mission, so we had to put a lot of efforts in this communication, and I think it has been challenging and even hard sometimes. There were even some days or weeks which it has been really hard here, but it has really been nice two, and when the communication was working, and the children were happy, you feel like you really achieved something.


Question: One last thing, do you have a message to the Israeli people? Would you visit Israel?

I always wanted to go to Israel. I have been there for two weeks, in Eilat, but I think it was more like a vacation and less visiting places in Israel, so I really want to go and see more places there.

I wish there were some Israeli volunteers here. Because it has also been a cultural meeting for me, to meet volunteers from other countries, as France, Italy, and different countries. I also learned a lot about their culture.


Question: Do you have anything to add?

My organization is MS action aid, and you can go on their activist course to learn how to be activist. We had some of this activist education, for one night only.


Thank you very much for the interview, I think this interview will affect people to come here.

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