India, Robyn

Robyn Volunteered as a Teacher in India

I volunteered at Little Stars School in Varanasi with my Lattitude partner Clare. Varanasi is a world away from anywhere in England. It’s noisy and crowded and hectic, but it was my home for four months. We soon got used to it especially with the help of the girls at our placement, who were quick to answer any questions we had about their culture.

In the mornings we worked in the principle, Asha Pandey’s, office doing administration or office work. This included correspondence with previous volunteers or writing thank you letters to private donors. The work we did in the morning varied slightly from month to month. When we first got to Little Stars there were lots of preparations for the annual exams going on. As the school only had one computer some exam papers were typed out, but the majority had to be hand-written. After this was completed, we were given the task of writing question papers for the school’s new English text books. These would be given to the teachers so they could use them as a teaching aid to give the students a deeper understanding of the language. We weren’t expecting to do this kind of work, but we knew that it was a lot of help to Asha as she was so busy organising the build of a new school near-by.

In the afternoons Clare and I looked after the hostel girls, who lived at the school. The hostel is home to twenty one girls, aged from four to eighteen. Our main duties were to teach them English,mainly through conversation. We would also help them with their homework and try and correct the mistakes that the teachers made. After their homework was completed we’d play games or read with them. We taught them nursery rhymes and the play, King Solomon. Our role was to entertain the girls and be big sisters to them. In the evening we ate dinner with them and tucked them in at night. Every Saturday we took them to the Bal Ashram, a sort of sanctuary, where some of the girls’ brothers lived. There, they got to watch a movie and ate special Ashram food. On Sundays we took them to the park, which was a lot of fun!

We wore our shalwar kameezes everyday, as it was very important to dress modestly – a little too modestly, perhaps compared to what the girls wore as they all had gorgeous coloured and embellished outfits that put our plain things to shame!

I have learnt so much from my Lattitude placement including a lot about child care. They just need to be listened to and encouraged. I also learnt to be more patient; finding ways of getting your point across to people who don’t fully understand you can be quite stressful!

The best thing about volunteering was spending time with the hostel girls as every single one was lovely and made us feel so welcome in their home. It was made very easy for us to get stuck in as we were invited to any outings the girls may have had and they were all very funny too.

I also liked feeling helpful and even though there were other volunteers on the way, I knew that Clare and I would be missed.Varanasi was pretty dirty as there are no waste disposal initiatives. So getting used to the rubbish that littered the streets and the river Ganges was quite shocking. Also the amount of homeless people and beggars that we encountered was staggering. It’s something you can’t really prepare yourself for.

Experiencing this has made me more aware of how privileged we really are here in England and how we have this sense of entitlement that people in India don’t seem to have. I definitely moan less than I did before I went!

The bursary I received from the Blair Trust made such a difference to my placement. It made me want to raise the funds even more myself, and the advice and ideas I received from Lattitude on fundraising really helped me get there. I even had money left over to buy things for the hostel girls like books and games. Having these extra resources made our job much easier as we had more things to do with the girls. I didn’t feel in any way obliged to do this but it was nice to have a little extra money to be able to.

I would love to go back to Little Stars! Hopefully I will be able to go after university. It has made me realise that travelling and volunteering is not as difficult or scary as it first seems. It has also shown me that I want a career involving NGOs. Maybe I will be able to set up my own in the future!