Svenja Melina Opitz, one of our long-term volunteers from Weltwarts AFS Germany has been working at the De Mercede Orphanage since August. She writes to us from the village of Paneer, in Mangalore Taluk, Dakshina Kannada District. Following is a personal account of her experiences.
India – on the 4th of August I arrived here in the middle of the Monsoon.
Actually I was really excited and counted the days before my arrival.
And then the big day came and I was somehow overwhelmed by all the new impressions.
Everything was so different compared to my familiar environment and to be honest I really wondered if I made the right decision to live one year abroad in this completely different country, far away from my friends and relatives, without knowing the local language and customs…
Luckily I soon found out, that coming to India was the best decision I could make
First of all the Orientation Camp FSL-India organized for me and the other volunteers made it much easier to really arrive here: the units were interesting, talking with the other volunteers helped a lot and we had lots of fun and especially the Indian Welcome Ceremony let me feel very comfortable here. After this week, the real project started and full of hope, excitement and fears I made my way to the De Mercede Orphanage which is situated in a rural area 45 minutes away from Mangalore.
Now I am already working here for more than 3 month. The work is different than what I expected:
To give an example I can rarely use the teaching preparations and ideas I brought from Germany as the level of knowledge of the children as well as the working methods they are used to really differ from what I thought. But that´s one of the first lessons to learn here: Be flexible! Usually nothing happens like it is planned, but in the end everything will be fine and if not, it is not the end. That is what another volunteer told me at my arrival and I already experienced the truth of this sentence many times.
Now I am the akka (which means big sister in Kannada) for 62 children that live here. This is sometimes a very challenging job, as my role is now very different to my situation in Germany where I still used to live with my parents. However, even if it is sometimes exhausting, overwhelming or even frustrating to come up to this role, it can also be wonderful.
At first the children´s names sounded too different and difficult to learn for me, but now I know them all and am also able to distinguish them from their laughter, their voices or their way of crying.
I feel proud when they present dancing performances or acting or when I make handicrafts with them and in the end they create their own things instead of just copying my work (what is usually the case).
I like very much that I do not only come here for teaching the children English and then go back to my host family, but live in the project and really become a part of their lives: I help them to dress up, to take bath, do their homework and of course we play together.
It is a very good feeling when they finally understand a new game, or smile because they found the best way of jumping with the skipping rope…Moreover I always notice how much I myself have fun while playing all those games with them. It lets me remember lots of nice childhood memories which I can now somehow share with them and I hope our time together will also always be nice to remember for them.
Now, after being here since August we already have a kind of everyday routine, however each day is different and offers new challenges, but also new joy.
I am looking forward to the remaining month and all the experiences I will make.
By now I can say that I love to learn more and more about this fascinating culture, or how nice it is to understand the first sentences in Kannada or to eat an Indian dish which I helped to prepare.
And I already realise small changes of my perception, let´s see how the whole year will influence me as in the long run this was also a motivation for going abroad.”