El-Shaddai is a Children’s Home outside of Chennai. Here we, Svenja and Julia, work for 11 months as volunteers, with 34 children. Now, the time is already half gone and we had a great time till now. Usually, we support the children with their daily routine like getting ready for school.
Our main part, where we really can help the most is the study time. Every school day, there is 1 1/2 hour’s time to do homework and study for tests. Mostly, we help with English and sometimes, Maths. We teach them the comprehension of the English language and the pronunciation of the vocabulary.
On a normal school day, we start to work at 7 am. At this time, the children are already awake and doing their daily duties. Then, we help them for example with their hair, or repeat some school exercises. Serving food and preparing lunchboxes is one part of our morning routine, as well. At 9 am, we attend to the children on their way to school with the school bus. At 10:30 am, we have 1 hour Tamil class, where we try to learn some new vocabulary, learn to sing Tamil songs, or ask questions about cultural differences. School is finished at 4 pm.
Then, we have a short time, where we can play some outside games. After that, it is again time for their duties, and we work with some kids in the garden, like watering the plants, doing the compost or planting new seeds. For a little break, before the study time, we prepare some snacks.
After study time, there is a night devotion, because we live in a Christian Children’s Home. During that period, we pray, sing Tamil songs and read psalms from the Bible. The day ends with a very delicious dinner. During weekdays, there is not that much time to play with the children, or do our own projects, but on holidays, or on the weekend, there is enough time to do things like that.
We are working together with a great staff team. Everybody is very kind, open minded, supportive and helpful, which really makes it easy for us to feel welcome here. The Headmaster, Joseph Paul, gives us lots of space to bring in our own ideas and start some projects. As the children – no matter what age or gender – love to do handicrafts, we did some decoration for Christmas with them. Furthermore, we started to paint a wall and day by day, add some new items.
Our big project is the garden project, a challenge for us and the children. In the beginning, they were offered a place, where we can build up our own garden, together with the children. First, we had to research and start, and try how gardening works in India, as some things are different from Germany. Sometimes, what we planned didn’t work. But that is okay – we just tried another way. That’s how you learn, isn’t it? Learning by doing.
As we are idols for the children, it is something they can learn from us. It is okay, if you don’t know everything. But if you don’t know: ask, research, try, learn to get to know, what you don’t know. For the children, the challenge is to just watch and wait, because plants don’t grow overnight and sometimes, there is nothing to do, but the children are really passionate about it, so we have to hold them back and ask them to be patient.
In the beginning, the communication was a big challenge for us. We didn’t understand Tamil, and they didn’t understand English very well. But from the first day, we got a Tamil lesson every day. It is still hard to learn the language because it is so different to German or English, but now we understand some words and little phrases, which is very useful and the children have a lot of fun when we try to speak Tamil.
A lot of fun was also the preparations for the Christmas function in December. The children learnt some dances in small groups and we practised one with the older girls, together. In the Tamil lessons, we also learnt a Tamil song, which we performed at this function.
As we learnt so much so far about the Indian culture, we planned some activities to give some knowledge back. During Christmas time, we did, for example, an Adventkalender for the children, baked some traditional Christmas cookies with them, and prepared a typical tea we drink during the Christmas time in Germany. Furthermore, we are planning a new project where the children can learn more about Geography and other countries and their cultures.
We are very grateful for all the experiences we already made and looking for a great second part of our volunteering year at the El-Shaddai Children’s Home. One thing is clear by now: to leave after the 11 months won’t be easy.