My India: from wealth to poverty
11:23am Tuesday 8th March 2011 in Your Say
Anxiously I waited for the 12th of October 2010...The day I would leave for India. I would be volunteering with Platform 2 (a government funded organisation) for two and a half months. Working as a teacher 5 days a week, in a local Indian village called Dabla in Jaisalmer, Rajasthan.
During our first week in India we had the opportunity to ride an elephant and visit the beautiful Amber Forte in Jaipur, where we stayed for the first week with a lovely Indian host family. However after this first week it was straight to work and to experience many things that would not be possible at home in the UK.
Working in Dabla School we taught the children basic English and maths which wasn’t easy at first especially with the language barrier and I found myself thinking “how am I going to cope with these children?” Yet after the first few weeks of living in Jaisalmer it wasn't quite as daunting and I felt like we were making a real difference to the children’s learning. We also got to help redecorate the local school in Dabla and went on many community visits during the week, talking to and learning from the local Indian villagers. I even got to milk a goat for the first time and we also offered to help smear cow dung on one of the local villager’s houses (as they use it as a sort of cement!) although they kindly declined.
After our two hours teaching and our community visits were over we headed back to our home... which was a camp in the middle of the desert! My initial reaction was “are we actually living here?”, the site looked very basic and having to adapt to live like the local community didn’t seem easy; having a cold shower using a bucket and scoop, eating curry everyday for lunch and dinner and washing my clothes in buckets with shampoo. Initially it didn’t seem too appealing in comparison to the comfortable western way of life I was used to. I then realised how lucky I was to live in the conditions I do at home as opposed to the lifestyle of Indian citizens living in villages or worse, the slums. Current statistics regarding the slum population in India make grim reading; the figure has risen by around 23% since 2001 (according to a study created by the Government of India). This did not prepare me for the experience I witnessed when visiting the Slum of Jaipur. Children were running barefoot through streets of garbage and I even saw a baby crawling up a dirty alley-way on their own! Experiences like this do really alter your perception of the world.
At the weekends I was lucky enough to have time off to explore some other areas of Northern India which was really exciting. I went on a camel safari in Jaisalmer which involved sleeping in the desert under the stars with no tent...exciting but also a bit scary! I also visited a Rat temple in Bikaner which was home to thousands of rats which the locals believed were holy and brought them offerings of food! Another weekend I travelled to Jodhpur with other volunteers where we visited the busy markets streets, followed by an exciting zip wire experience from a forte over a lake whilst watching the sunset. It was a truly incredible experience visiting these places and living in this very different and spectacular country.
India taught me many things but the important things are to enjoy the beauty of life although you might be surrounded by dirt, squalor and flies; you have to be grateful with what you have and help those who are faced with poverty every day. Teaching and living in India opened my eyes to the happiness in communities where they were facing huge problems of inequality, discrimination, poverty and poor water and sanitation. I would recommend this Indian adventure to everyone. It is a truly life changing opportunity and as a consequence I feel I am a better individual for it.
By Amelia Northwood, went to India on the 12th of October- 21st December 2010 on her Gap year with Platform2. Lives in Chessington, Surrey.
Based on information supplied by Amelia Northwood.