Ruth Achterwinter is a long-term volunteer from Germany. She has been volunteering at the Rural Education and Development Society since August 2013. Following is an account of her perspective on India and the work that she does.
“It may seem strange to you, but I have lived here for 9 months and I still can’t decide how to feel about India. On the one hand, it twirls you up, bounces you around, spits you out but somehow you still come to love all its colours, varieties and of course, people. One thing I learned is not to make decisions too lightly. If you really want to get to know this huge, and in many ways contradictive country, you have to spend time here. Travelling for two or three weeks won’t let you into the deeper layers of the Indian society.
See my project for example: I work for an NGO in a really small town in Tamil Nadu. We encourage women from rural and poor backgrounds to form ‘self-help groups’. The groups not only give them security of a union, but also the space to discuss financial or general issues of the village. My NGO then connects them to a bank for the poor where they can lend micro-credits and use the money to buy things such as cows. This way they can start their own small businesses and learn how to be self-responsible, and in the end, independent.
Another volunteer and I built up the self-defense classes for girls in local schools. We teach these girls about their rights and how to react in case of. sexual harassment or domestic violence. Seeing these girls, how eager they are to learn and how willing to contribute their opinion on a new topic, I realized how important education is, which we often tend to take for granted in western Europe. I felt like my work as a volunteer is really valuable to those children. While travelling through India as a tourist you might meet some people, you’ll enjoy the food, you’ll get to visit the Taj Mahal and other incredible buildings. You see the life of Indians. What you lack is actually living it. To be part of a culture so diverse and yet intense. To wear your own Chudidars and Sarees (Indian traditional clothing). To have people you can call ‘Amma’ (Mom) and ‘Appa’ (Dad), to be yourself called ‘Akka’ (older sister). To have your first conversation with an Indian grandma in the local language (which will probably be about food, haha). To find yourself laughing because you’re finally able to understand the cultural jokes in those Bollywood movies… the list is endless.
After 9 months in India I can honestly tell that here are things I won’t ever get used to and some that I will miss incredibly after my return to Germany. What I am sure of is that India is becoming more and more of a home to me and that the people I live and work with have become family to me. In the end, even though I cannot say I love or hate India, I am very happy about my decision to come here. It’s more than a trip. It’s a life-changing experience.“