A Day in the Life of a Volunteer in India
I’m volunteering in India! In the southern Indian city of Bangalore with a local NGO working to empower women and vulnerable children. This exciting opportunity has all been organised by an amazing local social enterprise there called Leave Ur Mark.
This is ‘a day in my life’ while volunteering here, although there isn’t really any such thing as a typical day in this incredible and always surprising country ….
Good Morning Bangalore
I wake up in the comfort of the spacious and modern Leave Ur Mark apartment. This top floor apartment is really awesome – all the volunteers and interns stay here. There’s a pool and gym here but to be honest I’m not much of an active morning person so I just have a breakfast of tea and a omelette and toast or cereal before heading out.
Bangalore is also known as Bengularu, it is the capital of the state of Karnataka and the biggest city in South India with a population of about 9 million people. Bangalore was once known as India’s ‘Garden City’ and there still remains many parks and greenery but today it is better known as India’s silicon city as it is the major center of India’s IT industry. Due to this the city has quite a modern and westernized feel and there is a wonderful blend of peoples, cultures and food from all over India.
Bangalore seems less crowded, dirty or chaotic than other cities I’ve visited in India, this makes Bangalore a great city to start your Indian adventure in and the support offered by Leave Ur Mark really helps you to settle in and enjoy all it has to offer. Due to the booming IT industry Bangalore is now a fast growing region where new build offices and homes are going up everywhere but of course there are still many people in desperate need here who need help to enable them to take advantage of the new modern India.
My Crazy Commute
Right, ready to face India. My daily commute is drastically different from anything I’ve experienced before. Outside the apartment there are swarms of auto rickshaws waiting for passengers. Be sure to check the driver knows where you want to go and haggle before agreeing on a price. Don’t be afraid to walk away if the driver will not give you a reasonable price there are always more autos or if you prefer you can even book a Ola taxi through a smart phone app. Once you’ve agreed on the price (I usually pay about 150 rupees for the 40 min drive) get ready for a ride that you will never forget as the rickshaw honks and buzzes and careers it’s way through the crazy traffic of Bangalore. There is always a surprise around every corner and always something new to see on a rickshaw ride through incredible India.
At the Reaching Hand Office
Leave Ur Mark have organised an incredible volunteering placement for me with a local NGO called Reaching Hand. Reaching Hand is a registered Charitable Trust started in 1996 to work with vulnerable children, marginalized women & deprived families empowering them to lead a life of hope, self-worth and dignity through quality education, health care and skill development is the key focus of Reaching Hand. It envisions a promising future for all by acting as a catalyst for social change with the goal of making “Today’s Destitute into Tomorrow’s Leader”.
Every volunteer or intern is different and the great thing about Leave Ur Mark is that if you tell them your interests and aspirations they will try to find a project to suit you. Initially, I started volunteering on the women’s empowerment project but Reaching Hand has so many worthy projects so I have been getting involved with quite a few. Using my skills from travel blogging, my main tasks at Reaching Hand are managing their social media and using my writing and blogging skills to promote their cause.
In the mornings I usually spend time in the Reaching Hand office posting on social media and building up the following and engagement across several platforms like facebook and twitter. This helps to raise awareness of the work Reaching Hand are doing and the causes they support with the aim of attracting more donors and volunteers to get involved.
I also help out with creating some other marketing materials and fund-raising campaigns like #Giving Tuesday. There is always lots going on and other volunteers help out with planning events to raise donations and awareness, planning fun trips and days out for the children, proposal writing or even just designing a Christmas Card that Reaching Hand can send to thank their donors.
For lunch I often go out with another volunteer or colleagues from the office. As Bangalore is quite a cosmopolitan city there are lots of options to choose from. As many Indian’s follow a vegetarian diet this country is heaven if you are vegetarian.
Often I go for a South Indian Thali. Thalis are like lots of little tasty meals in one combining salty, sweet, sour and bitter tastes all in one served on a metal tray or sometimes a banana leaf. Most days the thali is slightly different but usually includes rice with smaller piles of dhal, sambar, vegetable curries, chutneys and pickles with curd or yoghurt or cool the mouth and chapati or papadum bread. Lunch is finished off with a ridiculously sweet little desert and served with sweet milky chai tea. You should also try a pancake like Dosa, fluffy, steamed Idlis, or a savoury donut like Vada. If I’m feeling a bit homesick then seeking out western food is not a problem in Banglore.
Out and About
After lunch it’s time to visit the projects. Take a rickshaw or, if your feeling brave, hop onto the back of a colleagues motorcycle and nip around the outskirts of the city. The areas that Reaching Hand works is are a vast contrast from the modern IT offices and despite the new opportunities in Bangalore, there is still a lot of work to do and education is especially important to break the cycle of poverty and ensure that these children will be in the position to profit from the ‘modern India’
Reaching Hand is working in partnership with 35 government schools which are under-resourced and are in desperate need of more facilities. I feel blessed by the welcome I am given from the lovely teachers and the students who are so ambitious and work so hard but saddened to see that some of the schools lack basic facilities like desks and toilets.
As a developing country India faces many issues and a large proportion of the population still lives in poverty. Due to this very little money is allocated to fund government schools. 90% of the funding for schools from the government goes on the ( low ) staff salaries leaving very little for improving outdated and inadequate facilities and infrastructure.
