When I decided to go to India I had no idea what to expect; I had heard stories from some people about the larger organizations that charged huge sums, placed the volunteers in camps isolated from the local population and where the volunteer work did little good, and sometimes even more harm than good. None of this was true for Travel to Teach; from the moment I contacted them it felt personal and quite professional, and during my entire stay in India I felt well cared for.
The project is in the city of Sikar, Rajasthan. The volunteer work itself is done in a place called Banjara Basti, which is mostly inhabited by lower castes, “untouchables”. During my first day at the school in Banjara Basti I was shocked by the poverty. There is no running water, electricity and most people live in tents or shacks. But once the initial shock settled down I was really motivated to work with the people who lived there; it truly felt as if the work was necessary! Every day we gave the children food and washed them before we began the lessons, which mainly entailed basic beginner English and math. During the time I was there we only worked three hours before lunch, due to the heat, however, it really was enough!
The camp itself was also a pleasant surprise and so was living with Madan Singh (our in country coordinator) and his family in their home outside of Sikar. Its really not a camp where you live isolated from other westerners; rather, its more like living in a large Indian family! I really got an insight into Indian culture while living there. The accommodation was also great, clean, good bathrooms and home-cooked food! The staff were also very friendly and felt more like friends than employees. During the weekends they also arranged tours of nearby towns and cities, I really recommend going to Nawalgarh and Mandawa to see the havelis!
Overall Im very happy I went; it was everything I hoped for and more. Even though I only spend five weeks in Sikar it felt as if we volunteers were doing something worth while for people who truly need it; Im going to remember many of the children for a long time and wonder what happened to them after I left.
Going as a volunteer is different from just going as a backpacking tourist, in my opinion I got much closer to Indians and the Indian culture during my five weeks as a volunteer than I would have had as a tourist.
While there might be some challenges and strange situations while you work as a volunteer, dont worry about it, for me at least, things worked out great in the end.
Finally I would like to say thank you to Madan, his family, Mantu, Sanjeev and Signhild and all the other people who made those five weeks such a great time!
Adam Edholm is from Sweden. He traveled to India to volunteer with AVI (Adventures & Volunteering in India).