In September Development in Action waved three volunteers off to their placements with grassroots charities in India. Here are their updates of what they’ve been doing so far
I couldn’t be happier with my time here so far. Deep Griha has so much going on all the time, if you’re pro-active enough you can get involved with almost anything in some capacity. As volunteer co-ordinator I spend more time than most answering emails in the office and showing people around but I’m also working on fundraising documents and research, or at the school assisting with classes. Pune is a great city to be in: it’s not very touristy but it does have a large expat population so you know where to go when you’re craving cheese that isn’t paneer or some Marmite!
There’s plenty to do in the city and when you get sick of the bustle you can always escape to one of the many hill stations around and about. I’m actually surprised with how easily I’ve been able to settle into a more Indian way of life and my laidback nature definitely appreciates the notion that something will happen when it happens. Even though it’s a daily occurrence, it can be hard to reconcile the highly visible gulfs between different stratas of society and India’s increasing economic success which is becoming increasingly evident here too. It doesn’t shock me but it does give me food for thought. Time seems to be going really quickly and I’m looking forward to what the next couple of months have in store: World AIDS Day is coming up in December so there are lots of Wake Up Pune events coming up, Diwali is in two weeks so I’m going travelling up north with most of the other volunteers here and it’ll be good to continue working in fundraising and seeing how it progresses!
When Sam and I first arrived at Seva Mandir they definitely saw me coming. Having studied maths at university it had apparently been decided that I have a “background in statistics”, and as such was encouraged to sign up to do data analysis for a large, government organised, survey on food security.
Subsequently, my first couple of weeks at Seva Mandir were spent reading up on food security in India, relearning R, a piece of data analysis software from university, and learning LaTeX for the first time, a PDF writer, essentially on the off-chance that it would come in handy, surprisingly satisfying pass-times. Since then work has been mildly varied in content and very varied in quantity. Most of my working time has been constructing data frames to input the surveys into, otherwise spending time constructing a food security survey of my own and have so far had two field visits. We also get a pretty good opportunity to travel around Rajasthan at the weekends with the other volunteers, and are having a thoroughly enjoyable time.
I’m absolutely loving it here in India. Udaipur is just the most fantastic place. Having been here for two months now, it’s so great to be treated like a local, to see familiar faces walking around Fatehpura and get a big smile or a head wobble in return. The place really feels like home and to be honest that’s what I’d say has been my ‘favourite moment’ so far. It’s not a case of one thing standing out as having been great, but more the sense of well-being I feel living here.
Another reason that it’s hard to pin down a particularly great moment is because every day here is so entirely unique. Obviously, at times, this can be immensely frustrating too. Meetings are arbitrarily cancelled, translators don’t turn up, the power just doesn’t turn on for days, the internet disappears, but to be honest I actually quite enjoy that side of things too! It’s all part of the experience here and is providing so many life lessons. A further benefit of accepting this particular aspect of Indian culture is that my Hindi is developing enough so that I can actually dispute things such as price or the time something will take with a wallah, and actually get my own way!
My role here is not really defined, which is another thing that I really enjoy. I’m essentially the intern in the education department here at Seva Mandir. While I do have a project to work on, a study gauging the impact that the residential learning camps operated by Seva Mandir have on the lives of their attendees, my work varies greatly from day to day. The project is always there in the background and I do work on that when I can, carrying out my survey in the villages and writing up field notes etc, but many of my days are taken up instead by report writing and editing and grant applications. Further to this, I’ve also been a full-time cameraman for a couple of weeks during a teacher training conference held here in Udaipur (so much free food!) and have also learned to edit videos to an acceptably shoddy standard.
As you can see, I’m basically the education department’s dogsbody but I really enjoy this role. I feel like part of the staff rather than just a volunteer. Actually, when I think about it, my favourite moment in India would have to be the Dutch teachers, who were attending the conference I mentioned, asking my questions about Seva Mandir and the rural schools programme as though I were just a member of staff. It was great to see people genuinely valuing the work that I’m doing out here.
I’ve also had the chance to do a bit travelling on some weekends. There’s a really good bunch of other volunteers here and together we’ve been up to Jaisalmer, across to Agra, to Mount Abu and Kumbalghar and Ranakpur, among others. Also, when your work involves travelling through the breathtaking Rajasthani countryside, that in itself feels like a treat.
Very bluntly put, right now, I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else in the world other than Udaipur, doing something which I thought I might like, but never expected to love.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.
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