The space of ‘Travel’ has been evolving at a rapid pace for a while now. These days, we hear people talking about off beat destinations, responsible travel, living like locals, experiential travel and much more. Travelers are tired of cliche travel packages and wish for something that enriches their overall experience while providing bang for their buck.
Volunteering on your holiday (what is called voluntourism in the industry) in one such area that seems to be buzzing in the travel market right now. Even though it is the buzz word, not everyone knows it well and hence the lack of interest especially in our country – India.
And that is why I wanted to share my personal volunteering experience with you all and help break all the myths associated with this form of travel. Like most of you, I had never volunteered on my travels before. I was interested, but never took the plunge. I finally signed up for a volunteering program as I had the support of a friend who had volunteered many times across many countries and had only good things to say about it.
I opted for FSL India, a NGO based out of Bangalore, having its footprint across India and with excellent NGO partnerships across the world. The destination were the villages of Shetterkhette and Mavinkatte near the town of Kundapur in coastal Karnataka.
This 3 week program included constructing a kindergarten school, teaching kids in a neighbouring government-run primary school, building a kitchen garden for the kindergarten school, learning the basics of paddy farming and participating with other locally run social organizations to see their work and contribute where required.
International Crowd – Lots of Cultural Exchange and Fun
Like me, there were many volunteers for this program. They came from Greece, Germany, France, Belgium, Spain, Italy and India. Some of them were first timers like me, while the others had prior volunteering experience. Right from day 1, all of us bonded extremely well and each one of us was excited to be volunteering in this village of Karnataka. During the day, we worked as a team doing the various activities mutually assigned by the group, while during the breaks, weekends and evenings, we had great cultural exchanges, meet ups and fun. Such an international team is a bonus!
Kindergarten School will always be special to me
For all those who don’t know me personally, I am a big, burly guy blessed with insane amounts of energy. But, what I myself did not know was that I totally love helping people and providing my services to the needy. As part of the kindergarten school building, I did wall scraping, fencing, digging for the kitchen garden, painting and much more through team work.
During my childhood, I used to love being in the sun and getting my hands dirty doing odd jobs and chores. Somewhere in the mad rush of becoming someone, I had stopped doing all these small things that used to give me happiness and once I reconnected with that side of my personality, I just had immense amounts of fun.
I am always fun around kids. At least, that is what my nephews seem to think. But, it was always one-on-one, and never more. And when we are building this kindergarten school, there were already 22 kids. At many times, we had to work with the kids, take care of them and even play with them. To my surprise, I enjoyed playing with the kids and most of the kids got attached to me. I played football with them. I ran imaginary trains with them. We sang together. We laughed together. We ate together. Those kids were adorable and they were the main reason for making this experience one of my best travel experiences till date.
Discovered many Hidden Talents
I talk a lot and can keep on talking. But, I never ever dreamt that I could be a teacher. When me and my friend, we opted to teach classes at the government run primary school, I can’t tell you how much fun I had. It felt like I was built for this. Grammar from Wren and Martin (Nouns, Prepositions, Adjectives, Verbs), Synonyms, Opposites, Maths shortcuts from the Vedic Mathematics books and much more flowed naturally. As these kids were being taught in Kannada, their levels of English were low, but like all kids their grasping powers were extremely high. During those classes, I felt that this one boy and one girl, they were way smarter than their school and surroundings and sometimes I thought they could compete with city kids studying in excellent private schools.
I was an English Teacher. I was a Maths teacher. I was a Science Teacher. I was a Geography Teacher. I did well coordinating outdoor games. I am sure I wore so many other hats. And you know the best part is that I never knew I had it in me to wear such hats. We danced, we painted, we sang, we learnt and we had so much fun. The only sad part was leaving the kids and the school. You could see it on the faces of the kids and that emotion really hits hard at you. The teachers were extremely thankful to us for taking care of the kids and giving them a different, yet fun learning experience. To be honest, I was thankful to them for helping me discover a hidden side to my personality.
Do your small bit
Some say ‘cleanliness’ starts in your home. Some say ‘God lies within’. I say ‘lets do our bit for the world’…to the world that is not as privileged as us. That is something that I learnt from this volunteering experience. That you get immense happiness and joy while you share your time, presence, knowledge and skills with the people who need it the most. The look of joy on their faces was way better than my best materialistic experience or my biggest success story.
Usually, after a holiday, we return tired with a depleted bank account and holiday blues that let us struggle with our jobs and career. That didn’t apply to me after this volunteering experience. I paid only INR 5000 for my 3 weeks of volunteering. This was to cover my stay in a comfortable dormitory in the NGO campus and for my 3 meals every day. Of course, I did return tired as the entire volunteering program was a physically exhausting experience. But, because I returned with so much happiness in me, I attacked my work with super high productivity and efficiency. For some reason, the volunteering camp experience was so good for me that I kept that happy energy going for over a month even after my return. I definitely returned richer (in terms of experience) and that hard work that I put in after made me lots of money. So rich on all counts!
I have to VOLUNTEER AGAIN
After this first volunteering experience of mine, I have now been sucked into this concept. I am already planning more volunteering experiences. And all of these in the areas that are close to my heart – wildlife conservation, education for underprivileged children, refugee camps and sharing any other appropriate skill of mine for the service of mankind. I have to see if I can discover more hidden talents within me. I have to see the joy on the faces of the people that I help. I have to do it.
Do you think you would like to create such a journey for yourself and re-brand yourself as a traveler?