Volunteering makes the heart grow larger and fonder and enriches a Big Trip travel experience. In my opinion, I think it should be a part of every Big Trip. There’s everything to gain like helping others, learning about another culture, being invited into witness how things are instead from the viewfinder view of the tourist trail.
And there’s so much to lose when volunteering as well: stereotypes, hardness in one’s heart, and expectations on how things “should” be. I’ve volunteered several times on my first India Big Trip and when I look back at the pictures and read the blog entries, I can feel my heart swell and they are my fondest memories. This post focuses on my time with Shakehands in Jaipur, India, where I taught at a school for street children.
I joined the Shakehands organization in November 2008 to volunteer for two weeks in their Street Children Education program. This meant that I, along with three other volunteers and a Hindi-speaking teacher’s assistant, were there to teach ABCs, 123s, shapes and colors to about 30 street children in Jaipur, India. Shakehands had built the school, a two room concrete building stocked with chalkboard, slates and other supplies, to bring education to kids aged 4 to 13. There was no formal curriculum or plan at the time and my learned co-teacher with 2 weeks already in at the school shared a gentle schedule of learning for these kids of varying ages and abilities.
Overall, our class was well-behaved and happy to be there. The only admission was clean clothes and hygiene. Older siblings took care of younger ones and finished their work for them. This was not a public school and there was no curriculum, I let go of expectations that these kids would do homework or have the same abilities as their peers in the US. They do not, but they want to be there and that made all the difference in a very fulfilling experience. My most rewarding experience was teaching the kids Duck Duck Goose and after two and a half solid hours of learning, we were all thankful for an active and fun break. On the dusty school yard, formed in two circles, pony tails and broken sandals flying the organized chase, we all had a lot of fun.
The volunteer program in Jaipur, India, at the time was run by Amita and Pranay, two very dedicated, kind people who made sure we had a very comfortable experience. They got us started with the school kids and then came back for organized activities like “Children’s Day” were they brought cake and chips to the celebrate the kids. When I was there, there were six volunteers at the time stayed in the bottom flat of a two story multi-family home in the suburbs of Jaipur. A cook made our group three meals a day and in the afternoons, we hung out in the family room watching Bollywood movies and sometimes sightseeing in Jaipur and surrounding areas. Compared to what I researched with other volunteer programs in India, this one was very affordable. Amita and Pranay picked me up at a hotel I had arranged to stay in prior to my time starting and got me off to the airport when I was done. I would highly recommend this program.
Here is a story I wrote about my experiences at Shakehands for a travel essay contest.
Duck, Duck, Goose does not have a Hindi translation, but the kids picked it up right away. Fifteen children crouched in the familiar Indian squat, flat-footed, their bottom almost touching the ground and knees up to their shoulders. Each face was a mix of excitement and suspense awaiting their turn to be “it” – the chosen one to pat their fellow students on the head and choose the next “Goose.” Duck, Duck, Duck, Duck…GOOSE! The schoolyard would erupt into giggles and cheers as the chaser and the chasee rounded the circle of yelling, squatting students.
The kids at the SHAKE HANDS Street Children Education School in Jaipur, India play in a dry, dusty courtyard bordered by waist-high stone walls. The school is two cement rooms with ceilings high enough to keep out the heat. The room is made a school with a chalkboard and some public health pictures tacked to the wall. Two windows bring in enough light to teach. The students crouch on the blanket-covered floor with their writing slates.
My class is about 10-15 students and I love them all. Each student has one to three siblings in the class, and they take care of one another. The older kids sit next to their younger brothers or sisters, guiding their hand on the slates to draw the right answers, often prompting them with the right answer so they can accept the glory of the correct response.
Each day we begin with the English ABCs, I write the letters on the board and they repeat and then write on their slates. These kids are patient and kind and want to be there – their only requirement for admission is that they are clean. We continue the day with 123s, shapes, colors and animals, sometimes breaking to sing their favorite song, “Old MacDonald Had a Farm” where they shout the chorus EIEIO as loud as they can. Sometimes they get the extra treat of playing Duck, Duck, Goose, all smiles and speed to be “it.”
Their homes are tarp-covered shacks that stand rickety on the side of a brown road. I’ve seen dogs and rats scurry for cover among their houses. Adults work in the mornings; the older girls and women collect firewood. During the heat of the day, most go into the shade of their shack and rests on the woven mattress beds.
How did I become so blessed to teach these kids Duck Duck Goose? Prior to leaving for a 78-day trip to India, I found SHAKE HANDS volunteer organization on the Web. This organization provides travelers with two week to two year volunteer vacation opportunities, which include this teaching opportunity, orphanage work, women empowerment, and sports volunteering. In Jaipur, two tireless coordinators Amita and Pranay care for the volunteers and connect willing teachers with the eager children. Through their efforts, I was able to watch these kids play and thrive and shout GOOSE, breaking through their situation with this joyous game.
- Shakehands Volunteer Program
- Volunteer Vacations: Short-Term Adventures That Will Benefit You and Others