I'm 23, Female, from Edinburgh, United Kingdom
I'm interested in:
Performing arts, Skiing, Food & wine, White water rafting, Hiking, Camping, Backpacking, Water skiing, Wildlife viewing, Nature viewing, Nature parks, Swimming, Sunbathing, Snorkeling, Scuba diving
Volunteering with Restless Development in Ozhalur, Tamil Nadu
This summer I will be joining 25 other UK volunteers and heading to Tamil Nadu in southern India where I will be volunteering with Restless Development for 3 months. I have already met most of the other volunteers at our training weekend in York and I cannot wait to get to know them all better once we get to India.
Restless Development are a youth-led organisation whose work is very different to that which I did in Nepal so I am excited to see what it will be like. They have three goals: civic participation - ensuring that young people are significant contributors to development processes, Livelihoods and Employment - helping young people to take up productive livelihoods and employment and Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights - promoting safe sexual and reproductive practices among young people.
Restless have been working in India since 1985 engaging young people to address the most urgent issues they face in India - governance, livelihoods and health. They currently work in 5 of the 29 states in India - Tamil Nadu, Odisha, Bihar, Jharkhand and Rajasthan.
As far as I know I will be living in accommodation with other international volunteers but we will be assigned a host family who will provide all of our food. We will be working in Youth Resource Centres (YRC) and schools and colleges within our communities.
Each international volunteer is also paired up with a national volunteer and I am very excited to meet the national volunteers when we arrive. We will be working together very closely and I'm sure this will give us a very unique experience.
As for where I'll actually be staying and exactly what I'll be doing I have no idea. I will only find out at the end of our week-long training in country. I hope that I will be able to work along the health side but our groups are decided for us so we will see.
I hope to update this regularly - WiFi permitting of course.
Lots of love,
We arrived in Chennai in the early morning and were treated to a beautiful sunrise whilst being eaten alive by mosquitoes just outside the entrance to arrivals. The buses coming to collect us were running late and so we waited somewhat patiently in heat that I could never have dreamed of for 5 o'clock in the morning. When the buses eventually arrived it took quite a while to load all of our baggage on - I think the staff had underestimated how big and how many suitcases we all had. Of course, this meant that multiple bags were lifted up onto the roof and precariously balanced. The bus journey itself was only around 45 minutes and the time passed quickly. We passed through the outskirts of Chennai and were treated to plenty of blaring horns and multiple cows roaming the streets.
When we arrived at the accommodation we started to unpack. I shared a room with Becky To, Becky Th, Keaton and Catherine. We were in the main room of a flat and the three bedrooms coming off it were reserved for our national counterparts when they arrive. The bathroom was much better than I expected as we actually had a western toilet - hurrah! We had a bucket shower which itself was quite refreshing but the bathroom got really hot so it was uncomfortable to be in there for too long.
Training lasted 10 days including a shopping trip and a trip to the beach on the Saturday. The Nationals arrived the day after us and we had a small welcoming ceremony where we placed sandalwood on each other's foreheads - supposedly if you place cool sandalwood on the centre of your forehead on top of a main artery it cools your whole body down but I won't know for sure until I do head & neck anatomy next year! We were also given jasmine garlands to either put in our hair or wrap around our wrist and then we were given some sugar to eat. That evening we were taken to a temple down the road from us. We arrived around dusk and the colours looked so vibrant.
Training consisted of lots of games for both team building and for energising the group and lots of group activities. My highlights include a game were we were split into three groups and were put in the three corners of the room. One group was mute, my group was blind and one group was on celebrity island - the place where we all needed to be. However the celebrities were tied together and unable to move. Oh and I forgot to mention that between us were shark infested waters that could only be crossed on cardboard! The three groups had to communicate to get pieces of cardboard that were located in front of the blind people to allow everyone from the blind and mute islands to cross the water to the celebrity island. The game required a lot of team work, careful communication and of course lots of imagination. We learned some more NFE (non-formal education) teaching techniques such as the use of small street dramas called skits, radio & song and puppet shows. The group I was in produced a skit about the dangers of cell phone use. It included the obvious such as not using your cell phone whilst driving so we had a road accident between a car and a motorbike (I made up one half of the car) as well as an accident between a pedestrian and a motorbike but the skit also included some unusual yet hilarious situations. These included a surgeon answering his phone mid operation which caused the patient to have a heart attack and die, a groom picking up his phone followed by the bride and then finally the priest until there was no one left at the wedding and a funeral procession where the dead man received a phone call, came back to life and then ran off! Another highlight included a discussion about gender inequality where we asked the Nationals about their lives and they asked us about ours through Karthik. It gave us a real insight into how girls our age live out here including how they cannot leave their house after dark even though their brothers can and how boys can get grants for further education but girls cannot. I had known a fair bit about the gender inequality issues that exist in India before I came out but hearing the stories of my peers here brought home a new realness to the situation.
