My Experience in India – Chantelle Camilleri

On the 14th November 2010 I left Malta to make one of my greatest dreams come true: that of doing voluntary work in India. Admittedly, during my flight I felt rather anxious. Questions like  'What will I find there?' and  'Will I make it for  5 months on my own?' kept going round my head. But I need not have feared:  my 5-month  voluntary experience  in India has been the most rewarding one in my life, thus far.

Mainly I was living in a boarding school run by the Salesians of Don Bosco, situated in a small town called Kawant.  The students/boarders were children aged between 9 and 15 years, all coming from Kawant and the surrounding villages. Children living in such villages face many challenges, like poverty and lack of access to quality education. Therefore, being part of a project with the aim of improving the lives of these children gave me great satisfaction. I taught the younger children basic English, using fun methods like quizzes and games. At the beginning it was not easy because of the language barrier - but I used to get the message through by using gestures and pictures. The children were really cooperative, and in no time they taught me simple words and phrases in Gujarati (their language), while they learnt English ones, so language was no longer a problem. I also organised extra curricular activities for the children, such as games, arts, crafts and dancing. Furthermore, I used to join them during their sport practice, mostly football,  and play with them during their reacreation times . These were really enjoyable moments, where I got the chance to get to know the children and bond with them.  What impressed me most about these kids was their radiant happinness despite all their deprivations. I was also touched by how ready they are to give, and receive was impossible not to grow to love these children!

Apart from my work with the kids, I also used to go around the villages with the Salesians from time to time. It was during these moments, outside the boarding school, that I got to see the real India and interact with the locals. I loved visiting the people inside their humble houses of mud and sticks, with cows and goats roaming freely outside(and occassionally inside). The tribal people in the villages may stare at you at first, because you look strange to them, but after that initial awkwardness they are the friendliest people you could ever come across! Whenever I visited, they always bade me to sit down on their beds (since they often had no chairs), and offerred me to eat or drink something. The most common was black tea with sugar, which I drank straight from the saucer like them. Over time I made friends with many of the village women, who with the help of the Salesian Community, formed Self Help Groups to improve their living conditions. It was the best feeling in the world when these women literally pulled me along with them to dance their cultural Rathwi Dance on Woman's Day - and they did not allow me to retreat before the music stopped!

India was everything I ever imagined (and more): women dressed in saris,spicy food, cows roaming around, adorable children, a totally different and rich culture...but most of all it was an experience of love, of giving and receiving, of personal growth. And if you ask me 'Would you ever go back?', the answer is a definite 'I would!'

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