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Volunteering

    The Perks of Volunteering

    Whilst backpacking through India during my gap year, I decided to book myself onto a six week volunteer program. As I was travelling solo and was going to be starting my English degree when I got home, I thought volunteering would be a great way for me to meet some like-minded people whilst also, getting experience teaching English to people who really needed/wanted to learn it.

    During my project I taught English to children between the ages of two and fifteen in a Day Care Centre in a slum in Jaipur. It was an eye-opening and unforgettable experience, which I would recommend to any traveller.

    Therefore, if you are on the fence about whether you should book yourself onto a program, here are my top perks of volunteering to push you straight over that fence:

    The Perks of Volunteering - Bedroom - My Culture Craving

    Most projects include food and accommodation 

    Although many volunteer programs can be off-puttingly pricey, most projects include food and accommodation in the price. Therefore, you don’t have to worry about budgeting for these necessities whilst you are there.

    As well as this, the daily meals tend to be cooked by locals, which means you get the chance to sample authentic cuisine that you may not have otherwise stumbled upon.

    The Perks of Volunteering - Swimming - My Culture Craving

    You will meet other travellers

    Whilst volunteering, you are bound to meet travellers from all over globe who have come from completely different walks of life. During my time in India, I made friends with people from Canada, USA, France, England, Poland, Ireland, the list goes on. 

    On top of this, if you’re travelling solo, volunteering is the perfect way to ensure you make new friends (ooooo travelling friends) and find potential travel companions for any other trips you may have planned.

    I was lucky enough to meet a girl from the UK who I ended up travelling around India with for a week or so. This cut down the time I was travelling alone considerably and, meant I had a pal to ‘cheers’ my Kingfisher with at the end of a long day of sightseeing.

    The Perks of Volunteering - Teaching - My Culture Craving

    You will be thrown head first into a country’s culture

    By volunteering you get the invaluable opportunity to be thrown head first into a country’s culture. Although wandering around a buzzing bazaar or visiting a well-known temple gives you an insight into the religion and culture of a country, it doesn’t even scrape the surface of the reality of how many people live.

    Volunteering exposes you to this reality.

    It wasn’t until I approached the slum I volunteered in, weaved my way through the back alleys of the houses where sewage and rubbish cluttered the walkway and entered the dark, box room, which was where I was going to be teaching my classes, that it dawned on me that this was the children and their family’s reality. But they didn’t mind. They were so incredibly happy, friendly and content.

    It is insights such as these, which are not readily available for tourists to see and ones that I feel, are the most important.

    I had the chance to visit the kids homes, chat with their parents about their outlook on the importance of health and education for their children, try staple food dishes, which were cooked and served in an Indian household and even had a sari top tailored by the local seamstress!

    These are all cultural experiences, which I would not have encountered without volunteering.

    The Perks of Volunteering - Culture - My Culture Craving

    You will get to talk to locals

    Volunteering is the perfect opportunity to have a good ol’ chinwag with the locals.

    You can ask them questions about the culture, religion, politics and traditions of their country, which you wouldn’t necessarily be able to ask a stranger on the street and believe me, you’ll probably be surprised by a lot of the answers…

    Favourite Moments of Travel - Indian Wedding - My Culture Craving

    You will get opportunities you might not have otherwise been offered

    It is likely that where you will be living,  you’ll be surrounded by locals on a daily basis – the cooks, cleaners, project managers, translators etc. will all be from the area, meaning, you might get great opportunities, which you wouldn’t have otherwise been offered.

    A few weeks into my program, I had the once-in-a-lifetime chance to go to an Indian Wedding (read about my experience here), which was one of the most fascinating and memorable experiences of my time travelling.

    There is no way I would have been lucky enough to go, if it hadn’t been for one of the project managers inviting us.

    The Perks of Volunteering - Classroom - My Culture Craving

    You will make a big difference to the lives of others 

    So far, most of the perks I have mentioned above have been, to put it rather bluntly, daymmmm right selfish (check out my post on the ‘Philosophical Question of Volunteering’, where I have written about this in a bit more depth).

    And this is why I have left the most obvious and most important benefit of volunteering until last – making a difference to the lives of people in need. Although all of the advantages above are great reasons to volunteer, the desire to help others, tends to be at the root of wanting to partake in one of these programs.