Throughout the training I was taught to dance like a 'Tamil Girl' which was of course extremely fun. I'm always up for a good dance and on one occasion the whole room was just watching my imitation of a professional Tamil dancer. I'm sure witnessing this was highly entertaining! We had an evening of culture exchange which included lots of singing, a video by Becky To of British comedy and of course we ended with 2 ceilidhs dances - the Gay Gordon's and my personal favourite Strip the Willow. I was treated to beautiful henna when Koti agreed to do some on me and she ended up covering both my arms on both sides. I was told afterwards that women only get henna like this when they are getting married. I also set up a yoga club where I attempted to teach some other international some sun salutations. It was much harder than I thought it would be. We practiced in the evenings on the roof when there was a nice breeze. Even then it wasn't hard to work up a sweat. One night it started raining really heavily as we were in camel pose which felt so liberating it was amazing. I'm looking forward to establishing a better practice once I reach my community and settle in.
The shopping trip was stressful to say the least. We went on one of the busiest days of the week, Saturday, and the shops and streets were crawling with people. On top of this we were time restricted which made for some quick decisions. I bought some ready made salwars, some bracelets and some bindis. I didn't get a saree but I've been assured that there will be plenty more opportunities to get one in the near future. After shopping we all had lunch in a really nice and green park before heading to the bus station to go to the beach. A few of us missed the first bus and ended up waiting half an hour for the next one to arrive. We all got seats on it but it took another 40 minutes for it to actually leave the bus station! We did eventually make it to the beach and I did get into the sea up to my waist whilst fully clothed! Most of the volunteers left but a few of us stayed to play some volleyball. By the time we left it was getting dark and we hit rush hour traffic on the bus back. All in all though it was a thoroughly enjoyable trip. I cannot wait to wear my new outfits soon!
During training we split into health and livelihoods groups to get some more information of what we'll be teaching. Unfortunately for me there isn't actually as much focus on sexual and reproductive health as I had hoped. The main focus at the moment is on vector-borne diseases and raising awareness about the three main ones - malaria, dengue fever and filaria. We will be teaching prevention techniques to try and decrease the number of deaths they cause every year. We will also be touching on sanitation and hopefully helping some individuals to get a government grant to build a toilet. Open defecation is also a really big issue at the moment in india. Other topics include waste management where we will try to create compost bins and kitchen gardens which use waste water from washing up as their source of water. This provides the communities with yummy vegetables and also gets rid of stagnant water which is a breeding ground for mosquitoes - hitting two birds with one stone. I am looking forward to doing needs assessments once we are in our communities to see exactly what is is we need to be teaching.
On our penultimate day of training we found out which groups we will we working with and where we will be staying. I have been placed in Kanchipuram with Becky Th, Leah and Jodie who will be doing Livelihoods with Abi, Kavi and Yuvi Raj and Holly, Jonny and myself will be working with Hari, Ruth and Shobana on Health. We have two team leaders, Fay and Michael Jackson. I will miss the daily trips to the juice shop for extremely fresh, cold juice and I hope I find somewhere nearby where I can get hold of cold juice. We are the most remote group and so my hopes are not too high.
The atmosphere is both similar and yet strikingly different to that of Nepal and I can't quite place my finger on what makes it this way. The shops all sell the same things and look identical. The traffic is much heavier but then we are in a major city. If Nepal were a gentle drive on a Sunday afternoon then India is Monday morning rush hour mayhem. Where we are in Chennai is like a spread out version of Kathmandu. It is much bigger and busier than Besisahar and yet more relaxed than Kathmandu. I am excited to get to Kanchipuram to see what it is like there and to get settled into our community.
I hope you are all well!
Lots of love,
I’ve been settling into my placement for a week now. Sorry that my blogs have been very infrequent and haphazard. We arrived in placement on Thursday 18th June. I’m living in a sort of compound consisting of three main buildings and a large area of open land. We are situated in between two communities – a tribal community and a begging community and they do not get on in a village called Ozhalur (pronounced something like Waralur). I am sharing a room with my team leader Fay and Becky Th. We have an en-suite bathroom with a (cold) shower which is actually very refreshing and a Western toilet – oh, the luxury! The buildings are all owned by an incredible woman named Shanta. She is a lawyer and the founder of an NGO called Women In Need Foundation. Originally she and her husband had planned to make the main building a hostel for poor children who otherwise wouldn’t go to school. However they split up and now the building is mainly used as a community function area and also as one of Restless Development’s Youth Resource Centres (YRCs).
Our nearest shop is just around the corner but has very limited stock so for most things town – Chengalpattu - is a 15 minute auto (tuk tuk) away. Journeys are almost always scary and certainly very squashed. So far we have managed to fit 15 adults including the driver into one auto. They comfortably fit about 7. We head into Chengalpattu most days even if we don’t need anything just to get out and about and have a break from the many local children who are constantly vying for attention and wanting to play badminton which they call tennis. We also have a puppy called Pondi who was brought back from Pondicherry by the last group of volunteers. Although cute, she is extremely annoying. She chewed through a pair of my favourite trousers and is constantly biting people. We’ve set up a badminton net and in the evenings it’s nice to play when it’s cooler. Washing clothes is so therapeutic and is even better when we have such a beautiful view to look at. I will try and upload some photos afterwards as I am not describing this place very well.
