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PoD Volunteer-Community Education in India

Sue Williams volunteered with Pod Volunteer in 2010 on the Teaching English on a tropical island in Thailand for 8 weeks before deciding to join the Pod Volunteer community education placement in India this year for 8 weeks. This is her story.

Tell us a bit about your experience

“Our time (I travelled with a friend Debbie) volunteering as teachers in Udaipur (India) was nothing less than a very rewarding and amazing experience. It was a hard place to leave.

The welcome we received from our hosts, Guarav and Ravi Bansal and Ravi's new wife Neha, was second to none making us feel like part of the family from the outset. I have volunteered with Pod Volunteer before in Thailand but Debbie had no experience of volunteering or teaching. Any 'first day' anxieties were soon dispelled as the support we had was full on. We were shown the school, infants' Day Centre and the boys' orphanage prior to 'working' and received realy helpful support on Hindi lessons and lesson planning.

We were familiarised with the area and we were given all advice needed to remain safe and 'streetwise' when venturing alone. This included much about India and its customs and Do's & Don'ts whilst in school and out and about. Debbie and I also made a private trip out to Mount Abu and had all the help needed for travel and hotel booking and we received tips on rickshaw rides and shopping, how much we should expect to pay and how to bargain!

How would you describe a typical day at the Community Education project in India?

Breakfast at nine. Taxied to school by 10.30 and teaching for 2 hours back for lunch at 1 - a couple of hours free time before 'Chai Time' with the boys, Neha and other volunteers. Then we went off to the orphanage to play or teach the boys there. We came back for dinner - all meals were vegetarian, nourishing and delicious and we didn't suffer once with 'Delhi belly'! After that we did some lesson planning and sometimes TV in the evening.

What did you find most rewarding?

With 250 schoolchildren and only 4 teachers we felt we were really helping - the other teachers were appreciative and quick to explain the areas the children needed most help with especially with school exams looming.

What did you find most challenging?

Towards the end of the placement the school timetable was changed. The children began their school day at 7.30 so we were teaching at the end of their school day. The children were tired and we had to work hard to make our lessons different and fun to keep their attention. Also towards the end of our time, the heat was a big challenge. Temperatures reached up to 42 degrees!

Were there any aspects of the placement which you would like to see improved?

No nothing. We were so well looked after and the teacher's compassion for their work was so evident. The only improvement from their point of view would be to see a flood of volunteers arriving to help them achieve their goals.

What advice would you give others considering doing this placement?

Simply to say that Indian children are great mimics and give a false impression of knowledge. They can for example say the alphabet backwards and most worksheets given out come back correct but when tested individually without other children to prompt, some of the children struggled. It's difficult to overcome this aspect with 32 children in the class but individual visits to the whiteboard does make you aware of the weaker learners.

Why do you think others should volunteer abroad?

Because the whole experience is so rewarding. You don't have to be experienced in teaching - my TESOL qualification was of little help to be honest. Just to know you are making the lives of very poor children a little richer and improving their English a little is reason enough. To experience such different cultures and share a passion to help is food for the soul.

Why did you choose Pod Volunteer?

I have travelled with PoD prior to India and to be honest the safety factor was a big draw then as I was a lone traveller for the first time. However having the volunteering i.e. teaching in this case, enhanced by the cultural experience is something that Pod excels in.

Would you recommend Pod Volunteer to your friends?

Yes, and a big thank you for good support and a wonderful experience!