My name is Rosa and I’m an 18 year old volunteer from Germany. After finishing my school last summer, I came to India in September 2012 to work in a project in a rural area near to Chennai called “Sevalaya”. Now six of my twelve months are over and when I look back I can’t believe how much happened in the last months! I decided to do volunteer service because I wanted to work in a useful project in a developing country and to get to know a completely different culture not just from the view of a tourist. In the beginning it was quite hard to find my place in the project and to get used to everything. The food, the climate, the language, the religion and the habits – everything seemed to be different and there were a lot of situations where I didn’t know how to behave. Now I can say that my project and the village feels like home and all the unknown things from the beginning are a part of my daily life.
But what is Sevalaya and what am I doing here? The project is a huge campus with many different aspects. There is the pre-school, a primary school and a secondary school, which provide education for children who live in families who can’t afford to send their children to school. Some of the children are orphans and some of the children have families but cannot live with them for various reasons. So there are 150 boys and girls living in the hostels on the campus. In addition there is an Old Age Home where senior citizens are living, who are there because they don’t have anyone to look after them. Another part of the project is – organic farming. There are several fields on the campus, but agriculture was definitely viewed as the less important part of the project. Before I came I got a project description which created a totally different image of Sevalaya in my head. I thought the main part would be agriculture and that’s the expectation I had of my work, which was destroyed as soon as I arrived. But nevertheless I am really happy with my work now!
To give you an impression of my work I will describe a “normal day”: Usually I wake up quite early and meet another volunteer at 8 am on the rooftop to do yoga before breakfast – a really nice start for the day! At 9 am I go to the fields, where I do different work every day, apart from the fact that I have to carry buckets of water for 50 fruit trees. I bought them last month and planted them in the shape of a peace sign on one of the fields. The other agricultural work differs day to day – putting new seeds in the ground, removing weeds, carrying cow dung which is used as organic manure to the vegetable plants and harvesting the vegetables. It is definitely a nice feeling to bring vegetables to the kitchen in the morning and see them a few hours later on my plate! After lunch I have one or two periods of music class with 6th and 7th standard children. It is quite lucky I brought my guitar from Germany! I teach the students easy English songs and do different singing and rhythm exercises. It seems like they are really enjoying the music class, because a lot of children ask me every day “Sister! Sister! When next music class?” and when I finish the lesson they often say all at once “Thank you, sister!” After school I have a different group of five students every day, who I teach juggling with balls I stitched on my own. Most of the children are really eager to learn and don’t want the lesson to be over. Once a boy came up to me practicing with balls made of mud – this was really cute! When I finish juggling class at 5 pm I go to the Old Age Home to sit with a few of the old people who like to talk a lot and teach me Tamil (the local language). In this rural area, where just a few people are speaking English, it’s definitely useful to learn the local language and the people are always happy when I try to speak Tamil to them. In the evening I go to the Girls Hostel, where I make music with a group of ten girls who are especially interested in singing and learn really fast. After doing this music class almost every day for six months, I know these girls very well and I don’t want to think about how it will be to say “Good bye” to them. So, as you can see, my working days are quite full, but I really enjoy what I do and I am happy that I can participate in so many different parts of this project!
In the last months I feel like I have become part of the community not only in the project, but also in the village. It is really nice to see the development from being a guest to a member of the community! Now the people in the village, the shop owners, workers in the post office or owners of restaurants know me and treat me like an Indian. And yes, I can definitely see that I have become more Indian! I eat with my fingers, I walk around barefoot, I wear Chudis and Saris, I shake my head in the Indian way to say “yes”, I come at least five minutes late to everything and I don’t start crying anymore when I eat the spicy food! So, even though I didn’t believe it in the beginning, you do get used to everything – it just takes some time. After my six months of doing volunteer service in India, I’m sure that the best advice for every volunteer is “be patient!” and believe me, I know how difficult it is to always keep these two words in mind.
All in all it is incredible how many experiences I’ve gained doing this volunteer service and I am looking forward to the remaining months!