A lot of our work will be establishing the YRC and getting word out about what we do and how we can help young people in the area. Our YRC is the youngest of them all and we are only the third batch to stay here. We have spent the first week going into local schools and asking for permission to teach. This has proved much harder than I had anticipated. On most attempts the headmaster/mistresses were not in and so we were told to come back in a few days. We had hoped to get weekly slots in schools but have ended up with either half days or full days on one off occasions instead.
We’ve started English classes for our national volunteers which we run on a Tuesday – now known as ‘English Tuesdays’ which we think is a perfect name for indie/folk band. We also have ‘Tamil Thursdays’ but this isn’t quite so catchy. We’re also hoping to hold a weekly computer class on a Saturday morning for local children to teach them basic computer skills and hopefully improve their English.
Father’s day also coincided with International Yoga Day so I attempted to teach a yoga class to four fellow volunteers. It lasted around an hour and I think (hope) that they enjoyed themselves. The following night we had a huge power cut that last for hours and kept us awake as it was far too hot to sleep. On Tuesday, our group yoga session was rudely cut short by a very fast approaching storm. We stayed in camel pose until the rain ran into our noses and we got too wet to continue. It feels magnificent to open your heart to the rain like that though.
On Wednesday we wrote our needs assessment questions which included questions such as ‘What do you think the biggest problem in your community is?’ and ‘Can you name 3 vector-borne diseases?’ We are doing the needs assessments to find out where our time and resources are best spent. Wednesday was also Abi’s birthday. We learned how Indians like to celebrate birthdays – by smearing icing all over each other’s faces. It took a lot of face wash to remove the greasy icing and my ear was full of bubblegum flavoured icing. In the afternoon once everyone had had a chance to clean up we began doing the needs assessments along our road speaking to those in the tribal and begging communities. The tribal community were extremely open and honest with us and told us that their biggest problem is alcohol abuse. The begging community made no mention of this even though we passed by two very drunk men. In the evening I went up onto our roof and did yoga by myself for over an hour. When I finished it was dark and I lay under the stars until I got called down for dinner.
On Thursday 25th, we spent the whole morning doing needs assessments in our local community. We were joined by Paul and Praveen who are at university in Chennai studying social work. They are an odd pair but they proved very useful as they are very good at talking to people about very personal issues and are very quick to establish rapport. After lunch we began painting a bookshelf in the YRC. Eventually it will have the Restless Development logo amongst other undecided things. We also planned our after school group for children from the local school. At 4pm we went ‘child-catching’ which isn’t half as bad as it sounds. It meant standing outside the school and telling them about our club. The first session ended up as collecting names and addresses as we needed the children to get permission from their parents first. I did more yoga once the children had left and we had some peace and quiet.
On Friday 26th, we typed up needs assessments and then made posters about drug awareness for International Drug Awareness Day. After lunch we spent the afternoon planning a skit to perform to the community the next morning regarding the abuse of alcohol and ganja (cannabis). Soon after we had finished, children from the local school showed up for after school club and we got them to draw pictures of themselves and then annotate them with things that they liked about themselves.
On Saturday 27th, we performed our skit to 70 locals and it went down really well. We had two scenes. The first was about two young boys who bought ganja, really enjoyed their spliff but had no money to pay for more so resorted to stealing a woman’s handbag and they subsequently got arrested. The second scene was about a drunk father who spent all his money on alcohol leaving his wife and children starving at home. He got really drunk and was killed by a car. I played a very convincing upset child. In the evening, we went to the cinema to see Jurassic World in an air-conditioned room. I cannot tell you how cool it felt after temperatures of 38-42oC! There was even an interval during the film for people to go and buy more drinks and snacks. On the way back we had to walk a long way on the side of a motorway which we then had to cross, nearly getting run over in the process, to catch a bus back home.
Sunday 28th was a rest day but one of the nationals, Abi, had invited us round for lunch. It was the first time I have had chicken since being here and it tasted so good. Abi had been up since 5am preparing the food for us and I felt slightly awkward as she watched us eat. It is traditional for hosts only to eat once their guests have eaten but in this case she didn’t end up eating until we had left. In the evening, we were invited to another national’s relative’s wedding. We dressed up in our smartest clothes and then it began to rain. It rained and rained and rained. It only got heavier as we ran to catch an auto at the tree at the end of our road. Once in Chengalpattu we were picked up by Shobana and her uncle in a car and it felt so weird to be isolated from the sounds of Indian roads. We weren’t at the wedding for long. We arrived and had our photo taken with the bride and groom as is custom and then ate the most delicious food we’ve had since being here and then left. I felt so sorry for the bride and groom who stand for hours having their photo taken with every guest and they can’t even smile!
All in all, it’s been a tiring but very enjoyable first week and I can’t wait to see what the next week holds!