Due to endemic corruption in India, much of this small amount of money from the government does not even reach these schools so Reaching Hand is working hard to raise money from private donors and corporations to ensure these children have the opportunity to get a good education, and an important part of this is ensuring students can use the bathroom in safety and dignity while at school.
I was shocked to hear that toilets are such a big issue in India, It’s difficult to believe that for a country with a space program still almost two thirds of the population, over 790 million people, don’t have access to adequate sanitation in India. 91.9 million people in India don’t have access to safe water and over 186,000 children die every year from diarrhoea caused by unsafe water and poor sanitation in India. This shocking situation leads to all sorts of health and hygiene problems and also, worrying, safety and dignity issues for women who risk rape as they are forced to relieve themselves out in the open after dark.
Reaching Hand helps to improve the learning environment by constructing classrooms, toilets and providing drinking water facilities and computers. They help students with uniforms, stationary and textbooks. The work Reaching Hand do prevents drops outs, improves attendance, performance and safety at school. Reaching Hand also supports teacher training and extra circular activities and sports and has impacted over 10,000 students.
Volunteers here also have the opportunity to teach English or ICT skills at these schools where many teachers are not trained sufficiently in these skills that are becoming increasingly important for future employability.
Women’s Empowerment Scheme
Equality is a big issue in India and women do not enjoy the same respect and rights that women take for granted in Western countries. Reaching Hand’s women’s empowerment initiative aims to enable marginalised and vulnerable women to become self sufficient so that they can contribute towards the family income, earning them a place of respect and pride in and out of the home, increasing their skills and feelings of self worth and enabling them to support themselves and their children in a world where women who are unmarried, abandoned, widowed or divorced are not accepted by society.
Reaching Hand runs a scheme that trains women living in slums or rural communities in tailoring, life skills and safety awareness. Reaching Hand trains 16 women at a time the tailoring skills to make clothes and once finished the 3 month long course they can gain employment in a factory or work from home earning 15,000 rupees a month which goes a long way here and enables them to better their lives and also improve prospects for their children. I was excited to see the arrival of the new industrial level sewing machines for the women’s project and see some of the clothes they are working on.
In the evenings I love visiting New Home. This is Reaching Hand’s home set up to care for 50 orphans, boys and girls from ages of 6 – 17. After the children finish school for the day they all do their homework together so I go and help then with their homework. Each child has a sponsor and after coming through difficult circumstances I can really see what an amazing job Reaching Hand is doing here. These children are so smart and bubbly, learning English, Hindi, Kannada (the local language of the state of Karnataka) and French!
Before I have even arrived they are waving over the balcony. The children’s energy and enthusiasm is infections and I love being called Akka (meaning sister) as we talk and I help them with their homework.
Some of the volunteers here use their skills in dance, music, art or sports to work with the children. Niki, another volunteer, is teaching the children a hip hop dance which they love to practice and will perform at a Christmas performance that Reaching Hand is putting on to thank the donors and raise awareness.
After catching an auto rickshaw back to the Leave Ur Mark apartment there is time to chill out and swap stories from another incredible day in India with the other volunteers and interns.
The Leave Ur Mark apartment is located in the safety of a gated community and is spacious and modern situated on the top floor with awesome views. The apartment is a blissful, and sometimes much needed, escape from the craziness of India.
Dinner is made for us in the apartment, usually a healthy vegetarian south Indian curry with rice or rotis.
Shopping, Shopping, Shopping
The apartment is next door to one of Bangalore’s most modern malls and it’s easy to pop next door where a shop sells most western foods, there is a food court on the top floor and all the major western fast food joints are represented here too, just be prepared that this is India and even a chicken burger ends up pretty spicy.
My weakness here in India is shopping! In the mall next door there is a huge variety of shops where I love to pick up colourful Indian clothes at bargain prices. If you feel confused by all the bright colours and patterns the shop staff will often help you to mix and match to get the right look. I often go for a patterned kurta (long top) with colourful churdiars (leggings) and a matching dupatta (scarf)
There is also a cinema showing Hollywood and Bollywood releases and you won’t have a problem finding a movie showing in English. You could also take a dance or yoga class or visit a temple or museum. Sometimes I head to Commercial Road to shop for saris or, as Bangalore has become known for it’s Pub scene and is also known as the rock and metal capital of India sometimes I head to a bar or catch a gig.
For more ideas of things to do check out more Things to do in Bangalore.
Leave Ur Mark has an activities coordinator so she is wealth of knowledge on what to do with your leisure time in Bangalore and will help you to organise weekend travel around the area whether it’s exploring Bangalore, visiting the opulent palace and bustling markets in Mysore, the atmospheric, ancient temples or escaping into nature up a hill station or further afield to the beaches of Goa or beautiful backwaters of Kerala.
If I’m too tired then the apartment is a great place to relax, reflect, use the wifi to skype people back home and get a good nights rest ready for the surprises that the next day in India will surely bring.
About Leave Ur Mark
My time volunteering in Bangalore has been organised by Leave Ur Mark, a social enterprise that matches volunteers, interns, and travelers from around the world who want to come to India for a meaningful internship and volunteer experience that benefits both your career development as well as positive community growth through local initiatives. They work with a variety of well deserving charitable and professional organisations that are working towards the betterment of India.