Volunteering – it is for others and for you

by SPYS volunteers – Matthew, Sarah, Christian, Charlene, Robert and Darinka (2007)

Another summer and another 7 young people have embarked on the challenge that the Salesian Pastoral Youth Service (SPYS) has offered them – volunteering in India. These are some of their feelings that they managed to put into words…many other emotions can never be inked but only experienced.

All volunteers were put on projects in favour of child labour victims and street children. These projects are run by the Salesians of Don Bosco to give shelter, education but most importantly love, restoration of childhood and a hope for a better future, a future brighter then the bleak past they have suffered.

Charlene – volunteer 2 months in Lingarajapuram - Bangalore

India greets you with a whirlwind of colour, culture and a sea of little brown eyes eager to get to know this stranger who walked into their small bare classroom.

I can and will never forget my first day. Feeling as unsure as to what I was doing there as much as the kids were. After a moment of hesitation, they look up to their teacher who gives them a nodding smile and I’m greeted with a “Good morning Auntie”. Any kind of doubt is quickly swept away as the braver ones rush up to hug you and catch your attention.

Within moments, you are swept away and become totally part of that strange and fascinating world, filled with the love and peace that makes the Don Bosco centres what they are. All the children want to do is spending time with you and simply having you present in their lives makes them so happy. I will always treasure the memory I have of running through a field barefooted in the pouring rain, playing football with some of the older kids as if it was the most important match in the world. For those children, at that very moment, that football game was all that meant in the world. There was no past and no future, just the present. That everlasting moment was one of the moments were I felt really and truly happy.

Part of my heart is still in India waiting till the day that I can go back to see again those eyes and feel those hugs of all those children who give their heart and in return all they want is a piece of your attention…attention they lacked in their traumatic past.

Robert – Volunteer for 2 months in Ajjanahalli - Bangalore:

Namaskara (‘Hello’ in the local language)! Volunteering in itself is definitely more than just helping others…it has for sure helped also me in many ways. It was great, as it was an opportunity to detach from my hectic daily routine.

Although I worked all day long, I still think it was a break and something fun to do. Who does not want to go back in his childhood, and play football barefooted in fields, even when it is raining, walk for hours in forests and on hills and go to swim with more then 100 kids?

These children expected nothing from us, but just to be there, hold their hands, play with them. A fund raising event was organised by us volunteers and luckily we managed to gather enough money to buy some computers. Amongst other things I was responsible of organising basic computer lessons. I felt so lucky working with these children and also started to appreciate the fact that we are so lucky to have the opportunity to develop our talents, when these really talented boys have many limitations in developing their talents.

Helping them in their studies was another daily task. Even just sitting down on the floor and having endless chats with the boys. Although they spoke a different language…the language of play and love is universal so this was not an issue and in one way or another I could easily communicate with the boys.

Before volunteering myself I never really believed what other volunteers said that this is something rewarding and addictive until I experienced it myself.

What’s next? I am planning that next year I’ll go again in India and hope to meet you there.

Matthew and Christian - Volunteer for 6 weeks in Ashalayam - Delhi

Poverty, hunger, sickness, illiteracy and bodily mutilation were for us an inexperienced reality; nearly a matter of an outside our world. Likewise, social injustice was just a mental concept rather than a worldly reality that needed action. We could have never understood unless we saw, touched, smelt and felt the world other than our own.

Early this year we came across the SPYS group through whom we met this great opportunity to volunteer. On my way to India, the trip was just like any other… off to a new adventure. Although we were prepared with great care, we never really knew what awaited us…the cultural difference…the experience that we now back to Malta, feel it would impact our lives forever.

Hosted in Delhi by the Salesian Fathers, our main objective was to get children of all ages off the streets and set them into Salesian homes where they could be educated and cared for. Thus they will be reinstated into the community with better prospects for life, without begging, steeling or abusing of drugs and alcohol at a tender age.

The work on the streets was intensive, wearisome and laborious. Nights were spent in an unfurnished shelter. In the homes then we got to know the children, their stories, their problems and their tough culture. For two months we shared our lives with these wonderful kids. We can never forget their big smiles, their simple but profound joy and their immense curiosity for the world.

Back home, we feel richer, in more than one way. Problems and difficult situations seem so futile compared to those of these children. We are so glad that we were part of this incredible experience. An experience that we encourage you to do.

Sarah and Darinka – Volunteers for 6 weeks in Hospet - Bangalore

We cannot really find an adjective that can describe this experience I’ve lived within the mystical land of India with people who are full of energy and positive attitude, even though they lack things which we deem necessary. Even though my life there was simple life, it was though filled with rich qualities that we never managed to reach here in Malta of which peace and tranquility.

The children we’ve worked and lived with always had a bright smile on their lovely face, massive energy to learn English and great enthusiasm to show us how to make things out of natural resources such as brooms made from coconuts leaves or how to carry a coconut on our head.

Can’t forget their angelic voice calling us out as “Chocolate auntie” or “Citra Auntie” (Citra – drawing in their native language). They are so generous …they would persist on giving you a bite out of their biscuit even though it was the size of a coin.

One can’t say that this was just a colourful light experience. Living in a country having a different culture is not easy and at times you might feel you are on rough sea. Eating rice almost every day, washing clothes on the floor and with bare hands, having no electricity most of the day...but then we never complained but gave thanks to God for giving us strength to live and appreciate the simple things that make you happy.

I would like to share a particular situation that made me reflect deeply – A person within the community we were living in asked me how old I was and I answered “23” and he said “well then you at least have 40 years left living”. I retorted with a smile that 40 years were way too long. He turned to me and with a strong and affirmative voice said “40 years are not alot ... have you seen the 23 years go by? Same will happen…you will not see 40 years go by if you live it to the full”.

We have only one life and through this experience we have learned that one has to live life to the full, putting negative energy aside and enjoy what comes our way, especially the people that surround us and never to give in. There is a lot in the room we sit in but there is a great deal outside the window we look out at.

And you?

Maybe it’s time for you to look out of the window and give some of your time and energy to the world.

SPYS.int (the international office within SPYS) will soon be calling for volunteers in the coming summer in various projects in Malta, India and all over the world. If you are 18 or over, up for a challenge and willing to dedicate at least a month for children seeking a brighter future, or simply interested to hear about the opportunity, send us an email on info@spysmalta.org.

SPYS.int gives the necessary safe network and adequate training to be involved on such projects. SPYS.int is an organisation you can trust because it is made up of young people who have gone through all of this.

For more information and projects visit the website www.spysmalta.org/spysint/