We finally got a chance to sit down and talk to Chelsea, a Guider with the 1st Sparks and 54th Brownies about the time she spent as a volunteer at the World Centre Sangam, in Pune, India, last fall. She has been touring many local units to share her story, and here she has answered some questions and shared some pictures.
Can you tell us about your programme? What did a typical day look like?
The progamme was 12 weeks (Aug. 25 – Nov. 11). There were four others who did the 12 week programme as well. We were called “Tare”, meaning star in Hindi. The first two weeks was orientation so we were participants in an event, learning about Indian culture and learning how to get a rickshaw. The rest of the weeks we went to our community partner. I went to Door Step School four days (Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday) a week from about 10:00 to 4:00. I would wake up about 7:30 and have breakfast at 8:30. 9:30 we would set out to our site. In the mornings I would hang out and lead activities for the younger children and then there was lunch at about 12:30. The children would leave at 1:00 to go home and come back at 2:00. From 2:00 to about 4:00 I would try to teach English to the older children. I would come back to Sangam at about 4:30 and have dinner at 6:30. On Wednesdays we would have cultural lessons, including Hindi class. The teachers and children knew only a very little bit of English so communication was hard!
What made you decide to apply for a trip like this?
I wanted to do something that would challenge myself. I also want to learn about all the cultures that I can and I wanted to live in another country.
What was the application procedure like?
The application process was relatively easy. You just need to find the application forms on Sangam’s website under Community Programme (http://www.sangamworldcentre.org/en/programmes/cp01) and fill them out. There’s a form that the applicant has to fill out and a reference form for their references. Send them to Sangam by the deadline and then you are all done the application. It took quite a while for Sangam to respond to me about whether or not I got through, but when I did I was so excited!
What was the best part of living/volunteering in India?
The best part about living in India was the people. The kids and teachers at site were amazing. They were so happy and willing to bond with you. I got to know everyone and how special they were. It made me so happy to go to site everyday, knowing that I could be changing these children’s lives. Both me and the teachers cried when I left on the last day at site.
What was the best part about staying at a world centre for so long?
I got to talk to Guiding and Scouting people from all over the world and I learned so much about them. I met people from Kenya, Ireland, Denmark, England, Costa Rica, USA and Australia, just to name a few. I also met people from across Canada too so I got to learn what they did. The two other Canadians that I met were from Ontario so we talked about things like the new uniform, on-line registration and Safe Guide. It was really neat to learn that in many countries Scouts and Guides do things together so there are co-ed units and events.
Do you think this experience changed you as a person, or changed the way you think about Guiding?
I think this has changed me as a person. I am more aware than ever of the extreme poverty that there is in other places in the world. There are so many people in slums in India. There are even legal and illegal slums! This experience has made me appreciate all that I have, and everything that I have a right to. For many women in India even primary schooling is unattainable because people think that educating women is useless. The role that women play is that of housewife and many people do not think they need education in order to do that job. The Indian culture is totally different than in Canada.
What advice do you have for other girls or women considering an international Guiding experience?
I encourage everyone to go on an international Guiding trip. I have learned so much about different cultures and about myself as well. I never realized how much I could actually do. Going through things like language barriers and extreme culture shock is hard, but I managed to overcome them. I would advise to be cautious of the culture shock though, especially if you go somewhere like India. There is so much poverty and inequalities in India that you have to be mature enough to handle those issues. But like I said, I do encourage people to go out and travel. You learn so much and I had an amazing time with lifelong memories and pictures!