    There isn’t anything more rewarding than helping people who are less fortunate than ourselves… especially when it is so appreciated.

    I came away from my project very teary eyed, but knowing that I had (hopefully) taught the children a considerable amount of English, drummed into them the importance of hygiene and had a lot of fun playing games, singing and laughing…

    SO, have I pushed you over that fence yet ;)?

    If you’re still unsure about whether you want to book onto a volunteer project, please comment, Facebook or Tweet me. I’d love to help/answer any questions you might have! 

    The Philosophical Question of Volunteering…

    It was our second to last evening in India and my mother and I were strolling through the streets of Cochin, Kerala in search of some last-minute souvenirs.

    After buying two of my friends singing bowls (an instrument used to help with meditation) on my previous trip to India, I had my heart set on purchasing one of these spiritually unique contraptions (I like to think of myself as quite the spiritualist).

    We meandering through a number of shops selling vibrant, embroidered saris, kaleidoscopic Aladdin pants, bejeweled bangles, intricately carved Buddhas and luxurious, silk scarves – but to my disappointment there were no singing bowls in sight.

    However, just as I was about to start kicking myself for not buying one of the hundreds I had seen in Rishikesh, I spotted an unusual looking shop hidden behind a group of tuk tuks.

    With the calming smell of sandalwood incense dancing its way from the shop through the air of Cochin and the soothing sound of tranquil meditation music flowing through a set of speakers, I was sure I had hit the jack pot – and that I did in many more ways than one singing bowl…

    As my Mother and I entered this captivating shop we were greeted by a room full of rustic antiques and obscure textiles.

    Before we had a chance to admire the shelves and shelves of artifacts which lined the walls like a library, an eager shop keeper whisked us upstairs to see ‘his collection’ of clothing, crystals AND SINGING BOWLS.

    After a quick browse and a strenuous bartering session I was finally the owner of a beautiful Hindi inscribed singing bowl.

    However, as we wandered towards the door we were stopped in our tracks by the shop assistant…

    ‘Madam, please tell me why it is you are you in India’.

    A little taken aback by this random question, I explained to the man how I had visited India before to volunteer with children in the slums of Jaipur, and that this was a return visit to show my Mother how beautiful his country is.

    After a few more minutes of quizzing me about my previous time in India the man asked me a question which completely took me by surprise –

    ‘Madam, don’t you think volunteering is very selfish?’

    Selfish?!… I know!

    My first thought was, isn’t volunteering one of the most selfless acts you can do?

    You are paying to help others less fortunate than yourself.

    You are dedicating your time to provide others with the privileges that we take for granted such as, health care and education…

    You want to, as Gandhi stated, ‘be the change you wish to see in the world’.

    Yet, this Indian man believed differently and I was beyond intrigued to hear his reasoning for this bold exclamation.

    Was he being ungrateful?

    Was he being rude?

    Was he a man who just disliked tourists?

    Or,

    Was he absolutely right?

    I always associated volunteering with helping others however; after leaving this enlightening conversation I couldn’t help but think about all of the selfish reasons us westerners choose to volunteer.

    We want to visit their country and volunteering is a good way to see and understand their culture.

    It makes us feel good about ourselves.

    It looks good on our CV (cynical but true).

    It makes travelling on your own in an unfamiliar country less daunting (one of my reasons for doing a volunteering programme).

    And,

    It leaves us feeling like a ‘better person’ with unforgettable memories.

    I couldn’t work out whether this shop assistant was making a dig at me for volunteering or whether he was simply opening my eyes to the reality of humanity.

    Despite being left with this philosophical debate boomeranging around in my head and whether volunteering is a selfish act, it in no way takes away from the beaming smile I get every time I think of the children I taught and the memories I created during my 6 week volunteering programme in Jaipur, India.

    The Philosophical Question of Volunteering - My Culture Craving

    The Perks of Volunteering - My Culture Craving

    The Philosophical Question of Volunteering - Playing - My Culture Craving

    Why I Love India - Locals - My Culture Craving

    As Joey states in ‘Friends’ (you must all know the episode…), is any act of kindness really selfless?

    What do you all think?