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Summary of our volunteering trip to India

With the idea of sharing this great experience, we are going to tell you about our trip and our work there.

Although we had been to India before, the arrival is always a huge culture shock: light, colour, heat, dust, noise and thousands of smells that a Westerner cannot categorise.  Above all, the vibrant energy and zest for life.

After three days of touring around, we arrived at the Ganga Learning Centre, a simple two-storey building in the outskirts of Varanasi.  In the basement, there was a cool and dark place, where the seamstresses worked from 8am until 3pm.  They sew trousers, patchwork bags, blouses, dresses and saris.  Suneeta, their teacher and mentor is with them, showing them how to cut and sew the patterns.  It took me a couple of days to realise the leadership qualities and strength of this woman of few words.  It is thanks to her, as confirmed by the others, that these ladies have the motivation to work outside of the house, something that is not the norm in their culture.

Their working hours coincide with their children’s school hours.  The youngest ones (from 3 to 6 years old) are on the first floor with Ritu, their teacher.  An affectionate woman, who laughs frequently, is teaching the children yoga, English, reading and writing.  All of this is undertaken in a fluid and happy manner, with a lot of affection and games.  At 12 o clock, the older siblings arrive from primary school and they join the class and lunchtime activities.

I have never seen such happy, well-behaved children.  There were a lot of things that surprised me.  Their first lesson of the day was yoga and relaxation, an activity that they do in silent concentration.  From 10 until 12 they have classes.  Within the same group there are children of 3, 4, 5 and 6 years old.  Despite the age differences, there is no disharmony between them and they help and teach each other.  There is no blackboard, and really, it didn’t look like they needed one.  Each child has a notebook and a small plastic table to work from.  You can see this in the pictures.  The menu rarely varied, rice with some vegetables in a sauce and that delicious Indian unleavened bread.  I didn’t see anyone complain about the food, or leave a single crumb on the plate.  The teachers and the volunteers ate the same food and at the same time as the children.  It was a pleasant and relaxing time to chat.

In a small room, there is a computer that they use to connect to Skype twice a week to a British teacher who is giving classes on a voluntary basis from England.  Prem, another teacher from the centre (similar to Ritu in commitment and affection) co-directs this class and helps in the school when he is not in the shop.

While we were there, we helped in the daily classes with whatever tasks we could add value to.  Despite the heat, the time flew.

From 1pm to 2,30pm I had a class with the children’s mothers, the centre’s seamstresses.  We talked about change, comfort zone, the importance of their role for their families and their children.  They were even motivated to sell.  They learnt how to demonstrate their products, ask clients questions, and manage customer objections when selling.  All of this was thanks to the incredible help of Prem who translated from English to Hindu so that we could all understand each other (only three of them spoke English).  I have taken from them a lesson in life: happiness doesn’t depend at all on what you have, just how you view it.

I’m not sure how much of an impact we had there, but they certainly had an impact on us: the example of simple work, undertaken without drama or bragging, commitment to doing things properly and the huge importance of small things.

And now what?  I very much want to return, and have some ideas of how to continue helping from here; selling their products in Spain, and looking for another volunteer teacher to give Skype classes.

Any idea or help is very welcome. 

I will keep you posted.